Put together the portfolio-career puzzle to find fulfillment.

I'm Lauren Settembrino. You may have seen my name attached to articles across the blogs of Talent Inc.'s suite of brands: TopResume, TopCV, and TopInterview. I write articles for Talent Inc., but I also work behind the scenes editing and managing our blogs. Outside of this, I'm a professional dancer and choreographer. And I teach dance. And I teach English as a second language. And sometimes I'm also a stage manager. I think that's it?

Essentially, I work … a lot of jobs.

It's not that I'm indecisive. I just have a lot of passions — a lot of different areas of interest I want to pursue — and I don't want to pick and choose. So I don't. If this sounds like you, you don't have to choose either; you can have a portfolio career as well.

What is a portfolio career?

A portfolio career is the practice of a professional juggling act — choosing to take on multiple, often smaller, jobs instead of one role that is your whole career identity. It's aptly named because of the way someone's career arc can best be represented as a collection of different pursuits, much like a portfolio.

While it strays from the traditional nine-to-five format, a portfolio career remains perfectly legitimate. In June 2018, 7.6 million American workers reported holding two or more jobs. For many people, it's less about finding your single dream job and more about pursuing multiple jobs that, when put together, let you cover all your interests and needs, even if they're disparate.

Why a portfolio career?

There are a number of reasons for pursuing the path of the portfolio career, and its shape will depend on those reasons. Perhaps you are a new parent and you need a way to be available for your child while still working. Maybe your passion and your bank account aren't really friends, and you need to incorporate other fulfilling jobs because the things you love don't provide the income you need. Or, you simply have a number of interests and you just aren't willing to let any of them go.

Regardless of your reason, a portfolio career can let you put together the puzzle pieces of your life in the way that is best for you. Some of the things you can benefit from are:

  • Flexibility. Whether you're deciding your own daily timeline or working in shifts, the deviation from traditional, fixed work hours makes it possible for you to accomplish everything that's important to you: family responsibilities, that other job you love, or for me, dance training.

  • A diverse skill set. Each different job you take on requires a unique combination of abilities. That means that a portfolio career enables you to build an abundant toolbox of skills that make you a more versatile, experienced professional.

  • More opportunities. Different facets of your career mean different projects and different networks. By engaging in multiple industries, you'll open yourself up to a greater number of new opportunities.

Tips for a successful portfolio career

The nine-to-five, full-time career path has a lot going for it, namely its simplicity and security — you know how much you will make in a month and when you will (and won't) be working. Because a portfolio career can complicate things, it's important to remain focused on the big picture: your goals, passions, and income. Here are some of the lessons I've learned about walking this career path and how to be successful.

Determine what matters most

If a portfolio career is like a professional puzzle, some pieces are going to be bigger than others. An important step to cultivating your collection of jobs is to set priorities; ask yourself, “What exactly am I looking to get out of this?”

If it's flexibility, direct yourself toward jobs that let you work remotely or create your own hours. If you want to remain in a specific industry, brainstorm jobs in the field and how your skills play into each of them. If money is your biggest concern, that may mean allocating more of your time to the most lucrative pursuit.

No matter where your priorities fall, you can strategize your choice of jobs and where you put your time to find the right balance.

Consider how your jobs will affect you

Each job you take on becomes part of your life, which means you have to consider the way it will shape your lifestyle. The good news is you have some freedom to shape the day-to-day experience you need for your health and happiness. Is physical activity important to you? Incorporate a job that keeps you moving. Do you need structure to thrive? Find positions that offer some regularity.

Overall, your pursuits need to complement one another to keep you from burning out or losing the things you need to thrive.

Budget like crazy

One of the downsides to a portfolio career is that your income tends to fluctuate — you worked one less shift, taught one extra class, took on an extra project that gave you more money from Job A but less from Job B. This can add stress to your finances, but it's manageable.

The important thing is to establish which elements of your portfolio career contribute the most financial consistency and make sure those cover all of your basic expenses. This could mean a minimum number of shifts, dependable clients, long-term projects, or something else that fits your puzzle. Treat these elements as core to your lifestyle, and ensure that, above any other changes or surprises, they don't waver.

How do I put a portfolio career on my resume?

We already know that writing a resume is difficult, and that's with a logical career timeline going from one job to the next. So how do you write a resume when you've had a number of different jobs simultaneously that may or may not relate?

The answer, like most things for portfolio careers, is that it depends. More specifically, it depends on what you are applying for, what you've been doing, and where your focus is at that time. For instance, performing at New York City Center is a career highlight of mine, and if I'm applying for a dance teaching job, I would certainly call attention to it. But if I'm seeking out another copy editing job, the hiring manager won't be particularly interested — I would omit it from my resume for that application.

Because of the infinite number of variables, approaching resume writing as a portfolio professional is different for each person. That's why it's a case where a professional resume writer can be invaluable. By working with you one on one, a professional writer will take the time to understand your history and reinterpret it in the way that will best suit your goals.

Summing up

It may be nontraditional, but a portfolio career is exactly right for millions of professionals across America. As one of those myself, I can assure you that it's worth the extra effort. Putting the puzzle together may be difficult, but once you do, it can offer more career fulfillment than if you had stuck with a nine-to-five corporate role.

How does your resume present your portfolio career? Submit for a free, objective resume critique to find out what people see when they look at your puzzle.

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