Why You Should Build a “Career Portfolio” (Not a “Career Path”)
Whereas a career path tends to be a singular pursuit (climb the ladder in one direction and focus on what is straight ahead), a career portfolio is a never-ending source of discovery and fulfilment.
It represents your vast and diverse professional journey, including the various twists and turns, whether made by choice or circumstance.
While your portfolio can include traditional paid jobs, don’t limit it to that. Think bigger. Your portfolio is created by you rather than determined for you by someone else (like a bunch of hiring managers).
It reflects your professional identity and potential. It includes your unique combination of skills, experiences, and talents that can be mixed, matched, and blended in different ways.
In a world of uncertainty, a talent that can expand their thinking beyond boxes, silos, or sectors will be in demand.
Those who try to build a career portfolio now will be more prepared to pitch themselves for (and even create) new opportunities, as they will be well-practised at making creative connections between their various skills and the skills required of the jobs they most wish to pursue
To navigate our ever-changing world with purpose, clarity, and flexibility, instead of focusing on having everything figured out, better to build a career portfolio. That’s the beauty of a portfolio. Because it’s not focused on a singular end, it gives you more space — and frankly, more wisdom — to test out different things and find your way.
The ability to navigate ambiguity and “not knowing” are among the most valuable skills. As a result, curating your career portfolio is more than professional development: It’s how you design your life.
How do I build a career portfolio?
While your portfolio can include traditional paid jobs, don’t limit it to that. It reflects your professional identity and potential. It includes your unique combination of skills, experiences, and talents that can be mixed, matched, and blended in different ways.
If you’ve helped care for your siblings or led a team of online gamers, or done community outreach — include these in your portfolio. In addition, include any role or activity in which you’ve created value and served others: freelance roles, volunteering, community service, side hustles, passion projects, hobbies, exchanges, parenting, supporting your family and friends, and so on.
Your portfolio should also include experiences and capabilities customarily left off your resume, yet fundamentally make you. For example, being an orphan, globetrotter, insatiable hand-stander, and mental-health advocate are essential components.
How you keep track of your portfolio is a matter of personal preference. Create a simple list to start. But because thereal value of a portfolio is in its diversity, you’ll want to make connections between the things that are in it. From time to time, you can revisit this network of skills, roles, and experiences to make sure it aligns with the professional and life journey you want.
A career portfolio is a never-ending source of discovery and fulfilment. It represents your vast and diverse professional journey, including the various twists and turns, whether made by choice or circumstance.
What are the benefits of a career portfolio?
Practically speaking, a career portfolio typically leads to greater ownership of your career because, unlike a job that someone else gives you (and determines the scope of and whether you will advance), a portfolio can’t simply be taken away. It is yours forever.
Similarly, a career portfolio gives you a unique professional identity that evolves alongside you (and isn’t roiled to the core if you lose a job, shift gears, or even “start over” from time to time). It’s naturally aligned with lifelong learning and meant to help you expand your professional community and access to leadership opportunities. Consider your portfolio part of your strategy to be “un-automatable,” too.
Over time, the value of your portfolio will increase by your ability to cross-pollinate: To combine and weave together skills from your different experiences to gain new insights, tackle new problems, diversify income sources, and serve in new ways.
In a world of uncertainty, a talent that can expand their thinking beyond boxes, silos, or sectors will be in demand. Those who try to build a career portfolio now will be more prepared to pitch themselves for (and even create) new opportunities, as they will be well-practised at making creative connections between their various skills and the skills required of the jobs they most wish to pursue.
How do I use my portfolio to land the roles I want?
It’s key to be clear about how your portfolio enables you to be proactive, learn, and contribute in ways that a traditional career path would not. I call this your portfolio narrative.
Employers are hungry to hire talent with non-traditional backgrounds, but they often need help. So again, your portfolio narrative is the link — it is the story you tell to connect the skills people are hiring for and the skills you have developed through the breadth of your experience.
For example, when I was a hiking and biking guide, some people said my career looked frivolous (or even like “too much fun”). What they didn’t see was that as a guide, not only was I usually working 18-hour days — first up and last to bed — but also every day I was learning how to project-manage, accommodate differences, balance budgets, build teams, ensure safety, forge lifetime friendships, and spark joy. I didn’t have a fancy title or earn very much, but I got a practical mini-MBA on the trail and perspective that would shape the rest of my life.
Often, I had to fill in these gaps for others. Doing this and being able to explain why my experience was valuable in this way didn’t just shape my portfolio. It helped me stand out from other candidates when I applied for jobs.
Telling a good portfolio narrative requires understanding how the different things in your portfolio enhance one another. How does your combination of skills give you an edge? I like to think of this as “1+1=11”: Your combination of skills is far more valuable than any of them on their own. For instance, when answering interview questions, share a story about how you applied skills you learned in two very different settings to solve one specific problem.
The future of work is full of uncertainty. It is hard to know what to do or trust that things will work out. But, for all the things that you can’t control in today’s world, taking ownership of your portfolio is one that you can do. You can start today. Your future will thank you.