Monday, 10 January 2022

Schein's career anchors

Career anchors can be described as a consistent value set which guide our career decision-making (Schein, 1996). They are values and motives that we don't give up for our work, acting as our 'stabilising' force, developing with us as we gain life and work experience (Inkson et al., 2015).

The career anchor theory was developed in the late 1970s with five anchors, but was expanded to eight by the time Schein revised the theory in 1985 (1996; the asterisked anchors are new additions; Inkson et al, 2015, p. 156). The anchors are:

  1. Technical/Functional Competence. Think specialist. Someone who has learned a very technical skillset which has taken much mastery. Musician, engineer, crane driver.
  2. Managerial Competence. Someone who has learned how to unlock the best in people. A team-builder, a communicator, a motivator with a sense of accountability. Coaches, managers, captains
  3. Autonomy/ Independence. A person who needs to think for themselves, and not to follow the pack; who needs to have creative control. Think writer, artist, solo musician, sole trader. 
  4. Security/Stability. Think safety. Someone who carefully, slowly thinks through transitions. Loyal. Reliable. Likes their job and may want to go for something new - that is already known. 
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. Has an idea and wants to make it real. Has a strong sense to achievement, drive, and vision. May find delegation difficult. 
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause*. Has a calling to something: community, charity, correction, or crusade. Strong personal values, but driven by a cause that is greater than themselves. 
  7. Pure Challenge*. People are so driven they overcome significant odds and barriers. Think Elon Musk. Parkour. Explorers. 
  8. Lifestyle*. Work is there to fuel what is done outside work. 

Our anchors are effectively stable personality traits which influence our career decisions. Schein’s theory suggests that we may have one or more dominant career anchor which endure throughout our careers (Inkson, 2015), but we may also have multiple career anchors which influence our career decision-making (Feldman and Bolino, 1996).

We need to fit our work, else we will not be happy in it, so having an understanding of our own career anchors is a key element of calculating our own fit. If we had service career anchor and felt conflicted about eating meat, taking a job for Fonterra or Silver Fern Farms would be less than an ideal fit for us. However, if we had a career anchor of pure challenge, we might want to focus on the job crafting  elements of the job with Fonterra or Silver Fern Famrs which stretched and grew us. We can work on altering the job characteristics to better fit our needs (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). 



  • Feldman, D. C., & Bolino, M. C. (1996). Careers within careers: Reconceptualizing the nature of career anchors and their consequences. Human Resource Management Review, 6(2), 89-112.
  • Inkson, K., Dries, N., & Arnold, J. (2015). Career Development (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.
  • Schein, E. H. (1996). Career anchors revisited: Implications for career development in the 21st century. Academy of Management Perspectives, 10(4), 80–88.
  • Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179–201.

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