HR word of the day – Career anchors
A career anchor is ‘that one element in a person’s self-concept that he or she will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices’.
In Career anchors: discovering your real values, Edgar Schein explores how personality, motivation and values affect career choices and preferences, through the metaphor of an anchor which pulls people towards specific role types in their work life.
Schein argues that the early years of a career are often a crucial time of learning, and full of surprises. Frequently people’s dreams of themselves and what their work will be like are inconsistent with their actual work experiences, causing ‘reality shock’.
As their experience accumulates, preferences and strengths begin to emerge, and ‘only when […] confronted with difficult choices does a person begin to decide what is really important to him or her’.
Schein identifies eight different anchor types. Do any of these seem to match your interests and preferences, as identified through your work experience so far?
This type prefers to specialise in their skill, and they tend to pursue excellence and enjoy being challenged in this area (eg sales, engineering, teaching). They dislike being moved into managerial positions.
This type of person is a generalist who sees specialisation as a trap. They enjoy leadership and advancement and are happy to move around in different areas of work.
This type dislikes being bound by rules, hours, dress codes, etc. They dislike the organisation of the workplace and seek autonomy or independence. They often work for themselves.
This type seeks security and stability in their jobs. They dislike personal risk, and often identify with their organisation, which makes them faithful and reliable workers.
This type likes creating new organisations, products or services. They therefore particularly enjoy work where success is closely linked to their own efforts as creators. This work is often linked to making money.
Service/dedication to a cause
This type wants to undertake work which embodies values which are central to them. Service or dedication is more important than the talents or competencies used and is the prime motivating factor for the type.
This type likes conquering, overcoming, solving and winning. It is not the job itself but the process of succeeding which interests and motivates them.
This type is keen to integrate the needs of the self, the family and the career. They seek flexibility and an organisation which understands this desire for balance. It is often suggested that more people are now identifying with this category.
Your type or types will become clearer as you gain experience, and your career and self knowledge develop alongside each other. It may be hard to identify an overall anchor without being forced into a difficult choice between two types, eg between dedication to a cause and technical expertise, or between a secure role and a managerial one. As with types identified by other theorists, most of us do not fall neatly into a single category but combine two or three.
But the notion of an ‘anchor’ can help to build up an overall picture of a person, especially when combined with other personality traits and types, values, skills and interests.