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How do you use career anchors to make career choices?

We all have different preferences regarding our career choices.  There will be more or less weight on what aspects of our career we prioritise.  What motivates some individuals will be a de-motivator for others.  If you want to enjoy the things you do and choose the best job or career you’ll need to make sure you’re aligned with your anchors.

What are career anchors?

First of all, let’s understand what career anchors are.  First researched and developed by a psychologist called Edgar Schein who spent his career focused on organizational culture and what makes organizations and people thrive.

Therefore, career anchors are seen as an essential component of success and motivation at work. Career anchors typically change over the course of our careers.

As we gain additional skills, experience, and knowledge and as we become more competent our job preferences change.

The concept of the Career Anchors was introduced by Edgar Schein. A Career Anchor is something that develops over time.  It can evolve into a self-concept, shaping an individual’s personal identity or self-image and includes:

  • Talents, skills, and abilities: Our experiences, knowledge, skills, and competencies.  
  • Motives and needs: What is important to us and takes the form of goals.  Things like money, status, challenge, autonomy, achievement.
  • Attitudes and values: The kind of organization that we feel comfortable with, one that aligns with our own values and beliefs.

8 career anchors

There are 8 main career anchor categories and everyone will have a different priority and importance. There are obviously no right or wrong answers here.

Understanding your preferences and priorities will help you greatly decide the best career options for you.

Here are the career anchors with their descriptions:

  • Technical and functional competence
  • General managerial competence
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Security and stability
  • Entrepreneurial creativity
  • Sense of service
  • Pure challenge
  • Lifestyle.

Technical and functional competence:

This career anchor is concerned with applying skills, knowledge, and expertise within a job and as a result, these people tend to be the go-to people. People that prioritize technical competence as an important career anchor will feel more motivated being known as an expert.  They usually are the Subject Matter Expert.  

General managerial competence:

If someone prioritizes this career anchor, they will probably be more motivated in making decisions, giving direction, and highly likely be managing other people.  Again, these people tend to be technical experts in their discipline and have worked their way up and into a managerial role. 

Autonomy and independence:

If being autonomous is important to this person, they will want a career that they can define and shape in their own way. You will prefer jobs that will allow a degree of flexibility and the ability to make decisions. A person who is more motivated to be given autonomy will be de-motivated if there are too many rules and restrictions. This person needs a little more freedom and flexibility and as a result, needs to find opportunities that fulfill this need.

Security and stability:

Some people need security and stability within their careers and as a result, will probably select more stable and long term job options.  This type of person would rather have a steady routine. They may progress within the organization over time and often select companies that will be a safe option and long-term tenure.

Entrepreneurial creativity:

Entrepreneurs are creative, innovative, and often visionary.  They will probably have lots of great and ambitious ideas and are probably also great leaders.  They may end up setting up and running their own business or enterprise. This type of person will be more comfortable taking risks and more motivated to face and overcoming obstacles. Success is very important and you want to prove to the world that you are capable of creating an enterprise based on your efforts.

Sense of service:

With this career anchor, a person would like to pursue work that achieves something of value, therefore making a difference in the world. You are likely to pursue such opportunities even if it means changing organizations, and you do not accept transfers or promotions that would take you out of work that fulfills those values.

Pure challenge:

A high score in Pure Challenge would indicate a person who enjoys solving problems.  Perhaps they enjoy working with tough opponents which may mean they thrive on overcoming difficult obstacles. For them, the only meaningful reason for pursuing a job or career is that it permits you to win out over the impossible.  

People who prioritize this aspect will seek out engineering positions working in complex and challenging environments. When a job becomes easy it will lose its challenge and it is likely to be boring or dull.


A growing number of people are becoming more attracted to the work/life balance approach to their careers. They may be finding ways to create their own careers and generate income. 

This lifestyle type option can sometimes be called a Portfolio Career.  It is built from all the things you love doing and then matching your talents and skills. By creating your own career or business you will build in the flexibility to achieve that desired lifestyle.

Find out more about Career Coaching with Your Interview Coach here:  Career Coaching

About Dawn Moss

Dawn has worked in a corporate environment for over ten years providing Recruitment & Selection Services, and has been involved in Coaching & Educating Business Leaders, Managers and Employees in all aspects of the recruitment process.

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