Book Review: Career Anchors

Career Development and Career Guidance can be elusive, so “Career Anchors” by Edgar H. Schein caught my attention.  With the Great Resignation, or as LinkedIn called it, the Great Reshuffle, long term employees are looking retrospectively and joining new graduates looking prospectively. 

how have your experiences affected you?

In reviewing our past employment experiences, Mr. Schein recommends we ask “What have I learned about myself?” instead of “judging each experience as good or bad, fun or not, useful or not”.  The author challenges us to determine our skills and competencies (based on personal assessments and others’ feedback), motives (desires), and values (important in our organizations).  Specifically, “what are you good at…there are things we like or don’t like, some of our aspirations are unrealistic; and we develop new ambitions.”

Edgar continues, stating as we gain experience, we gain clarity about our domains until we get a self-concept which is our career anchor.  He claims that although “Talents, motives, and values become intertwined so it may be hard to figure out what your anchor is”, “With accumulation of work experience and feedback come clarification and insight, providing a basis for more rational and empowered career decisions”.

what has become important to you in your career?

The main nugget is (bold for emphasis):
The self-concept begins to function more and more as a guidance system and as an anchor that constrains career choices.  You begin to have a sense of what is “you” and what is “not you.”  This knowledge keeps you on course or in a safe harbor…”pull[ing you] back” or “figuring out what [you] really want to do”…and knowing better what it is that [you] would not give up if forced to make a choice.
The career anchor, as defined here, is that one element in [your] self-concept that [you] will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices.
In this Career Anchor context, Career Development and Career Guidance are intrinsic/inside.  They are no longer shrouded in mystery–an external unknown.
In the end, to move towards self-actualization, one anchors oneself.

identifying your career anchor

The eight career anchors “every person is ‘concerned’ [with] to some degree” are:
  1. Technical/Functional Competence (specialize–paid for skill levels such as education and experience)
  2. General Managerial Competence (cross functional–analytical, interpersonal/intergroup, and emotional competence)
  3. Autonomy/Independence (freedom from other’s norms–contract or part time with portable cafeteria-style benefits)
  4. Security/Stability (job tenure, good retirement–predictable work and pay for loyalty and steady performance)
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity (highly visible developers, inventors, artists–prove they can create, own, control)
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause (improve community, nation, world by serving humanity, saving the environment for recognition and support)
  7. Pure Challenge (warrior, conqueror, and competitor winning in constant opportunities for self-tests)
  8. Lifestyle (flexibility–less travel/moving, sabbaticals, paternal/maternal leave, day-care options, flex time, work from home).
I can indeed easily see myself as being somewhat anchored in all these eight career anchors, but my main anchors emerge easily, as do my least favorite.
See Education on page 28 and questions about your First Job on Page 29 to gain greater insight into your influences.  As you get older, you might develop “new ambitions”.  “Lifestyle” might become more important, making the public sector appealing.  “Autonomy/Independence” might also become more necessary.  So yes, growth occurs but some maturing can remain.  The self-assessment on pages 53-56 can show what you could develop.

anchors and roles

After identifying those who have role expectations of you (called role senders), Schein defines “three important issues around roles–ambiguity, overload, and conflict” (bold for emphasis):
Role Ambiguity:
For some role senders, you will not be sure what they expect from you.  Consider what you might do to clarify their expectations and put those actions on your “to do” list.  For example, you might ask for a meeting to discuss your understanding of your role and invite the role sender to discuss what he or she expects.
Role Overload
The sum of what everyone expects of you will be much more than you can possibly do.  How do you set priorities?  Ask yourself whose expectations are most often responded to and whose are most often ignored?  Do you communicate your own sense of priorities?  For example, you might explicitly communicate to some role senders that you will be late or unable to do what they expect.  If you can think of other ways of coping with overload, put the action steps on your “to do” list.
Role Conflict
You will discover that what some members of the role set expect is in direct conflict with what others expect or what you expect of yourself.  Ask yourself how to resolve those conflicts, whether to deny that they exist, compromise by doing a little for each, confront the role sender?  Think of action steps you can take to reduce role conflicts and put those on your “to do” list.  For example, if two of your peers expect things of you that are in conflict, consider bringing them together to examine what they expect and how that impacts you.
These three role issues definitions are very liberating.  Role ambiguity, overload, and conflict: acknowledging their actual existence is the first step in addressing them. Seeing them written down on a page and typing them might bring them to life for you.

Final thoughts

Overall, one cannot simply focus on what one wants to accomplish, without expecting resistance.  This Career Anchor analysis indeed redefined Career Development and Career Guidance as intrinsic (inside).  May you insightfully also find how your career anchors developed and guided you.
Written by Andre de la Fuente