Career Choices and Career Anchors

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Career Choices and Career Anchors by Candidate Tips

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Too often people find acceptance of responsibility for their own career choices the hardest step to take. This is often due to their self-perception and because of all sorts of beliefs they have about learning.  There are a number of aspects to be mastered to influence your own career choices

Career Choices: Developing the Skills of Career Self-Management

  • Self-Awareness – without a strong sense of self-identity, it is likely to be extremely difficult to establish a career direction that will bring job satisfaction and fulfilment in life. Self-identity, for our purposes, is the individual’s perception of their motivation (values), ability (skills, knowledge and experience), and personality. We have a number of resources to help you, and these are listed later in this article. One of the key factors to understanding self-identity is the concept of ‘Career Anchors’ devised by Edgar Schein (1978, 1990). This is explained later.
    There are two sorts of people when it comes to making career choices. We call these ‘leaf’ and ‘goal’ people. The first, like a leaf, it is easier to be blown around by the winds of destiny, never knowing which rock you will settle on. After all, why have goals when it is destiny in control? Alternatively, ‘goal people’ strategically define what they want, and then look for opportunities that will help them attain that goal. Statistics always show that goal people win!
  • Self-marketing: ability and confidence to sell oneself within a business or to a new employer. This is based on your insight through self-awareness. It is also based on your self-perception. It is just marketing. Unfortunately, because it is about you and your career choices, you may take it too personally. Why? It is just marketing!
  • Being Proactive: looking constantly for opportunities, then working out how to exploit them. Goal people keep their goals in mind. there is a lot of research in this area, and there are things we can do to master this. One of my personal favourites is what we call career dreaming.
  • Career Navigation – The ability to navigate a career through the organisational fog of uncertainty and constant change; the ability not to lose sight of longer-term goals when shorter-term issues confound progress; and the wisdom to see it is not always possible to reach the goal by moving forward on a predetermined path, but that sometimes flexibility can be a more prudent means of achieving an end.
  • Interpersonal skills: art of respecting and valuing people, of listening to others, of being approachable. We have drawn together some resources to help you. These are advanced and can be applied to all types of interactions. They are particularly good for interviews.
  • Networking: making and maintaining contacts in and outside the organisation. I do find it quite funny when I ask about someone’s network and they point me at thousands of ‘followers’ or other on-line connections. You are really close enough to these thousands of people to influence them to get you a job? Networking has to have a strategic approach, and you will find some great resources here.
  • Action learning: networking through meeting others on a regular basis for specific problem solving sessions.
  • Stress management: retaining a sense of control over direction and quality of life. Knowing what your stress points are, and using tools to help you gain control of them. Lots of tools here.
  • Resilience: perhaps the most important attribute in modern day life. Not only in making career choices, but in actually securing the right role.

Resilience in Job Searching

If we assume I wanted, for whatever reason, to find someone with a green car. I go up to the first person I see and ask, “Do you have a green car?” They look at me strangely, and say, “No”. I now have two choices. Feeling deflated, and hearing an old girlfriends voice in my mind stating, “You will never do well. You will never be a success”, I cower off and somehow justify in my mind that I didn’t really need to find someone with a green car. You say to yourself, “She was right. I will never be a success.” I failed, and have to live with the consequences. Now think of the alternative, and this is one that separates those that do well, and not so well in their careers. This time after the person says “no”, I stop, have a think, and realise that one out of every nine people have a green car. By the law of averages, I just got closer to finding someone with a green car! Oh yes, and some of my competition looking for the green car just disappeared – they listened to the voices in their head and ran off. I can also improve. Given he reaction of the person when I asked if they had a green car, perhaps I need to ask in a slightly different way? It is exactly the same when you make career choices and when you search for a job.

Career Anchors – A Distraction?

Edgar Schein found that throughout the development of people’s careers, there were underlying themes that reflected a growing understanding and learning about themselves. This influenced their decisions and how their career grows. If they deviated, then they would subconsciously pull themselves back onto their determined path – hence, the phrase ‘anchor’.

This concept still has its uses, but is now fundamentally flawed in today’s career market. Anchors can get in the way. Our world is faster and more connected. It is estimated that you will change careers up to 8 times in your working life. Labelling yourself (as Finance, Operations, and so on) is becoming a negative. It is now much better to think of yourself as a set of skills or competencies which is reinforced by education and experience. I understand this is a tougher thing to do, but it creates opportunity. When making career choices, rather than “I want a job in Marketing”, try a different approach. How about, I want a career that involves:

  • Interacting with people both inside and outside an organisation.
  • I want to work with concepts (rather than tangible things).
  • I want to use creativity (rather than logic).
  • I want a relaxed office environment that provides flexibility to work from home.
  • I want a career that means travelling outside of my country.
  • I want….

This opens possibilities rather than reaffirming restrictions. Why? Because the world of work is changing. See yourself as ‘talent with a good set of skills’ rather than a ‘Marketing person’. Career anchoring can simply get in the way. Is the concept still useful? Yes, because it provides some basis for self-understanding. That is a good thing.

For Schein, the underlying themes that determine a person’s ‘Career Anchor’ are a combination of their talents, motives, and values, as they perceive them. Schein (1990) categorises all managers into eight career anchor groups:


Career Anchor  What you would never give up
Technical/functional competence The ability to apply and continually develop your skill in that particular discipline.
General managerial competence The opportunity to manage the contribution of others from across the organisation to achieve results.
Autonomy/ independence The enduring freedom to control your own activities.
Security/stability The opportunity of financial or job security.
Entrepreneurial creativity The challenge to create an enterprise of your own, built on personal endeavours.
Service/dedication to a cause The ability to achieve something of benefit or value to others.
Pure challenge The opportunity to achieve the almost impossible.
Lifestyle The harmonious balance of personal, family, and work priorities.

Career Anchor Resources

The University of Cardiff have a small questionnaire here. If you do want to read a good book about Career Anchors, try this one. For a similar and more thorough examination of your personal values, and the implications of those values, use this page instead. For understanding what you are (personality and motivators), use this tool for a very rounded view.

If you are working through by sections, or following pathways, you may wish to move on to understanding the job transition curve.

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