One of the world’s foremost thought leaders in the area of behavioural science is Dr. Edgar Schein, Professor Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

A person’s career anchor is his or her self-concept consisting of 1) self-perceived talents and abilities, 2) basic values, and, most important, 3) the evolved sense of motives and needs as they pertain to the career.

Career anchors only evolve as one gains occupational and life experience. However, once the self-concept has been formed, it functions as a stabilizing force, hence the metaphor of “anchor,” and can be thought of as the values and motives that the person will not give up if forced to make a choice. Most of us are not aware of our career anchors until we are forced to make choices pertaining to self-development, family, or career. Yet it is important to become aware of our anchors so that we can choose wisely when choices have to be made.

Dr. Schein’s original research in the mid-1970’s showed that most people’s self-concepts revolved around 5 categories reflecting basic values, motives and needs:

  1. Autonomy/independence
  2. Security/stability
  3. Technical-functional competence
  4. General Managerial Competence
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity.

Follow-up studies with a wider range of occupations in the 1980’s revealed three additional anchor categories–

  • Service or Dedication to a Cause
  • Pure Challenge
  • Life Style

Dr. Schein re-visits his pioneering work on Career Anchors in an article titled ” Career Anchors Revisited: Implications for Career Development in the 21st Century”.