May 2007

Career Anchors and your Career Development
By Julie Swaner

 

Career development is no longer only about gaining the skills and knowledge needed to move up within a company. Today it is about achieving flexibility and continuously evaluating and developing skills in order to remain employable and fulfilled over the long term.

 

 

Understanding Theory

I find it extremely useful to utilize theory in career coaching. Theory can drive practice and provide an excellent resource and structured base for working with clients, who gain greater self-knowledge as a result.

One theory that illuminates and drives career choice is Edgar Schein’s conceptualization of “career anchors.” Schein, an MIT professor and specialist in organizational psychology and career dynamics, coined the term, which refers to those special and individual qualities that drive our search for identity and stability within the world of work. Individuals tend to stay “anchored” over their lifetime in one of his eight themes and echo this pattern throughout their career history. For example, a person whose primary theme is “Security/Stability” will seek secure and stable employment over employment that is more challenging and riskier.

To effectively manage your career, you need to understand WHY you like to do what you do. You need to figure out what the underlying characteristics of the work are that make it enjoyable, interesting, and stimulating.

As a career consultant, I am well aware that the time you spend defining what kind of work you’re after will most certainly pay off later in your job hunt, and it’s important to understand what “anchors” you within your world of work.

Schein’s Career Anchors:

  • Technical/Functional competence: Likes being good at something and will work to become a guru or expert; likes to be challenged and then use skills to meet the challenge, doing the job properly and better than anyone else.
  • General Managerial competence: Wants to be a manager (and not just for a higher salary, although this may be used as a measure of success); likes problem-solving and dealing with other people; thrives on responsibility; needs to be emotionally competent (in charge of emotions) to be successful. 
  • Autonomy/Independence: Has a primary need to work under own rules and steam; avoids standards and prefers to work alone. 
  • Security/Stability: Seeks stability and continuity as a primary; avoids risks and are generally ‘lifers’ in their job.
  • Entrepreneurial Creativity: Likes to invent things, be creative and, most of all, run own business; will share workload and finds ownership important; becomes easily bored; considers wealth a sign of success.
  • Service/Dedication to a cause: Driven by how to help others more than using their talents (which may fall in other areas); may well work in public services or personnel.
  • Pure Challenge: Seeks constant stimulation and difficult problems; will change jobs when current one becomes boring; career history can be very varied. 
  • Lifestyle:  Considers a whole pattern of living; don’t so much balance work and life as integrate the two; may even take long periods off work in which to indulge in passions, such as sailing or traveling.

How Can This Help, Or So What?

It used to be that once you decided on a career, you stayed there until retirement. But now, lifetime employment, the kind that sustained most of our parents, has been replaced with lifetime employability.

Career development is no longer only about gaining the skills and knowledge needed to move up within a company. Today it is about achieving flexibility and continuously evaluating and developing skills in order to remain employable and fulfilled over the long term, regardless of whom you work for and in what industry.

Employers are no longer responsible for your workplace longevity. You alone are in charge of your career path—its development and progression. Within this environment of constantly changing workforce dynamics, economic forces, and life changes, career management and planning become a challenge. Constant tweaking, adjustments, and shifts are necessary so that you remain challenged, satisfied, and fulfilled by the work you have chosen.

To achieve this level of flexibility, everyone needs to have a strong sense of who they are and what they want from a career. We are all uniquely different, with varying motivations and ambitions. 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.

If you would like additional information about this or other issues related to career services, contact Julie Swaner, Alumni Career Services Program Manager, at (801) 585-5036
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U-News & Views © 2007 An online publication
by the University of Utah Alumni Association
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or Marcia Dibble, assistant editor (801-581-6996)