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Maths Careers

Before I discuss careers in more general terms, I thought it would be appropriate - given the main emphasis of my site - to discuss briefly some of the many careers and fields in which maths proves, directly or indirectly, to be of - paradoxically - incalculable worth.

To those of you already studying maths, or thinking about starting a course in maths, the career prospects are plentiful. Some of the typical industries that appeal to students following further maths courses are engineering, teaching, insurance, accounting, banking, finance, actuarial science, statistics, risk assessment and operational research to name just a few. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find many careers in which a good knowledge of maths, with its reliance on logic and well-reasoned argumentation, didn't confer a distinct advantage.

Maths also makes the perfect companion subject in a wide range of joint honours degree programmes at university level such as business, finance, actuarial science, physics, computer science, psychology and philosophy.

So what makes maths such a versatile and universally applicable language?

Partly, its versatility is built on the consensus that it's necessarily a 'good thing' to have a set of quantitative methods, logical rules and axioms that enable us to recreate or simulate models of the world around us that facilitate high-precision measurements and highly reliable predictions. Ultimately, maths is so robust because it's so useful. From the platonic forms of Euclidean geometry and the abstract concepts of number, quantity and ratio emerge useful means by which we can interpret empirical data from observations, discover patterns, derive universally applicable generalisations, and solve practical every-day problems.

To read some more of my thoughts on the importance of maths, please feel free to check out an article I've written on the subject on my blog page in which I attempt to answer the question, Is maths important?

All Careers

Having taken a brief look at careers for maths specifically, let us now take a more general look at some of the ways in which an individual, regardless of academic background or interests, can narrow down the search for their 'ideal career'.

There are many factors to consider, but for simplicity, I like to divide them into three main areas, or headings, as listed below:

1. Motivation
2. Aptitude
3. Personality

I like to refer to these three headings (and non-controversially I hope) as the Holy Trinity of any quest for the ideal career. Another way to consider these headings is in conjunction with the following questions:

Motivation - What are your interests, passions and hobbies, and can you relate any of these to a career you might enjoy doing?

Aptitude - What are you able to do? What are your strengths in terms of skills, knowledge and personal qualities, and how could you best employ these strengths whilst still getting paid?

Personality - What type of working environments best suit you? Are you more of a gregarious extrovert or perhaps a solitary introvert? Are you the emotionally-removed thinking type when it comes to decision making or perhaps more of the feeling type? Getting a handle on your approximate personality type can be really useful in narrowing down your shortlist of prospective careers. I will be exploring personality profiling in more detail later in this section.

To some, these three headings may seem so obvious they hardly need stating. Nevertheless, I believe it to be a worthwhile exercise to constantly remind yourself of these three basic areas in your career search, and to ask yourself how you rate on each in relation to a prospective career you may be considering.

Ideally, the search for your ideal career should incorporate all three elements equally. Having a low compatibility score on any one from three is likely to sabotage overall job satisfaction. Clearly, two out of three is better than one, and one better than none, but high compatibility scores on all three should be aimed for if you are to achieve your ultimate goal of landing a career which offers overall and well-rounded satisfaction. As an example, consider an insurance salesman who possesses excellent sales skills along with a people-oriented and customer-focused personality. Despite these important attributes, if he lacks a genuine interest in - or motivation for - the product or service he is providing, he's undermining his overall sense of job fulfilment. He's not doing too badly with two out of three boxes ticked (and I dare say a good deal better than many), but there's still room for improvement.

I will not be looking at 'Motivation' and 'Aptitude' in too much detail other than to briefly discuss Jim Barrett's approach to these two aspects in his excellent book,

Career Aptitude and Selection Tests: Match Your IQ Personality and Abilities to Your Ideal Career (Career Success).

In his book, 'Motivation' is divided into seven sub-categories as follows:


You are then invited to take tests to help you establish what your predominant interests are with respect to the seven listed above, and how importantly each rates alongside potential careers.  

Similarly, 'Aptitude' is divided into seven sub-categories, which I have listed below:

Physical Reasoning
Verbal Penetration
Numerical Deduction
Critical Dissection

Again, specific tests within the book will then help you gauge where your strengths lie with respect to these seven, and how importantly each rates alongside potential careers.

The 'Personality' profiling test which the book adopts is similar to the popular Myers-Briggs test with its four dichotomous pairs of preferences. Although I will be inviting guests to take the Myers-Briggs test later, for now I will briefly outline the slightly altered approach and pairings used in Jim Barrett's book.

The four pairings used in the book are as follows:

Gregarious vs. Solitary (G vs. So)
Assertive vs. Passive (A vs. P)         First two pairs (relationship to people)

Factual vs. Imaginative (F vs. I)
Spontaneous vs. Deliberate (Sp vs. D)     Second two pairs (task orientation)

It's then suggested the reader work through a questionnaire included within the book to find out which of the paired opposites they lean most towards for each of the four grouped pairs.

The first two pairs aim to ascertain where, on a 4-quadrant grid or compass, an individual sits with regards their relationship to 'people'. Naturally, there are 2 x 2 combinations or 4 overall possibilities for 'People Types' and these are summarised below:

People types

Gregarious and Assertive (GA) - the Commanders
Gregarious and Passive (GP) - the Facilitators
Solitary and Assertive (SoA) -
the Consultants
Solitary and Passive (SoP) - the Supporters

The second two pairs aim to ascertain where, on a 4-quadrant grid or compass, an individual sits with regards their 'task orientation'. Again, there are 2 x 2 combinations or 4 overall possibilities for 'Task orientation' and these are summarised below:

Task orientations

Factual and Deliberate (FD) -
Factual and Spontaneous (FSp) - Implementing
Imaginative and Deliberate (ID) - Planning
Imaginative and Spontaneous (ISp) - Experimenting

Given that there are 4 'people types' and 4 'task orientations' possible from this particular test, it follows that there are 4 x 4 or 16 different ways of combining 'people' with 'task' thus yielding 16 people-task personality types. I have outlined these below:

Gregarious, Assertive, Factual, Deliberate - Commanding Organiser
Gregarious, Assertive, Factual, Spontaneous - Commanding Implementer
Gregarious, Assertive, Imaginative, Deliberate - Commanding Planner
Gregarious, Assertive, Imaginative, Spontaneous - Commanding Experimenter
Gregarious, Passive, Factual, Deliberate - Facilitating Organiser
Gregarious, Passive, Factual, Spontaneous - Facilitating Implementer
Gregarious, Passive, Imaginative, Deliberate - Facilitating Planner
Gregarious, Passive, Imaginative, Spontaneous - Facilitating Experimenter
Solitary, Assertive, Factual, Deliberate - Consulting Organiser
Solitary, Assertive, Factual, Spontaneous - Consulting Implementer
Solitary, Assertive, Imaginative, Deliberate - Consulting Planner
Solitary, Assertive, Imaginative, Spontaneous - Consulting Experimenter
Solitary, Passive, Factual, Deliberate - Supporting Organiser
Solitary, Passive, Factual, Spontaneous - Supporting Implementer
Solitary, Passive, Imaginative, Deliberate - Supporting Planner
Solitary, Passive, Imaginative, Spontaneous - Supporting Experimenter

The idea is to try and establish from the psychometric questionnaire which of the 16 types above is the closest approximate match to your actual personality, and to use this information to start thinking about the sorts of careers that might suit your type.

Finally, towards the end of the book you encounter an extensive A-Z listing of careers whereupon you are encouraged to pick out as many prime candidate careers as you can and systematically score each candidate in terms of both the breakdown scores and aggregate scores you obtained for the three categories of Motivation, Aptitude and Personality. So, for example, if you ascertained from your test scores that you are predominantly Experimenting and Organising (i.e. E and O for Motivation), Verification, Verbal Penetration, Numerical Deduction and Critical Dissection (i.e. Ve, V, N and C for Aptitude) and Factual and Deliberate (i.e. F and D for Personality) you may want to consider a career as an actuary or perhaps a statistician as these careers appear to suit those very same motivations, aptitudes and personality traits. 

To make best use of the careers table, you simply list all the initials summarising your motivations, aptitudes and personality and then see how these initials best correlate, or match up, with those provided against each career listed in the table.

It may well be that you already have strong intuitions about your ideal career. However, it's still nice and reassuring to have those intuitions reinforced by a neat and systematic methodology of this kind. After all, It's one thing to be certain, and quite another to be able to quantify your certainty.

Myers-Briggs Personality Test

The Myers-Briggs Test (or MBT for short) is the original psychometric, careers-related test first developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers in the 1960s. The MBT takes the form of a questionnaire assessment which aims to try and establish psychological preferences. The inspiration behind it was Carl Gustav Jung's 1921 book 'Psychological Types' in which Jung proposed there were four principal psychological functions by which we perceive the world and make decisions, namely: sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. One of the main ways in which Briggs and Myers attempted to advance Jung's work was by applying it to psychological profiling within the workplace and also by incorporating the added fourth dimension of 'judging vs. perception' to try and establish how a given type interacts with the external world.

As with the variation on the Myers-Briggs Test which we looked at previously, the format and basic principles are the same. This is because the previous variation -along with most others - borrows heavily from the work of Jung, Briggs and Myers. The MBT questionnaire aims to establish your psychological propensities from a list of four distinct dichotomous pairs of cognitive functions. These pairs are divided into the following 4 dimensions:

Extrovert vs. Introvert (The Energy Dimension)
Sensor vs. Intuitive (The Information Dimension)
Thinker vs. Feeler (The Decision Dimension)
Perceiver vs. Judger (The Action Dimension)

Since the test is designed to determine which one of two traits predominates from each of 4 dimensions we see that, again, the total number of personality types is given by 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16.

I have listed these below:

Extrovert, Sensor, Thinker, Perceiver - Energetic Doer
Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinker, Perceiver - Ground-breaking Thinker
Extrovert, Sensor, Feeler, Perceiver - Laid-back Doer
Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeler, Perceiver - Spontaneous Idealist
Extrovert, Sensor, Thinker, Judger - Determined Realist
Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger - Dynamic Thinker
Extrovert, Sensor, Feeler, Judger - Social Realist
Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeler, Judger - Engaged Idealist
Introvert, Sensor, Thinker, Perceiver - Individualistic Doer
Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Perceiver - Analytical Thinker
Introvert, Sensor, Feeler, Perceiver - Sensitive Doer
Introvert, Intuitive, Feeler, Perceiver - Dreamy Idealist
Introvert, Sensor, Thinker, Judger - Reliable Realist
Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger - Independent Thinker
Introvert, Sensor, Feeler, Judger - Good-natured Realist
Introvert, Intuitive, Feeler, Judger - Harmony-seeking Idealist

As before, the idea is to try and establish, from a sufficiently detailed questionnaire, which of the 16 types above represents the closest approximate match to your own actual personality.

Before I invite you to work through the questionnaire I have provided, I should mention that there are no right or wrong answers, and no personality type which is considered better or worse than any other. It is therefore important for the individual to be as honest and objective as possible when answering the questions so as to more precisely measure preferences and thus facilitate a more effective careers search strategy.

In reality, most people will be a combination of many, if not all, personality types to varying degrees. If you're anything like me (and I sincerely hope for your sake that you're not) you may even switch personalities from time to time! However, this does not defeat the object of the test, which is simply to try and ascertain which personality type is most predominant.

It also hasn't escaped my attention that 16 types is not nearly enough choices to even come close to summing up a personality in all its complexity and individuality. Having said that, it would be clearly impractical to have a test yielding as many types as there are people. For a start, who would wade through the sheer number of questions required in such a test? For this reason, I still maintain that 16 types represents a happy medium for establishing approximate preferences which should then help you to narrow down the hunt for that elusive ideal career.

To avoid the charge of attempting to dismissively psychoanalyse or neatly tidy away any of you into distinct boxes, I will resort to paraphrasing one of my favourite non sequiturs so as to reassure you all:

'I am fully aware that each and every one of you is unique..... Just like everyone else!!!'

And now I invite you to answer the list of questions for the Myers-Briggs Test as objectively as you can. To receive feedback once you have completed this exercise, you will need to enter your email address in the space provided at the end of the questionnaire, and then click on the 'submit' button. For the sake of a few well-spent minutes of your time you will then receive back from me a free report indicating your strongest personality type along with a summary description (which should be uncannily accurate if the test is working well) and a list of potential careers for your predominant type.

For those of you interested in further reading, and in addressing in more detail the other two equally important guiding aspects of 'motivation' and 'aptitude', I would once again strongly recommend you read Jim Barrett's book:

Career Aptitude and Selection Tests: Match Your IQ Personality and Abilities to Your Ideal Career (Career Success)

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