The advantages of a portfolio career

Do you really need a full time 9-5 job? What if there was another way to fulfil your passions, earn enough money and perhaps give a bit of something back too?

Such a thing exists, and it’s called a portfolio career. It’s basically a way of working part-time on a few different things which all add up to your career. It’s also a great way of eeking out a work-life balance or gaining new skills while still doing a job you enjoy. Think of it as having your cake and eating it.

What is a portfolio career?

Technically a portfolio career is one that is made up of lots of different roles. Instead of one full time role, it’s a combination of different ones that make up the equivalent of a full time job.

The idea of a portfolio career probably started out as a result of a financial need, meaning people combined more than one job to earn the income they needed. But more recently the definition has evolved to be short-hand for creating a way of working and achieving personal objectives (such as volunteering, cracking that elusive work-life balance, self-employment or learning new skills) as well as broadening career opportunities. What it is not is having to hold down two or three (or more!) part-time jobs just to pay the bills.

There are many different types of portfolio careers, whether that’s having a series of jobs in different specialisms one at a time (which would normally need a degree of re-training to achieve)or arranging your working life to fit in lots of different roles at once.

An example of the first type is an actor who is also a book-keeper or photographer. The second type could be a specialist who works on two part-time contracts for different employers, or could be someone who is self-employed but is supporting themselves with a part-time role until they build up their own business sufficiently.

Portfolio careers can also be used to create the opportunity to do pro-bono work or other volunteering, perhaps when someone is thinking about winding down for retirement but doesn’t want to stop completely.

But more recently portfolio careers have also been chosen by people at earlier stages of working life, not just as a semi-retirement option, with plenty of dynamic younger people making an active choice to blend their work and their passions in ways which mean one 9-5 job just doesn’t fit the bill. From a student trying to succeed in their chosen career and holding down a part-time role in a coffee shop until they make it, or a parent returning to work part-time and undertaking a self employment venture, to a part-time Non Executive Director also working as a consultant and charity trustee, the multi-strand approach can be a different way to looking at employment.

What are the benefits?
  • Flexibility – this has to be the number one benefit of creating a portfolio career. See your working days as a blank sheet of paper and fill in the hours you want to work with projects you want to be involved with and you are in control of the ratio you maintain in each
  • Broadening your skills –allowing you to take advantage of new and different opportunities both short term and long term, maximising your personal growth and development
  • Providing an opportunity to take more risks – the approach allows you to try out new and different ways of working and can give you more freedom to take risks and explore outside your comfort zone without the shackles of full time role
  • A platform to help transition to a new career – whether this is a change in direction mid-way through your working life or a change at the end of your career, a portfolio approach can help support the transition from one focus to another

Other benefits include being able to feed your passion – whether that’s volunteering, mentoring or anything else – alongside doing work which earns you money. If you’re lucky enough to earn money in a way that also indulges your passion, you’re already doing a great job!

How to make a start on a portfolio career

Here are three simple steps to take to make a start on building a portfolio career

  1. Define what success looks like for you
    Set your objective and decide what you want to achieve from a portfolio career. Do you want to demonstrate or improve a certain skill with an extra role? Are you using a portfolio career as an opportunity to work more flexibly? Perhaps you want to use some of your skills to help others. Maybe you’re happy with your full time job but want to build some volunteering into your life.  Define what you want/need to earn and how often you want to be working.  Think about what you are prepared to do and what you will not do. Once you’re clear on what a successful portfolio career will be for you it will be easier to create it and keep yourself accountable to those parameters.
  2. Look out for opportunities you’re interested in
    Before you apply for anything you can keep an eye out for roles you might be interested in to make sure it would work as you anticipate. Note how much time they would take up and whether there’s any remuneration offered. Maybe being paid doesn’t matter to you, but you’ll definitely need an idea of how much time you’ll have to commit. Also keep a note of what kinds of organisations are offering opportunities you’re interested in so you can return to them at a later date. Examples could be paid work such as agency/seasonal work, interim work, part time, consultancy work, non executive director roles and also pro-bono work such as charity trustee, school governing bodies or any kind of volunteering.
  3. Use your network
    Once you’re clear what kind of opportunities you’re looking for, ask people you know and trust to keep an eye open too. Talk to people about the kind of opportunities you are looking for and why, and maybe consider posting  on social media like LinkedIn (as long as you’ve been straight with your current employer!) and ask to be sign-posted to opportunities.  Also think about directly approaching organisations you want to work with. I have worked with clients who have volunteered with charities in order to gain new skills for the career they want to build, as well as others who have used their experience volunteering to help secure a place at university and a job afterwards.

I am not for one minute saying that a portfolio career is an easy option, it isn’t; it is simply a different way of working.  A portfolio approach tends to suit people who enjoy variety, are self motivated, thrive on learning new things, believe they are in control of their own outcomes and can manage their money well across the different strands of work.  It tends not to suit people who prefer stability, like routine and don’t enjoy change.

Do you think a portfolio career might be for you?

If you’re thinking about the next step in your career and aren’t sure what’s right for you I offer a free career coaching chemistry session. Send an email to to book your complimentary session.

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