Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies image

The Four Tendencies personality type profile – and how they can help you harness good habits to improve your career prospects.

The Four Tendencies is a personality framework by Gretchen Rubin, American happiness and habit researcher and best-selling author. It helps answer the question of why some of us can stick to New Year’s resolutions (and love them) and some avoid them at all costs.

The Tendencies are based around how people respond to expectations – both outer expectations (other people or societal rules) and inner expectations (personal resolutions or goals). Gretchen believes this directly connects to the ease in which individuals make and keep habits and how they set and achieve tasks or goals. This in turn relates to how they understand and work with others – all important parts of developing a successful career.

 As a Career Consultant who works with many different students and recent graduates, I often notice people’s different tendencies coming through. The formal way to test this is of course with the Four Tendencies quiz Gretchen developed for people to self asses which tendency they belong to.

A breakdown of the Four Tendencies

Upholders respond to outer and inner expectations – so they will ‘follow the expectations or rules of others as well as their own’

Upholders are the kind of students who are on time to everything, finish exam prep and assignments early, and have their list of points to talk about already written down before a careers appointment. (19% of people are upholders)*

Questioners respond to inner expectations – so they will do what they want to do and only respond to outer expectations if they see a good reason to.

Questioners tend to do well in assignments, tests or courses that make sense and are applicable to them or where they want to go. They are the ones who really want to know why, when, and how suggested tips on career ideas, or CV improvements can make a difference and help their individual situation. (24% of people are questioners)

Obligers respond well to outer expectations – but find it very hard to respond to their own inner expectations.

Obligers find it doable to meet deadlines or tasks if they are asked to do it by another person, but many things including helping friends or colleagues, can get in the way of their own needs (like study or exercise). Obligers like having a follow up careers appointment booked in so they have action points of what to do with a careers consultant holding them accountable to make sure they actually do them. (Most people are obligers – 41%)

Rebels don’t respond well to outer or inner expectations and need to believe that something is part of their identity or their values to do it.

Rebels can find it hard at University to complete deadlines or tasks that they don’t want to do, if it doesn’t fit their values or interests and even if they know they should they can find it a struggle. So doing something they love is key. They may change majors a fair bit until they find something that they really like.

Rebels won’t necessarily come to careers appointments at all, or even classes they don’t like. But if they feel inspired and interested they can be creative, pushing boundaries and achieving a lot (and proving people wrong (who thought they couldn’t do something) is a great motivation). (17% of people are rebels)

*Note our source for percentage statistics is from a quantitative, varied sample of 1,564 adults completing the quiz in a specific period in 2016. The Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin.

Understanding your tendency to help improve your career and job search

It is great Upholders are so focused, but during job searching or career planning things don’t always go to plan. They may not get through to the second round of interviews or perhaps their dream company may not be hiring this year.

Key tips for Upholders include trying to be less rigid and adjust their expectations and plans to fit the graduate job market or opportunities that arise. This should mean less stress and hopefully more success! Being more flexible will also help upholders when they enter the workplace after study.

Questioners are great at researching all the options but may suffer from “analysis paralysis,” endless research and pros and cons lists. For example they may find it hard to decide which job to apply for, which job to accept or how to finalise the perfect cover letter.

It’s good to remember that it is not efficient to keep researching or analysing indefinitely. As Gretchen Rubin says, “A pretty good decision is better than no decision”.

Key tips for Questioners include having a logical deadline to make a decision, or a trusted adviser/mentor to help guide their decision-making (the Alumni as Mentors programme for final year students can be a good option for this). Questioners may find in particularly helpful to try a career inventory questionnaire like CareerQuest (NZ) or My Next Move (US) to get ideas about possible careers.

Obligers can often have great intentions but struggle to get things done without the pressure of a deadline or someone relying on them to do it. This means if they are applying for jobs in their own time to benefit their career, they find it extremely hard to actually find the motivation for this.

Key tips for Obligers are to have an accountability person or group. This could mean having regular appointments with a Career Consultant or frequent check-ins with family or friends. Having a mentor is also a great idea for an Obliger – it could be a professor, former manager or maybe someone through the Alumni as Mentors programme for final year students. Accountability groups could include networking groups, University clubs or a group of friends who meet regularly at the library to job search together. This tip can work well for exam study and assignments too.

Rebels can be inspired and full of ideas and energy, but shy away from the mundane, making it hard to do expected tasks to do with job searching. So looking for roles, filling out forms or providing information online may be very tedious and may mean they don’t apply at all.

Key tips for Rebels include thinking about working smarter so they can do less of the boring stuff, perhaps setting up alerts and having master templates in different formats.  Coming to a Careers Consultant can also help rebels feel re-inspired and find possible career paths that fit with their values. For Rebels confident in trying nontraditional methods to search for opportunities, making use of social and professional networks could lead to exciting developments.


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