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The Now, The New & The Next in Careers

Would a Portfolio Career Work for You?

24 Oct 2010 1:18 PM | Anonymous

By Kathleen Sullivan

In an environment of economic uncertainty and high unemployment, a portfolio career offers you the opportunity to be independent, choose the skills you want to offer, work for the employers you want to work for, and create a worklife that reflects your interests and values. What is a portfolio career? A portfolio career is a nontraditional approach to jobs, the job market, and career management. 

The term “portfolio career” is attributed to the British management expert Charles Handy.  In the early 1990’s, Handy predicted that the model of a having full-time job working for one employer would not endure and instead, evolve into a new model where an individual works for multiple employers, sometimes simultaneously, performing a series of short term assignments. 

In this new model, everyone would be self-employed and responsible for planning and managing his/her own career. A portfolio career can be packaged in several ways: A core occupation blended with one or more additional occupations. A core occupation combined with one or several hobbies or personal interests. A core profession offering multiple services such as consulting, teaching, professional speaking, and writing.

Examples of these types of portfolio careers would be: A human resources professional who works for one employer three days per week and who is a customer service representative for another employer 2 days per week. A software developer who contracts for a high tech firm who also is a watercolor artist who sells his paintings in a gallery he operates on the weekends.

A finance expert who consults to the CFO of two start-up companies, teaches accounting at a community college, speaks at professional meetings, and writes for a financial periodical. In each example, the individual is an independent agent who earns a living from multiple income streams often working for multiple employers in various capacities:  part-time employee, contractor, consultant, and freelancer.

What are the benefits of a portfolio career for people over 40? People over 40 often experience longer job searches and more discrimination than those under 40, despite their more extensive experience and proven accomplishments.  If you are over 40, building a portfolio career allows you to leverage your expertise, retake control of your career, and define success in your own terms.  The benefits of a portfolio career for people over 40 include:

--More autonomy
--More egalitarian relationship with employers
--More freedom from corporate politics
--More variety:  in projects, colleagues, and environment
--More responsibility for results
--More opportunity to create the desired balance between work and personal life.

What are the success factors for a portfolio career? To establish and manage a successful portfolio career you must set clear goals, stay focused, tolerate risk, be flexible, adapt to change, and manage your time and resources effectively.

Some of the steps necessary to design a successful portfolio career include: Identify your most saleable skills and interests and the customers who would want to buy them. Design an overall framework for how you will package your portfolio career. Develop a marketing plan. 

You may need more than one marketing plan depending on how you package your portfolio. Create financial goals and manage an annual and monthly budget. Determine the benefits such as insurances you will need and purchase them. Put the necessary technology and resources into place. Develop a weekly schedule and action plan; measure results.

Create a professional network and consistently expand the network to reflect your portfolio. Defend against the pitfalls of a portfolio career:  isolation, poor planning and budgeting, insufficient networking, etc. Make adjustments to your portfolio based on the market, financials, and your evolving interests.  

Would a portfolio career be viable for you? If you are over 40 and have had a traditional career, it can be intimidating to consider a portfolio career.  You would be self-employed, have an uncertain income, and be responsible for continuously finding new job assignments and employers. 

Where would your job security come from? If you honestly evaluate the realities of the new job market, all of these aspects of a portfolio career are the norm:  essentially being self-employed, facing economic uncertainty, and managing frequent changes in jobs and employers. 

Your security does not come from a job or an employer, but from your ability to uncover new opportunities and sell yourself as the best person for these opportunities. You may find that a portfolio career may be a viable option for you.

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