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flower garden metaphor portfolio career
Jun 19

The joy of a portfolio career

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change , Career development

Sometimes, looking for that dream job can feel all or nothing. What can I do that ticks all the boxes, gives me satisfaction, uses my skills, brings in the money that I need? The answer may not be found in one job at all. Instead the key to job satisfaction may be found by doing more than one job. This way of working is sometimes known as a portfolio career.

Benefits of portfolio working

At its best a portfolio career is about choosing to do more than one job, as a way of providing interest, using a wide range of skills. It can provide more satisfaction than one job, and in the current climate can even provide more security, as you are not dependent on just one employer. In the 1980s, Charles Handy advanced the idea of “portfolio workers”, who performed a variety of jobs for different employers. Over thirty years on, this way of working has become much more prevalent, and a preferred way of working for many. Particularly so as many of the benefits of full time employment, such as pension rights, have been eroded.

Mixing employment with self-employment

You might have a mix of part-time employment and freelance work in your portfolio. Or you might be self employed, with a variety of different income streams. According to Karen Gaskell, one of the reasons for having a portfolio career is variety: “It’s like a beautiful garden, with lots of different flowers growing”. Karen’s portfolio “garden” includes her work as a distributor for Utility Warehouse, a FTSE 100 supplier of energy, telecoms and discounts on groceries. She is passionate about this job which involves building relationships with customers, and also managing a team of distributors. Karen also spends two days a week running a daycare centre for elderly people. This gives her satisfaction in organising events that she can see make an immediate difference to people’s lives.

An advantage of running a business and having a salaried job is that you have a baseline income to smooth out the ups and downs that can come with self-employment, but allow you to also run your own business, which potentially can offer much greater financial rewards. Whereas some people’s portfolio will include employment, other people will be self employed, but with more than one way of earning a living.

Complementary strands of work

Dr Mike Clayton is a prolific author, with 12 business books under his belt. Mike loves writing, but it’s only part of his working life. He balances writing with a career as a seminar presenter and speaker. He also delivers project management training as an associate for other companies. Although Mike has a varied portfolio, all his activities are linked in that they are about supporting people and organisations to work more effectively. As someone with a keen intellectual interest in research, the work he does for his writing feeds into his seminars and training, and the activities complement each other. As Mike says: “If I only did one thing, then I would regret not doing the others. It means that I can do different things, all of which I enjoy. I don’t mean that you can do everything you might like to, as I think it’s important to keep focused. But it does mean that you don’t need to limit yourself to doing the same thing every day.”

Is this right for you?

This working style may not interest you so much if you are motivated by the idea of climbing a corporate ladder. Having said that, people who have had a successful corporate career sometimes move into portfolio work in the final phase of working life, offering consultancy, serving as non-executive directors, and often combining this with some unpaid or voluntary work, perhaps as a charity trustee or by mentoring others.

Is a portfolio career right for you? It may be if you have a wide skill-set combined with specialist knowledge, and are self-motivated and confident enough to get out and sell yourself. It requires a certain degree of independence and self-reliance, and in return can offer variety and interest.