8 Career Anchors

The concept of the career anchor was first developed some thirty years ago by Edgar Schein, a Sloan Fellows Professor of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Schein says that people are primarily motivated by one of eight anchors–priorities that define how they see themselves and how they see their work.

The eight anchors:

  1. Technical/functional competence. The key for a person with this career anchor is a desire to excel in a chosen line of work. Money and promotions don’t matter as much as the opportunity to consistently hone his craft. While such professions as engineering and software design attract a lot of people with this particular bent, you can also find them just about anywhere, from the financial analyst excited by the chance to solve complicated investment problems to the teacher happy to continually fine-tune classroom performance.
  2. General managerial competence. Someone with this anchor is most closely allied with the traditional career path of the corporation. She is the polar opposite of the person for whom technical/functional competence is preeminent. She wants to learn how to do many functions, synthesize information from multiple sources, supervise increasingly larger groups of employees, and use her considerable interpersonal skills. What she craves is to climb the ladder, getting ever-bigger promotions and salary increases.
  3. Autonomy/independence. Like Greta Garbo, individuals with this career anchor just want to be alone. They’re most satisfied operating according to their own rules and procedures; they don’t want to be told what to do. Freedom rather than prestige is their goal.
  4. Security/stability. Employees with this career anchor value above all a predictable environment, one in which tasks and policies are clearly codified and defined. They identify strongly with their organization, whatever their level of responsibility.
  5. Entrepreneurial creativity. The folks in this category want to create something of their own and run it. They are, in fact, obsessed with the need to create and will become easily bored if they feel thwarted. As you’d expect, someone with this career anchor tends to start her own business, or at the least run something on the side while still keeping her day job.
  6. Sense of service. The need to focus work around a specific set of values is the major issue for employees with this career anchor. But that doesn’t just mean social workers, say, or nurses. It can also include anyone from a human resources specialist interested in affirmative action programs to a researcher working on developing a new drug. Money isn’t the main event; it’s the chance to focus on a particular cause.
  7. Pure challenge. People with this career anchor seek ever-tougher challenges to conquer.
  8. Lifestyle. These folks organize themselves around their private lives. Their most pressing concern is for their jobs to give them the freedom to balance those other concerns with their work.

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