What are you aiming for in your career?

What are you striving for in your career? What was your original motivation when applying for your first job, and what has changed along the way? Naturally, we are more fulfilled and successful when we are striving for something professionally that is also aligned with who we are as a person. If you are thinking about a career change or you are unsure where to head next to now is the time to check your motivation. In this blog post, I want to introduce you to the concept of career anchors and how that simple test can be a helpful guide to you for your personal career planning.

What is a career anchor?

The concept of career anchors was introduced by Edgar Schein, a former professor at the Sloan School of Management. The original model roots in his work from the 1970s but a 2008 study has extended the model to its form today. 



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Why are career anchors important?

The goal of defining one’s career anchor is to see if your personality is matching your professional aspirations. In times of change, we are likely to be influenced by our surrounding on how a successful career is defined. I was referring to that phenomenon in this article, where I explain why so many Expat Partners are struggling with their career situation abroad. Often it is not only the fact that career plans are changing but mostly that we are heavily influenced on how other people back home define a successful career: A linear path increasing in salary and responsibility over time. Check out the article to read more about the career dilemma of expat spouses.


If you want to get some distance from the singular perspective of connecting a successful career with money or responsibility, keep on reading to figure out what is really important here. Maybe it is the increasing responsibility – maybe its more about becoming the expert in a specific field. Let’s see: 

To get us back to our very own motivation, Edgar Schein invented a questionnaire (only 40 questions and very easy to do – also free :-)) asking all kinds of questions where you rate how vital specific goals are for you. Depending on your ratings, you will figure out what type of job makes you happy and fulfilled.

The following eight career anchors are identified, and most likely, one of them is speaking more to you than others:

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is the opportunity to apply your skills in this area and to continue to develop those skills to an even higher level. You derive your sense of identity from the exercise of your skills and are most happy when you work permits you to be challenged in those areas. You may be willing to manage others in your technical or function area, but you are not interested in management for its own sake and would avoid general management because you would have to leave your own area of expertise.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up, is the opportunity to climb to a level high enough in the organisation, to enable you to integrate the efforts of others across functions and to be responsible for the output of a particular unit of the organisation. You want to be responsible and accountable for total results and you are presently in a technical or functional area, you view that as a necessary learning experience; however, your ambition is to get to a generalist job as soon as possible. Being at a high managerial level in a specialist function does not interest you.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is the opportunity to define your work in your own way. If you are in an organisation, you want to remain in jobs that allow you flexibility regarding how and when you work. If you tend to dislike organisational rules and restrictions to any degree, you seek occupations in which you will have the freedom you seek, such as teaching or consulting. You turn down opportunities for promotion or advancement in order to retain autonomy. You may even seek to have a business of your own in order to achieve a sense of autonomy; however, this motive is not the same as entrepreneurial creativity described below.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is employment security or tenure in a job or organisation. Your main concern is to achieve a sense of having succeeded so that you can relax. This career anchor shows up in a concern for financial security (such as pension and retirement plans) or employment security. Such stability may involve trading your loyalty and willingness to do whatever the employer wants from you for some promise of job tenure. You are less concerned with the content of your work and the rank you achieve in the organisation, although you may achieve a high level if your talents permit. As with autonomy, everyone has certain needs for security and stability, especially at times when financial burdens may be heavy or when you are  Service and Dedication to a facing retirement. People anchored in this way are always concerned with these issues and build their entire self-image around the management of security and stability.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is the opportunity to create an organisation or enterprise of your own, built on your own abilities and your willingness to take risks and to overcome obstacles. You want to prove to the world that you can create an enterprise that is the result of your own effort. You may be working for others in an organisation while you are learning and assessing future opportunities, but you will go out on your own as soon as you feel you can manage it. You want your enterprise to be financially successful as proof of your abilities.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is to pursue work that achieves something of value, such as making the world a better place to live, solving environmental problems, improving harmony among people, helping others, improving people’s safety, curing diseases through new products and so on. You pursue such opportunities even if it means changing organisations, and you do not accept transfers or promotions that would take you out of work that fulfils those values.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is the opportunity to work on solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems, to win out over tough opponents, or to overcome difficult obstacles. For you, the only meaningful reason for pursuing a job or career is that it permits you to win out over the impossible. Some people find such pure challenge in intellectual kinds of work such as the engineer who is only interested in impossibly difficult designs; some find the challenge in complex multifaceted situations such as the strategy consultant who is only interested in clients who are about to go bankrupt and have exhausted all other resources; some find it interpersonal competition such as the professional athlete or the salesperson who defines every sale as either a win or loss. Novelty, variety and difficulty become ends in themselves, and if something is easy it becomes immediately boring.

A high score in this area would suggest that what you would not like to give up is a situation that permits you to balance and integrate your personal needs, your family needs and the requirements of your career. You want to make all the major sectors of your life work together towards an integrated whole, and you therefore need a career situation that provides enough flexibility to achieve such integration. You may have to sacrifice some aspects of the carer (for example, a geographical move that would be a promotion but would upset your total life situation), and you define success in terms broader that just career successes. You feel that your identity is more tied up with how you live your total life, where you settle, how you deal with your family situation and how you develop yourself than with any particular job or organisation.

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So if you are interested in finding out your very own career anchors, you can do so easily without spending any money or wasting time. I have linked the free questionnaire for you here! If you google the anchor model, you find many free and paid versions. However, the test is so straightforward that a free simple template will do for you to get started. If possible, print out the questions, so you easily fill out your score. I have tested this model with other expats, family, and friends around me and without an exception the assumptions have been confirmed. 

by clicking the button the questionnaire will be downloaded right away - check your download folder

It’s always great to see a result like that black on white. 

How do you feel about the result?

 Does it match your intuition?

 How could it help you to foster your career?

Compare your current or last job and match the company’s culture and your job profile with your personal career anchor. 

Does it fit? If not, what is missing?

Don't miss out on new posts and free templates

Would love to hear whether this test helps you decide on your next career move. Let me know in the comments below or send me a direct message to info@sharethelove.blog.

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Thanks for sharing the love and stopping by

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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