ESTJ Career Interview #2
Interview by Ryan Smith
Hi Natalie. Thanks for doing the interview. Before we begin, what is your background for identifying as ESTJ?
I've taken the official MBTI instrument at work on several occasions and I've always come out as ESTJ. I have also taken a wealth of Jung Type Tests online, including the one on your site, and they all score me as ESTJ. I'd love to be ENTJ, though, because one of the consultants at work told me that 4 out of 5 Fortune 500 CEOs are ENTJ. But every time I take the test, I come out as ESTJ.
Yeah, I think a lot of people think that way, i.e. that it's better to be N than S. We've tried to turn the tide by writing about the bias. But enough about us - what is your education and what do you currently do?
I have a Master of Science in Business Auditing and I currently work as an Internal Auditor in a major international corporation.
An Internal Auditor? What is that?
It means that I'm someone who's dispatched from the corporate HQ to visit departments in other countries. I go there to audit their books - to ensure that everything is in order.
In my job I'm split between two parties: There's the Regional Director at corporate HQ who's the really big boss dispatching me, and then there are the national Finance Directors, who are located in the countries to which I'm dispatched. The national Finance Directors are responsible for running things responsibly in their own countries, but the Regional Director is the one who is ultimately responsible, not just for one country, but for a whole portfolio of countries. My job is to review the accounting of the individual countries to which I am dispatched and to make sure that everything is in order. I mark each area I examine as either red, yellow, or green.
When I've audited the books of a foreign country, I report to the Regional Director. In principle he should simply be receptive to what I'm saying, but in practice his salary is structured in such a way that he gets a bonus for every country in his portfolio that gets an entirely green report from me. So sometimes the Regional Director doesn't want to hear my criticism. For example, if I have found out that there are problems with the accounts of the individual country and everything isn't by the numbers, he doesn't always want to hear about it.
My job basically consists in traveling around the world to review the accounts of the various national departments that our firm has dotted around the globe. One thing that I find sort of thrilling is that I can see from their activities, which I can monitor from HQ, that as soon as they are notified of the fact that I will be paying them a visit they start tightening up on their activities. As soon as the national Finance Director finds out I'm coming, he starts paying more attention to his accounts and takes extra care to make sure that everything is in order in his department. I like that feeling.
They fear the lioness, even from afar. So what is it like when you're actually in the country?
I typically have to rely on a lot of instinctive knowledge about how people work. I also use a lot of common sense to work things out. The name of the game is not just running the numbers, or knowing the rules of accounting down to the last paragraph. When people ask what I do, I always tell them that I'm not an accountant, because there's a lot of psychology in the situation where I have to confront a national Finance Director and tell him that his books are not in order and that he's not doing his job properly.
Not everyone is tough enough to have the job that I have. Sometimes a confrontation can get pretty heated, and heads will roll after you've delivered a red report on a country. That's kind of exciting because it makes you feel that your work has consequences and that you are being taken seriously.
In principle, I have to review the entire accounting practice of the country I'm dispatched to, but in practice that's impossible for an outsider to do. So I have to use common sense in knowing where to strike and where to focus. For example, if I'm dispatched to Switzerland, I know that there's almost no corruption in that country, so in Switzerland's case I can skip the part in the rules about auditing whether we're cooperating with firms in the country that are suspected of corruption.
Because it's impossible for someone in my job to review all of the books, it's always a matter of judgment which areas to focus on. The executive branch tries to help by plotting an overall yearly strategy where they isolate certain areas for us auditors to focus on. For example, during some years it's important for us to focus on the size of contracts, and during other years it's important to focus on the cash flow in and out of the various departments. In a sense you could say these executive directives detailing what we should focus on are a kind of corporate trend.
So even the world of business accounting is subject to the whims of fashion. How do you feel about that?
I actually quite like it. The fact that the strategy changes from year to year gives my job variety, and it makes me feel that I'm part of the organization - that I'm following the strategy that's set out from the higher-ups and that we're a lot of people who all have to do our part to make sure this huge organization is running smoothly.
You mention that your job is not just about accounting, but also about psychology and common sense. I wonder if you could say that it's also a form of law?
Yeah, you could say that. I am in some ways making sure that the national departments to which I am dispatched are following "the law." I'm enforcing the corporate policy.
It's hard to recruit people to do what I do, because you can't come fresh out of business school and then be sent to go toe-to-toe with a Finance Director who's responsible for an entire nation and who has fought hard and effectively to get to where he is. You can't be a rookie when you have to tell some 60-year-old boss man who's used to being the head honcho that his accounts are not in order. You have to have some business experience and be sure of yourself and know what you're doing.
Most people are in their 30s by the time they reach a level of experience that is suitable to fill my position. By that time a lot of people have started a family, so they're not looking for a job which demands that you go traveling all the time. In addition, a lot of people are pretty good when it comes to inspecting the accounts, but they're not stalwart enough to go stare down an executive who's being defensive and fights back. You have to have a strong personality.
You're a young blonde woman in what I assume to be a male-dominated field of work. When you mention that the national Finance Directors fight back, that makes me wonder: Have you ever experienced sexism as a part of the pushback when these older men don't want to listen to your criticisms?
[Natalie thinks for a long time.] Not in business. But sometimes socially, especially when it comes to networking. Sometimes the men, particularly the higher-ups, expect me to be passive and attentive instead of participating on an equal footing. For example, a man will start a parallel conversation with another man while we are all in the middle of doing something and then expect me to just stand there admiring them until they are done. It can also be hard to do networking in the office - I mean, it's a world where we have six women and 150 men. Then you'd have to start a women's club or something, which I think would be ridiculous in itself.
But as far as the actual work goes, no, I have not experienced sexism - neither in the internal meetings at HQ nor during the confrontations with foreign Finance Directors. Not even when I've gone to socially conservative countries like Eastern Europe. It has always been the professional arguments that counted.
I see. You mentioned that someone can't just get your job fresh out of business school. What type of job would one be working before getting a job like the one that you have now?
You'd have to be a controller for a number of years. A controller is someone who does more hands-on, old-fashioned accounting and who runs the numbers much more closely than I do in my current position. Unlike me, he wouldn't have the discretion to work on the overall lines of a case and to use his own judgment when faced with complex matters - he'd have to follow the rules, or ask someone higher up for permission.
When you're a controller, everything is much more by the book. You're sort of a management trainee and you are constantly transferred around because you have to learn the ropes and the way they do things in the different departments. You're looking at the cogs and gears in the machine more than you're actually operating it - you're in the boiler room and not on the bridge.
So was it hard to be a controller? What is the worst job you've ever had?
I don't think I've ever had a job that I would say was a 'bad' job. Even when I was a student, flipping hamburgers to make ends meet, I met the job head-on, making the most of it and seeing it as an opportunity to learn and grow. And besides, it wasn't really a bad job per se.
However, something I don't like about my current job is the social conformity that dominates the office. It's like people's social lives are nothing more than an elongation of the career image that they want to project. For example, even though there are perfectly fine wines at 12 bucks a bottle, it's a faux pas to speak of having enjoyed such a wine. The social culture at work is like a status race where every spare-time activity you mention should fit the image of the ideal office you. Just last week one of the guys at work talked about buying a simpler car than the flashy BMWs that they all drive, and the others kind of jumped him, making fun of him and ridiculing him for even considering the idea.
Another ESTJ whom we've interviewed was really frustrated by the corporate conformity. While you seem to share some of her sentiments, you nevertheless seem more tolerant of that culture as a whole.
Yeah, I'm not frustrated by the conventionalism of corporate culture as such. Of course there are some things that I wish were different, but I adjust my behavior and dampen my own personality. I have this motto that you should be able to fit in everywhere. So for example I had this weekend where I was sitting in a world-class restaurant one day and then hanging out at a shady pub interacting with the usual suspects there the next.
I think I have a mixed relation to that whole kind of idealized professional image that you are expected to project. When I was interviewing for my current job, I also applied for a job at a large bank. And while the corporation that I work for now sent stern people in designer suits to interview me, the bank sent someone dressed in jeans and a sweater who started the interview by saying that they were sooo happy to have received my application. That was kind of a turn-off. I don't want to be courted by the corporation that I'm working for; I want me to have to court it.
Also, I think something which people overlook is that if you stay in a position for a couple of years you can eventually come to influence the corporate culture there. For example, I am no longer the youngest auditor in my department and I can see how the new guys are looking to me for cues on how to behave. And because they sense that I'm not as uptight as the others, they also tend to be a little less uptight themselves. Of course it hasn't changed the corporate culture completely, but it has been a step in the right direction.
Since you saw the bright side of flipping hamburgers and you can fit in anywhere from the world of fine dining to the hotdog stand, would that mean that you could also work anywhere?
Of course there are limits! I could never work in a kindergarten, for example. Not even so much because of the children - I could probably instill some sound values in them. But the adults that usually work in kindergartens are hopeless, my God! They don't see reality the way I do at all.
So while you haven't had a job that you would describe as bad, there are still jobs out there that are not right for you. But now please tell us about your dream job.
In many ways I think my current job is the perfect job for me. The thing I really love about my job is the confrontation with the national Finance Directors. When I'm sitting at the airport on my way home after a sputtering clash with a national Finance Director, I'm almost high from the encounter. I love the confrontation - the "battle of wills," if you will.
I find that the more preparation I do for such a meeting, the better! I'm definitely stricter than most of my colleagues in the way I approach these reports. I like going into a meeting with the national Finance Director starting with everything red - every instance of questionable accounting that can possibly be flagged as red, I flag as red. Then I try to be reasonable from there. I love the tug-of-war when we are fighting it out over whether a given area is going to end up as red, yellow, or green.
While I try to be reasonable, I also play this game inside my own head where I think of it as a victory for me if we walk away with a yellow rather than a green mark, and a victory for him if we walk away with a green rather than a yellow mark. I love it! That's really the best part of my job!
Haha, we've really struck a nerve here! I like how you're coming on strong when you walk in the door, but then you're also willing to be reasonable and see it as a game where you both need to end up with a fair result. Are there any other jobs that you can think of as ideal for you?
One place where I would really like to work is this flashy investment bank where they make an issue out of being flagrantly provocative, flaunting their wealth, and also being politically provocative, telling the politicians how they think they should run the country. They also have all kinds of crazy modern art everywhere. It's like they're almost childish - you know, like a youth rebellion against the state. But at the same time they're also professional and traditional businesspeople, which is why I can see myself in them. I like that unapologetic stance where you stand up for yourself and say, "This is who I am!" Sometimes people are like, "Oh, you shouldn't flaunt your accomplishments," but when you are like me and you've spent a number of years slaving away as an account controller, you get to a place where you think it's okay to allow yourself to flaunt your success.
Natalie, it's been a pleasure to consider your interesting perspectives. Are there any final thoughts you'd like to add?
Yes - as I said, I'm not an accountant. Every confrontation that I have with one of these national Finance Directors is more like a negotiation than an accounting review. My job is much more about understanding the broad lines of accounting and taking intelligent risks than it is about crunching numbers. You asked what one would have to do to get to my position, and you would have to spend three to four years being an internal controller; a traditional accountant running the numbers and slaving over the books. It's kind of your baptism of fire - the sacrifice that you have to make in order to get to a cool position later on. I took the hit and now I'm reaping the rewards. But I can understand why not everybody completes those three or four dreary years of staring at numbers at all the time.
ESTJ Career Interview #2 © Ryan Smith and IDR Labs International 2014.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and MBTI are trademarks of the MBTI Trust, Inc.
IDRLabs.com is an independent research venture, which has no affiliation with the MBTI Trust, Inc.
Cover image in the article commissioned for this publication from artist Georgios Magkakis.
IDR Labs offers the following Career Interviews:
- ESTJ Career Interview 1 - Sarah, an IT project manager.
- ESTJ Career Interview 2 - Natalie, an internal auditor.
- ENTP Career Interview 1 - Douglas, a business consultant.
- ENTP Career Interview 2 - Fred, a professor of philosophy.
- INTP Career Interview 1 - Owen, a policy analyst.
- INTJ Career Interview 1 - Michael, a CEO.
- INFJ Career Interview 1 - Shawn, a psychologist.
- ESFJ Career Interview 1 - Sophie, a CFO.
- ISFJ Career Interview 1 - Amy, a research engineer.
- ISFP Career Interview 1 - Anna, an art exhibition designer.