A Brief Explanation of Portfolio Careers

I remember October 1984, and my first week in University. We had a pep talk from the University president who gave us some food for thought. Now I don’t remember everything he said, but I do remember clearly two specific ideas he ‘threw out’ to us uninitiated University newbies.

  • Students should spend ten hours a day studying. Obviously there was a unified gasp of disbelief and deflation from two hundred people had plans for four years of fun with some lectures and study ‘on the side’ The president’s rebuff was “Ten hours of study and 8 hours of sleep allowed six hours for recreation every day” What had we left ourselves in for?
  • In one’s working lifetime, a typical graduate would have seven different jobs, and three different careers.

After four years, many of us graduated having done significantly less than ten hours of study every day. One can only wonder would we be better off or worse off had we done all that study.

Regarding the second piece of information/advice, much has changed, and now people speak of Portfolio Careers, where a person can have several jobs and and maybe more than one career all going on at the same time.

With a mix of part-time positions, contract work and self employment, through hot desking and working from home- offices, technology has facilitated people in leading a new work lifestyle and the phrase Portfolio Career has been born.

Now to clarify, this is not the same as having a broad ranging position that involves many and varied duties. It means having a number of different employers, possibly including yourself, and carrying out a number of different duties for each of these employers. In essence it’s giving portions of your time/experience/expertise to different employers across a range of services, products etc.

The primary benefit of having a portfolio career should be fairly obvious, particularly in the current uncertain environment; Risk can be spread across a number of employers, so if one employer no longer requires your services, you still have a number of others that allow you to continue to have an income stream. Additionally with a broad service offering, it may be easier to find a replacement for the employer who no longer requires you.

On the downside, there can be uncertainty, because of the way your responsibilities are spread, as work can be piecemeal and irregular at times. Also, because you may only be a very small part of an employer’s workforce, you can be easily forgotten, and more likely to be first to go when things get tough.

So what type of person might be suited to a portfolio career?

  • In the first instance one will need to be highly organised, and have the ability to apportion ‘slices’ of time to each employer/portfolio element.
  • Having the ability to prioritise, and to juggle different skills and disciplines is a must. One minute might involve dealing with an irate employer, and the next might be in a completely different business area with a different employer and completely different circumstances such as geographical area or culture.
  • It will also be helpful to have flexibility on time availability, especially in circumstances when dealing with employers in different time zones.

You might ask yourself ‘Why on earth would I even consider having a portfolio career? One answer is that in the current economic environment, and with the outlook not being particularly bright, you might have no choice. However, the variety and flexibility offered by this lifestyle choice may well appeal to many.