Through the career maze.

They can help us to decide what job level to seek or settle for, what roles we should be looking for and they can show us how to assess our career potential.

We discover these anchors or work values through the feeling of comfort or discomfort we have in different work situations.

For example, if your top work value is to be an expert in your job, being promoted might be exactly the wrong move for you if it means moving into a general management role where you are managing others but not using your own expertise. Similarly, if autonomy is very important to you, you should never work for a bureaucratic organisation or for an autocratic boss.

In times of transition, such as today’s new economy where employers expect us to take ownership of our own career development, we need to be particularly aware of our preferred ways of working or ‘career anchors’.The concept of career anchors was developed by US academic Edgar Schein.

They are not difficult to spot. As each of us goes through education and our first few jobs, we discover a great deal about ourselves.

In times of transition, such as today’s new economy where employers expect us to take ownership of our own career development, we need to be particularly aware of our preferred ways of working or ‘career anchors’.We identify our true motives and needs. It’s rare for people to know what they want to do from childhood – for most of us, motives become clearer with work experience when we have had a chance to decide what we do and don’t like.

We discover what talents and skills we possess. All of us will be good at some things and less good at others. And, as it’s natural for us to play to our strengths, we will generally build our skills, while shying away from areas of weakness.

Most jobs and careers allow us to meet a variety of needs and exercise a variety of skills. The anchor can then be thought of as those elements of the job that satisfy us which we would not give up if we were forced to make a choice.

There are eight general categories of career anchor:


People in this category have discovered that above all else they need to feel free and on their own in what they do. Some traditional jobs allow a great deal of this kind of freedom, but often these people opt for self-employment or for jobs that are highly autonomous.

They can be freelance consultants, teachers, independent small businessmen, field salespeople and so on.


The opposite of those driven by autonomy, these people will design their career around the goal of achieving long-range stability and security.

They base career success on a feeling of ‘having made it’. They are less concerned with the exact type of work and more concerned with a feeling of security.

Entrepreneurial creativity

Some define themselves by their ability to create their own business and they measure themselves by the enterprise and its success.

In some instances, their drive is so powerful that they will tolerate many failures in the search for that ultimate success.

Pure challenge

Others discover that they are driven by a sense of challenge. These people define themselves less by the type of work they do and more by the sheer joy of competing or winning out over obstacles or strong opponents.

In addition to these anchor categories based on motive, two anchors revolve around a dominant sense of what one is competent at.

Technical/functional competence

These people will focus on developing a specific skill wanting to become, for example, the world’s ‘best’ salesperson. The biggest problem for people with this anchor is that they tend to be pulled into generalist and managerial jobs in which they may fail and which they will hate.

General managerial competence

Here, individuals define themselves by their ability to manage other people. Career success is often measured in terms of promotion. They want to be able to attribute the success of their organisation or project to their own managerial capabilities.

Each of the final two career anchors revolves around specific value issues.

Service or dedication

People with this anchor define themselves by their commitment to some deep value that the occupation permits them to express, such as environmentalism or human resource management. It is their value system that determines the kind of work and kind of organisation that they will seek.


Anxieties over the work-life balance have focused attention on this anchor in recent years. Increasingly, people want their working career to integrate with family and personal values.

While anchors are liable to change in the early years of a career, once people are beyond 30 they rarely alter. By this point in our lives most of us have identified what we want and what we are good at, so although we may change jobs, organisations and even careers, our career anchor tends to remain the same.

With the demise of the job for life, it has become incumbent on employees to manage their careers. So, if you want to take an active role in managing your career, it is essential to have a strong sense of what your motives, skills and values. It’s only by identifying these that you’ll be able to make confident decisions about your job and lifestyle.

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