What are your career anchors?

What will make you happy in your career at this stage?

Autonomy, managing people, skills growth, work-life balance or something else?

Career Anchors by Edgar Schein (psychologist and professor MIT Sloan School of Management) delves into this question. It helps you figure out what anchors you in your career over the years.

Edgar Schein was one of the founding fathers of organizational behaviour, and contributed significantly to the field of organizational development even before the term ‘organizational psychology’ was well-known. He has authored several books on those topics. He expired recently on 26th Jan 2023 at the age of 95. This post is also a tribute his pioneering work in organizational development and career development.

What are the career anchors?

You make certain choices in your career based on who you are and what you value more. Over the years, you tend to choose based on your own priority; say: autonomy, security, expertise etc. Put simply, that priority is your career anchor. These are underlying individual motivations that manifest in the career decisions. According to Schein, career anchors are the primary (repeating) reasons for individual’s career decisions. There could be more than one career anchor as well (maximum 2 or 3 such anchors).

The career anchors are formed due to the early career experiences and life experiences. However, once formed they remain relatively stable during the rest of the career. If the career decisions are aligned with individual’s career anchors, they experience more satisfaction and happiness in their work. The converse is also true – one experiences growing dissatisfaction if the decisions are not aligned.

Please watch this short video (~ 3 mins) where Schein discusses the career anchors and how he discovered them while examining the career history of his student.

At certain stage of career/life, the career anchors become more evident and individuals tend to make career decisions based on their own anchor(s). For example, I tend to choose autonomy, creativity, and work-life balance in my work. I have also seen my friends gravitating towards their own career anchors once they reach a certain stage in their careers.

Edgar Schein has divided the eight career anchors in three broad categories –

  1. Talent based anchors – Technical and Functional Competence, General Managerial Competence, Entrepreneurial Creativity.  All these three anchors represent the talent (skill) that an individual prioritizes in his/her work. For example, an individual with ‘technical & functional competence’ anchor will be more fulfilled when his/her skills are rewarded suitably and there is a scope for growing them further.
  2. Needs based anchors – Autonomy and Independence, Security and Stability, Lifestyle. These three anchors indicate the what an individual needs in his work to fulfill his personal preferences. Thus, someone with ‘security & stability’ anchor is likely to be more fulfilled in traditional jobs that offer stability.
  3. Values based anchors – Service and Dedication to a Cause, Pure Challenge. These two anchors provide insights about the individual’s values. Again, for a person having ‘pure challenge’ anchor will be more happy in roles that allow him/her to solve challenging problems.

Usually, the careers anchors assessment puts one preference against the others and evaluates results to score the top career anchor(s) for an individual. Sometimes it is hard to choose from the conflicting preferences. We face similar dilemma in our career as well – choosing a job that offers better growth for skills/expertise vs. choosing a job that allows far more autonomy. When we truly know who we are and what are our career anchors, they help us like a guiding star. If  you’re curious, you can watch this longer presentation (~1 hour) by Schein himself – Career Anchors: Tapping into the Power of Talents, Motives, and Values where he expands on each of these 8 anchors.

As an example of career anchors, I’m sharing my own chart for career anchors below followed by a brief explanation.

Career Anchors - Manish
Career Anchors for Manish (MyZenPath)

As the chart shows, my topmost career anchor is autonomy/independence with lifestyle & entrepreneurial creativity closely contesting for the second spot. And this is true as far as my own career decisions are concerned. Over the years I have chosen work that allows me ample autonomy and some work-life balance (lifestyle). Moreover, any tasks that greatly affect my autonomy make me rather uncomfortable. Similarly, whenever possible I have chosen work that allows me a quiet, unhurried lifestyle. As for the entrepreneurial creativity, that is not something usually offered in my paid work, but then I try to get creative with my personal pursuits. Anyway. ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

Sometimes our underlying motivations, preferences (anchors) are quite clear to us; and sometimes assessments help us to join the dots and provide insights that were not apparent earlier. I believe career anchors assessment is helpful to gain such clarity. If you’re interested you can take this assessment below (I’m not affiliated with them).

Free career anchors assessment

You can use this free assessment:  Schein’s Career Anchors. Like any other self-reporting assessment, there are no right or wrong answers here. And it works best when you answer it honestly based on your real preferences. Discuss the results with people who know you personally and professionally. See if they provide any new insights for a more fulfilling career and life.

Keep walking your own zen path. 🙂

Featured Image:

This featured image is by Dorothe (Pixabay), and I’m using it here with gratitude.

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