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'And what do you do?'

The Attractions of a Portfolio Career

Do you dread that question: 'And what do you do?'

And how do you answer? ‘I’m a plumber’, ‘I’m an accountant’, ‘I’m a teacher’ – simple explanations. But what if you don’t want to be defined by just one label?

It’s increasingly common for people to say things like:

‘I have three jobs. I’m a lawyer for several small companies, a professional cook and a food writer.’

‘I work in a restaurant four nights a week, run a small shop three days a week and bake products for my husband’s shop one day a week.’

‘I am a lighting designer, professional photographer and Reiki practitioner’.

These are real examples of people who have portfolio careers. The term essentially refers to a person doing two or more different jobs for different employers.

What they have in common is that they’ve all had difficulty in finding a single job or even a career that used all of their skills and allowed them to tap into all of their passions. They’ve all found, as indeed have the other people we’ve interviewed for our book, that there is an alternative to the 20th-century dream of finding ‘the one job that is right for you’. For many people that dream has become a nightmare as every job is now temporary.

Valuing variety

People who opt for this work style like it because it gives them variety. Also, they don’t have all their career ‘eggs’ in one basket. If one job gets boring, they can focus more on the other ones or indeed even ditch the boring one. If they lose one job, they have other revenue streams to rely on.

We’ve discovered that maybe a million plus people have been and are developing portfolio careers without being aware that this style of working is becoming more popular or indeed has a name. It is a growing career pattern. In our book, Trish takes the prize for the most jobs – 8.

For many, the attraction is that you largely have your independence even if you’re working for a number of different organisations. Plus you have relative freedom from corporate agendas and politics. You can use your unique combination of strengths.

You can follow multiple passions. It’s often easier to say ‘no’ to a request or demand. You constantly develop and learn new skills.

There can also be more leisure time. You might even want to add an existing hobby or passion to your portfolio. Michelle is a city events organiser who discovered Pilates after having bad back problems and decided to train to teach it. She says she enjoys the blend of two very different jobs, allowing her to express who she really is. She also earns more than she would by doing her city job full time.


It’s not a career pattern for everyone. You will have to spend a lot of time networking and marketing. Initially, there are often real financial risks until you’ve acquired your portfolio. There can be a loss of employment benefits, such as pensions, health care, paid holidays, childcare, etc. You may be unwilling ever to turn down work offers or accept less desirable work because of financial uncertainty. Sometimes there can be a lack of a regular routine along with feelings of isolation.

Having said that not a single person that we interviewed would consider returning to a more traditional career pattern. They particularly loved the fact that they could blend work and non – work aspects of their lives according to their current life priorities.

So - where to start?

It helps if you are an excellent time manager and organiser, able to work well under pressure, comfortable with little separation between your work and the rest of your life, a risk taker, self directed, high energy, assertive, comfortable being your own boss, not hung up on financial security, a networker and marketer, someone who can work to deadlines and who learns from their mistakes. You need to be a self-starter and preferably not a perfectionist. Breathless? Welcome to the world of portfolio careers.

The book and our website promote portfolio careers as a very real option today with many pluses for organisations, as well as for individuals. We’ve written this because we’re excited about helping people to realise ‘there is another way’ to earn money, derive meaning and hey, even to sprinkle a little magic into our working lives. You can and should be the architect of your own future.

And how do we answer the dreaded question, ‘And what do you do?’

Simple. We say, ‘I have a portfolio career’, then step back and wait for the questions that follow...

If you have a portfolio career, want to know more about it or simply do not want to have a ‘proper job’, look at www.portfoliocareers.net.



March 2010


Further information

This guest article by Barrie Hopson, looks at the growing phenomenon of portfolio working - having a collection of 'jobs' and skills that you sell into the market.

Barrie has just written a book with Katie Ledger, ‘And What Do You Do? 10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career’, A&C Black,2009

Find out more on his lively website:





All material copyright Flexibility.co.uk 2009