Jan 2, 2008

What's Anchoring your Career?

Guest post by frequent contributor R Karthik:

'Occupational self-concept' has it that all of an individual's career choices so manifested in their job moves and other key decisions pertaining to their industry or profession they take to are (consciously or otherwise) driven by a particular anchor! A 'Career Anchor' as established through research by Edgar Schein, would be that (opportunity or core competence or functional aspect or simply another employment element) which the careerists in them would never give up under any circumstance. In other words it would be the fulcrum around which individuals' careers would revolve; it would be the only (always not-so-easy to identify) constant in an otherwise transient and change-ridden career.

New Year's Eve is certainly a good time to reminisce about my career course thus far and configure the way forward (So, here is where I come from J ). For someone who graduated in sciences, took to a sales job right after college, drifted to business education within a year thereafter and finally landed in a corporate human resources department, making 'the' career choice has been as much an evolutionary and soul-searching experience. Engineering or arts, for that matter would not excite me as much as I always saw myself as being the 'thinker-communicator-innovator'. My self-concept had always been one of (or at least something akin to) a 'Functional Manager-Creative Strategist'. While all this conscientious realization has dawned on me only recently, how things have actually unfolded is very simple. So how and when did I figure that HRM was indeed my true calling? – Well, it happened prior to joining b-school during my stint in Pharmaceutical sales. The grind of field sales starkly exposed my strengths and limitations to me in the first few months after start as I found myself excelling in only select faculties of the job. I would do an impressive job of product detailing, competitive positioning and articulation of FABs (features, advantages, and benefits). But sales, as I figured shortly, was not all about doing just that; it meant much more in terms of making productive customer calls with due preparation, effective use of promotional material such as product brochures and samples. Not the least, it meant perseverance of the highest order (in the face of most intimidating challenges or set-backs) in contriving to achieve pre-set goals on monthly basis. 'Never Say Die' was the name of the game! While I firmly believed I was capable of doing something else or much more than this, an honest Introspection helped me realize I was not very good sales material after all. Having understood my abilities, I would rather not waste much time in taking to what I had vocations for. Of all the functional specializations offered my interests and inherent strengths lay in HRM so I took to it as a duck to waters. One another right move would be safeguarding my position as an undiluted HR career-aspirant; it meant opting out of the 'dual-specialization' trap, resisting temptations in not sitting for every other company's campus selection programme.

That sneak peek into the rear-view mirror has helped me trace my career trajectory from its very roots. It turns out that if there was ever a single dominant anchor through all these phases of my career it would be 'functional competence' (one of the 8 distinct anchors as defined by Edgar Schein). It gets interesting when one starts relating this concept of anchors to the careers of individuals we have known and followed. 'Pure Challenge' must have been the career anchor of Sherlock Holmes; 'Entrepreneurial Creativity' that of a 'Bill Gates' or a 'Steve Jobs'; 'Autonomy' for those free spirits who prefer portfolio living to subscribing themselves with one organization and working by its terms; 'Service/dedication to a cause' that of a 'Medha Phatkar', 'General managerial' for some, 'Security/Stability' for some and 'Lifestyle' for some.

So, what's yours?