Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4

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What's Your Career Orientation

Supervisors often act on the assumption that what their staff members want most is to "get ahead." While this is certainly true in many cases, a significant number of people focus on other goals, such as job security, challenge, or optimal balance between work and personal life. Effective supervisors must recognize the diverse career needs of their staff and respond appropriately.

In Managing the New Careerists, C. Brooklyn Derr identifies five distinct career orientations, each bearing different motivational needs, benefits and costs, strategies for success, and managerial considerations. Which of these can you find reflected in yourself and your co-workers?

  • Getting ahead: aroused by the possibility of advancing to higher and higher levels within the organization.
  • Getting secure: a sense of job security and organizational loyalty is of primary importance.
  • Getting free: wanting to feel a sense of autonomy and self-direction in one's work.
  • Getting high: craving challenge and excitement.
  • Getting balanced: being able to deal with work and personal life on a level of equal importance; not allowing one to overshadow the other.

Derr symbolizes an individual's internal career orientation by the equation:

Career Success Map = (Motives + Values + Talents) - Perceived Constraints

Although he provides more detailed evaluation instruments, a basic feel for these variables may be obtained by considering the following questions:


  1. What kinds of events, tasks, and assignments are particularly enjoyable?
  2. What do you particularly dislike doing?


  1. What philosophies or beliefs seem to guide you?
  2. To what causes, people, or tasks are you dedicated?
  3. What sorts of things seem to offend you the most?
  4. Of what are you the proudest?


  1. What are your major professional strengths or talents?
  2. In which areas do you excel in comparison to peers?
  3. What are some of your key weaknesses?
  4. How much do these weaknesses affect your professional performance?

Perceived Constraints

  1. Is you partnership life constraining? How?
  2. Is you parenting life constraining? How?
  3. Is your extended family life constraining? How?
  4. Is your health a constraint? How?
  5. Are you geographically mobile?
  6. Are your educational or social backgrounds constraining? How?

Understanding internal and external forces affecting careers allows both the employee and the supervisor to make better decisions. Supervisors should recognize that "getting secure" employees won't be happy working under part-time or consultancy options, while "getting high" people would find these quite attractive. "Getting ahead" employees will put the organization's needs above all else to attain their objectives, but this isn't appropriate to those mostly interested in "getting balanced."

No one category is represented as necessarily more desirable than the other; the matter is simply one of matching the individual's needs to those of the organization. "Getting free" employees may be more difficult to manage than those who are "getting ahead," but may have a greater amount of creativity or highly developed technical ability than the latter. Compromise on either or both sides may be required, but it's helpful to have a clear idea of where the negotiating process starts.

What is you career orientation? Do your actions relate to your objectives? Recognizing, accepting, and reacting appropriately to inherent individual differences are the keys to making the most of everyone's careers.