Schein's career anchors are a set of values and priorities around which individuals structure their approaches to work and development, and help with career planning and goal-setting.

What are the Career Anchors?

Edgar Schein is a Swiss-born American academic, a former business professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, who has left a notable imprint on many topics pertaining to leadership, including personal development and organisational culture.

One of his most well-known concepts is the idea of career anchors. Schein suggested that each and every individual possessed specific and unique ‘anchors’; one’s perception of one’s own values, talents, abilities and motives, which form the basis of individual roles and development. 

Schein's original research in the 1970s identified five possible constructs upon which anchors are generally based, though this was expanded to eight following further research in the 1980s. These constructs describe the priorities individuals who possess different sets of talents, capabilities and personalities possess, and can thus be used as a basis for planning development and career changes around.

They are:


  1. Technical/functional competence – these individuals enjoy being good at specific tasks and will work hard in order to develop the specific skills necessary to complete them. 
  2. General managerial competence – these individuals thrive off performing in a position of responsibility; tackling high-level problems, building relationships and interacting with others; they require strong emotional intelligence skills in order to succeed.
  3. Autonomy/independence – these people need to be left to their own devices, and to be able to act without needing too much direction, interference or confirmation, often avoiding standards and procedures to do things ‘their way’.
  4. Security/stability – they seek stable and predictable positions and activities, which they are able to plan aspects of their life around, taking few risks; they are also often the individuals who will spend many years in the same position.
  5. Entrepreneurial capability – these are the creatives within a business, enjoy brainstorming and inventing new things, and also often seek to run or start their own business; they are different from those who seek autonomy as they will share the workload with others and enjoy individuals, including themselves, taking ownership for their work; they often get bored and seek monetary gains.
  6. Service/dedication to a cause – these individuals always seek new ways to help other people, both within and outside the organisation, using their talents; they are often found in relevant employment areas, such as HR and customer service.
  7. Pure challenge – driven nearly entirely by a need to be continuously stimulated by new challenges and tasks which test their abilities to solve problems; they will often seek to move jobs when their current position becomes stagnant or no longer possesses the challenges they need to progress.
  8. Life style – these individuals orientate everything, including their role, around their pattern of living as a whole – no so much balancing work and life, as integrating it; they may also take long periods of leave to take part in recreational activities, or balance themselves and their lives through holidays and other forms of downtime.  


Structuring Work and Development

One simple way of utilising the career anchors is to evaluate how well your own priorities are reflected in your current role, activities and lifestyle. By aligning roles and tasks with individual priorities, it can help greatly when individuals are planning new objectives and goals, over both the short and long term. It can also help a lot when individuals are planning career changes, including taking on new jobs, moving departments, or when they are offered a promotion.

One approach to using career anchors as an assessment tool is to begin by examining each of the anchor definitions in the previous lesson, and ranking them or scoring in order of how important each of them is to you, or how closely they resonate with your own personal life and career priorities. 

Following this, you should do the exact same – score/rank each of them – by how closely they reflect your current role and lifestyle. By identifying those which differ from your priorities significantly, you can begin to develop plans for yourself, or with your manager, for how you can continue to develop. This method can also be used by a leader to encourage their employees to have input on planning their own personal development. 

People develop more when they are working in their own zone, towards their priorities, as it will suit their capabilities and behaviours, as well as motivating them to be more, and to achieve more.