Personality: The Way to Find the Work You Love

We are delighted to introduce Mark Swain, who will be one of our regular contributors at Hello Grads. 
Mark is Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School, delivering high-end learning and leadership development to senior business executives. He will be talking and writing about some pressing issues for graduates, and this week he focuses on happiness.
Mark reveals that happiness depends on:



Image (self and projected)



It neatly spells P-R-I-M-E (very appropriate to graduates, as you are clearly in your prime!) But perhaps you’re struggling to get on how you expected…?  Over the next 5 days, Mark will explain how to make the best of each aspect, and what we can change to boost our happiness.

Personality: The Way to Find the Work You Love

As the saying goes, ‘give me the boy and I’ll show you the man’, which means roughly that you can predict how the adult will be from the child you see. If you want to spark a fiery debate, talk to people about the influence of nature and nurture. You’ll struggle to find a consensus, but there’s no doubt that our early and formative years shape the adult we become.

Conventional wisdom says that someone’s personality forms at about the age of six or seven. The next key stage is around puberty and you’re pretty much complete by the time you’re 21. OK, so I’ve just grossly over-simplified hundreds of years of psychology, but in simple terms by the time you graduate your personality is pretty much locked-in and you are what you are.

Now most of us would admit to some hang-ups about our physiology – I can’t stand the bump on my nose and the fact that my legs look like they belong to someone even shorter than me. Our imperfections are usually pretty clear from early on, because they are outside and obvious. But many of us would also (cautiously) confess to some quirkiness, or vulnerability or susceptibility when it comes to your personality. And yet what’s inside one’s personality is pretty poorly understood.

So how can you possibly hope to find your true vocation, or at least your ‘happy job’ (to smile/bounce/whistle/sing when you enter your workplace rather than when you leave) if you don’t understand your own personality? You could read self-help books, submit to therapy, or lie on the psychiatrist’s couch for hours reflecting on what made you the person you’ve become. And then wondering what we can do about it…

But I’m not keen on that approach, it’s much too deep for me. Here’s a different suggestion… Instead you could think of your personality like anything else you need to learn. Are you familiar with Bloom’s ‘Taxonomy of Learning’? It’s what your lecturers would have used to think about how to make your learning more varied and interesting. Bloom’s original work has six stages to cognitive learning, with increasing levels of difficulty – knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis (putting together the parts to form a whole) and evaluation. So I’m going to offer you six hints and tips for those first three levels – the knowledge, the comprehension and the application – so you can get to know your personality, what really makes you tick and use that self-awareness to find the work you’ll really enjoy. Happy? Then here goes…

strength and weaknesses

Know it

This is the obvious place to start. Knowing what motivates you, your strengths, how you like to work (and the type of environment that suits you) is a hugely powerful insight when you’re looking for a job. You’ll be aware of psychometric tests. You could take the best ones like Myers Briggs, and get someone qualified to share and interpret the results. Do a few tests and see which you think most accurately describes you as a person (be honest with yourself though**). Take a look at Career Direction – Things to Consider  and Personality Tests for more info.

** Beware – don’t ever, ever fake it. Having spent four years in recruitment, I’ve seen many candidates at interview try to fake their psychometric tests, thinking that there’s a desired personality type or shape into which they need to morph. That’s a train smash. Either you’ll be found out or (worse) end up successful, but in a job that only suits the personality of someone you pretended to be. Sounds like a world of pain to me.


Group it

I know everyone is an individual (I’m a name not a number!), but it’s useful to group your personality into one of the established ‘type-indicators’. I’m not a fan of the conventional introvert/extrovert categorisation, but psychometric tests like Myers Briggs can give you a broad-brush understanding of yourself and what work might suit your style. That way you can group jobs into families – that have similar characteristics or require similar personalities – and then steer yourself towards cultures, places and roles where you’ll thrive and not just survive.


Embrace it

More than just accepting it and loving it, you need to embrace it – meaning completely going along with who you are. Personally, it took me a while to do that, but I got there in the end. I had to accept certain things. For example, my ability to develop new relationships quickly is a skill learned from back when my parents fostered troubled children. My inability (or at least my struggle) to deepen relationships comes from the same experiences. So there’s a positive and a negative. Fortunately I’ve embraced that and accepted how it shapes my working life.


Practise it

Even I think this one sounds slightly odd. How can you practise your personality? Go with me for a second. What I mean is that you should practise how you react to certain situations and how you respond to your triggers – everyone has them. You should create a library of examples that show how your personality has helped you achieve good and great things. You should rehearse telling stories about yourself that show your personality in a good light. I often recount the tale of how a McKinsey-led change programme (Management Consultancy) completely changed my passion and my career. I don’t talk directly about my personality, but people can hear that I love new challenges and most recruiters like someone who’s up for a challenge.


Stretch it

You’ve probably heard family and teachers telling you to challenge yourself every day. Personality can be limiting, so once you understand it push its boundaries and do things that aren’t natural. Ignore it (sometimes) and try some work that feels unnatural. For example, if you’re arty then try something that demands more numeracy; if you’re a home bee try something that requires travel; if you’re an introvert then try something that requires constant contact with customers. You’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll really get to know your personality and just how far you can push yourself. Then you’ll be ready to make better choices about the work you really want to do. Be prepared to be surprised. Sometimes your fears are unfounded, often you like different things more than you thought. You’ll always be the person you see in your graduation photograph, wearing the slightly crooked mortar board and clutching the scroll, but you won’t necessarily end up doing what you expected.


Leverage it

For many, this will be the hardest of the six and yet it’s easier than you think. If you know your personality, even moderately, you should be able to isolate the characteristics that ‘sell you well’.  OK, so this requires some EQ and self-awareness. I’m an extrovert (but not excessively so) who is also quite thoughtful. Crucially I just find everyone interesting. Put those characteristics together and you have someone who’s good at turning cold relationships into warm ones. Here’s a suggestion – why don’t you play the ‘so what’ game? Imagine you are sitting in a room being interviewed by a grumpy recruiter, for the job you’ve always wanted. They’ve interviewed five people before you that day and you can tell. They ask you to describe yourself. You offer something good about your personality. The look on their face says they are thinking ‘so what’? How do you respond? What would you say next? Give them an answer that says how that part of your personality would add value, or create impact in the role you’re discussing. Then you’ll be well on the way to getting that perfect opportunity.

So those are my six tips. 🙂 Enjoy having fun with my suggestions and tell me what works. Don’t be afraid of this stuff. Getting to know yourself better doesn’t open a Pandora’s Box, or let the monkey escape from the cage (read Steve Peters’ brilliant ‘The Chimp Paradox’ to explain that remark). Personality is a huge topic and I’ve deliberately kept it simple. If you’re already self-aware, use this blog to build on that knowledge. But if you’re starting from scratch, then I suggest you begin now. Get to know yourself much, much better. And remember that mastering your own personality takes a while, but master it you will (did I sound a bit like Star Wars’ Yoda then?). It just takes time and some effort, but finding the work you love always does.

Read Mark’s next Happiness blog tomorrow:

PRIME: Resilience


See more from Mark Swain:

For Those Shrinking Violets
Top tips for introverts, and for extroverts who want to better understand the introverts you know


Mark Swain

Mark Swain

Director of Partnerships at Henley Business School





About Mark Swain

Mark has enjoyed a career across sales, marketing and many aspects of HR. As Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School, he delivers high-end learning and leadership development to senior business executives – through training, events and networking.

Contact: or and @meritology

Director of Partnerships at the Henley Business School
FInstSMM – Fellow of the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management
Fellow at The Learning & Performance Institute
Lead consultant at The Chemistry Group

Education: University of Portsmouth – Economics