Serious, principled, and systematic, the ISTJ gets right to the point.
Reading time: 16 minutes
The ISTJ is one of 16 types from the popular Myers-Briggs tradition. In this post, you’ll learn about how the ISTJ 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 ISTJs 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 ISTJ 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:
ISTJs are Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging.
Introverted people are focused inwards. They prefer the inner world of ideas and reflection over the external world of people and actions.
People who prefer Sensing tend to gather information through direct observation. They use their five senses to uncover facts and are more skeptical of 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 Judging tend to relate to other people through their decision-making preference, which is Thinking for ISTJs. Other people will see TJ-types, like the ISTJ, as exacting and precise.
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 ISTJs 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 ISTJ? People with the same type tend to have similar (but not identical) Big Five dimensions.
The graph below shows how ISTJs score on the Big Five dimensions. Each blue dot is an ISTJ, and darker blue areas mean more ISTJs are in that area.
For example, on the Openness dimension, ISTJs tend to score lower than average, so the Low and Very Low areas are very dark blue. But, you might notice that there are a few blue dots in the High area of Openness. So, while most ISTJs tend to score lower on Openness, there are a few exceptions.
Below, you can see more detail on how ISTJs score on each Big Five dimension.
ISTJs tend to score lower on Openness to Experience, meaning they are often more conventional or traditional. About 90% of ISTJs score below average on Openness to Experience.
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.
ISTJs tend to be highly varied on Conscientiousness, but most are near the average or slightly above-average on this dimension.
Conscientiousness describes your tendency to plan, organize, and persistently focus on long-term goals.
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.
Less conscientious people 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.
ISTJs usually score lower on Extraversion, with about 90% of ISTJs scoring below average or on the more introverted side of the scale.
Extraversion describes your assertiveness, enthusiasm, and experiences of positive emotions.
Highly introverted people, like many ISTJs, 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.
Highly extraverted people tend to be more socially outgoing and talkative, and they often seek out more stimulating environments (e.g., 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.
ISTJs typically score lower on Agreeableness, and about 80% of ISTJs score below average on this dimension.
Agreeableness describes your interpersonal warmth, politeness, and empathy.
Less agreeable (or more demanding) people, like most ISTJs, 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 they feel less discomfort during interpersonal disputes.
Highly agreeable people feel a more substantial need to keep warmer, friendlier relationships with others and are naturally more hesitant to impose their will on other people. They will be more considerate of how their actions impact other people, and they will try to reduce or resolve interpersonal conflicts when they arise.
ISTJs vary widely in Neuroticism. While most fall slightly above average, you can find ISTJs across their entire spectrum of this dimension.
Neuroticism describes how frequently and how intensely you experience negative emotions, like anxiety, anger, and sadness.
Highly neurotic people tend to worry more, have more frequent mood swings, withdraw when feeling distressed, and feel more self-conscious.
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.
You are more complex than four letters
No two ISTJs are the same. Learn about your unique blend of personality dimensions.
There are at least three exceptional patterns commonly seen in the ISTJs:
ISTJs tend to be predictable and practical due to their low Extraversion and low Openness.
Extraversion and Openness are both related to seeking out different types of stimulation (social engagement vs. new information). ISTJs tend to score low on both of these dimensions, and they will have a high tolerance for the routine and mundane. They can be steady and predictable, and rarely need to shake things up and try something new.
ISTJs 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 ISTJs) correlates with simpler, more concrete words and phrases. Combined with this, most ISTJs tend to score lower on Agreeableness, which influences our use of polite, friendly language. The lower Agreeableness of many ISTJs may be behind their more direct and frank communication.
ISTJs’ combination of lower Extraversion and higher Conscientiousness often results in a more serious, cautious, and principled nature.
In many different contexts, ISTJs will hold back their enthusiasm, preferring to analyze cautiously and carefully. They will often find it difficult to be spontaneous, silly, or impractical, even when the situation calls for it.
How do other people see and describe ISTJs?
The wordcloud below shows the top 100 words used to describe people with similar Big Five personality dimensions as a typical ISTJ. Larger words describe the more prominent aspects of ISTJs.
Because no two ISTJs 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.
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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 ISTJs 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 ISTJs’ interactions.
To summarize the graph above, three aspects most heavily influence ISTJs’ interpersonal style:
The chart below shows how the personality traits of ISTJs are related to the classic RIASEC career interests: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Your unique blend of these interests has a considerable influence on how well a career feels like a good fit.
On each dimension, you’ll see areas where ISTJs tend to crowd up (shown by the dark blue bars). These are the areas where ISTJs are most likely to fall.
But, you’ll also find ISTJs the entire range of each dimension. While most ISTJs tend to have relatively higher Realistic interests, there are still a few ISTJs who score very low on them.
Most ISTJs tend to have the following pattern of interests:
High 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.
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 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.
Low 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 Enterprising interests (Persuaders): People with strong Enterprising interests are often skilled communicators and enjoy influencing, persuading, and leading other people. 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.
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 ISTJ, and personality types can only offer very general descriptions of career interests. Even if you see yourself as an ISTJ, your unique set of career interests may vary from the above descriptions.
ISTJs’ most robust interest is Conventional, meaning they will fit well in jobs with opportunities to organize, systemize, and define procedures and processes. Examples of careers with a high Conventional focus include:
ISTJs with relatively stronger Realistic interests (Doers) may consider roles like:
Those with stronger Investigative interests (Thinkers) might prefer roles like:
ISTJs are less interested in jobs with heavy Social, Artistic, and Enterprising demands. These positions tend to focus more on close personal relationships, often in less structured environments. ISTJs 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, ISTJs can vary widely in their Big Five dimensions, interpersonal style, and career interests. Just knowing that you are an ISTJ 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 measuring them directly here at TraitLab. Get started for free and see your Big Five dimensions with the Basic assessment.
Header photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng