Love what you do

Love what you do

It’s never too late to find your dream job. Silke Colquhoun looks at ways to match your personality and interests to a career

Do you have the personality of a tiger in the workplace? A fearless panther, lion or black bear? Or perhaps you are more of a clownfish or seahorse? These animals could be the key to understanding why some of us flourish in our chosen career and others feel unhappy and trapped.

The animal profiling is a playful version of the internationally recognised Myers-Briggs Test, which is based on psychologist Carl Jung’s theory and offers insights into personality traits. Career planners use this to identify which career fields suit an individual’s personality and aptitude.

‘The starting point in career planning is the same whether you’re at the beginning of your career or seeking to change your existing path,’ says Dennis Stead, partner and co-founder of Pace Career Centre, a leader in career guidance in southern Africa, whose clients include universities, government departments and corporates. ‘It’s the question, “Who am I?”

‘You really need to know yourself and what you want, in order to determine where you want to go with your professional life,’ he says. ‘There are various approaches and tests to measure skills, interests and personalities.’

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Alpha leader

Here, your animal alter ego comes in. One of the countless free online tests on offer uses the Myers-Briggs possible pairs of personality traits Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E); Intuition (N) or Sensing (S); Thinking (T) or Feeling (F); and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). The test requires you to choose between two traits, relating to how you get your energy; how you take in information; how you understand and store that information; as well as your overall approach to life, at work and at play.

So, for instance, if your test result is ‘extrovert, sensing, thinking and judging (ESTJ)’, your personality would be likened to a black bear. This means your motto is: ‘I’ll be the boss’. The explanation goes on: ‘Reliable and realistic, bears love action, often focusing on outcomes and results to get things done. They are organisers at heart and are really great at acting and communicating quickly.’ As a boss, black bears are direct, decisive and fair. They respect and follow procedures and expect deadlines to be met. They tend to focus on achieving or completing tasks. The advice for black bears is: ‘You don’t need to take charge all of the time. Look after yourself and ask people to help you out. Try not to get cross with people for not achieving your own very high standards unless it’s really necessary.’ Their preferred roles include supervisor, inspector, leader, and protector.

The other animal personalities are treated in the same vein. For instance, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s the seahorse (INFJ), which is warm, caring, patient and imaginative. Ideal seahorse jobs would be counsellor, adviser, healer or mentor.

What drives you

Cape Town psychologist Debbie Lopes uses this test to assist high school learners with their subject choices. She says the Myers-Briggs is also a popular workplace test for HR departments. Another favourite is the colour test, which determines personality types by colour: Red (Mantra: ‘Just get it done’), Orange (‘Let’s all get along’), Yellow (‘Let’s do it better’), and also Green (‘Let’s experience it all’).

Meanwhile, the Holland Codes divide people into six personality types (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional) and then match them to various career clusters and occupations. An ‘investigative’ personality would, for instance, be a good match to professions within the field of physical sciences, health sciences, mathematics and data analysis, computer technology or engineering.

Lopes says: ‘Whichever approach you take, it’s quite important to find out what motivates a person and what value system they follow. Most of us tend to be driven by financial and social status, without fully understanding the long-term impact of such decisions. You require a holistic profile to understand your unique personality, fields of interest, passion and aptitude – your strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths need to be aligned with your passions, otherwise you might not find fulfilment in your job. Even if you excel at something, it shouldn’t become the foundation of your career unless you are passionate about it.’

She adds that self-knowledge is key: ‘If you consciously decide to pursue a field that you are not passionate about – say, you really love music but go into finance for the financial rewards and security, that’s okay too. But you need to be aware of why you’re doing this and not feel victimised. You can keep your passion alive in your leisure time, for example, by playing music in a band. Remember that you are in charge of your life. You script your own story.’

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Take action

‘Not everybody has the luxury to follow their interests,’ says Stead. ‘Young people primarily look at their interests when deciding on a career path, but as an adult there are needs you have to meet first.’ He says for adults it’s generally more about up-skilling and improving their existing work profile than embarking on a completely new career field. ‘Most adults are not looking to study full-time for three to four years, but prefer short courses or part-time MBAs at business schools.’

For those who hate their job or have reached a plateau, he advises that you find out why before handing in your notice: ‘You need to differentiate between the job and the environment. The job may not suit your personality – perhaps your parents told you to go into this field, or it was the “done thing” in those days. But if you feel your job is killing you, you should change fields. First see if you can achieve this within the company you’re currently working for. If that’s not possible, develop a new career plan.’ This can be done online or through accredited career counsellors, industrial psychologists and executive coaches. These professionals can also assist in preparing for psychometric assessments (cognitive tests of numerical, verbal, abstract, spatial and mechanical reasoning) that many companies use when selecting a candidate. Stead says: ‘If the work environment is the problem, you may feel interested in the type of work, but have a problem with your boss or colleague or find the company culture too structured and bureaucratic. In that case, you need to change jobs, not careers.’

As we get older, our values tend to change. Many people get tired of the corporate life and choose to spend more time with their family. Or, Stead says: ‘At some point you may want to leave a legacy. Some people become more service-oriented. They put less emphasis on financial reward and start giving back to the community or do charity work.’ In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you are a tiger, clownfish, black bear or seahorse, as long as you know who you are and what you want. After all, everyone scripts their own career story.

Photography: Gallo/GettyImages
October/November 2016

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