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Schein Career Anchors Critique Essay

Career Anchors – Edgar Schein

Edgar Schein, widely acclaimed as one of the founders of the field of modern organizational psychology, suggests that every one of us has a particular orientation towards work and that we all approach our work with a certain set of priority and values. He calls this concept our ‘Career Anchors’.

A “Career Anchor” is a combination of perceived areas of competence, motives, and values relating to professional work choices.

Often, people select a career for all the wrong reasons, and find their responses to the workplace are incompatible with their true values. This situation results in feelings of unrest and discontent and in lost productivity.

To help people avoid these problems, Career Anchors help people uncover their real values and use them to make better career choices.

Career Anchors – include talents, motives, values and attitudes which give stability and direction to a person’s career – it is the ‘motivator’ or ‘driver’ of that person.

A career anchor is the one element in your self-concept that you will not give up, even in the face of difficult choices.

Identify your career anchors and how well you perceive these to match your current job

Edgar Schein at MIT identified eight career anchor themes (see table below) and has shown that people will have prioritized preferences for them. Schein identified these career anchors to enable people to recognize their preferences for certain areas in their job.

For example a person with a primary theme of Security/Stability will seek secure and stable employment over, say, employment that is challenging and riskier. People tend to stay anchored in one area and their career will echo this in many ways.

Understanding your preference will help you plan your career in a way that is most satisfying to you. For example, a person with a primary theme of security/stability will seek secure and stable employment over employment that is challenging and riskier. People will be more fulfilled in their careers if they can acknowledge their career anchors and seek jobs that are appropriate for these.

Career anchor categoryTraits
Technical/functional competenceThis kind of person likes being good at something and will work to become a guru or expertThey like to be challenged and then use their skills to meet the challenge, doing the job properly and better than almost anyone else
Managerial competenceThese people want to be managersThey like problem-solving and dealing with other peopleThey thrive on responsibility

To be successful, they also need emotional competence

Autonomy/independenceThese people have a primary need to work under their own rules and ‘steam’They avoid standards and prefer to work alone
Security/stabilityThese people seek stability and continuity as a primary factor of their livesThey avoid risk and are generally ‘lifers’ in their job
Entrepreneurial creativityThese people like to invent things, be creative and most of all to run their own businessesThey differ from those who seek autonomy in that they will share the workloadThey find ownership very important

They get easily bored Wealth, for them, is a sign of success

Service/dedication to a causeService-orientated people are driven more by how they can help other people than by using their talentsThey may work in public services or in areas such as human resources
Pure challengePeople driven by challenge seek constant stimulation and difficult problems that they can tackleSuch people will change jobs when the current one gets boring, and their career can be varied
LifestyleThose who are focused first on lifestyle look at their whole pattern of livingRather than balance work and life, they are more likely to integrate the twoThey may even take long periods of time off work in which to indulge in passions such as travelling

With the themes identified by Schein in mind, complete the table below – this will help you identify how well suited you are to your current job. By completing this tool, it may highlight that you are in the right sort of job or that you need a change if you are going to succeed in your desired career path. This may be a positive thing as it will give you insight into your future goals and objectives.

Identify your career anchors and how well you perceive these to match your current job:

Schein career anchorHow important is this aspect of your career to you(score out of 5, where 0 is not important and 5 is vital)How does this match with your current post?(score out of 5, where 0 is not important and 5 is vital)
Technical/functional competence
Managerial competence
Entrepreneurial creativity
Service/dedication to a cause
Pure challenge

An alternative way of using the Career Anchors:

Career AnchorsMy motivator or driverImplications for me.
Technical and Functional Competence – what you would not give up is the opportunity to apply your skills in the area of technical/functional competence and develop those skills to a high level.
Managerial Competence – what you would not give up is the opportunity to climb to a high enough level in the organisation. You want to be responsible for total results; you seek challenging assignments and leadership opportunities.
Autonomy and Independence – what you would not give up is the opportunity to define your own work in your own way, in your own time, to your own standards. You would turn down opportunities for advancement in order to retain autonomy.
Security and Stability – what you would not give up is employment security. Your main concern is to achieve a sense of having succeeded so that you can relax; you are concerned about financial security and less concerned with work content and rank in the organisation.
Entrepreneurial Creativity – what you would not give up is the opportunity to create your own organisation or enterprise. You are restless by nature, constantly require new creative challenges and are willing to take risks and overcome obstacles.
Variety – why do you seek variety? What are your range of talents and drivers that you wish to fulfil?
Power, Influence and Control – Do you enjoy controlling others? How important is this to you?
Service to others – do you get a lot of satisfaction in helping others? Is this important to your lifestyle?
Basic Identity – do you prefer to wear a uniform or something similar?

What next?

Is there a mismatch between what career anchors you rate as being most important to you and those that relate to your current situation?

  • You could discuss the completed table: Identify your career anchors and how well you perceive these to match your current job, with your career mentor, partner at home or a trusted friend.
  • If you find that most things you value are not part of your current job, this might give you the impetus to make some specific career plans and move on.
  • If you find there is a good match, you are likely to be in the right job or role.

Using Careers Anchors

The thought of a career change can be confusing, stressful, and scary for some. Others seize the chance to make a change for the better, even if it means a shift in income, location, lifestyle or training.

Changing to a trade-based career may be an option for people who prefer practical roles, hands-on work, specialized skills or the desire to work for themselves and not be confined to an office.

So, if you’re having trouble dragging yourself out of bed and off to work – here are some tips for career changing:

  1. Think about what you really enjoy doing
    You can structure the following activity to help you discover your passion and/or strengths:
    List 5 things you love doing
    List 5 things you love doing AND you’re good at (they could include the first 5 activities, but they might not!)
    Think about whether any of the above fall into an occupational group – for example, a person who love turning wood probably will enjoy carpentry or joinery (Building & Construction). Someone that loves clothes and can draw may be well suited to clothing design, manufacturing, costume making or millinery (Manufacturing). If you like the outdoors, active careers can be found in landscaping, horticulture or building (Rural & Farming).
  2. Think about the achievements you would value in life
    Expert on organisational leadership and culture, Edgar Schein identified 8 career anchors. These anchors are what drives people to success. Once you discover your career anchors (i.e. what drives you) you can focus your career more effectively.
    To discover your career anchors – List the 8 anchors on paper and spend half an hour ordering them in priority according to what drives you, and what’s important to you. Then, come back to the 8 in two days time and see if you’d swap anything around. This activity can provide real clarity about what it is you want in life and what work, career or trade skill you might enjoy.
  3. Seek feedback from others about what you’re good at
    In your workplace, school, tech or your family there are people around you who may have valuable feedback about your strengths and weaknesses. Playing to your strengths make sense. There’s little use in being passionate about gardening if you are really a black thumb. It’s important to focus on passions with a dose of reality – rather than daydreaming.
    Ask them what they think you’re good at. Ask them if they have observed you doing something with real interest, engagement and enjoyment. Knowing how other people see you and have observed you can be a real insight to yourself.
  4. Research the options for re-training
    By now you may have identified one or two real possibilities for a career based on a greater understanding of your passion, strengths and career anchors. Now’s the time to research what skills are required to get there. You can watch all sorts of videos on this site that explore the passions other people have discovered in skilled trades. You can also search profiles on other career sites or the Internet generally. You can also read our guide on How to get an Apprenticehip if your career path requires it.
  5. Put a plan in place to do it!
    If you’re a school leaver – you’ll need to plan the 5 key steps to getting where you want to be – will you need an apprenticeship? What training must you enrol in? By when should you find an employer? Write yourself a short list and go!

If you’ve just finished studying or are mid-career and looking for a change – you’ll need to plan the 5 changes to make in your life to get there. Will you need to quit your job or can the company accommodate you in the field of your choice? Can you change to an apprenticeship program or do you need a different employer? Do you need to relocate or change salaries for a short period while retraining? Creating a plan will give you the confidence to follow through.
If you’re a senior manager or corporate defector you may be lucky enough to have acquired wealth and be able to make the change with little risk and some time on your side. If you have family commitments, a mortgage or other debts, you plan needs to reconsider what material aspects of you life need to be modified to reduce the pressure of earning a high income while you are changing careers and retraining.


  1. Schein, Edgar H, (1990 & 1996). Career Anchors (discovering your real values), Jossey-Bass Pfeiffer

About Edgar H. Schein

Edgar H. Schein was educated at the University of Chicago; at Stanford University, where he received a master’s degree in psychology; and at Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in social psychology.


Edgar Schein’s (1975) model of career anchors evolved out of a longitudinal study of about 44 Sloan Graduates covered over a period of over one decade.

For more information visit Scheine’s website or take the Career Anchor on-line

Page reviewed April 2015


Career Anchors – Edgar Schein was last modified: May 8th, 2016

Filed Under: Created Articles, ManagementTagged With: Career Anchors, Edgar Schein

More than 20 years after Edgar H. Schein introduced career anchor theory (1977), Daniel Feldman and Mark Bolino critiqued both the theory and the methods Schein used to describe career anchors. They propose that understanding the underlying factor structure of the Career Orientations Inventory (COI) will give insight into the relationships between multiple career anchors. These relationships describe which career anchors are complementary (i.e., having congruous characteristics) or mutually inconsistent (i.e., having oppositional characteristics) and enable a study of the degree to which those relationships have an impact upon career outcomes. This study examined how well each of the four models of career anchor relationships, found in the career anchor literature, describe mutually inconsistent relationships found within data from seven empirical career anchor studies. The mutually inconsistent career anchor pairs suggested by Feldman and Bolino were not found to have stronger negative correlations with one another than those proposed by the other three models. Also, the mutually inconsistent pairs proposed by Feldman and Bolino were not found to have on the whole a better fit from confirmatory factor analysis than those proposed by the other three models. Instead, Schein’s proposed model of mutual inconsistency was the best fit, albeit, a weak fit. Weaknesses were also found in the two-dimensional octagonal models proposed by Feldman and Bolino, by Chapman, and by Bristow. The data do not support a two-dimensional model. An additional finding was that the relationship between the anchors actually fits an orthogonal model better than either the complementary or mutually inconsistent representations proposed by each of the four models. Continued research opportunities are available for those interested in studying career anchor theory.