Matching Personalities to Jobs Author Identifies Ideal Personality Types for Security Roles

Which personality types are best suited for information security careers? Laurence Shatkin, author of "50 Best Jobs for Your Personality," shares tips for how to find the job that's right for you.

The good news: almost any personality type can find work in the field, Shatkin says.

For example, those with investigative personalities could enjoy researching technology trends or analyzing code. Those who enjoy following defined sets of rules might work well in conducting security audits.

"[Information security] has a lot of different roles that people can play," Shatkin says in an interview with Information Security Media Group's Tom Field [transcript below].

Artistic types may find some difficulty within information security, Shatkin says. However, creative individuals might be good matches for developing manuals or writing software.

"One thing you have to realize ... is that people often can participate in more than one personality type," he says.

In an exclusive interview about information security careers and compatible personalities, Shatkin discusses:

  • Updates to the newest edition of his book;
  • How to know your personality type;
  • Ways to find jobs that fit your type.

Shatkin, Ph.D., is the author of several books in the Best Jobs series, as well as "Panicked Student's Guide to Choosing a College Major" and many other publications from JIST Publishing. He is a leading occupational expert who appears regularly on national news programs and in major print publications to share his expertise about trends in the world of work. Shatkin is a senior product developer at JIST Publishing, has 30 years of experience in the career information field and is an award-winning career information systems developer.

TOM FIELD: To start out, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work please?

LAURENCE SHATKIN: I've been working in the field of career information for over 30 years now, and not all that time have I been writing books. Sometimes I've been developing information for computer programs, and basically I write about what goes on in the careers, not so much the whole notion of job finding, although I do write about that a little. But mostly it's about the information about the careers themselves. Certainly that would include information security careers.

Matching Jobs to Personalities

FIELD: You've got a new edition out of your book, "50 Jobs for Your Personality." If you could, tell us a bit about the premise of the book and let us know what has been updated specifically for this edition.

SHATKIN: Personality is a way of looking at the world of work from sort of the 40,000-feet view. It's a way you can quickly rule out certain things because they just don't make a good fit for you and your attitudes, the kind of skills and work situations you like to work in.

This edition, like the previous ones, looks at these occupations in terms of their economic rewards. What's best for you, apart from this personality issue, might be a lot of different things, like whether it's outdoor, indoor work or whether there's a lot of leadership and so forth. There are a lot of personal and very idiosyncratic preferences that people have. But everyone agrees on economic matters. They want to get paid well and they want to have a job, so I look at the income, at the rate of job growth and the number of job openings. These figures for income job growth and job openings are revised by the Department of Labor. Some of them are based on current surveys, and some of them are based on projections of the future job opportunities, and they change over time. The relative standings of occupations and what would turn up on a 50 best list is going to change also, and that's what I've been changing in this, what's now the third edition.

Personalities for Information Security

FIELD: Let's bring it back to information security. What personality types do you find are attracted to the profession?

SHATKIN: Almost anybody could work in this field. It really has a lot of different roles that people can play and many different kinds of things that people could be doing. For example, the investigative personality type which likes to solve intellectual problems would be someone. Someone like that would enjoy researching the information technology security trends or analyzing code, for example, looking for Trojan horses and figuring [out] how they work. Or a person like that might be developing data encryption programs. You might have someone who's more of the enterprising type, which is a person who likes to run businesses. That person would probably be playing more of a managerial role and interfacing with those parts of management regarding security issues.

Then you have your conventional types who enjoy working with a defined set of rules and they might be the kind of people who would enjoy conducting security audits to make sure that people in the organization are following the policies and the procedures that ensure information security. There are really quite a few different kinds of types of people who could be doing that.

The realistic type might be dealing more with the hardware issues. They like tinkering in general so some of that might spill over to tinkering with software and not necessarily always hardware. Then again, one other type I might mention is the social type. These are people who have very good people skills, they like working with people and these people might play more of a teaching sort of rule and teaching users how to install and use security enhancements, or they might interview information users in order to identify the situations where security vulnerabilities might arise. These are different kinds of personality types who might find a lot of satisfaction from working in information security. You can see many, many different kinds of roles people can play, different work situations and different skills can be called on, depending on which niche you choose to aim for.

Personalities That Aren't a Good Fit

FIELD: You mentioned a number of personality types: the realistic, the investigative, the social. Which personality types do you see that aren't a good fit for information security?

SHATKIN: The types that I've been talking about, these are based on the research of John Holland, and it's not the only way to look at personality. But there are six types that Holland identified and I've mentioned five. The one I didn't mention was the artistic type, and they tend to enjoy self-expression and creativity and there's less room for these people in this field, though there certainly is some kind of mix they might find. For example, writing manuals, that company's security software. I lean toward the artist type because I enjoy writing and so someone with that kind of personality type might be looking at that role to play in it. Actually, there's a certain amount of artistic, creative imagination that goes into people who deal with the software, who actually create the software to deal with security and so they may border in-between the investigative type and the artistic type.

One thing you have to realize about personality types that Holland may have emphasized in his research and his writing is that people often can participate in more than one personality type. They may be on the borderline between a couple of different types.

Changing Personality Types

FIELD: How do you know what your type is or what your types are and can you change your type if that's your desire? Say you're an artistic type, but you really want to go into information security, can you pursue a different type of personality?

SHATKIN: As I mentioned, you may participate in more than one type. You may be characterized by more than one personality type. There may be a secondary type and it may be that, for example, even if "artistic" tends to dominate in your personality, you may be able to work in one of your less dominant types and get satisfaction for your creativity in something you do outside of work, some hobby that you do. Maybe you're painting part-time or you play music in the evening or something like that. You have to realize this isn't an exact science and there's no exact scientific way to discover what sort of type you are. It helps to read descriptions of them. There are inventories and questionnaires people can take to help them focus on these matters. A lot of this just consists of a lot of introspection. You can accomplish a lot just by reading definitions of the personality types and thinking about what situations you've been in [during] the past and might fit in the future. It may also help to talk to your friends and relatives who know you and can say, "Well, you're really not the creative type. You're more of the kind of person who enjoys following a set of rules." Things like that might help you focus on a personality type.

Whether they can change or not, Holland thought they're pretty robust. They tend to be something that people stay in over a course of a lifetime, but as I said people may really share certain aspects of more than one personality type so they may choose to express one more than another in their work from time to time.

FIELD: There really isn't a Myers-Briggs type self-examination someone is going to take. It really requires reading the descriptions, thinking about them and how they fit into your life. Is that so?

SHATKIN: As you mentioned, there are instruments that people can use to do that, and you mentioned Myers-Briggs and that's a completely different way of looking at personality from the Holland types that I mentioned, and a lot of people get a lot of these out of those Myers-Briggs types. Personally, I don't care for them. I have a problem with the notion of totally bi-polar types where it's defined by the extremes. Most people tend to be toward the middle of most personality descriptors so I don't have much interest in the Myers-Briggs types. But as I said, there are some people who do tend toward one extreme to another. For example, they're extremely introverted, and looking at a career's point of view of introversion or extroversion might be useful for people like that who tend toward one extreme of a type.

Tips for Employees

FIELD: What should employers be mindful of when they're thinking about personality types of prospective candidates and security positions? What should they be thinking about?

SHATKIN: I tend to write on the perspective of people who are good career decision-makers rather than from employers, but employers do need to be looking at personality types of people. It helps to find someone who's going to fit in and I've been in a job where I just didn't fit in. It was just not congruent with my personality type and I didn't last there very long, so employers really have to think about this and I wouldn't advise them to give people tests, but I would advise them to talk to employees and make sure the employees know the kind of work they would be doing. For example, if it's one that's very rule-bound and an artistic or even investigative type might not fit in very well in that situation, then the employer should make that pretty clear to the employee. Obviously, the employee also has an obligation before taking the job to investigate it and make sure that he or she knows what he or she's getting into.

Another thing employers have to consider - and by the way this is one of the traps of personality theory - is the notion that birds of the feather should flock together and that it should always be this way. There's certain danger to having too many people who are exactly the same working together. There's a danger of group think. It helps to have a certain amount of variety and have people who are saying, "Well, why should we do it this way," and question the prevailing corporate culture, for example. It's helpful to have that. Obviously, you have to keep some sort of balance between people fitting in and people just being locked into one way of thinking. I think there's a balance you can strike between those two.

FIELD: How should employers and employees alike use this new edition of your book?

SHATKIN: I write this for career decision-makers so I'm not sure how employers might use this, but people who are making career decisions can be using this to start thinking about career change, if that's something that they want to do or something they feel compelled to do. Some people are in a situation where they have to change their career and this may open up ideas or careers for them that can be congruent with their personality type and that have a lot of economic opportunity that can pay well and have lots of job openings and job growth. That's what the book focuses on and that's how it could be useful to them.

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