When most people think about personality, they think about MBTI®, DISC®, Big 5 or other personality assessment tools*. Many personality tests became popular some years back when they were digitalised and promoted to online users. Some popular marketing messages you would have seen include: “Which famous person has the same personality as you?” or “Discover useful insights you never knew about yourself!”

Example of personality test based on Jung typology. Courtesy of 16Personalities

While this has created awareness about personality, you might find it difficult to relate this to your job choice. Does being Extroverted (MBTI) make you a better spokesperson? Is someone with higher Steadiness (DISC) unable to work under pressure? Are people with a high Openness to Experience (Big 5) more productive in the creative industry? Considering those in your social circle, you can probably think of many exceptions to these rules.

Fundamentally, these personality tests are not meant to help you make job and career choices. They are frameworks to help us understand how people consistently prefer to think, feel and act in various situations. You’ll need a trained career counsellor to interpret what this means for you or your job choices. Alternatively, you can pay to take variants of the assessment designed for work tasks or career choice.

Vocational Personality vs. Personality

Instead of using personality theories not designed for career decision making, why not choose one  that is? Introducing….Holland’s theory of Vocational Choice! Popularly known as RIASEC (an acronym of the 6 personalities), the theory explains why people choose their jobs. His theory was that people have “work-personalities” which make them enjoy certain work tasks. On the flip side, jobs also have “personalities”: tasks to do and the company culture. When the person and the job match (Person-Environment fit), the worker tends to be more successful and satisfied. I won’t go into too much detail on theory as there are many articles and sites that do a far better job.

At this point, those of you with a career development background might protest. Wait a minute, isn’t RIASEC the same as career interests? Actually, no! This is a misconception that has permeated career development. Although your personality contributes to your interests, they are not the same thing. Personally, I suspect “career interest” substituted “vocational personality” over time because it is easier for laymen to understand. I will explain how interests work in a separate article.

How to find my personality?

The great thing about Holland is that his theory and tool are publicly available. There are many free tools available over the internet to help you assess your vocational personality. I have listed a few here for you:

  1. Truity – This test lists a series of tasks and asks you to rate how much you like doing each.
  2. Online Personality Tests – A slightly different approach where you check the statement only when you agree with it. All the statements are phrased as “I like to….”
  3. 123 Test – The test here is friendlier for young kids or the less literate as there are pictures accompanying each work task.
  4. MySkillsFuture – If you’re a Singaporean, the national MySkillsFuture portal offers a free Holland assessment from Kuder. After logging into your account, click Assessments > Kuder and click on the “Career Interests” assessment.
  5. Knowdell’s Occupational Interests – Unfortunately, Knowdell’s card sort uses the wrong term “interests” to refer to vocational personality. Nevertheless, it is highly interactive and well-suited to launch deeper discussions on this topic.

Write down the top 3 personality types (R/I/A/S/E/C) that the test identifies you have. You can take note of the jobs recommended by these tools or websites, but don’t accept it wholesale. Most recommendations are one-dimensional, not accounting for your Values, Interests and Skills.

What next?

With the 3-letter code that you have, take a look at your current job or the one you are applying for. Is there a good fit between your Holland code and the job? To identify the job’s code, refer to the image below and ask yourself which 3 letters best summarise the JD. Alternatively, search for your job in the top right on O*Net’s page or in this list of jobs to find the letters of the code. If you have Knowdell’s card sort, find the occupation that best matches your job and flip it around to find the 3-letter code.

Holland’s RIASEC wheel. Courtesy of The New York Times

As a general rule of thumb, if 2 or all letters match (regardless of order), good for you! Barring major values or interest misalignment, you will probably enjoy the work and do well there. Of course, this doesn’t mean you are guaranteed an interview when you apply. Employers will still need to see evidence on your resume or LinkedIn that you possess the skills required. You can feel confident to pursue this job, or stay in the role (if it’s your current job).

What if only 1 or no letters match, does this mean you should give-up or quit? Not exactly. You may need some additional effort, but you can be just as successful and engaged. There are 2 ways to overcome lesser alignment: (i) Relate the 2 non-matching letters to your work tasks or (ii) bring in your values/interests for motivation. Let me explain below.

  • Imagine my personality is ICE, but I want to be a career counsellor (SAE). At face value, this seems to be a bad match. If we think deeper, however, we can channel I and C into my work. A good career counsellor needs to understand people well, uncovering underlying motivations or struggles. Investigative people, through their curiosity and observation, are well-suited for this task. Similarly, Conventional makes me a thorough and systematic counsellor who leaves no stone unturned when I help my clients.
  • If I have a passion to help others in careers, this also provides motivation to overcome personality mismatch. I can push myself to be relational because it is necessary to help me achieve my passion/goal. This is important so that my communication comes across as genuine and not forced.

You will need to reflect on your situation carefully to see how these 2 methods can work for you. What we’ve done is a simple exercise, assuming each role is the same between industries and companies. This is, of course, an oversimplification of the real world to help with application. For example, project managers (PMs) in construction suit Realistic personalities, while creative projects will need Artistic PMs. If you need help for your particular situation, do approach a trained career counsellor/coach for a consultation.

I don’t really know what I want to do yet

If you’re still at the exploring phase (i.e. no career in mind) there are many tools to help. Some of the tools I listed above already recommend jobs based on your personality. However, if you would prefer to search unconstrained by your code, use the following:

  1. O*Net – You can click on the personality types to see jobs associated with that letter.
  2. MySkillsFuture – This search tool is free to use, unlike the assessment. It gives a comprehensive list of occupations based on 3 letter codes.

The steps you take after finding a job to pursue are broadly the same as with the previous section.

I hope you found this article useful for your needs. As with Values, do note that your vocational personality is not static and will change over time. Significant life events & experiences, daily job tasks and company culture can all shape your personality. Remember to revisit and understand yourself every once in a while, particularly when you’re about to undergo a role transition!

*A side note: You might also wonder, why so many theories? After so much research, haven’t we already come to a unified theory for personality? Unlike physical sciences, human personality is not 100% predictable and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. An introvert can speak out persuasively if the situation calls for it. Depending on the context, you will find different frameworks useful to explain what you observe. The story of the 3 blind men describing an elephant illustrates this concept for us. Depending on what part of the elephant you touch, you have a different explanation for personality.

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