Understanding your Career Anchors to find job satisfaction

Rose Watson, Careers & Employability Service Manager

Is your working life happy and fulfilled? Do you feel that you are generally doing the right job in the right sort of place? If so, the chances are that you are in job or organisation which matches your ‘career anchors’.

White and Black Anchor With Chain at Daytime

Not everyone is motivated by the same thing at work. For some of us, it might be the challenge of a project, for others it might be the need to help others. Edgar Schein developed the idea of ‘Career anchors’, suggesting that we all have different dominant elements that govern our career choices. As we progress through work and develop more insight into our own preferences, needs and values, we are often pulled back, or anchored to certain factors. Although there may be some changes according to our situation, people generally tend to stay anchored in one area, and their career will tend to reflect this.

Schein’s career anchors

Autonomy/ Independence  

These people have a primary need to work under their own rules, and don’t like being held accountable by someone else. They avoid standards and prefer to work alone. They generally hate being micromanaged, but know how to plan and complete their own work.

Photo of Woman Using Her Laptop

Technical and Functional Competence

These kinds of people love being really good at something, and will work to become a guru or expert. They liked to be challenged, use their skills to sort out a problem, to do their job properly, and become better than anyone else.

Sense of Service/Dedication to a Cause

These people are more motivated by how they can help other people or a particular cause than by money or promotion. It is important to them that their work in meaningful, and they may be drawn to public services or charity work.


People with this anchor constantly seek stability and continuity as part of their lives. They do not like uncertainly so they avoid risk and prefer to work in an environment where their roles are clearly defined.

Selective Focus Photography of Cairn Stone

Managerial Competence

Achieving greater responsibility and climbing the career ladder is important for these people. They thrive on responsibility, love problem solving and working with other people, so are generally good at managing teams.

Entrepreneurial Creativity

Creating something of their own, inventing things, and running their own business is really important to these people. For them, ownership and wealth are important indicators of wealth, but they differ from those who seek autonomy in that they will share the workload. They thrive on questioning the status quo.

Pure Challenge   

People driven by challenge seek constant stimulation and difficult problems to tackle. They get easily bored and will move on in search of other challenges if they don’t feel fulfilled. Such people tend to change jobs regularly.

Person's Playing Chess


Those who are focussed primarily on lifestyle tend to look at their whole pattern of living, and may try to find a role which will allow them to integrate work and life by  balancing  their passions, such as travelling or artistic pursuits.  They ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’ and are generally attracted to roles and employers who can offer them some flexibility

Understanding your own Career Anchors

Schein argues that understanding your own career anchors will help you plan your career in a way that is most satisfying to you.

Look at the list above and consider how important each driver is to you, giving each a score out of 5. Many of us recognise several anchors in ourselves, but we often have one which is dominant more than the others. If you are not sure about this, ask yourself ‘which one of these could I live without, and which must I have?

Alternatively you could explore your anchors through a free online test

Which anchors stand out for you?

Now look at the list again and think how well each driver matches your current role. Is there a mismatch?

What next?

If have found that your job matches your career anchors well, you may be reassured that you are currently in the right place!  Don’t leave it at that though. We and our job roles may well change and develop over time, and understanding your career anchors may help you get the most satisfaction in your current role. For example, someone with a Pure Challenge as an anchor should look out for different projects or secondment opportunities within their area of work, whereas their colleague with a sense of service may prefer to focus on the needs of clients or colleagues.  Conversely, your lower scores in certain anchors should give you an indication of opportunities to avoid in your current role – if you can!

You may also wish to keep thinking about your dominant career anchor when you are planning career progression or a change of role in the future. Someone with a strong anchor in Technical/Functional competence should seek out progression opportunities in their area of specialism, rather than in general line management, whereas someone with a Lifestyle anchor may be seeking out opportunities  with certain working hours, or in a particular location.

If you suspect that you might be in the wrong job role for your dominant career anchor, and you can’t see a way of adjusting your role or lifestyle to accommodate this, you might need to think about making a change. You might find that a change of organisation or team will met your needs without having to undertake a complete change of direction. If you are working for a large organisation such as the NHS for example, and have a strong anchor in autonomy and independence, you may find that working for a smaller or private company or unit suits you better.

What else?

Scheins’s career anchors can offer a useful way of thinking about your current motivations in work. In addition to this you may find that it can help to think about your values or personality type, as well as your work interests. For more ways of reflecting on yourself and whether your current work situation is bringing out the best of you, have a look at some of our other resources.

If you are a University of Worcester student or graduate and you would like to discuss your career plans further, come along to speak to a Careers Adviser to discuss your options.


Schein E, 1990, Career anchors and Job Role Planning: The links between Career Planning and Career Development. See https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/2315/SWP-3192-22603401.pdf




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