Ever wondered why you don't get on with the boss or your colleague irritates you? Anna Melville-James took the test to prove it's all down to your personality type

"I'm an ENTJ," admits the man sitting next to me in the group circle. No round of applause for bravery neccessary his confession was part of an assessment by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the hot new approach to sorting out career confusion.

The assurance that I was a few ticked boxes away from discovering my true working potential was intriguing not least because traditional career advice tends to be either confusing or totally depressing.

Being told your gift is to be a museum curator, when you were angling for pop star or Man Utd striker, is guaranteed to spoil anyone's working life.

Developed in the USA, the MBTI is not a classic psychometric selection technique. It's a psychological evaluation, based on Jung's theory of 'personality type' and aims to help you understand how you take in information, make decisions and communicate.

In Britain, the system is licensed to the Oxford Psychologists Press (OPP), an Oxford-based organisational and business psychology company which uses the MBTI in one-to-one corporate training, measuring go-getting executives and then setting them concrete developmental goals. But for the past two years OPP has also been working with the C2 careers centre in London, using the MBTI as an awareness-raising, self-developmental exercise for everyone from wide-eyed new graduates to professionals seeking career change.

C2, 'Careers Advice for Grown-Ups', is run in conjunction with the Department for Education and Employment and University of London Careers Service, offering a range of reasonably-priced individual and group services including occupational seminars and career reviews.

Its aim, says manager, Kavita Sharma, is to fill the career guidance gap following higher education, for people of any age and any stage of career development.

The MBTI is just one part of the whole career-seeking, potential fulfilling picture guidance for a new, touchy-feely working world, aiming to help you understand how you prefer to live your life.

Preferably on a yacht in the Caribbean, I think, filling out the questionnaire the night before in the recommended "relaxed surroundings" of my home.

I wanted my answers to reflect this and recommend me for a luxurious life, but when the 82 questions range from 'At parties do you a) sometimes get bored or b) always have a good time?' and 'Which word do you prefer; a) justice or b) mercy?' there's no influencing the system it seems. I just have to trust the questionnaire will be "valuable in raising self-esteem, appreciating different work styles" and most uplifting of all, showing that all personality types contribute special gifts to the world.

According to MBTI there are 16 different personality types, each symbolised by a combination of four letters, or "innate preferences".

Like writing with right or left hand, these preferences are your most comfortable and natural mode of operation in the world.

Simplistically, the preferences are Extroversion (E); outer world focus on people and things versus Introversion (I); inner world focus on ideas and impressions, Sensing (S); gaining information using the five senses and a here and now focus versus Intuitive (N); getting the big picture and focusing on the future, Thinking (T); analytical, logic-based decisions versus Feeling (F); using empathy and values to make decisions and Judgement(J); fond of plans and schedules versus Perceiving (P); spontaneity and going with the flow.

The idea is that understanding personal differences will explain why you can't get through to a boss or communicate ideas to colleagues.

Or even why the person at the next desk irritates you, so you can relax and put abrupt conversation down to their extroversion, sensing, thinking and judging preferences (ESTJ) rather than a personal grudge.

We're asked to grade ourselves before seeing our marked questionnaires; I decide I'm an INFP and am surprised (and rather pleased) when my questionnaire tells me I am an INTJ, who likes order, schedules and completion.

But I've never kept to a schedule in my life so I'm a little dubious about this. OPP psychologist Rory Fidgeon assures me that my input is important in the process and I must read the two profiles and decide for myself which best fits me.

In the end it's my original assessment: According to the profile sheet we INFPs are open-minded, idealistic and insightful individuals who like flexible, unbureaucratic work environments and undertake too much but somehow get it done. Strengths include adaptability and concentration, while weak points include working with reality and saying no.

I agree I'm a flexible person prone to large-scale, floaty thinking, but over the hour-and-a-half-session I began to empathise with the literal, detail and time-obsessed bosses I'd never understood.

It was strangely liberating and self-esteem was firmly in the ascendent as I realised my unorthodox working methods had method in their madness.

But my burning question had yet to be answered. Where should an INFP head in the working world for maximum success?

The MBTI is not designed to tell you the job you should be doing, but there are some suggestions offered for type occupations.

The woman next to me was bewildered to find she'd make a perfect religious education teacher, but we INFPs can look forward to a life of psychiatry, acting or perhaps even journalism.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory is available at C2: The Graduate Careers Shop, tel: 020 7554 4555. Or visit the site at: www.careershop.co.uk. Individual sessions cost 80 for one hour, groups sessions, 55 for 90 minutes.

Story date: April 26, 2000