Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Personality and Career: The “Bipolar” Occupations

Let me begin by explaining that in the title to this blog, I am not using the term “bipolar” in its clinical sense. That is, I’m not referring to people who have alternating periods of manic and depression. Instead, I’m using the term to refer to those occupations linked to personality types that are considered polar opposites. It’s interesting to consider why some occupations can bridge these divides.

The personality taxonomy on which I’m basing this analysis is the hexagon of types described by John S. Holland. Holland’s hexagonal scheme is based on the idea that certain personality types are similar and more likely to be shared by people and by occupations (adjacent angles on the hexagon), whereas others are more distinct (opposite angles). The O*NET database follows Holland’s practice of assigning occupations to one primary personality type and one or two secondary types—in other words, positioning them between two angles of the hexagon rather than at just one angle.

I thought it would be interesting to look at occupations in the O*NET database for which the primary type and the first secondary type are at opposite ends of the hexagon. In other words, they should appeal to people who have interests and other preferences that are supposed to overlap only rarely. (Maybe you are one of these people.)

By far the largest group of these “bipolar” occupations consists of those that combine the Realistic and Social personality types. In case you need to be reminded of how these types are defined, Realistic personalities prefer hands-on work, whereas Social personality types prefer work that helps other people. These RS and SR occupations consist mainly of health-care careers. Here are a few:

Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (RSI)
Anesthesiologist Assistants (RSI)
Radiologic Technologists (RS)
Surgical Technologists (RSC)
Radiation Therapists (SRC)
Acupuncturists (SRI)
Dental Hygienists (SRC)
Respiratory Therapy Technicians (SRI)
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses (SR)
Orthotists and Prosthetists (SRI)
Athletic Trainers (SRI)
Midwives (SR)
Home Health Aides (SR)
Psychiatric Aides (SRC)
Occupational Therapy Assistants (SR)

When you read stories about the projected shortage of health-care workers, especially for hands-on roles, understand that the most important reason is the expected demand caused by an aging population. But perhaps a secondary reason is a shortage of supply that happens because it is difficult to find workers who enjoy the combination of hands-on work and caring for others.

Not all of the RS and SR occupations are in health care. Some of the RS occupations are in protective services in roles where they do hands-on work—for example, Lifeguards, Ski Patrol, and Other Recreational Protective Service Workers (RS), Municipal Firefighters (RSE), Forest Firefighters (RS), and Animal Control Workers (RSC). The SR occupations not concerned with health care are an odd mixture such as Park Naturalists (SRA), Coaches and Scouts (SRE), and Food Servers, Nonrestaurant (SRE).

The Investigative personality type (solving problems mentally) and the Enterprising type (leading and persuading) overlap mostly in a group of IE occupations that use quantitative methods to solve business problems:

Management Analysts (IEC)
Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists (IEC)
Business Intelligence Analysts (IEC)
Industrial Ecologists (IE)
Environmental Economists (IEC)
Industrial-Organizational Psychologists (IEA)
Urban and Regional Planners (IEA)

Whereas the SR occupations employ very large (and increasing) numbers of workers, the IE occupations are both fewer in number and tend to have smaller workforces. They also tend to earn much higher pay because they demand a high level of academically-acquired skills and operate in business settings.

Some of the EI occupations are similar: Business Continuity Planners (EIC), Sustainability Specialists (EIA), Fraud Examiners, Investigators and Analysts (EIC), and Search Marketing Strategists (EIC). I also find two law occupations—Lawyers (EI) and Administrative Law Judges, Adjudicators, and Hearing Officers (EIS)—plus two occupations in inquisitive protective services—Police Detectives (EI) and Criminal Investigators and Special Agents (EI). I’ve long been puzzled by the presence of police and lawyers among the Enterprising occupations, but I suppose it is because of the persuasive aspects of the work.

The last axis within the Holland hexagon runs between the Artistic (creative, independent) and Conventional (systematic, orderly) personality types. It’s interesting to find that there are no AC occupations and only one CA occupation: Proofreaders and Copy Markers (CA). Evidently it is extremely difficult to find work that combines the unstructured setting of the Artistic type with the structured setting of the Conventional type.

However, the approach I used for this blog—looking for occupations with primary and secondary types at opposite poles—is only one way to look at the relationships between pairs of Holland types. Another way is to do statistical analysis—specifically, to find the correlations between the ratings of occupations on the various types. In next week’s blog, I’ll look at the hexagon through this lens.

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