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Personality Traits of Accountants and CPAs

Personality Traits of Accountants


According to most career counseling sites, the world is divided into two distinct, rarely overlapping sets of personality traits.


In Camp A are those who are intrigued by and comfortable with the world of emotions.  Not only do these people have a high tolerance for the ambiguity which is inherent when dealing with emotions but they are drawn to a helping field (member of the clergy, teacher, nurse, psychologist, career counselor) because of their interest in learning about the emotional struggles of others. Their education and training enhances and develops these skills.


In Camp B are those who are drawn there for exactly the opposite reasons. These people prefer to live in an orderly world in which reason trumps emotion every time. They like clarity and feel most comfortable when confined within explicit parameters. To avoid the emotional, they deal in “black and white.” They take two paths: either they avoid emotions or they deal with them via reason, compartmentalizing, and intellectualizing. These people are organized, systematic and detail-oriented—and usually they don’t react emotionally. Often, they follow careers in scientific research, computer science, and mathematics. Certain careers, such as accounting, reinforce this organized personality style.


The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, might categorize the stereotypical accountant as an introvert, someone more comfortable in the world of ideas and concepts rather than in the extrovert’s world of interaction with people and things. According to Jung, there are two basic categories of people:


Sensing                                  Intuitive

Organize sequentially          Top down view of broad concepts

                                      Organize abstract concepts into a framework

Like detail-oriented work      Dislike detail-oriented work

Thinking                            Feeling

Logical, objective decisions   Value-based or subjective decision-making process

                                       Consider how the decision will impact others


According to Nourayi and Cherry (1993), they found that accounting students who were in the Sensing category academically outperformed those in the Intuitive category in Tax, Auditing, and Intermediate IT college courses.


In 1996, Landry found that 25% of all accounting majors score as ESTJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging) on the Myers-Briggs Types Indicators personality test.  Considering that Myers-Briggs personality test has 16 grids with an average population of 6% in each, having 25% of all accounting majors in one grid is remarkable and points to personality traits held in common.


In 2006, Bealing, et al. confirmed Landry’s findings ten years before: 26.23% of accounting majors studied fell in the ESTJ category on the Myers-Briggs. Bealing, Baker and Russo also found that over 75% of accounting majors fell into the Sensing rather than the Intuitive group: they organize data in a sequential manner.


In 2002, the US Department of the Interior posted a list of jobs which matched particular grids on the Myers-Briggs. Under ESTJ were the careers of Auditor, Budget Analyst, and Credit Analyst—all three careers in the accounting field.


However, three different studies found that the CPA personality characteristics are quite different from accountants. While accounting students and accountants tend to be ESTJ, CPAs are ISTJ: Introvert/Sensing/Thinking/Judging (Kreiser et al., 1990, Shackleton 1980, Jacoby 1981). Could it be that ISTJ accounting students are more likely to become a CPA? Wolk and Nikolai (1997) found that while undergraduate accounting students were more likely to be ESTJ, accounting graduate students and faculty (like CPAs) were more likely to be ISTJ. Many of faculty studied became CPAs prior to earning their Ph.D. and entering the teaching field.


Keirsey.com (2003) delineated that ESTJ were the supervisor type and ISTJ were the inspector type. This confirms that CPAs, who are ISTJ, possessed the inspector type of personality.


In Schloemer and Schloemer 1997’s study, they found that 61% of CPA partners tended towards intuition over sensing but only 20% of those at staff level do. Could that 20% of the staff become the CPA partners of the future?  


There’s another difference between accountants and CPAs: CPAs command higher salaries and have greater opportunities for upward mobility within an organization.

As an accountant, the career track which progresses upward at a faster rate is labeled “CPA.”  In many firms, you hit the ceiling and progress no further if you do not become a CPA. Progressing from being an accountant to becoming a CPA offers greater opportunities for promotion to management and higher salaries.