Portfolio Career Engineer – WTF???

 In Leadership, Life, Motivation

Ahhh yes…didn’t that LinkedIn profile change create a buzz?!!

I had so many questions from connections about it. The term had risen up to the lofty heights of my first degree, Jurisprudence…creating equal parts awe and total confusion.  Another sexy sounding, red wine quaffing exercise? Perhaps..but not really. Probably the most accurate description of my career journey and you know what? Once I explained it, the fact I was a Portfolio Career Engineer came as absolutely no surprise to anybody who knows me.

While the notion of the portfolio career is not a new concept, embracing it certainly was for me. I had grown up believing that you went to University and learned one ‘trade’ and then that is what you do for working life. For fifty years…FIFTY YEARS!!!! You don’t even go to prison for murder for that long! I instinctively knew that for me, working in the same job and in the same field was not the answer to my happiness or indeed career lengevity.

So what is this portfolio career thing? A terrific article in the Sydney Morning Herald a few years back explains it to some degree. In that article, Ken Phillips, the executive director of Independent Contractors of Australia, explains it succinctly:

It’s major social movement,” Mr Phillips said. “It’s individuals making individual choices about how they want to earn their income, how they control their working life.

“What’s developing is a more eclectic mix of how people work, not just across the economy but during people’s lifetimes, according to their particular circumstances. Everyone finds their own pathway. It’s an exciting new world of work.”

The portfolio career is not a lineal path.

And it’s true. If I look back on my career, I have bolted together a series of  curved tracks that have somehow built a railway; worked in a range of industries and on different projects; had a variety of different roles that funnily enough meant that I was exposed to so many learning opportunities. This built my confidence in being able to say ”yes, I can do that” – one thing I don’t suffer from is ‘imposter syndrome’.

Having a portfolio career has meant that trying my hand at something new is a way of life for me and while my career path makes a mockery of the traditional style of work (and has been difficult for recruiters to understand in the past), today having a portfolio career is a real badge of honour.

It means I have a diverse and extraordinary skill set and knowledge base from which to draw that is an asset for organisations and Boards looking to meet the vast array of challenges faced by business today. It means I am an ace ‘dot-connector’ and can quickly see wide-ranging ramifications of decisions and equally entrepreneurial opportunities. It also means I am a ‘people- connector’ as wearing multiple hats and working in a few differing sectors at once means that I have a big pool of genuine connections from which to draw.


A portfolio career doesn’t mean there has been no synthesis. Each role and each skill funnily enough builds on each other…sometimes in a windy way. I haven’t completely tossed out learning as as I change paths. That’s where the engineer part of ‘portfolio career engineer’ sits…I make it make sense and fit together in a logical progression. As an example, my core skill sets are in marketing and business development and today as I develop my coaching and dispute resolution businesses and manage a membership organisation, I have found those core skills invaluable.

So how do you become a portfolio career engineer?

  • Understand yourself and what type of person you are: structured or creative? Routine or loose?
  • Understand your own appetite risk for change and be confident about it. Bank managers and recruiters have difficulty with career and job change and so explaining it to them can be a challenge if you aren’t absolutely confident about what it means for you and how it benefits.
  • ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ – everything you learn is useful. Take what you need across your roles and businesses if you are an entrepreneur.
  • Follow your passion –  You need to love what you do…that’s the idea right? And, working in multiple roles is not for the faint-hearted, It can mean 80 hour weeks easily which means you must be organised and strict on your time.
  • Be fearless – everybody started as a newby at some point. As a portfolio careerist, I have found I am a quick study and get on top of a sector and skill set pretty fast. This is a fantastic skill to have.

A portfolio career is not for everybody but I do think as the nature of the working world changes, it will become more common. The key is whether you will be the engineer or the passenger?