Do you ever feel like a misfit at work? Say you long for a nice quiet office, but you're stuck in a communal one surrounded by a bunch of chatterboxes. Or maybe you like to get things done ahead of schedule, but your boss drags out each project until the deadline.
If so, it might be time to look at your work personality. That's the starting point for many career counselors. They almost always give clients a personality test. One of the most famous is called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Many people I've talked with say this test provided valuable insights about what makes them tick. With that knowledge they either changed their current work conditions or found a job that suited them better.
Taking the test and going for several follow-up sessions with a career counselor can cost as much as $500. Fortunately, there are low-budget options. Although you can't buy it on your own, the test is widely available through adult education mini-courses. Many career offices at colleges and universities administer the test for free to students and alumni. I took the test for $10 at a two-hour evening program put on by a local trade group.
The professional trainer in charge began by explaining the MBTI. Based on Jungian psychology, it "types" people based on four scales of personal preferences: extroversion-introversion, sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, and judging-perceiving. These categories come together in 16 personality types.
For example, someone who is an introverted, sensing, thinking, perceiver, or "ISTP," as the lingo goes, has an appetite for information and doesn't like rigid schedules. The extroverted, intuitive, feeling, judger, or "ENFJ," worries about what other people think, and takes praise and criticism to heart.
All this sounds like just a lot of theory until you take the test. The version that I took, which you score yourself, included 94 multiple-choice questions like, "Are you easy to get to know, or hard to get to know?" and, "Which word appeals to you more -- 'quick' or 'careful'?"
There are no right or wrong answers. Still, I could see how my replies to some questions -- such as, "Do you prefer to arrange 'get-togethers' well in advance, or be free to do whatever looks like fun when the time comes?" -- might depend on my mood. But as it turned out, my results were on target. I realized the "feeling" and "intuitive" side of me had found no place in my previous career -- practicing law.
Knowledge like that can help you become much happier at work. Let's take workers who feel less productive in bustling offices. Based on the test, they would realize that there's nothing wrong with them. They could occasionally retreat to an empty conference room or the company library. Another option: They could negotiate for flexible hours so at least some of the work could be done when other people weren't around, or arrange to work on certain projects at home.
How you use the results of the MBTI are up to you. The book, "Do What You Are" (by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Little Brown and Co., $15.45;  759-0190) includes examples of how you can build upon strengths and address weaknesses when looking for a job. It also lists careers that might appeal to each personality type.