Portfolio careers: a very modern way of working

27th October 2020 by Alexandra Potter

The coronavirus pandemic affected all of us in one way or another, including in our working lives. We had to change the way we work in a number of ways e.g. social distancing, wearing masks, working from home, virtual meetings and fewer paid hours. As a result of the latter, some people looked to change career path or pick up extra hours in alternative employment.

However, changing jobs and finding other work has not been easy. Lots of people faced redundancy and severe hardship as a result of closures, especially in sectors like hospitality. Perhaps, though, this presented an opportunity to view the concept of a ‘career’ differently.

Traditionally, a ‘career’ was the job or profession we dedicated ourselves to throughout a working life. The phrase ‘climbing the career ladder’ reflected success as we became more skilled and experienced in our chosen role. For many people this is still true. However, for lots of others it is no longer reflective of their personal career journey. Instead of one job, we may have many. Instead of climbing a ladder, we often ride a rollercoaster, make sideways jumps or follow a path of twists and turns. Indeed, as we have to become more adaptable and flexible in the face of fast-paced change, we may experience multiple jobs in totally different industries. It is possible that these roles might even exist side by side, at the same time.

Introducing the portfolio career

In art and design, a portfolio is a physical or digital folder showing off an individual’s best work (strengths) and talents (skill and ability). In business, it is a collection of different investments, shares or even customers.

A portfolio career is therefore a collection of different jobs undertaken by an individual. This individual is able to move between jobs because they are able to apply their talents in different ways and adapt them to each specific role. Like an art portfolio, skills and abilities are carried from one employer to another.

In this situation, you may have a regular day-to-day job that acts as a main source of income, but you also apply your strengths to something else on the side. For example, an individual may be an accountant for most of the week but also have a business doing wedding photography on the side. Another example could be someone who has worked in engineering for many years, but is now also applying their skills and knowledge to teaching the same subject at a local college on an evening. This job-on-the-side scenario is also becoming commonly known as a side hustle.

Of course it isn’t just side hustles that make a portfolio career- it can also simply be a collection of different jobs over a period of time. Using their transferable skills people might spend months or a few years in one role and then move into something different for a further short period, before changing direction yet again. The common theme is that it is a career with a collection of different jobs.

Who are they for?

If you are wondering who a portfolio career would suit, then the simple answer is anyone. You may be someone who wants to do more with your talents than just apply them to the same thing. You may want to follow an interest or passion, but know that a less interesting job will provide more financial security. You might be the itchy feet kind who just wants to move on when the time is right. Or you may be forced into it, through redundancy or the knowledge that technological change is likely to reduce employment in the sector you wanted to get into.

5 reasons why a portfolio career could be good for you  

  1. you can do a job that you love, in something you are passionate about, even if it doesn’t earn you what you need to live (your primary job will do this)
  2. it can give you greater control of your own career journey
  3. in the face of faster paced technological change, shows that you are adaptable
  4. feel more energised because of a varied working week/month/year
  5. gives you an advantage when applying for new jobs because you are able to show that you can apply your strengths to different situations

and the disadvantages……..

  1. potentially inconsistent income and less financial security
  2. not being able to keep up with the mental demands of constantly moving between roles
  3. underestimating the demands of running a side hustle business alongside holding down a main job
  4. danger of being seen as a jack of all trades, master of none
  5. a loss of professional identity and recognition due to less focus on one thing

In summary, coronavirus has no doubt changed the working world and how we see it. One particular outcome might be more people embracing the concept of a portfolio career. It isn’t for everyone nor will it ever be- we will still have career healthcare professionals, politicians, solicitors, engineers, teachers, business managers climbing the ladder. However, if you have the desire to have variety and apply your strengths to many jobs, then a portfolio career could be well be the way forward.

If you are unsure of your steps or just want to chat to someone about your future then speak to a professional careers adviser- they are there to support you on your career journey. You could also have a look on our insights page which is full of great articles about career development including some highlighting recommended career websites to help you on your way.