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Sep 20, 2023
Career Portfolio vs. Career Path: Why It’s Time to Know the Difference as a Freelancer

In a world of evolving work dynamics, it's time to redefine success - especially if you’re a freelancer.


It’s not always easy to branch out and take a gamble on ourselves, our skills, and our capabilities to try something new. But if you want to carve out a successful freelancing career, diversifying the ways you use your skills - and the skills you have - could be key.


Renowned futurist and change navigator April Rinne talks about the concept of pursuing a career portfolio in her recent article for Harvard Business Review. It’s a great piece and one that got me back onto a concept I used to discuss frequently with my students embarking on creative careers.


What is a Career Portfolio?


A career portfolio is not a physical entity but a dynamic approach to curating your professional journey. 


Unlike a traditional career path, it celebrates your diverse skills and experiences, allowing you to explore various avenues simultaneously. It’s a way of reframing your skills, experiences and capabilities in new ways to explore new opportunities, projects and freelance work.


What is the Difference Between a Career Portfolio and a Career Path?


For freelancers, embracing a career portfolio offers more space to explore different passions and gain wisdom, taking on a variety of work opportunities that help you grow in different ways. A career portfolio is a chance to utilise your skills and passions in multiple ways that ultimately work for you. 


A career path tends to be more rigid and focused on one core area of expertise and skills. In a career path, you’ll focus all your energy on becoming a subject matter professional and dedicating your time (and the work you do) to this pursuit.


While a career path tends to be a linear pursuit with a singular focus, a career portfolio represents a continuous source of discovery and fulfilment, enabling you to navigate through various twists and turns in your professional journey.


It’s worth noting here that neither one of these is necessarily better than other, but pursuing a career portfolio could have the upper hand in our fast-changing world.



The Benefits of a Career Portfolio


The benefits of a career portfolio are numerous. It enables you to be ‘unautomatable’ and more adaptable in an ever-changing job market. By cross-pollinating skills from different experiences, you can gain new insights, diversify income sources, and tackle new challenges.


Pursuing a career portfolio offers numerous benefits that empower freelance professionals to thrive in an ever-changing job market. Here are three key advantages of adopting a career portfolio approach:


  • Greater Adaptability and Resilience: A career portfolio allows you to navigate ambiguity and uncertainty with ease. This adaptability better equips you to face shifts in the job market, technological advancements, and economic changes. By continuously adding to your portfolio, you can stay relevant and agile, making them more resilient to unexpected challenges and opportunities.

  • Enhanced Professional Identity: Building a career portfolio gives you a unique and authentic professional identity. It allows you to embrace your diverse skills and experiences, transcending the constraints of a single job title or narrow career trajectory. This enriched professional identity not only enhances self-confidence but also sets you apart from other candidates in the eyes of clients.


  • Increased Autonomy and Ownership: A career portfolio puts you in the driver's seat of your career. You can proactively shape your career journey, focusing on projects and roles that align with your passions and goals. This autonomy fosters a sense of ownership, motivation, and fulfilment in your work, as you have a clearer sense of purpose and direction.


A career portfolio also allows you to tap into the concept of job crafting. In a fascinating study, researchers from the Yale School of Management discovered that some people actively 'craft' their work to find additional meaning. By framing their work in particular ways, they can hone in on the aspects that bring them fulfillment and purpose.



How to Get Started Creating a Career Portfolio


Using your portfolio to land your desired roles involves crafting a compelling portfolio narrative. This is where you connect the skills you've developed to the skills employers seek. 


Share stories of how seemingly unrelated experiences enhanced your problem-solving abilities. Your combination of skills becomes a valuable asset, setting you apart from other candidates.

Here are four key ways to begin building your career portfolio:

  • Identify Your Diverse Experiences: Start by identifying all the diverse experiences you've had, both within and beyond traditional paid jobs. Include any activity where you've created value and served others. Don't limit yourself to what's typically on your resume; embrace the uniqueness of your journey.


  • Reflect on Your Skills and Interests: Reflect on the skills and interests you've developed throughout your various experiences. Consider how these skills can be combined, mixed, and matched to create a unique professional identity. Your combination of skills is more valuable than any single skill on its own.


  • Create a Portfolio Representation: Choose a method to represent your career portfolio visually. It could be a simple list or a more elaborate network diagram with different nodes representing each experience or skill. This representation will help you see the connections and relationships between your diverse experiences, guiding you in expanding your portfolio strategically.


  • Continuously Update and Refine: Continuously update and refine your portfolio as you gain new experiences, skills, and insights. Periodically reassess your portfolio to align with your broader professional and life goals. Embrace the concept of lifelong learning and view your career portfolio as an ongoing project that adapts to your growth and interests.


By following these key steps, you'll be well on your way to building a dynamic career portfolio that celebrates your diverse interests and skills, setting you up for success in an ever-changing job market. 


As you navigate ambiguity and embrace new opportunities, your portfolio will become a powerful tool to craft your desired career. As April Rinne states, "The future of work is full of uncertainty... Your future will thank you."