Why Layoffs Hit IT Professionals So Hard

Sure, IT jobs are difficult to find. But making matters worse, many IT professionals lack the personality traits that make career change easier, even exciting, for others.

Are you an ISTJ? That's Myers-Briggs-speak for Introverted Sensing Thinking and Judging. The ISTJ personality refers to individuals who like timelines and closure, who are goal- and deadline-oriented, who enjoy collecting and analyzing data, who think systematically, and who make decisions based on what has worked in the past, says Sherrie Haynie, an organizational consultant with CPP Inc., an HR consultancy and the exclusive publisher of the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator assessment. (Haynie analyzes the results of Myers-Briggs assessments and facilitates professional development sessions with Fortune 500 clients.)

ISTJs tend to discount intuition in favor of facts. They're uncomfortable with ambiguity and risk.

As a result, says Haynie, ISTJs don't handle change very well, which makes coping with job loss more difficult for them than for, say, INTPs (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving) and ENFPs (Extroverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiving), who thrive off of change and risk-taking. (I'm an ENFJ (Extroverted Intuitive Feeling Judging) or INFJ (Introverted Intuitive Feeling Judging), depending on whether I'm feeling gregarious or moody.)

If you work in an IT job, then you're probably an ISTJ. Haynie says approximately 60 percent of technology professionals who've taken a Myers-Briggs assessment with CPP are ISTJs. Only 35 percent possess the INTP's intuitive nature.

Another characteristic of ISTJs is black-or-white thinking. "We find that technology folks are more set in their ways when it comes to what's right and wrong and what won't work based on the past," says Haynie.

Because IT professionals who are ISTJs are so set in their knowledge, she adds, they think they have all the answers, and they consider themselves authorities and experts. But that attitude—and the black-and-white thinking—make moving into a new company, new industry or new career hard for them, says Haynie.

"Change, generally speaking, is an area that may be very difficult for this group of people," she says. "When they find themselves in a new role or in another industry, they have nothing to benchmark it against."

In a new environment, ISTJs can't always rely on what worked in the past. The thought-process that made them successful in prior roles may not apply in their new roles. They have to learn new skills that may not feel natural to them, such as actively soliciting feedback and opinions from others, says Haynie. 

"Putting their expertise aside and getting input from others is challenging for them," she says. "Letting go of their authority and letting others into their decision-making process may be uncomfortable." 

It's ironic that change tends to be so difficult for IT professionals, since technology is so mercurial. Also ironic: A common career move that IT professionals make—to become independent IT consultants or contractors not suited to the ISTJ personality. Making the transition to the largely unstructured professional life of an independent consultant requires ISTJ people to take a big step outside their comfort zones and learn new skills and traits that they'll need to be successful as entrepreneurs, says Haynie.

"They need to be flexible, to see the big picture, to be able to communicate and negotiate with customers, and that may be difficult for people who've been in the same career or same industry for much of their working life," she says. "If you have a full-time job and you know what's expected of you, you don't have to be as much of a risk-taker. But as a new business owner, you'll have to take risks and deal with ambiguity."

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