Portfolio Careers After Postsecondary Education: Encouraging Students to Consider a Test Drive
By Gloria Dansby-Giles
Career service professionals may be called upon to assist individuals who are actively considering portfolio careers or required to work in portfolio careers as a way to handle a volatile economy or an unstable career field. A portfolio career is composed of working several part-time jobs concurrently that may or may not be related (Dansby-Giles, 2019; Hansen, 2022; Parris, 2022; Werner, 2018). Sometimes this work is called gig, freelance, or independent contract work (Torpey & Hogan, 2016). Popular occupations that fit into portfolio careers include medicine, research, administration, the arts, engineering, business, consulting and politics (Eyre et al., 2014). Moonlighting is frequently confused with portfolio careers. According to the Cornell Legal Information Institute (2021), moonlighting is an arrangement whereby a person works a full-time job and a part-time job. Moonlighting differs from portfolio careers in that the individual who is moonlighting chooses to work a full-time job and a part time job. On the other hand, the person pursing the portfolio career works a series of part-time jobs simultaneously.
When it comes to portfolio careers, some new graduates are pulled by the opportunities to explore their field. Other individuals turn to such employment arrangements by the changing economy and labor market (Eyre et al., 2014). These changes may involve fluctuations in the unemployment rate or they require individuals to cope with increases in the cost of food and gas due to inflation (Amadeo et al., 2022). People can expect and plan for numerous career transitions in their lifetimes, which may include multiple positions during the transition (Parris, 2022).
It is likely that career professionals may encounter individuals who need to prepare for portfolio careers. Some academic departments at higher education institutions now identify the importance of preparing individuals to manage portfolios careers. For example, faculty in some music programs have articulated the need to embed enterprise and entrepreneurship in the curriculum with the development of skills such as advertising, social media, and merchandizing (Bartlett et al., 2019; Munnelly, 2020). General practice physicians have secured employment in fields such as healthcare administration, teaching, research, and politics (Griffin, 2008).
Chaos theorists addressed change, the trend of contractual work, the importance of lifelong learning, globalization, and technology. Chaos theorists also emphasized the influence of unplanned events on careers (Mesaros, 2019; Niles & Harris-Bowlsbey, 2022.) Career services professionals are positioned to educate students on the advantages and disadvantages of portfolio careers, as well as ways to maintain or update the skills they need to navigate a diverse career portfolio. Practitioners can use the following information to support students effectively.
Examine the Advantages and Disadvantages
As career services professionals support students who are considering portfolio careers, they can together examine the advantages and disadvantages of such an arrangement. Some individuals may prefer positions that offer opportunities to develop their own work schedules, settings, and sources of income (Parris, 2022). The opportunity for flexibility in a portfolio career can work well for parents who need time to attend events at their children’s school (Indeed Editorial Team, 2021). Portfolio careers also offer exposure to various career fields or jobs, thereby allowing new professionals to explore various interests, work history, and income without being stuck in the same position.
Despite the benefits, portfolio careers are not risk-free. Persons pursuing portfolio careers may need career services professionals to explain how workers may not have access to health insurance, retirement planning, sick leave, vacation, and leave of absence with part-time work or contracted employment. Part-time or temporary work may not offer a stable monthly income to cover loan repayments or other financial responsibilities. Students should know that they may also struggle to advance professionally because their employment may have been too short to qualify for promotions (Parris, 2021).
Teach Career Navigation Skills
Regardless of the reasons for their interest, college graduates will face many challenges as they plan and manage part-time employment or pursue portfolio careers (Hansen, 2022; Torpey & Hogan, 2016). These individuals may need to engage in financial planning so they can build a funding reserve before launching multiple part-time jobs.
Career services professionals can be a valuable resource in assisting college students in exploring work experience, skills, and roles that can be transferred to portfolio careers. Besides promoting self-reflection, these professionals have knowledge of the labor market as well as information related to internships, part-time employment, and networking. Career services professionals can discuss the following questions with students or new graduates to spark reflection and planning for navigating a portfolio career.
- What are some of your preferred worker roles, volunteer roles, hobbies, and skills that you wish to involve in your future career (Dansby-Giles, 2019)?
- Have you considered ways to address multiple positions in terms of compatibility, conflicts of interest, and other challenges (Dansby-Giles, 2019)?
- Would you consider engaging in networking?
- Would you consider meeting graduates who have launched portfolio careers?
- Would you consider meeting with career specialists and faculty advisors who can provide information about graduates who have launched portfolio careers?
- Would you consider a test drive by working multiple part-time jobs for a brief period?
- Have you considered using portfolio job search resources (e.g., flexjobs.com), which is solely devoted to remote and flexible job listings?
From this reflection and exploration process, students can begin to pinpoint ways to distinguish themselves from others who are performing similar job tasks and work activities. With the help of career services professionals, students can begin career exploration of the specialized or high-demand work world (Torpey & Hogan, 2016). This process allows students to be competitive.
Navigating a Portfolio Career
Portfolio careers offer both opportunities and risks for postsecondary students. The career navigation skills that are focused upon by the career services professional will be valuable in portfolio careers. Career service professionals can introduce portfolio careers to students who seek flexible schedules, additional income, variety, and a method to explore alternative career pathways. Career service professionals may also want to engage in public policy to advocate for students who secure contractual work without health insurance, vacation time, or other benefits. If graduates elect to pursue portfolio careers, career professionals can encourage students to engage in financial planning and provide tailored resources to empower them to achieve their goals.
Amadeo, K., Estevez, E., & Rathburn, D. (2022). Six trends that affect the U.S. economy. U.S. & World Economies. https://www.thebalance.com/top-usa-future-economic-trends-3305666
Bartleet, B. L. C., Ballico, D., Bennett, R., Bridgstock, P., Draper, P., Tomlinson, V., & Harrison, S. (2019). Building sustainable portfolio careers in music: Insights and implications in higher education. Music Education Research, 21(3), 282-294.
Cornell Legal Information Institute. (2021). Moonlighting. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/moonlighting#:~:text=Moonlighting%20is%20when%20someone%20works,job%20to%20earn%20extra%20money
Dansby-Giles, G. (2019). Portfolio careers: Are you ready for the challenge? Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/218548/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Eyre, H. A., Mitchell, R. D., Milford, W., Vaswani, N., & Moylan, S. (2014). Portfolio careers for medical graduates: Implications for postgraduate training and workforce planning. Australian Health Review, 38(3), 246-251.
Griffin, A. (2008). Designer doctors: Professional identity and a portfolio career as a general practice educator. Education for Primary Care, 19, 355-359.
Hansen, R. (2022). Portfolio careers: Creating a career of multiple part-time jobs. https://www.livecareer.com/resources/jobs/search/portfolio-careers
Indeed Editorial Team. (2021). 29 family friendly positions for working parents. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/family-friendly-jobs
Mesaros, C. (2019). Embracing chaos theory of careers. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/234994/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false
Munnelly, K. P. (2020). The undergraduate music degree: Artistry or employability? The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, 50(4-5), 234-248.
Niles, S. G., & Harris-Bowlsbey, J. (2022). Career development interventions. Pearson.
Parris, J. (2022). Portfolio career: Definition, pros & cons and getting started. https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/how-to-have-a-portfolio-career/
Torpey, E., & Hogan, A. (2016, May). Working in a gig economy. Career Outlook. https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2016/article/what-is-the-gig-economy.htm
Werner, W. L. (2018). Creating a portfolio career. Law Practice: The Business of Practicing Law, 44, 4.
Dr. Gloria Dansby-Giles is a Professor of Counselor Education at Jackson State University. She has worked as a school counselor and community college counselor where she provided career counseling to students. In addition to her experience in career counseling, she has written several articles related to careers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org