Who's Right For The Job?

Dec. 21, 2004
Personality traits can offer insight.

A million years ago, when I was studying psychology and sociology, I became acquainted with the theories of Carl Jung, the distinguished Swiss psychologist. One of Jung's major contributions to his profession was to categorize people by their personality traits which, he maintained, are as pronounced as right- or left-handedness. Jung's ideas attracted a number of scholars who expanded upon his theories. Among them was the American mother/daughter team of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. They categorized individuals into 16 stereotypes, based on their four most dominant personality characteristics. They called their test "The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator." They isolated eight human characteristics: Extrovert, Introvert, Sensing, Intuitive, Thinking, Feeling, Perceiving, and Judging. Extroverted and introverted personalities are well known to all of us. Sensing people, according to Myers and Briggs, like to feel or sniff for details. Intuitive people are those with an acute "sixth sense" who prefer to focus on the big picture. Thinkers like to decide things logically and objectively. Feelers are more subjective and often think with their hearts. Perceivers like to collect information and are very flexible in applying what they find. And judgmental personalities like to decide issues and are especially good at getting things done. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator asks over 100 questions to determine how an individual will react to different situations. The test has been given to more than 1.5 million individuals and is probably the most widely used personality test of its kind. Many U.S. companies use this test in their management development programs to help executives understand how they are perceived by their associates. Some companies use it as hiring criteria. Some conclusions you may find useful:

  • Individuals whose four primary personality characteristics are introversion, intuition, thinking, and judgmental comprised the smallest percentage of the tested population. But a disproportionate number of this group became chief executives. They are described as having creative and original minds bolstered by exceptional drive. They are idea people who are particularly skilled at getting their personal agendas accepted. They are skeptical, critical, independent, determined, and often stubborn.
  • By comparison, those with the four dominant characteristics of extroversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving are more likely to be entrepreneurs rather than corporate executives. They are described as being quick, ingenious, and generalists. They are resourceful in solving challenging problems but often they are guilty of neglecting routine tasks.
  • Those whose four dominant characteristics are introversion, sensing, thinking, and judging make good chief financial officers. And those with introversion, sensing, thinking, and perception as their leading personality traits make good engineers.
  • Researchers are likely to be introverted, sensing, feeling, and perceptive. They also are caring, inquisitive learners and like having independent projects. They are friendly but often absorbed
  • Operations and staff personnel are extroverted, sensing, thinking, and judging. They are practical, realistic, and matter-of-fact, with a natural head for business details or mechanics. They like to organize and run activities.
  • The best salespeople are sensing, feeling, perceptive extroverts. They are outgoing, easygoing, empathetic, and friendly. They like to entertain, love sports, and like to make things. They remember facts better than they understand theories.
Some business executives fancy themselves to be armchair psychologists when they have someone else's psychological test in their hands. They lack the expert knowledge to interpret the test results accurately. The professional psychologist who conducted the test is the proper individual to interpret what it means. As a rule of thumb, if the position requires a generalist, look for characteristics such as introversion, intuition, thinking, and judging. If the position requires a specialist, look for either extroverts or introverts who possess characteristics such as thinking, perceiving, feeling, sensing, and judging. To decide whether you need a specialist or generalist, these Marinoisms may help you:
  • Specialists try to get the job done their way. Generalists get the job done anyway.
  • Specialists are soloists. Generalists are orchestra conductors.
  • Specialists are prone to go too far. Generalists know how far to go too far.
  • Specialists are like tight rope walkers who get halfway out on the rope before they realize that they are tight and the rope isn't. Generalists never walk out on a rope unless they have a safety net in place.

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