The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was created by Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Briggs to make Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types practical for everyday use. One of Myers’s primary motivations in developing the MBTI was her desire to help people find work that was congruent with their individual preferences. The most fundamental use of the MBTI in the career field is to provide an individual with insight into his or her preferences and then to recommend job families, occupations, or occupational specialties that potentially provide a good fit for those preferences. The MBTI has also been used to foster the career exploration and search process for career decision making and for career management and development activities.
The essence of Jung’s psychological type theory is that much seemingly random variation in behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent due to basic differences in the way individuals prefer to use their perceptions and judgment. Perception involves how people become aware. Judgment entails coming to conclusions about what has been perceived. Systematic differences in how perception and judgment are exercised lead to corresponding differences in behaviors, interests, values, motivations, and skills. Since the basic cognitive functions of perception and judgment enter into almost every behavior, the scope of practical applications of the MBTI is very wide. The primary uses of the MBTI include team building, management and leadership development, individual counseling, enhancing relationships, conflict resolution, understanding teaching and learning styles, and career management and development.
In addition to measuring preferences for perception and judgment, the MBTI also measures two attitudes:
- the attitude in which preferences are expressed, and
- the attitude preferred in dealing with the outer world. Each of the two cognitive functions and the two attitudes comprises a pair of dichotomies. Every person has a preference for one pole of each of the four dichotomies. An often-misunderstood component of the theory is that every person is assumed to use both poles of each of the four dichotomies at different times or in different situations, but to respond first, most often, and most comfortably with the preferred pole.
The Four Preference Dichotomies
The MBTI instrument includes the following four separate scales: Extraversion-Introversion, Sensing-Intuition, Thinking-Feeling, and Judging-Perceiving. The intent of the instrument is to reflect a habitual choice between these rival alternatives.
The Extraversion-Introversion (E-I) index is designed to reflect a person’s preference for extraversion or introversion in the sense intended by Jung. Extroverts are oriented primarily toward the outer world and thus tend to focus their perceptions and judgments on people and objects. Introverts are oriented primarily toward the inner world and thus tend to focus their perceptions and judgments on ideas or sensations.
The Sensing-Intuition (S-N) index is designed to reflect a person’s preference for two opposite ways of perceiving. Those who prefer Sensing (S) perceive observable facts and present reality through one or more of the five senses. The opposite is the process of Intuition (N), through which meanings, relationships, or possibilities are perceived.
The Thinking-Feeling (T-F) index is designed to reflect a person’s preference between two contrasting ways of judging. A person may rely primarily on thinking (T), to decide impersonally on the basis of logical consequences, or primarily on feeling (F), to decide on the basis of personal or social values.
The Judging-Perceiving (J-P) index is designed to describe the process a person primarily uses in relating to the outer world. A person who prefers judgment (J) uses either thinking or feeling in relating to the outer world, whereas a person who prefers perception (P) uses one of the perceptive processes, either Sensing or Intuition.
The 16 Types
The four indexes are independent of one another, yielding 16 possible combinations. The combinations of the four preferences are called “types,” which are denoted by the four letters of the preferences. For example, “ISTJ” refers to a person who prefers Sensing as his or her mode of perception, makes Thinking judgments about those perceptions, and uses Introversion to focus on his or her inner world and Judging for the outer world. The theory further postulates specific dynamic relationships between the preferences. For each type, one process is the leading or dominant process, and a second process serves as an auxiliary. Each type has its own pattern of dominant and auxiliary processes and attitudes (E or I) in which these are habitually used. The characteristics of each type follow from the dynamic interplay of these processes and attitudes, in which the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
The MBTI differs from other personality instruments primarily in two respects. First, the theory postulates and the instrument measures dichotomous preferences. Almost all other psychological instruments assume and measure traits ordered on a continuum. Second, in MBTI theory and practice, each preference is assumed to be equally valuable, with its own characteristic strengths and potential weaknesses. In contrast, trait instruments usually characterize one end of the continuum as “negative” and the other “positive,” or they describe people as having “too much” or “too little” of the trait. The intent of the MBTI scales is, instead, to sort people into the equally valuable categories to which they naturally belong, based on their preferences. Also unlike trait instruments, measurement around the midpoint of each scale of the MBTI is more important than fine differentiation at other points along the scale. To increase measurement precision around the midpoint, item response theory is used to score the MBTI items and to assign people to one pole or the other on each of the four dichotomies. These differences are the cause of the majority of misunderstandings of the MBTI.
The basic postulate underlying the use of the MBTI in the career domain is as follows: Individuals are attracted to and more satisfied with occupations in which they find (a) opportunities to express their unique type preferences, (b) tasks associated with those occupations that are interesting and challenging, and (c) rewards for doing what they like to do and what they are good at doing. Conversely, people tend to avoid or become dissatisfied with occupations that do not meet these criteria. In fact, when a person enters an occupation that is not congruent with his or her natural preferences, that person will be more likely to be dissatisfied, to leave the occupation, or to experience more job-related stress. A corollary of the basic postulate is that type preferences are also related to career variables, such as occupational values, leisure activities, job satisfaction, turnover, preferred work environments, and a host of other variables relevant to career counseling.
If the basic postulate is correct, one would expect that the distribution of types across occupations would not be the same as the distribution of the types in the general population. The most direct method for testing the postulate is to compare the distribution of the 16 types in a variety of different occupations with the distribution of the types in an appropriate base population.
Type distribution studies have been conducted on many hundreds of occupations, on 22 of the 23 job families used by the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network, which currently serves as the standard job classification system for the U.S. labor market, and on specialty choice in medical, engineering, and other professions. The primary method of testing the hypothesis is categorical analyses of contingency tables subjected to significance testing, although log-linear analyses of larger tables have also been used. For example, in a study of tax preparers, 100 percent of the sample exhibited a preference for Sensing, and two types, ISTJ and ISFJ, constituted 44.4 percent of the sample. Since this proportion represents almost 2.5 times the proportion of these two types in the base population and the occupation requires exacting and scrupulous attention to detail and a vast amount of detailed knowledge, both characteristics of Sensing types, this is a highly significant finding, both statistically and practically. Although not all results are as clear-cut as this, the evidence that the frequency of the 16 types found in different occupations supports the type proposition is abundant and compelling.
The type hypothesis has also been tested by examining the degree of overlap in a list of occupations recommended for people of opposite types. If types are not differentially attracted to occupations, then one would expect that occupations recommended for, say, an ENFP, would be similar to those recommended for people of the opposite type, ISTJ. A high-percentage overlap would mean that the same occupations were attractive to people of opposite types, a finding that would be inconsistent with type theory. In contrast, a low-percentage overlap would indicate that different types are, indeed, attracted to different occupations. Research has shown little or zero overlap in the occupational lists for seven of the eight pairs of opposite types, and the only pair of opposite types on which there was overlap had only one of the occupations in common.
Type theory also predicts that different types will have different criteria for job satisfaction. For example, those who prefer Extraversion are more satisfied with jobs in which they can interact with a wide variety of people throughout the day. Measuring specific aspects of job satisfaction is more effective than using a global criterion, and such specific aspects are related to type preferences. Furthermore, MBTI scales have been shown to predict a sizable portion of the variance in job-specific satisfaction, over and above that contributed by situational factors, as well as intention to leave the job and actual turnover.
The primary uses of the MBTI in the career domain are for career exploration, career choice, and career development. The basic assumption is that certain tasks, occupations, and work environments are more attractive to some types and not to others. It is important to note that the MBTI is not recommended for use by organizations for the purpose of employee selection or promotion. In fact, such use would violate the ethical principles of the Association for Psychological Type.
When using the MBTI for career choice, the results can help clients identify characteristics of jobs or work environments that are congruent with their preferences. For example, the Judging-Perceiving index can help clients identify the amount of structure or autonomy desired to perform a task, while the Extra-version-Introversion index is used to determine the amount of contact with others that is needed. The results can also be used to understand and resolve career dissatisfaction. For example, a manager with a preference for Intuition may balk at spending most of his or her day dealing with operational details.
Basic requirements for using the MBTI in career counseling and management include the following: (a) a database of people whose type and occupation are known, (b) a method for ranking those occupations by their attractiveness to each type, and (c) descriptions for how to use type for career search, exploration, decision making, and management. There are two large-scale databases, one maintained by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type and another by CPP, Inc., the publisher of the MBTI. The former database is available through the Atlas of Type Tables and contains over 300,000 people and hundreds of occupations. The CPP database is the foundation of the MBTI Career Report. This database is more recent and contains over 106,000 people from 282 specific occupations representing 22 job families. Furthermore, these people have indicated that they are satisfied with their jobs. The number of people of each type in this database ranges from 2,489 INFJs up to 13,624 ESTJs. The system used to categorize the MBTI occupational database is adapted from the O*NET occupational classification system used by the U.S. Department of Labor as the standard for U.S occupations. Career clients can therefore easily link their results to the national occupational database, which includes detailed job descriptions, educational requirements, and a plethora of additional information.
The method used to rank the occupations in each database is based on an index called a self-selection ratio. The numerator of the self-selection ratio is the percentage of people of that type in the occupation. The denominator is the percentage of people of that type in the base population. For the application of type theory to careers to be valid, it must be demonstrated that persons of a particular type are found in a much higher or much lower frequency in a given occupation than would be expected based on the frequency of that type in the base population. In contrast, if the frequency of that type in the occupation is the same or similar to the frequency of that type in the general population, one would conclude that occupational membership is determined by factors unrelated to MBTI preferences. A self-selection ratio greater than 1.00 for a given type in a given occupation therefore means that the type is overrepresented, suggesting that people of this type are attracted to this occupation more than would be expected. In contrast, a self-selection ratio less than 1.00 is evidence for underrepresentation of that type, suggesting that people of this type avoid this occupation. If type preferences had no effect on the selection of an occupation or a career field, self-selection ratios for all 16 types for all occupations would equal 1.00. Once self-selection ratios have been computed, they can be used to index the attractiveness of any given occupation for each of the 16 types. For example, in the MBTI Career Report, the highest self-selection ratio for a specific occupation is 7.45 for ISFPs employed as veterinary assistants. This ratio means that ISFPs who are satisfied with their jobs are found in this occupation at almost 7.5 times the frequency than would be expected given the frequency of this type in the entire sample. In contrast, for those occupations ranked as least attractive in the MBTI Career Report, the self-selection ratios range from zero for many types across numerous occupations (i.e., there are no such types in that occupation) up to .50 (i.e., the proportion of this type in the occupation is one-half what one would expect given the frequency of this type in the general population). Overall, the magnitude of self-selection ratios for broad job families and for attractive and unattractive occupations supports the link between type and career choice.
A number of practitioners have provided descriptions of the preferences for each type for tasks and work environments. The MBTI Career Report provides interpretive statements based on the client’s reported type to address personal style, challenges, and strategies in the areas of career choice, career exploration, and career development. The interpretive statements in the report represent a distillation and condensation of hundreds of statistically significant research findings, including data collected from a national representative sample of the U.S. population. These data include the relationship of MBTI type with the following aspects: ideal work environment, satisfaction with 14 specific aspects of work, intention to leave one’s current job, confidence in performing different kinds of work, organizational values, and on-the-job behaviors.
- Career counseling
- Career exploration
- Occupational choice
- Occupational Information Network (O*NET)
- Dunning, D. 2001. What’s Your Type of Career? Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
- Hammer, A. L. 1993. Introduction to Type and Careers. Palo Alto, CA: CPP, Inc.
- Hammer, A. L, ed. 1996. MBTI Applications: A Decade of Research on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, CA: CPP.
- Hammer, A. L. 2004. The MBTI Career Report. Palo Alto, CA: CPP.
- Hammer, A. L. 2004. User’s Guide for the MBTI Career Report. Palo Alto, CA: CPP.
- MacDaid, G. P., McCaulley, M. H. and Kainz, R. I. 1986. Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Atlas of Type Tables. Gainesville, FL: Center for Applications of Psychological Type.
- Myers, I. B. 1980. Gifts Differing. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black.
- Myers, I. B., with Kirby, L. K. and Myers, K. D. 1998. Introduction to Type. Palo Alto, CA: CPP.
- Myers, I. B., McCaulley, M. H., Quenk, N. L. and Hammer, A. L. 1998. MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Palo Alto, CA: CP.
- Quenk, N. L. 2000. Essentials of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Assessment. New York: Wiley.