ESTPs are adventurous, competitive, and love to shake things up.
Reading time: 16 minutes
The ESTP is one of 16 types from the popular Myers-Briggs tradition. In this post, you’ll learn about how the ESTP type is related to the modern, scientific personality system known as the Big Five. You’ll also see the interpersonal behaviors and career interests that many ESTPs have in common.
You can jump straight to any section by clicking the links below. Otherwise, we’ll start with the classic definition of the ESTP personality type.
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In the popular Myers-Briggs or 16-personalities tradition, all personalities belong to one of 16 types. Each type is defined by preferences across four cognitive functions:
ESTPs are Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Perceiving.
Extraverted people are focused outwards. They prefer exploring and engaging with the external world of people and objects rather than reflecting on the inner world of ideas and thoughts.
People who prefer Sensing tend to gather information through direct observation. They prefer using their five senses to learn about their world rather than more intuitive, theoretical approaches to learning and understanding.
People who prefer Thinking often lean heavily on logic, consistency, and correctness when making decisions. Unlike those who prefer Feeling, they are less easily swayed by empathy or other social considerations when evaluating a course of action.
People who prefer Perceiving tend to relate to other people through their perceiving preference, which is Sensing for ESTPs. Other people will see SP-types, like the ESTP, as observant and more reactive to their sensory experience, rather than as slow and cautious decision-makers.
While the 16-personality framework and its complex cognitive functions are fun and intriguing, they are less useful for predicting important life outcomes, like relationships, health, happiness, hobbies, educational and career outcomes.
The reality of personality differences is much more complicated than 16 types. This complexity is why modern personality science uses dimensions or traits to describe personalities, rather than simple categories or types.
For example, labeling someone as “Extraverted” or “Introverted” is a vast oversimplification. Every individual falls somewhere on a broad spectrum between highly extraverted and highly introverted.
Moreover, a single dimension like Extraversion/Introversion is inadequate for fully describing someone’s personality. In general, several dimensions are necessary to create a complete picture of an individual’s unique character.
Below, I’ll describe how ESTPs fit into the modern world of personality dimensions.
In personality studies, scientific researchers often use a trait-based approach to describing the differences between people instead of using personality types. The most well-established method is the Big Five, which describes differences along five broad dimensions:
Your combined positions across all Big Five dimensions describe your personality.
How does this relate to the ESTP? People with the same type tend to have similar (but not identical) Big Five dimensions.
The graph below shows how ESTPs score on the Big Five dimensions. Each blue dot is an ESTP, and darker blue areas mean more ESTPs are in that area.
For example, on the Agreeableness dimension, ESTPs tend to score higher than average, so the High and Very High areas are very dark blue. But, you might notice that there are a few blue dots in the Low area of Agreeableness.
So, while most ESTPs tend to be on the higher end of Agreeableness, there are a few exceptions.
Below, you can see more detail on how ESTPs score on each Big Five dimension.
ESTPs tend to score lower on Openness to Experience, meaning they are often more conventional or traditional. Almost all ESTPs score below average on this dimension.
Openness to Experience describes your need for new information, feelings, and experiences.
Less open people prefer the familiar ways of doing things. They are less interested in trying new things or seeking out new experiences. They also tend to be less eccentric and have more conventional tastes in hobbies, music, and reading material.
Highly open people have diverse interests, and they may feel a constant need to learn and try new things.
ESTPs typically score lower on Conscientiousness, with about 95% of ESTPs scoring below the average.
Conscientiousness describes your tendency to plan, organize, and persistently focus on long-term goals.
Less conscientious people, like many ESTPs, tend to be more spontaneous or impulsive. They are more interested in the present or short-term future, and more likely to change their mind, or change direction when obstacles arise.
Highly conscientious people are more likely to set goals far in the future, then come up with detailed plans on how to achieve these goals. They are also more likely to stick to the goals they set and more persistent in working through difficulty to reach them.
ESTPs almost always score on the high end of Extraversion, with about 95% of ESTPs scoring above average on this dimension.
Extraversion describes your assertiveness, enthusiasm, and experiences of positive emotions.
Like many ESTPs, highly extraverted people tend to be more socially outgoing and talkative, and they often seek out more stimulating environments (think loud, crowded, or risky and exciting situations). High extraverts also feel and express positive emotions (e.g., joy, laughter, excitement) more intensely and more frequently.
Highly introverted people are more socially reserved and quiet. They have a lower tolerance for highly stimulating environments and often retreat to calm and quiet situations in solitude. They also experience positive emotions less intensely and less frequently. For example, others may notice that introverts tend to smile and laugh less often than most.
ESTPs are usually more demanding, with about 85% of ESTPs scoring below average on Agreeableness.
Agreeableness describes your interpersonal warmth, politeness, and empathy.
Like many ESTPs, less agreeable (or more demanding) people are often less concerned with others when pursuing their own goals. They are more willing to create conflict or express disagreement across most situations and feel less discomfort during interpersonal disputes.
Highly agreeable people feel a deep need to maintain warm, friendly relationships and are naturally more hesitant to impose their will on others. They will be more considerate of how their actions impact others and try to reduce or resolve interpersonal conflicts when they arise.
ESTPs vary widely in Neuroticism, but most fall on the low end of this dimension. About 70% of ESTPs score below average on Neuroticism.
Neuroticism describes how frequently and how intensely you experience negative emotions, like anxiety, anger, and sadness.
Like most ESTPs, less neurotic people are more easy-going, have more predictable moods, and are more resilient under stress. They also experience less of the harmful types of self-consciousness, like rumination and self-doubt, reported by more neurotic people.
Highly neurotic people tend to worry more, have more frequent mood swings, withdraw when feeling distressed, and feel more self-conscious.
You are more complex than four letters
No two ESTPs are the same. Learn about your unique blend of personality dimensions.
There are several exceptional patterns commonly seen in the ESTPs:
ESTPs don’t mind occasionally showing off or causing a scene, when the mood strikes them.
ESTPs often score higher on Extraversion and lower on Conscientiousness. Together, this combines to form an unpredictable blend of thrill-seeking and rebelliousness. Most ESTPs are comfortable being at center stage and know how to use the attention to accomplish their goals.
With their combination of lower Conscientiousness and lower Openness, ESTPs will often prefer living for the here and now, rather than making detailed plans for a distant future. Their preference for the present may lead them to change their minds frequently, depending on their current circumstances.
While their spontaneous and flexible nature can make them more adaptable in the short-term, these same qualities allow them to be easily distracted while working towards longer-term goals.
ESTPs will often say what they mean and use very few words to say it.
High Openness is related to using more sophisticated, abstract language, whereas lower Openness (as seen in ESTPs) correlates with more straightforward, concrete words and phrases. Combined with this, most ESTPs tend to score lower on Agreeableness, which influences our use of polite, friendly language. The lower Agreeableness of many ESTPs may be behind their more direct and frank communication.
ESTPs often score on the lower ends of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, two dimensions closely related to trust and adherence to social norms.
People who score low on both, like ESTPs, tend to be suspicious of others’ motives and have a greater distrust of individuals and institutions.
They may feel an inherent resistance to authority and certain social conventions. Rather than following others and trying to fit in, ESTPs have a strong independent streak and prefer to go their own way.
How do other people see and describe ESTPs?
The wordcloud below shows over 50 words used to describe people with similar Big Five personality dimensions as a typical ESTP. Larger words describe the more prominent aspects of ESTPs.
Because no two ESTPs are the same, some of the words above may be better descriptors of a particular individual than others. You can see your personality’s own unique set of words with TraitLab’s free assessment.
Which words describe you?
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You might have noticed that some individuals have a consistent effect on you every time you interact with them. For example, one particular friend might make you consistently laugh and smile more than usual. Or, one reliably passive coworker or classmate may tend to bring out your bossier, more demanding side.
Each of us has a typical interpersonal style. This style influences how others think and feel when they are around you, and in turn, it can affect how they interact back with you.
A classic method of visualizing interpersonal style is using the circular figure below. The vertical axis shows your style in terms of dominance, with a highly assertive style at the top (Assured-Dominant) and a highly passive style at the bottom (Unassured-Submissive). The horizontal axis shows your style in terms of warmth, with a cold and impersonal style on the left (Cold-Aggressive) and a friendly, empathetic manner on the right (Warm-Agreeable).
The shaded blue area shows the typical interpersonal style of ESTPs across eight dimensions. Notice the areas where the blue area extends closer to the outer edges of the circle. These are the aspects that most heavily influence ESTPs’ interactions.
To summarize the graph above, four aspects most heavily influence ESTPs’ interpersonal style:
The chart below shows how the personality traits of ESTPs are related to the classic RIASEC career interests: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Your unique blend of these interests dramatically influences how well a career feels like a good fit.
On each dimension, you’ll see areas where ESTPs tend to crowd up (shown by the dark blue bars). These are the areas where ESTPs are most likely to fall.
But, you’ll also find ESTPs the entire range of each dimension. While most ESTPs tend to have relatively low Investigative interests, there are still a few ESTPs who score above average.
Most ESTPs tend to have the following pattern of interests:
High Realistic interests (Doers): People with high Realistic interests enjoy careers that allow them to work with their hands or tools to get a job done, rather than thinking or talking about it. They may also gravitate towards jobs with opportunities for working outdoors, competition, and risk-taking. Examples include police officers, military officers, professional athletes, farmers, builders, mechanics, forest rangers, and woodworkers.
High Enterprising interests (Persuaders): People with strong Enterprising interests are often skilled communicators who enjoy influencing, persuading, and leading others. They actively pursue leadership roles and opportunities to bolster their status and reputation. Examples include sales and marketing directors, politicians and political organizers, and executives.
Average Conventional interests (Organizers): People with strong Conventional interests excel in roles that require categorizing, planning, and systematizing information and processes. Examples include financial officers, budget analysts, office managers, database analysts, and systems administrators.
Average Investigative interests (Thinkers): People with strong Investigative interests prefer roles that require observation, researching, and understanding ideas. They tend to prefer working with data and ideas rather than working closely with other people. Examples include medical researchers, chemists, software engineers, scientific reporters, and statisticians.
Average Social interests (Helpers): People with strong Social interests fit well with careers that involve helping, comforting, caring for, and teaching other people. Examples include physical therapists, counselors, clergy, social workers, doctors, and nurses.
Low Artistic interests (Creators): People with strong Artistic interests prefer jobs that require innovation through artistic and intuitive skills in less structured tasks and environments. Examples include artists, novelists, actors or actresses, musicians, curators, and designers.
Remember that these rankings only describe the average ESTP, and personality types can only offer very general descriptions of career interests. Even if you see yourself as an ESTP, your unique set of career interests may vary from the above descriptions.
Most ESTPs share strong Realistic and Enterprising interests, making them a good fit for conventional careers with a competitive streak. ESTPs will typically prefer jobs with strong financial incentives or opportunities for personal advancement, and their interests align well with sales and management roles in traditional industries.
Examples of positions and titles with intense Realistic and Enterprising demands:
ESTPs are usually less interested in jobs with heavy Artistic and Social demands. These positions tend to have less structure, emphasize creativity, and focus on helping people. ESTPs may be highly competent in any of these roles, but their natural strengths may be underused.
Examples of these roles include:
Your personality type only gives you a rough approximation of your underlying traits. As described in this post, ESTPs can vary widely in their Big Five dimensions, interpersonal style, and career interests. Just knowing that you are an ESTP doesn’t tell you that much.
So what’s the next step? Skip the types entirely and learn about your unique blend of personality traits, interpersonal style, and career interests by directly measuring them at TraitLab. Get started for free and see your Big Five dimensions with the Basic assessment.