Career Anchor Secures Place in the World of Labour

Apr 17 , 2021
By Asegid Getachew

Organisations in developing countries, including Ethiopia, employ a career management system that focuses on its external aspect. Such a system is designed to ensure that employees progress along a defined career ladder until they reach a certain plateau.

Career, however, has an internal dimension to it. This aspect refers to the perception that individuals have about their talent, skill, values and motives. As individuals progress well into their professions, such internal perception becomes a critical determinant of what they look for in life.

The concept of ‘internal career’ started to get prominence in the early 1970s after a landmark study by Edgar Schein, a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His study revealed that individuals start to form a stable and enduring self-concept from the experience and feedback they have obtained almost a decade into their careers. This self-concept morphs to be something that they will have a hard time altering even if they chose to do as such.

Due to its stabilising effect and its lasting nature, Schein termed the phenomenon “Career anchor.” Like an anchor that keeps ships firm in place on water bodies, a career anchor moors a certain facet of their identity to their professions.

Using insight from close to two decades of research, Schein developed his own typology of career anchor, which is widely used until now. According to him, individuals can be anchored by the need to coordinate and mange others' efforts and have an orientation to be efficient in their technical areas of expertise. Some also may be anchored by the desire to invent and start a new venture; enjoy the stability and safety they get from attaching their future to an organisation which guarantees the same while others might be interested by a job environment that provides an excellent work-family balance.

It is also normal to focus on the effect that their job has on their immediate community and the world or by the desire to face a challenging situation. What benefit can the understanding of career anchors bring to individuals and organisations in Ethiopia?

Several studies have proven that a match between the career anchor of individuals and their job setting leads to favourable job-related outcomes. It is an accepted fact now that such a match leads to a higher level of commitment, loyalty and satisfaction on the part of employees. This implies that organisations that pay attention to synchronising their job environment with employees' internal career can benefit from such outcomes.

Individuals contemplating changing their professional goals or moving into a new job environment can benefit a lot from understanding their internal career. Nowadays, it is easy to know one’s dominant career anchor. One has to simply download a weighting instrument from the internet and follow the instruction to know the total score for each dimension of career. The aspect of career which manages to garner the highest score automatically becomes the dominant one.

Institutions of higher learning in Ethiopia can help by introducing the concept in their curriculum. Over 50 public ones are strayed across the country while hundreds of private colleges ready students for careers many of them end up not being all that much interested in. Some courses, for instance, introductions to “Management” and “Entrepreneurship” can be made to include discussions regarding internal careers.

It could help fresh graduates to join the world of work with an understanding of the concept of career anchors, which at some point will turn out to be a guiding force behind their professional goals.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 17,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1094]

 is an assistant professor and research scholar at Andhra University. He can be reached at

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