When it comes to thriving in the corporate world, INTP personality types stand on shaky ground. We know that INTPs with their analytical minds are creative problem solvers, loyal to their organizations and are great at addressing complex technical issues. They have a reputation for working incredibly hard to exceed their own high standards.
At the same time, research tells us that INTP personalities are less likely to be in managerial positions, are among the lowest average wage earners, and score among the highest rates of dissatisfaction at work. Overall, they are less likely than average to be employed at all.
So what’s going on? On the surface, it looks like INTPs may not be the best fit for corporate America. But is that actually true? And if that’s the career path that you or an INTP employee find yourself on, what can be done to create a better fit?
Let’s take a closer look.
First the good ...
INTP personalities are extremely inventive and they bring some really great things to the table at work. This includes:
- Intellectual curiosity
- Understanding concepts, systems and the big picture
- Brainstorming big, original ideas
- Identifying new and future possibilities
- Solving complex problems in an original way
- Taking on new challenges
- Being open minded and seeing problems from all angles
- Acquiring knowledge
- Identifying the simplest way to complete a task
- Working hard to exceed their own high standards
… then the bad
Modern office work sucks for INTPs precisely because of their strengths—or rather, because their strengths are not necessarily what the corporate world requires. Take a quick review of the 50 most common jobs in America and you’ll see a list full of marketing specialists, lawyers, shipping clerks, business analysts, sales reps, bookkeepers, customer service representatives, secretaries and administrative support officers. These jobs are all about schedules, spreadsheets and standard operating procedures. They’re about meetings, milestones, timesheets and to-do lists. Throw a whole lot of document pushing into the cauldron and you get soul-sucking death for an INTP.
What else? Well, the following list sums up just about everything the INTP hates in the workplace. It’s easy to see how this personality is the antithesis of most corporate job ads.
- Repetitive work
- Taking instruction
- Dealing with the tiniest minutiae (INTP personalities are not good with details)
- Routines; having little ability to pick your own hours and projects
- Efficiency (the corporate ‘get it done’ mentality)
- Process-orientation, with standard methodologies, operating procedures and the push for deadlines and follow through
- The requirement to keep working even when it’s boring
- Networking and ‘selling yourself’
- The small talk quota (at least an hour a day)
- Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork.
Some of the issues here revolve around the INTP’s introversion, which throws the whole teamwork and selling yourself thing for a loop. But it’s the curse of an Introverted Perceiver, and especially one as loosely scheduled as an INTP, to struggle in standardized and understimulating environments that don’t always deliver on challenges.
Three traits an INTP personality can adapt to be successful in the corporate world
Luckily, the picture is not as bleak as I may have painted it and many INTPs are surviving and thriving in the corporate sector. Even better, they’re doing it while maintaining their original skills and belief systems. The common thread is that these INTP personalities have found a way to maneuver in a more ‘corporate’ way than others who may not be achieving the same level of success.
Here are three areas for ambitious INTPs to focus on as they navigate this challenging world:
1. Take care with your absent-mindedness and tendency towards procrastination
In the overwhelming majority of corporate jobs, getting things done is more important than having the next genius idea. While most Judging personalities instinctively understand this, Intuitive Perceivers can easily find themselves swept up in the desire to find the best or the right way to solve a problem, irrespective of how long it takes (or even whether they can convince others that the idea is important in the first place).
Each time you are assigned a task, you’re going to have to put effort into delivering it. Urgency and deadlines are very real in profit-making organizations, and you’re not going to get very far if you can’t handle them—even if it means producing less-than-grade-A work.
- Negotiate realistic deadlines, not the bogus, stress-inducing deadlines that managers often conjure up.
- Work faster. As trite as this sounds, most of us are hit with unnecessary interruptions during the day—meetings, phone calls, questions from colleagues, duplicated work, and the usual office politics and drama. Remove these distractions, and you can turn the real work around a lot faster.
- Tech can be an asset if you block out your time and sync everything with your calendar. Set timers and reminders so you can get lost in a task and still be on time to meet your deadlines. Be sure to adequately honor deadlines and others' needs for closure on a task.
2. Develop your Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Extraverted Feeling is the INTP’s last or inferior function. This means it is weaker than your other functions and an INTP will choose to use it only where necessary. Fe is the INTP’s people and relationship-oriented side—the part that wants to use your crazy problem-solving skills for the good of others. Leveraging your Fe means working for the benefit of people (your team, clients and customers) rather than working on a problem objectively, as an exercise in abstract thinking.
Developing Fe is mission-critical in a corporate world that values collaboration and customer service. It’s not always easy for INTPs who tend to become irritated when co-workers focus on irrelevant details, are not open to new ideas, or are perceived to be incompetent, but there’s no reason why you can’t develop these skills so you can use them as needed.
- Go into a meeting with an action plan. INTPs have a tendency to appear dreamy, quiet and withdrawn during meetings. Plan some things to say in advance so you are fully engaged and contributing.
- Practice paraphrasing what others are saying if you’re not quite sure where they are coming from. You have a habit of getting caught up in hair-splitting logic and are slow to respond to emotional needs—repeating others’ concerns is a good starting point for building rapport with co-workers.
- Suck it up and engage in occasional the water cooler chat, or at least say ‘hi’ to the people you know. It’s important to be respected and connected if you wish to advance. Taking a moment to catch up with people, instead of being lost in your thoughts, helps others to know that you exist, who you are and what you can do.
3. Work around your loathing of rules and guidelines
As an INTP, you are a talented problem solver with a strong aptitude for big-picture thinking, which you need to do on your own. Routine feels so confining to you, and you tend to get frustrated with rules and standard operating procedures that restrict your freedom to put your ideas into practice.
This type of thinking causes you to constantly reinvent the wheel. That’s the last thing your employer wants. Profit-making organizations are all about efficiency and if you want to get ahead, you’re going to have to show a little respect for the bottom line. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to get the autonomy you crave while still respecting the structure of the organization.
- Speak to your manager and negotiate ways for you to complete your work by your own unorthodox methods wherever possible, instead of always following rules, precedents and procedures. If everything has to be done ‘by the book’ and its stifling you, is there a more flexible role you can side step into?
- Ask if you can arrange your work so you are handling one or two stimulating projects at a time. While you can multitask, this is not the most productive method of working for you.
- Follow what works and improve what doesn’t. INTPs instinctively push for change when it is clear that current systems do not work, and that’s a good thing. When evidence supports the possibility of improved results or efficiency from using a different system, then be the person who pushes for change. Any employer worth his salt will love that you’re passionate about improvement. But if things are working, well, it’s really not worth rocking the boat. The chances are your boss is under pressure to stick to traditional methods and you will land in hot water if you keep challenging any rule that doesn’t make sense.