Schein's Career Anchors

Understanding What Inspires You in Your Career

Career Anchors

Understand your work preferences.

© iStockphoto/Yuri_Arcurs

It used to be that once you decided on a career, you stayed in that career until you retired. Not so anymore: The notion of lifetime employment has been replaced with lifetime employability.

This means that you can't rely on your employers to maintain your employment: You alone are responsible for your career progression and development.

Career management and planning in this environment is a challenge. So that you remain satisfied and fulfilled by the work you are doing, you need to adjust your career development activities accordingly.

Career development is no longer only about gaining the skills and knowledge you need to move up within one company. Career development today is about achieving flexibility and continuously evaluating and developing your skills in order to remain employable and fulfilled over the long term, regardless of who you are working for, and what industry you are working in.

To achieve this level of flexibility, you need to have a very strong sense of who you are and what you want from your work. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing, and our ambitions vary greatly. Some people thrive on being creative and innovative whereas others prefer stability and continuity. Challenge and constant simulation may be important to one person, while creating a work/life balance is paramount to another.

So, to effectively manage your career, you need to know more than what you enjoy doing: You need to understand WHY you like to do it. You need to figure out what the underlying characteristics of the work are that make the task enjoyable, interesting and stimulating to you.

To help people answer this question, Edgar Schein, a specialist in organizational psychology and career dynamics, identified eight "career anchors."

Understanding the Theory

Schein's theory is that everyone has a “dominant career anchor” and that by identifying your particular career anchor, you can determine the careers and roles that will provide the most satisfaction. For example, if “service” is your career anchor, then you could choose from a wide range of career options that allow you to serve others. If your preference is to “manage”, you can manage people in a variety of industries and across many types of jobs.

Schein has identified eight career anchors, or themes, that define a person's preference for one type of work environment over another. The idea is that once you have determined your dominant theme, you can then identify the types of positions that give you the greatest satisfaction, and plan your career accordingly.

The eight anchors/themes are:

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