Edgar Schein, Creator of the Career Anchors Framework

Edgar Schein’s Career Anchors

Edgar Schein‘s Career Anchor framework is an excellent vocational assessment tool that can help uncover your major career driver, and can be a powerful complement to other tools such as the RIASEC assessment and/or other vocational assessments.

The Career Anchor framework divides people into having eight core career anchors:

  1. Technical/Functional Competence. People who value more than anything the actual use of their skills in a practical way, and the development of those skills. From lawyers arguing in court to electricians repairing an appliance, in any industry;
  2. Managerial Competence. People who value the capacity to rise in an organisation, set policy, integrate different departments and people, and create change;
  3. Autonomy/Independence. People who value doing what they want, when they want. These people want to work in their own terms, either with freedom in a corporate position or with their own position as a freelancer/consultant/other;
  4. Security/Stability. People who value, more than anything, stability. They want tenure, long careers, and to feel that they have “made it”. They are willing to be loyal and adapt to organisational demands in return for having that stability;
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. People who have the absolute need to create a culture of their own. Similar to autonomy/independence, except in this case it’s the need to build a legacy, a company, with a great team supporting it. Proving to themselves they can create something big of their own initiative;
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause. People who value dedication to a cause, with multiple variations including upholding safety of a neighborhood, action for climate protection, helping underprivileged people, or other. These people will actually avoid promotions or changes if it stops them from fulfilling their service/dedication to the cause;
  7. Pure Challenge. People who get off on tackling huge enemies, impossible obstacles and crazy challenges others do not even attempt.
  8. Lifestyle. People who consider life to be more than work, and that seek a career that has the flexibility to support their personal life, family, and other elements that make up a whole. They consider success to be more than career success;

Type of Work, Pay and Benefits, Promotions, Recognition

The book and its support materials go into much greater detail about the preferred type of work, pay, benefits, promotion system and type of recognition for each type of career anchor. But in short, in terms of work:

  1. Technical/Functional Competence. Prefer a challenge, testing their abilities. Bored by not challenging work;
  2. Managerial Competence. Want a high level of responsibility and cross-department, varied, integrative leadership;
  3. Autonomy/Independence. Want clearly defined, time-bound work in their area of expertise;
  4. Security/Stability. Want stable, predictable work, and care more about the context (pay, benefits, conditions) than the work itself;
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. Have a need to create and get bored easily. Constantly require creative challenges;
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause. Want work that allows them to impact either the organization or society;
  7. Pure Challenge. Anything that supports ever growing, outstanding challenges.
  8. Lifestyle. Has a “lack of anchor”. Anything that supports the rest of their lives, which is their focus;

In terms of pay and benefits:

  1. Technical/Functional Competence. Want to to be compensated for skill level regardless of accomplishments. Compare themselves to similar experts in different companies;
  2. Managerial Competence. Want to be paid well, and better in comparison to lower levels of the current company. Very responsive to performance-related bonuses;
  3. Autonomy/Independence. Want immediate payoff on merit pay for performance, no strings attached;
  4. Security/Stability. Want steady, predictable increments based on tenure;
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. Ownership is the most important issue. They see money only as an indicator of their accomplishments;
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause. Want fair pay but not focused on money. Want portable benefits as they have no loyalty to a particular company;
  7. Pure Challenge. Anything that supports ever growing, outstanding challenges.
  8. Lifestyle. Has a “lack of anchor”. Anything that supports the rest of their lives, which is their focus;

In terms of promotion systems:

  1. Technical/Functional Competence. Want a ladder parallel to managerial that preserves functional skill. Resents losing their functional skill;
  2. Managerial Competence. Promotion based on merit, performance and results. See everything as legitimate to the extent it affects organization results;
  3. Autonomy/Independence. More freedom. They see higher promotions as higher autonomy;
  4. Security/Stability. Prefer seniority-based promotion systems;
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. Want a system that lets them be wherever they want and need to be, when they want and need it to;
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause. Want a system that recognizes their contributions and gives them more influence and freedom;
  7. Pure Challenge. Anything that supports ever growing, outstanding challenges.
  8. Lifestyle. Has a “lack of anchor”. Anything that supports the rest of their lives, which is their focus;

In terms of recognition:

  1. Technical/Functional Competence. Values recognition from peers more than managers. Doesn’t value recognition by superiors who don’t understand their work. Value learning and self-improvement (books, events, meetings). Value public recognition as specialists;
  2. Managerial Competence. Value more responsibility and more promotion to titles and positions of power. A mix of rank, title, salary, number of subordinates and size of budget. Expect frequent promotions and highly responsive to monetary bonuses, titles, status symbols and approval of superiors;
  3. Autonomy/Independence. Prefer portable recognition. Testimonials, letters, prizes, awards;
  4. Security/Stability. Want to be recognized for their loyalty and steady performance, preferably with reassurance of stability and employment;
  5. Entrepreneurial Creativity. Recognized by building fortunes and sizable companies. Want high degree of public visibility and recognition;
  6. Service/Dedication to a Cause. Want recognition and support from both peers and superiors. In absence of this, move to autonomous professions like consulting;
  7. Pure Challenge. Anything that supports ever growing, outstanding challenges.
  8. Lifestyle. Has a “lack of anchor”. Anything that supports the rest of their lives, which is their focus;

How to Apply The Career Anchors

Although the framework has sophisticated tests and questionnaires, there are very quick ways to distinguish among different career anchors through the use of polarizing questions.

For example, you suspect that your career might be Technical/Functional, but it might be Managerial as well, since you have a position where you both make use of a specific skill but also manage others for organizational success (for example, a tech lead managing a development department but still coding themselves).

In that case, just consider two alternatives: a promotion where you would have more functional/technical skill and less managerial skill (for example, managing a smaller team with less impact on the organization but coding more) and the opposite, another where you would have less functional/technical skill and more managerial skill (for example, managing a larger team with more functions and more organizational impact, but less coding and use of your direct functions). Which is more attractive? You can slowly repeat this for different anchors to discern which is the most important for you.


The Career Anchors are a very interesting and useful framework for helping one learn more about their preferred work style, benefits and recognition systems, but more than that, to learn what the core driver in their career is, which will determine everything after that.

It can be a useful complement to, for example, the set of vocational coaching techniques I use with clients in specific verticals:

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