Does your personality suit self-employment?

By Chloe Jepps
Research Correspondent

Deputy Head of Research at IPSE

The Myers-Briggs personality test has taken the world by storm, and new research suggests that your personality profile could determine which type of employment best suits you.

Taylor Swift. Jennifer Lopez. Bill Clinton. Oh… and Cersei Lannister. What connects them? Well, me. Or that’s what the Myers-Briggs Test tells me, anyway.

If you haven’t heard of it, Myers-Briggs is the personality profile test based on Jungian psychological theory, which asks you a series of agree-disagree questions about your personality, ultimately giving you a four-letter code (mine is ESFJ, in case you were wondering).

Based on that code, supposedly, you can find out about everything from the best career paths for you to how your friendships work and even how you are as a parent.

A man completing an online quiz

So, what does this have to do with freelancing?

Well, the Myers-Briggs company has just published a report on how personality relates to freelancing. Called Type and the Gig Economy, it looks at self-employment from a very interesting new angle, asking questions like ‘Are some personality types more suited to self-employment?’ and ‘How can clients adapt to different self-employed personality types?’

The report establishes how personality differs between those who work in the gig economy and those in regular jobs. It also looks at the motivations for becoming self-employed and the positives and negatives of this way of working compared to ‘traditional’ employment.

John Hackston, head of thought leadership at Myers-Briggs and the lead author of the report, noted just how little research there was on this area.

He said: “When we looked at it, we realised just how many organisations rely on freelancers and gig workers and how little research there is in the area in terms of things like the personality of people who go into the gig economy, what their motivations are, how those relate to personality.”

In the report, gig workers are defined as those who are “employed on a freelance basis, carrying out short-term jobs or contracts, not necessarily fixed to a single employer”.

The report started with the standard Myers-Briggs personality test, which comes up with that letter code I mentioned earlier by looking at four different areas:

The findings are based on a sample of 1,308 people who responded to an online survey. They were a mix of ‘gig economy’ workers (most people would probably call it general self-employment), employees and people who do a mixture of both.

The sample of self-employed people was largely made up of highly skilled workers. “One thing we didn’t realise until we started looking into the data,” John said, “is that skilled workers actually make up the largest proportion of the gig economy if you take a wider view of this sector.”

What did they find?

The report found that for most people (70%), the best thing about self-employment is having autonomy, freedom and flexibility. Although this finding was not new in itself, John said that “what surprised us was just how strongly this came out, way ahead of other things”.

For John, another of the most interesting results was, “the extent to which the best thing about gig jobs and the best thing about regular jobs were mirror images of each other; this was similar for the worst things”.

He added: “It’s so clear. People are looking for very different things and see very different things as good or bad about gig jobs versus regular jobs.”

For those in regular jobs, the most positive things were having a regular or guaranteed salary and having consistency and security.

In self-employment, people said the worst aspects were insecurity and uncertainty about the next job, always having to hustle for it, and irregular or inconsistent income. Others complained of other factors like loneliness, isolation and low pay.

Are there four-letter personality codes out there that make you more likely to be self-employed?

Well, not really. But there are specific characteristics that make it more likely. Two personality traits above all were found to be more common in self-employment: ‘intuition’ (as opposed to ‘sensing’) and ‘perceiving’ (as opposed to ‘judging’). (Not, you’ll note, any of the ones in my personality code!)

John explained: “people with a preference for intuition are less focused on the detail, less focused on the here and now, more focused on the future and more likely to like variety”.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator explains that those who have a preference for ‘perceiving’ are more spontaneous and enjoy new situations. They prefer to leave their options open and see rules and deadlines as flexible. These are all things that tally with the freedom and flexibility of self-employment.

"If you have a specific personality type, there are certain things that you can address to improve your experience"

“What was interesting,” John said, “was the extent to which people with different personality types felt different things were best or worst about working in the gig economy. This allowed us to produce guidelines for individuals based on their personality.

“For instance, if you have a specific personality type and you’re considering going into a gig role or you are in a gig role already, there are certain things that you can address to improve your experience.

“Many people enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working in the freelance economy, but if they know more about their own personality, it can help them understand why they enjoy certain aspects of freelance work and dislike others and help get the most from their jobs.”

John concluded by saying: “We hope the findings are useful for the individual gig or freelance worker in understanding how their personality might fit and how to best make use of this. We also hope the findings are useful to organisations in understanding the particular needs and wants of individual gig workers, which may or may not be well served by their client.”

Hopefully, then, the report will be a valuable tool to help both clients and freelancers themselves understand how personality fits into the ever-growing self-employed sector.

Whether it is or not, it was certainly valuable for telling me that I probably shouldn’t down tools and take the leap into self-employment any time soon…