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Building a Portfolio Career

Job satisfaction takes many forms. For some people, it means a relatively secure income;

for others, it means the opportunity to concentrate on a single, interesting and meaningful

career. Then there are those for whom job satisfaction comes from having a variety of

careers (either all at once or one after the other) that allow them to earn a livelihood

exploring a wide world of interests.

Critics of this approach to career development

may see it as unfocused and directionless, but the single most compelling argument against a

portfolio career is its lack of job security. The so-called "job for life" is virtually

extinct, however. So why suppress your curiosity in favor of an illusion? Why not use this

as an opportunity to enjoy the adventures, sights, experiences, and diversity of modern

life? In fact, portfolio career practitioners who have also had traditional careers say they

feel more secure having multiple income sources than they did when they were dependent on

the continuing good will and loyalty of a single income source. You may be self-employed and

indulging your passions and spirit of adventure, but that does not necessarily mean that you

have to sacrifice financial reward. You may actually make more money than you would in a

traditional career.

What You Need to


What considerations should I take into account?

If you are considering a portfolio career, ask yourself the following


  • How high is your tolerance for uncertainty and insecurity?
  • Are

    you self-motivated?

  • Do you relish change and meeting new people?
  • How

    important to you is the social life and intimacy of being a regular member of a single


How can I avoid being seen as

someone who flits from job to job, or as someone who just can't hold down a job?

An overall sense of purpose and the big picture is what separates you from

the dabblers. You can dabble and experiment to your heart's content, but when you think

about or discuss your work, always regard your portfolio career as a unified whole, rather

than as a simple collection of "odd jobs."

I am

not working at the moment, and now is a bad time to find a full time job in my industry. How

can I improve my marketability for when I'm back on the job market?

Take a

strategic approach to designing your portfolio career. Each assignment you accept should

give you additional information, experience, or exposure to key players in your industry.

Varied experience within a single industry will give you a better understanding of important

trends in that industry. Therefore, you will be better qualified for strategic positions

later. Industry experts who have a bird's-eye view often command higher


Can I have a portfolio career and still

have a full-time job?

Yes. Your full-time job could be the keystone to your

portfolio career as you build your résumé of ever-increasing experience, responsibility, and

variety. Or you can build a portfolio career as a sideline, using your spare time and energy

to develop passions that are either related or entirely unrelated to your full-time


What to


Hold on to Your Job at First

You do

not have to take an all-or-nothing approach to a portfolio career by announcing publicly

that you are now fully committed to self-employment. While portfolio careers often entail at

least one independent source of income, they do not require you to abandon a full-time job

that provides financial security.

Look at the Big


Your portfolio career will continue to evolve over time, but it is

important to at least start with a general idea of what you want the big career picture to

look like once you have put all the pieces together. A portfolio career requires that,

ultimately, your varied experiences and skills be unified into an overall career path. So

ask yourself, "What do I want to be all about?" and keep that question foremost in your mind

as your portfolio career progresses and jobs keep coming your


Market Yourself As a Management Consultant


Socialize, and volunteer to assist in situations in which you can meet

industry leaders and key decision-makers. Play as much of a role as you can in your local

industry groups.

Give Yourself the Best Chance of


When you are offered a job, be appropriately businesslike. Read

industry publications and books. Stay current with trends and speak knowledgeably of the

strategic issues facing your industry.


Your Time

You need to manage your time. No one is looking over your shoulder

to see that you are working. Unnecessary hours spent in front of the television or reading

may prove to be time-expensive luxuries that you can no longer


Learn When to Say "No" and When to Say


As you become increasingly successful and popular you will have to

learn to balance the temptations of pursuing exciting opportunities with staying focused on

your overall career theme. Choose carefully, but at the same time explore the really

tempting offers. Your reason for saying "Yes" may become apparent later; you may meet an

important person or learn a new skill that will open doors to exciting new


You may not see exactly where your career path is leading you. But if

you keep a journal, you will create a map for retrospective analysis and by looking back,

you will understand the larger purpose of your


Enjoy Yourself!

You may

be the only person you know who is following a crazy, zigzag career path. You may be alone

in your values and the choices you make. Choosing this way of working sometimes has high

costs. But one reward completely within your control is your ability to enjoy the process.

Benefits will be available to you only if you have a sense of independence, which often

comes with having an independent source of income: the ability to pick and choose your

assignments; the chance to live in or travel to beautiful parts of the world; and the chance

to move freely through corporate hierarchies meeting exciting and powerful people up and

down the ranks of organizations.

What to


You Become Short of Money


your adventure with a cushion of six months' living expenses, if you can. Additionally,

follow the practices of management consultants whenever possible: they sell their services

by the value of results (not by tasks or time) and they insist on at least 50% in advance of

the work.

You Take On Too Much


is possible to become overburdened. It is hard to turn down work, especially if you are

unsure when and from where the next opportunity will come, but overburdening yourself robs

you of the benefits of the very lifestyle and work style you sought. For the sake of your

mental and physical health, take time off and get plenty of exercise and


You Allow Yourself to Become


Employees who work full-time in a congenial work environment have

the advantage of everyday camaraderie, companionship, and creative synergy. As a portfolio

careerist, you need to make sure your business and social networks are current and thriving.

You need friends with whom to share ideas with or simply


You Don't Keep Yourself


If you worked full-time for a company, you may have enjoyed

tuition reimbursement benefits. But as a fully self-employed portfolio careerist, it is your

responsibility to make sure your skills are current and marketable, and it may also be your

responsibility to pay for your necessary continuing


Where to Learn



Pink, Daniel. Free Agent

Nation, How America's New Independent Workers Are Transforming the Way We Live. New

York: Warner Books, 2001.



Portfolio Career:

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