Thursday, July 17, 2008

Myers-Briggs and Career Counseling

The Myers-Briggs helps assess personality characteristics. How can career counselors use it to help individuals find fitting jobs for themselves? Cite references.

The Myer-s Briggs Type Indicator is an instrument that can aide in the understanding of personal preferences and personality typing. Career counselors have been known to use the MBTI to assist their clients in finding fitting jobs. However, even though the MBTI can be a great tool for career counselors, they should always use a variety other tools to help their clients find fitting careers.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality instrument that was developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother, Katherine C. Briggs. Both Myers and Briggs were students of Carl G. Young, a Swiss psychiatrist who did a great deal of research on personality types and preferences in the early 1900s. Kennedy and Kennedy (2004) state that
Jung confirmed that individuals have mental or psychological preferences for performing certain tasks, just as they have physical preferences such as a dominant hand or eye. Many human mental processes are not conscious but nonetheless dictate various personal traits and choices (e.g. preferred communication patterns, study habits, modes of relaxations, stressors). Jung used this knowledge in dealing with patients, students, and people with whom he came into contact, and he wrote and lectured extensively on his theory of personality preferences.
Myers and Briggs used Jung’s findings on personal traits and choices and conducted their own research in the 1940s on ways to measure personality preferences. From all of their research and development, they developed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as a “personality instrument having numerous applications (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2004).”

The MBTI can be described as a “self-report questionnaire designed to make Jung’s theory on psychological types understandable and useful in everyday life… The MBTI can help people better understand themselves: their motivations, natural strengths, and potential for growth (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2004).” This instrument cuts across many areas, such as self-understanding and development, stress management, team building, organizational development, understanding learning styles, and preferred communication styles. Generally it is an instrument that allows individuals to understand themselves on a deep psychological and interpersonal level with the simple combination of four letters.

In terms of how the MBTI works, it has four main categories, each of which have two options. The first category is Extroversion or Introversion (E-1). “The extravert’s interests focus on the outer world of action, objects, and persons, whereas the introvert’s interests focus on the inner world of concepts and ideas (Stilwell, Wallick & Tal, 2000).” The extrovert is stimulated and excited by the external world, whereas the introvert is excited by the internal world. The second MBTI category is Sensing or Intuition, which are S or N. “The sensing person collects information from immediate, real, practical facts of life, whereas the intuitive person sees the possibilities, the relationships and the meaning of the experience (Stilwell, 2000).” Generally speaking, a sensing type is believes more in collecting facts, where as the intuitive type is more experiential.

A third MBTI category is Thinking or Feeling, which are T or F. “The thinker makes judgments objectively and impersonally, considering the causes of events and where decisions may lead. The feeler makes judgments subjectively and personally, weighing values of choices and how they affect others (Stilwell, Wallick & Tal, 2000).” The thinking type of personality uses their mind to make decisions, whereas the feeling type uses their heart and empathy of how they will affect others to make decisions. The last MBTI category is Judging or Perceiving, or J or P. “The judger prefers to live in a decisive, planned, and orderly way, so as to regulate and control events. The perceiver lives in a spontaneous, flexible way, aiming to understand life and adapt to it (Stilwell, Wallick & Tal, 2000).” Generally the judging type attempts to control their life events by planning and logical decision-making. The perceiver, on the other hand, attempts to adapt constantly to their environment by living in a flexible manner.

The MBTI is a written test that individuals take in no allotted timeframe. They answer about 70 written questions, and then their tests are scored. “[The individual receives] a score on each dichotomous dimension, resulting in a four-letter "type" (e.g., ENFJ); because there are four dimensions, there are 16 possible types (Stilwell, Wallick & Tal, 2000).” Each of the 16 different types are highly unique and have varying personality types and interests. The theory behind the MBTI states that certain types will be interested in certain activities. This theory states that “the intrinsic appeal of any kind of work (as distinguished from external advantages such as money or status) lies in the chance to use the mental processes one likes best, in the way one likes to use them (Stilwell, 2000)." Because the MBTI can help determine individual’s motivations and interests, it can be a very helpful tool for career counselors to use in helping their clients.

Vacha-Haase and Thompson (2002) state that the MBTI has become highly popular for three main reasons. First off, it helps to “assess normal variations in personality, and more people have normal as opposed to abnormal personalities.” People like to understand themselves and how they differ from other “normal” individuals. The MBTI helps put people in categories so they can better understand the normal variation in individuals. A next reason why the MBTI may be so popular is because its’ “results seem to have high face validity for many clients. That is, when participants were asked to choose the type description that best suited them, the description of their actual tested type was chosen to a statistically significant degree more often than descriptions of other types.” This means that the results of the MBTI tend to be an accurate portrayal of how individuals see themselves. It seems that the MBTI is a great test of our individual perceptions of ourselves, and thus many are attracted to taking this test. A third reason why this assessment is so popular is because the measures are “value neutral and view different type preferences merely as “gifts differing”; that is, there are “no good or bad, or sick or well types. All types are valuable.” This test does not stigmatize or pathologize individuals, rather it focuses on the strengths each type has to offer.

The MBTI is a fantastic tool for career counselors to use with the individual job seeker. Kennedy and Kennedy (2004) state “knowledge of psychological preferences enables individuals to look at themselves in relation to others, to their work, and to their overall environment.” The information that one gains from the MBTI shoes that different personality types will bring their unique strengths and weaknesses with them to their jobs. For instance,
In the realm of energizing, or how and where one gets one’s energy, extroverts- as a result of being confident and outgoing- usually have a larger network of friends, associates and acquaintances from whom to draw in identifying potential employment opportunities. Extroverts also possess the ability to verbalize their strong points, aspirations, desires and so forth. At the same time, they may tent to be too verbal or overcommunicative and not listen enough. Introverts, conversely, are thoughtful in preparation of applications and other written documentation used in the job search, focusing on the most important points. Some of the personality issues introverts may need to address or overcome are a tendency to spend too much time thinking about the job search when action is required, appearing unassertive and lacking energy; and having only a small circle of friends and acquaintances, which can reduce employment leads and network resources regarding employment opportunities (Hirsh, 1991).
Both introverts and extroverts have strengths and weaknesses in their personal and professional lives. Similarly, each letter combination offers strengths and weaknesses to the working world. It is helpful for career counselors to make individual job seekers aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and the MBTI can radically aide in this helpful self-knowledge.

Kennedy and Kennedy (2004) believe that understanding ones’ MBTI type can free an individual in a few ways. They say,
It can provide confidence in one’s own direction of development and help to reveal the areas in which one can become excellent with the most ease and pleasure. It can also reduce guilt one might feel at not being able to do everything in life equally well. Acknowledging one’s own preferences opens the possibility of finding constructive values instead of conflicts in the differences one might encounter with someone whose preferences are opposite one’s own (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2004).
Similar to Hirsh, Kennedy and Kennedy note that each personality type has its’ strengths and weaknesses. Kennedy and Kennedy state that by becoming aware of your own personal preferences, you can gain more confidence and reduce guilt. By understanding that your personality is a unique “type,” with strengths and weaknesses, you can let go of feeling bad for not being good at certain things. For instance, if an individual is a Feeling type, they may have never excelled in jobs that require rational thinking skills. However, a career counselor can use their MBTI results to educate the individual about career choices that are better for Feeling types than Thinking types. This can create a higher level of confidence, because while this individual may not excel in one job, they may be fantastic at another that is more fitting for them.

Even though the MBTI can help individuals understand themselves and what types of careers they are attracted to, it is important to remember that the test only represents preferences, and is not an indicator of a person’s professional abilities. Tieger and Barron-Tieger (2001) believe that “respondents should be told that Type reflects an individual’s preferences, not abilities or intelligence, nor is it a predictor of success. People should not be counseled toward or away from certain jobs solely on the basis of type.” When researching your personal MBTI type, each one has a specific name, such as “The Guardian,” and various jobs are recommended for that type. However, as stated by Tiger and Baron-Tieger, these recommendations are not to be taken as the only professions an individual would be good at, rather, they are merely preferences. Lawrence and Martin (2001) note a similar point, and state,
“[It] is very important to understand that type alone is not enough information to make a career choice. Virtually all types are found in all careers. People making career decisions need to understand not only their personality type, but also their history, values, interests, skills, resources and goals, among other things (Lawrence & Martin, 2001).”
Lawrence and Martin note that when providing career counseling to an individual, the MBTI is helpful, but so are many other holistic factors about the person. By looking at a person as a whole being, with their MBTI results and their unique “history, values, interests, skills, resources and goals,” a career counselor can help the person find a fitting and fulfilling job.

Myers conducted a research study in the 1950s, while developing the MBTI. Data was collected from 5,322 students that attended 45 different medical schools. Myers found that all of the 16 types were “admitted to medical school in approximately equal numbers. Myers concluded that [the medical field] has appeal for- and gains strength from- all psychological types (Stilwell, 2000).” Stilwell notes that this study shows that the MBTI is a helpful tool to understand “some aspects of personality and how they relate to choice of medical specialty.” While this study shows that the MBTI can be a helpful tool in relating personality type and career choice, it also shows that all MBTI types work in any professional field. While the MBTI can help with preferences, it also, as Tieger, Baron-Tieger, Lawrence and Martin believe, is not the only predictor of career choice. Career counselors can use the MBTI to help their clients, but it should never be the only tool that is used to help them.

In conclusion, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, when used by career counselors, can offer clients a newfound confidence in their job skills and an understanding of the weaknesses in the working world. It can help clients narrow in on career paths that are fitting for their particular type, and have a deeper understanding of why they are attracted to their personal preferences. However, even though the MBTI can help a client on a many levels, a career counselor should always assess the client using a holistic perspective. This holistic perspective should always include, as Lawrence and Martin (2001) say, the individual’s “history, values, interests, skills, resources and goals.” A personality inventory should never be the only medium a counselor uses to help a client, no matter how comprehensive or insightful it may be.


Hirsch, S.K. (1991). Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in organizations (2nd
ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Kennedy, R. B & Kennedy, D.A. (2004). Using the myers-briggs type indicator in
career counseling. Journal of Employment Counseling, 41(1), 38-44.

Lawrence, G.D. & Martin, C.R. (2001). Building people, building programs: A
practitioner’s guide for introducing the MBTI to individuals and
organizations. Gainesville, FL: Center for Applications on Psychological

Stilwell, N.A., Wallick, M.M. & Tal, S.E. (2000). Myers-briggs type and medical
Specialty choice: A new look at an old question. Teaching and Learning in
Medicine. 12(1), 14-20.

Tieger, P.D. & Barron-Tieger, B. (2001). Do what you are: Discover the perfect
career for you through the secrets of personality type (3rd ed.). Boston: Little,
Brown & Company.

Vacha-Haase, T. & Thompson, B. (2002). Alternative ways of measuring counselees’
Jungian psychological-type preferences. Journal of Counseling &
Development, 80(2), 173-179.

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