What is a portfolio career and how can it help me?
A portfolio career is the term used to describe professionals who have multiple part-time jobs or occupations at the same time. Some people with portfolio careers refer to themselves as “portfolio workers”, but many others prefer not to use this term. Portfolio workers typically have 2 or 3 specialised skills (often in unrelated fields) which they use to generate separate incomes. For example, they could work 3 days a week as an accountant, and 2 days as a graphic designer.
Portfolio careers can be useful for anyone looking for a more varied future career, or considering how to make a career change. They generally come in two flavours:
- A transitionary state which you “occupy” whilst you move from one full-time career to another
- A career destination in itself
A portfolio career as a transitionary state
A portfolio career can provide a good mechanism for making a significant career change (e.g. from banking to medicine). You continue working in your current job on a part time basis (employer approval pending!), whilst you build skills, and experience in your new field. This approach can often help to mitigate some of the financial challenges that normally stop people from pursuing career changes.
In the early stages of a career change, your portfolio career might consist of working 3 or 4 days per week in your current job, and devoting the “spare” day to exploring or “testing out” the new career. In my self help guide, “5 Ideas to Identify a New Career Whilst Working”, I share some strategies for exploring careers whilst work. You can download a free copy here. You might decide to use this time to learn a new skill, or enroll in a course for your new career. Or perhaps, you might use the time to do some freelance work, or trial projects to build skills and credibility in your new profession.
As your knowledge and skills in your new area of work develop, you may be able to secure part time paid or volunteer work. Depending on the nature of your new career you might be able to start up your own private business. As you build you confidence and connections in your new profession, you can apply for full time positions, or consider leaving your previous job altogether. This step-by-step approach also works well for individuals looking to start up their own businesses. E.g. transitioning from a gym instructor (employed) to setting up a private business as a yoga instructor (self employed).
A portfolio career as a career destination
For many of us, a portfolio career can also be a destination – a professional state that we seek to inhabit on a more permanent basis. A growing number of people are identifying two or more discreet talents or passions that they want to work on at the same point in their professional lives.
Career coach and writer, Emilie Wapnick has coined a term for people with such attributes – she calls them “Multipotentialites”. A portfolio worker herself, Emilie gave an interesting talk on the subject back in 2015. You can watch it here:
Whilst I tend to dislike labels, I share many of the attributes of Emilie’s multipotentialite. I enjoy developing myself in a number of ways, and have talents across a wider range of disciplines. These include coaching and personal development, consulting and change management, scientific research and public speaking.
In 2015 I started my own transition to a portfolio career. I had deep misgivings about specialising further in my consulting career. With my bosses consent, I dropped down to working 4 days a week. I used my 5th day to develop new skills and explore a number of career ideas. You can read more about my own journey of career exploration here. As my business idea for Equipped 4 Change became clearer I gave up my part time job at Deloitte. Now I spend the majority of my time helping people make career changes. I still do the odd bit of consulting (contract) work as and when something interesting comes up. I have, in effect, transitioned to a type of portfolio career – part coach, part consultant.
A portfolio career can be great for personal development
The other great advantage of a portfolio career, besides letting you design your career as you see fit, is faster personal development. You can develop a wider of range skills much faster than you might otherwise do in a single career. Since starting my own business, I have rapidly acquired a whole new range of entrepreneurial skills including website design and digital marketing.
Whilst I am enjoying the variety and flexibility of my portfolio career, I recognise that they aren’t for everyone. My income streams are less predictable which requires me to pay more attention to my spending. I also realise that not everyone has the option to transfer onto part-time contracts with their existing employers. In this regard I was lucky. However, in a world in which companies are increasingly using part time contracts to fill skill shortages, portfolio careers are becoming increasingly viable for more people. What’s more, in industries undergoing significant change, they can be a great way to diversify income streams, and mitigate the risk of redundancy. Last but not least, the energy and enthusiasm you get from doing more of what you want can actually help to improve your overall work performance.
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