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Portrait of a Portfolio Career: An Answer to the “Perfect Job”?
by: Nina Ham
Copyright 2005 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 and abilities?

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 straight line.

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 market conditions.

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 writing topics.

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.

So how do you go about creating a portfolio career? Here are some guidelines.
• 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 generators?
• 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 ezine,

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