Career Anchors – some clues to a satisfying career?

By Michael Edmonds 19/04/2012

Five years ago I did a course in leadership and learning at the University of Canterbury, as part of their Graduate Diploma in Management. The course included completing a range of different psychological tests to help assess our different strengths, weaknesses and preferences.

One such assessment was the Careers Anchor Self-Assessment, which attempts to identify “your unique combination of perceived career competence, motives and values“. Understanding career anchors can help an individual assess what sort of career options might be most suitable for him/her.

I know some scientists can be dismissive of psychological testing (and of psychology as a whole) but I find this a fascinating area of study, which if applied appropriately can help us better understand, for example, what careers we might find most satisfying.

Here at sciblogs, different options for PhD graduates have been discussed from time to time – academia, consultancy, entrepreneurial pathways, teaching etc.  Indeed, the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk in scientific circles about developing more entrepreneurs in science.  Elf Eldridge just this week quoted Phil O’Reilly as saying “When many see the commercialization of science as a potential alternative to the academic career, we should also be clear that this will not be the case for everyone, and we need to cater to the needs of ALL our emerging scientists”

It seems to me that PhD students should be encouraged quite early on, to not only consider the different career options a PhD graduate might have, but to also reflect on which careers might suit them best. Tools to stimulate such reflection could include a Careers Anchor Assessment. This way they may be able to best prepare themselves for two or three career options which are most likely to suit their personality, motivations and desires.

The Careers Anchor Assessment can be carried out online for $40 (ouch), but can also be done using the book Career Anchors Self-Assessment, which many libraries will hopefully have, but which can also be bought at amazon for less than $12 in kindle format or from fishpond for under $20.

By answering and scoring a series of questions the self assessment attempts to identify your strongest career anchors. The list of career anchors includes:

Technical competence – preference for opportunities that allow you to apply and develop your technical skills

Managerial competence – enjoy managing a team

Autonomy/Independence – want to define your own work in your own way

Security/Stability – prefer job security/tenure

Entrepreneurial Creativity – – desire to create enterprise/opportunities of your own

Service/Dedication to a cause – pursuit of work that serves a cause/makes the world a better place

Pure Challenge – opportunity to solve problems

Lifestyle – desire to balance and integrate your personal, family and career needs.


Career Anchors Self-Assessment by Edgar H. Schein, 3rd edition, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

0 Responses to “Career Anchors – some clues to a satisfying career?”

  • I tend to find psychological testing a fascinating subject, the results of which are to be taken with a large dose of salt. They can be alright at picking out broad trends I think – funnily enough 90% of the scientists here got tagged as analytical in a Myers-Briggs-like test a while back.

    The thing that I notice about them is that as soon as they delve into anything other than broad generalities, trying to pin down specific aspects of personalities it becomes very easy to construct back stories to fit yourself into that personality if you like the description – thus potentially blinding yourself to the fact that a)it might not be true or b)there are other equally as important aspects that aren’t taken into account.

    An interesting area yes, but one that is a long way from being anything more than a codified self reflection process. Still, an entertaining area to call in on every so often.

  • Ben,
    I understand taking psychological testing with a “dose of salt”, the utility of all different types of tests are often overhyped.

    For me, such tests provide a framework for reflection. A way of considering ideas that may have not occurred to you before.

    And completely agree with you regarding constructing back stories – it is something I did when first introduced to the Myers Brigg and which the instructor pull me up on, and pointed out to me that the Myers Brigg shouldn’t be used in a restricting manner.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by a codified self assessment.

    I’m just happy to look at assessments such as the Career Anchors Self Assessment as a useful tool for provoking self-reflection.

  • Fascinating phrase “dose of salts”. Does Ben mean that the results will be flushed out or away with the applied dose of salts? Afterall it is refering to the use of the dose as a laxative. You certainly can’t use the phrase as the method we use to ignore the results. Using said dose of salts will find that one can hardly ignore the results. 🙂

  • yeees, he said in a slightly embarrassed manner, codified self reflection process, not my best turn of phrase.

    I was attempting to get across, that which I think you managed to to in the comments. A useful tool for provoking self reflection. Codified in the sense that it sense that it provides a structure for that self reflection. A tool possibly but by no means a result.

    Ross, a dose of salt is a hyperbolic version of a pinch of salt that I use quite often without ever having previously contemplated the other potential meanings for. hrmmm. One apologizes for any untoward images that may have conjured in the course of your reading 🙂