Pursue a Portfolio Career

Pursue a Portfolio Career

"John" had built a solid career and was a respected senior manager at a midsize company. Then the company downsized and John, 51, was let go. Though he wasn't desperate financially, he still had to work. John updated his resume and applied for jobs but received no responses.

But John wasn't too excited about doing the same thing again. He liked some aspects of his old job, but it was narrowly focused, and he had other things he wanted to do and another side of himself he wanted to explore.

John, a composite based on some of my 50-something clients, turned a career disruption into the catalyst for a bold, new step. He decided to pursue a portfolio career, which can be a smart strategy for experienced professionals at a career crossroads.

What Is a Portfolio Strategy?

A portfolio career is the pursuit of more than one income source simultaneously, usually by applying the various skills you've developed throughout your career to different types of work. For example, you could combine consulting with part-time work, teaching at a local college and freelance writing. You could use your speaking and facilitation skills to lead workshops at companies or educational institutions. You could even develop your own product or service.

But such a career will not be handed to you on a silver platter. You will need to mine less-obvious and hidden markets -- small companies that need expertise on a part-time basis, for example, or vocational schools looking for part-time instructors.

Another portfolio career characteristic is that you'll work at different rates. Some jobs will pay well and others won't, but the lower-paying gigs might be fun or offer intangible benefits, such as an opportunity to give back to your community.

You will also likely deal with a fluctuating income stream, which you can smooth by securing ongoing part-time contracts. Alone, these contracts might not be enough, but when added to other contracts and jobs, they should give you enough to live on.

Is a Portfolio Career for You?

A portfolio career isn't for everybody, especially those who need group health insurance and other benefits that usually come with full-time employment. But if you can get health coverage elsewhere and a portfolio career sounds intriguing, here's how to evaluate whether it's right for you:

  • Inventory Your Values: What's important to you at this juncture in your career? If you need stability, the prestige of a steady position and a guaranteed income, focus on finding full-time work. But if you want more control over your time and the chance to develop new skills and knowledge, to work in different sectors, to create something new or be your own boss, consider a portfolio career. 
  • Assess Your Aptitude: Take an honest look at whether you can successfully juggle multiple jobs at one time, secure contracts, serve clients effectively and build relationships that will deliver paying work. 
  • Ask the Right Questions: Instead of wondering, "Who will hire me?" ask:
    • What skills and abilities do I have now?
    • What can I get paid to do now? Who would buy these services?
    • What do I really want to do in the future?

    List your ideas. When you go beyond job titles and think about function and outcomes, your possibilities widen.

  • Test Your Ideas: Research your ideas and target markets. Get feedback from colleagues or networking contacts. You might find that one idea has more potential than another. One feature the portfolio career offers is fluidity. Your work activities can and will evolve over time. When you feel ready, get that first contract and build from there.

The portfolio career can be a creative solution to career change for experienced professionals, with an array of benefits. You can spread your risk, gain some work-life balance, earn a healthy income, pursue your dreams and open yourself to unanticipated possibilities. Most of all, you can achieve a sense of satisfaction that your talent isn't being wasted at this stage in your career.

[Ian Christie founded BoldCareer.com to help individuals build bold, fulfilling careers and help organizations attract, develop and retain talent. A career coach, consultant, three-time entrepreneur, former senior director at Monster and former retained executive search consultant, Ian is an expert in the fields of careers and recruitment. He believes that career management is a central theme to both personal and organizational effectiveness. BoldCareer.com offers career services to companies and individuals as well as free career resources.]