The ‘shape’ of you – using career anchors to understand how your career should look

A lot of different factors can go into deciding how we would like our career to look. For example, someone might pick a particular location and design their career around living there. Others might be very passionate about a cause, or perhaps feel that they are at their best when coming up with a new way of doing something.

There’s a lot to think about, and it can feel overwhelming. This is quite a natural thing to feel, so don’t worry if you think that you’re the only one who does! In this blogpost, Alasdair McMillan, Careers Consultant, covers a career theory called Career Anchors, which can help you to understand what ‘shape’ you want your career to have.

Before we talk about careers, let’s start with an analogy

Imagine you have just sat down at a restaurant and you’re picking what you would like from the menu. This might feel like it’s step one of deciding what to eat, but actually this is step two. Before you’ve got to this point, you’ve had to consider a lot of factors and make decisions on them. You’ve made a choice about the type of cuisine you want to have, but also the time of day you would like to eat. There’s also been a decision about the day you eat on, where the restaurant is located and who you want to go with. Perhaps you wanted to eat somewhere near to public transport or you had to move the time of the meal to accommodate a friend. You have been able to make these choices because you are clear on what you want the ‘shape’ of your experience to be.

Let’s bring this back to careers

Knowing what you want the ‘shape’ of your career to be can help you to make decisions about your next steps. This is where the Career Anchors come in. This theory was developed by Edgar Schein, and in it he proposes eight key ‘anchors’ that could drive someone to make the decisions they do. By understanding which of the eight most resonates with you, it can give you a sense of direction.

The eight anchors are as follows:

  • Technical/Functional – being really good at something, excelling in a particular area
  • General Managerial – wanting to lead and develop people, creating a strong team
  • Autonomy/Independence – desiring to work independently of others and setting your own rules
  • Security/Stability – avoiding risk, seeking a career that is stable, calm and predictable
  • Entrepreneurial Creativity – enjoying the process of generating new ideas and new ways of working
  • Service/Dedication to a Cause – needing to feel as though your work is purposeful and contributes to a cause
  • Pure Challenge – thriving on facing and overcoming challenges, perhaps also winning against others
  • Lifestyle – wanting to balance your career with other parts of your life, such as travelling or hobbies

There may be elements of all of the anchors that resonate with you, but your anchor is the one that you think you can’t compromise on. In other words, this is the ‘shape’ you would like your career to hold.

Discover your Career Anchor

  1. Look at the eight career anchors listed above. If you could have only one of these factors, which would it be?
  2. Think about some of the options that you have been considering after you graduate. How do they fit into your anchor?
  3. If you could have a top three anchors, which others would you add in?

This theory, like all career theories, is not about putting you into a box or defining exactly who you are forever. You should use this as a tool to reflect on what you know about who you are and how this might impact on your career choices. You may find that your anchor changes over time.

Having read this article, how will you think differently about your career going forward? What could you do over the next couple of months with this information?

Thanks Alasdair.

If you would like to talk about the shape of your career, no matter what stage you’re at, come and speak to the Careers Service; we’ll put your mind at ease and support you to make career planning manageable.

(Image credit: Ahmet ÇÖTÜR on Pexels)


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