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Portrait of a
Portfolio Career: An Answer to the “Perfect Job”?
Success from the Inside Out
Do you cringe when you look
at your resume through the eyes of a prospective employer,
afraid the wide range of jobs listed will disqualify you? Or
have you put together a single-track career record but secretly
long for more variety, more outlets for your varied interests
If so, perhaps you’re the perfect
candidate to welcome a new identity: a portfolio careerist.
While describing her new business over lunch the other day,
Christine included some details of the career journey that
brought her to it. Starting out doing debt consolidation for
friends while tending her young children, she was catapulted
into full-time work in Human Resources following a divorce.
Moving from one corporate HR division to another, she
specialized in employee benefits and severance packages. In
recent years, tired of long hours and wanting more independence,
she has moved into financial planning as an affiliate of a large
financial network. While she is thriving in this new challenge,
she did admit, with a smile somewhere between embarrassed and
shy, that she had a “side business” as a personal color
consultant. “I have too many interests to expect one job to make
me happy. I’ve always had something going on the side!”
Her allusion to non-monogamy was telling, probably accounting
for the moment of slight embarrassment. Many of us are still
laboring under the outmoded belief that we should make a career
choice early in life and follow it faithfully in a more or less
In fact, there are many persuasive
arguments for portfolio careers becoming a wave of the future.
The realities of the current employment environment, suggest
that identifying yourself as the CEO of your career gives you a
head start for pro-actively designing it. The entrepreneurial
mindset is valued among companies looking to shift
responsibility for career management onto you, and prepares you
to make foresighted adjustments to changes in in-house and
Research studies indicate there’s a
high level of satisfaction among people who voluntarily leave
employment and become independent. As high as 65% of executives
surveyed in a British study are “very satisfied” with the
increased freedom, control and variety they’re able to create in
their composite careers.
Portfolio careers may be a model
particularly well-suited to women’s lives. Women have always
been good at doing more than one thing at a time. As companies’
family-friendly policies are diminishing, putting together a
multi-strand career may provide the needed flexibility to tend
to a family’s changing needs or a spouse’s job requirements.
Designing a personal career portfolio gives women a way of
working that fits our lives, rather than requiring our lives to
adapt to our work.
An initial reaction to the idea of
abandoning the search for a “single strand” career and focusing
instead on creating multiple strands may be to worry about the
lack of security: no single paycheck to rely on, no predictable
schedule or set of expectations, no one to report to for
direction. The tough truth is that this security is becoming
more and more of a myth in the contemporary workplace, as hiring
is done project by project rather than for the long haul. Here
are several options for addressing the issue of security:
*Develop a skill set that’s in demand or suited to a growing
industry. An example might be technical writing in biotech.
*Actively nurture your network: keeping in touch with your
contacts about new developments in your skills or interests, as
well as finding opportunities to be of assistance to them.
(Remember that being of service is very likely to activate a
desire to reciprocate!)
*Add to the numbers of people who
know about you and your expertise by developing some speaking or
What does a portfolio career actually
look like? It has several parts, bound together by a common
thread (you), that’s adaptable to many different circumstances.
It can be a combination of traditional employment, contract
work, and self employment (e.g. a home-based business). The
format can be to work simultaneously on various projects or
simultaneously with several clients or with single clients in
succession. Sometimes the strands of your portfolio even rotate
seasonally: a garden design business in the summer, and
technical writing in the winter. The possibilities are infinite,
open to you to craft for yourself.
In addition to
offering variety and flexibility, the portfolio career model can
place value on those endeavors that don’t (or don’t yet)
generate income - service or pro bono work, for instance, or
creative projects. Most importantly, the term “portfolio career”
gives legitimacy to those enterprising folks who have diverse
interests and talents and insist on expressing them, in spite of
having to buck reputations as “jack of all trades, master of
none”. People have embraced the “portfolio career” label with
emotional relief, finding in it a term for the unifying and
meaningful guiding force behind all their activities.
how do you go about creating a portfolio career? Here are some
• look at your work history: What is the common
thread (or threads) connecting the work you’ve enjoyed most and
done well at? Perhaps it’s money: making it, managing it,
building healthy attitudes about it.
• deconstruct the
work you’ve done into tasks and list all the skills involved in
those tasks. Don’t overlook the “people skills” like listening,
motivating, team building, etc. Think of new settings where
those skills are of value and/or get compensated.
• What are
the hobbies or side interests that are or could become income
• Plan a brainstorming session with a friend to
come up with a number of revenue streams, and then mindmap them.
(For mindmapping guidance:
What are the natural rhythms of your life that might suggest
some directions? (E.g. a client of mine got an ESL teaching
certificate so she could spend cold mid-Western winters in a
tropical Latin climate.)
• If you’re considering multiple
concurrent projects, make at least one of them a “no brainer”,
something easy or very familiar.
And, like any good idea,
there are some cautions. Portfolio careers probably aren’t for
everyone. How do you know if it might work for you? Here are
some questions to think about.
• Do I have a personality
suited to a portfolio career (adaptable, risk tolerant,
self-starting, enjoy variety/complexity)?
• Am I good at
improvising when I’m not fully prepared?
• How do I
handle financial insecurity?
• Am I willing to adjust my
standard of living if necessary?
• How will I provide for
health coverage and vacations?
• How well do I structure and
manage my time?
Like the man who looks under the lamppost
for his keys, rather than looking where he dropped them, maybe
the perfect job has eluded you because you haven’t known where
to look. Try on the idea of a portfolio career and see if it
frees you to consider new possibilities, a new approach to
creating work that fits you and fits your life.
About the author:
Nina Ham is a certified business and career coach and a licensed
psychotherapist. Her company, Success from the Inside Out, helps
midlife women redirect their careers or transition from salaried
to solo. Visit her website and subscribe to her free monthly