Published September 27, 2012
Jobs That Match Your Personality
Do what you love, and success will follow. You've probably heard that old adage. But experts say it's also important that the job loves you back.
Though we're born with distinct personalities, most of us aren't aware of the traits that define us, says Paul Tieger, CEO of SpeedReading People in Hartford, Conn. Tieger has trained managers, team leaders, lawyers and others to size up people's personality traits to better communicate with them.
While most jobs match with a mix of personality characteristics, we asked experts to identify some specific traits that are particularly linked with success in a certain occupation.
How to tell: You love a good party -- but not two nights in a row. You could be an effective customer service representative.
Why: A key personality identifier is whether one is an extrovert or an introvert, says Billie Blair, CEO of Change Strategists Inc., a management consulting firm in Los Angeles.
The common misconception is that introverts don't like interaction with others. Actually, introverts like people and are usually talkative. But, after lots of socializing, they need some "alone" time, Blair says.
Interacting with customers requires staying on task and providing specific information, Blair says. "An extrovert would veer off and waste time, starting up a conversation," she says.
How to tell: You're always looking something up on Wikipedia. And you're the one who senses when a friend needs help. Go to the head of the class and teach.
Why: "Everyone thinks you need to love kids to be a great teacher," Blair says. "Actually, what's important is to be inquisitive and develop a broad base of knowledge," she says.
"You'll be asked to answer all kinds of questions, and being enthused about topics increases your students' thirst for knowledge," Blair says.
Knowing when to step in and help a student is also a key attribute of good teachers, says Susan Thompson, a professor at Lynchburg College in Virginia who has studied effective teaching practices.
"Often teachers hear, 'You let Mary do it, why can't I?'" Thompson says. "Fairness and equality are not the same thing. It is fair for me as a teacher to provide a student with the support he needs to be academically successful. ... The truth is that an advanced student does not need help and maybe just wants attention."
How to tell: You're the one in your family who's called upon to handle distressing situations. Your aptitude for influencing people to do the difficult, but right, thing is needed in a human resources job.
Why: Whether it's directing a downsizing effort, dealing with sensitive complaints such as sexual harassment or implementing a new benefits policy, "HR managers will be taking a stand on things that others find unpopular," says John Lounsbury, president of Resource Associates Inc. and psychology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The ability to assertively communicate corporate efforts that may be unpopular or controversial, such as downsizing or compensation policy changes, and then to marshal others and resources toward that effort, are key human resource functions, Lounsbury says.
How to tell: When a friend turns you down for dinner, you're not hurt. You pick up the phone and call someone else. You have the resilience required in any sales job.
Why: No matter what type of sales job, "You're going to hear a lot of 'nos,'" says Elena Bajic, CEO of Ivy Exec, an online recruitment service in New York.
The successful salesman moves on right away, not dwelling on the negative, she says.
It's also key to have the sensitivity to know when a potential customer who doesn't actually convey a definite "no," doesn't really want to hear any more, Bajic says.
"You need sensitivity and an ability to read people so that you know when to stop," Bajic says.
How to tell: You make a to-do list and check off items every workday. You even plan your vacations, day by day, hour by hour. Project management positions need your devotion to writing a plan.
Why: "In almost every industry, there are project management positions," Bajic says.
Whether it's a new product to be introduced, an instructional booklet to be published or a new website to be launched, project managers outline all the actionable steps needed to accomplish a project and distribute the working steps to the appropriate people within a firm, Bajic says. People who live by detailed lists are the perfect fit, she says.
How to tell: Watching the nightly news with you is a downer, because you tend to see everything from political upheaval to unusual weather as pervasive and uncontrollable. Your pessimistic nature is suited for the law.
Why: If you're an optimist -- someone who views negative news events as "local, temporary and changeable," you have an attitude that will help you succeed in most professions, writes Martin E. P. Seligman in his book, " Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment."
However, being a pessimist is a plus for lawyers, Seligman writes, "because seeing troubles as pervasive and permanent is a component of what the law profession deems as prudence. A prudent perspective enables a good lawyer to see every conceivable snare and catastrophe that might occur in any transaction." It's this approach that enables an attorney to help his or her clients defend against any eventuality, Seligman says.
However, this pessimistic trait doesn't have to be inborn because "law school will teach it to you," Seligman says. But it's a big reason lawyers tend to be more unhappy than other professionals, Seligman writes.