Managing your career portfolio

ONCE upon a time, it was simple. For most, the career path ahead consisted of a succession of full time jobs of increasing responsibility, sometimes all within the one organisation. The primary aim was either to get promoted up the ranks, or to develop enough experience to move to another organisation with a better opportunity, yet still in a full time role. Job security was not really an issue. And the role your job played in the rest of your life was fairly cut and dried. You essentially thought of your job first as a means of income, and if you did something you enjoyed, then you were lucky.

Today, it’s a different story. The stepping-stones we use to get us to where we want to go don’t just consist of full-time jobs. It’s becoming the norm to utilise the other options available to us – part-time, contract work, consulting, even owning a business.

Recent statistics show that up to 25 per cent of Australia’s employed workforce does not work in full-time employment – and that number is growing.

Management philosopher Charles Handy suggested a new name for how we can now construct our career. He says to consider your career as portfolio of different types of work, based on what suits your circumstances at different points in your life.

Today’s typical career path looks more like a portfolio. For example, an individual may start off in a full time role for a few years, then do some contracting work while he or she travels in Europe.

Upon returning to Australia they may take up another full-time role to pay off the travel debts, then work as a consultant using their worldly expertise. When kids come along, the best option may be taking a permanent part-time role.

There have been some shifts in our society’s values that are driving these changes. One is the move towards individual sovereignty.

We want to have more control over our lives, to determine when and how we do our work and live our lives.

Another is a shift in the way organisations view workforce utilisation.

To stay competitive, organisations now need an agile, flexible workforce. As a result, they’re becoming more accommodating towards part-time workers and flexible hours.

For example, employees at most of the Big 5 consulting firms are measured on their results, but in many cases they have the freedom to work from home (as long as they still deliver the results).

Having the choice of how we construct our career portfolio is great, as long as we can discern the appropriate method to meet our personal needs and values. How do you know whether becoming a contractor is right for you or not? When is the right time to become a business owner, if at all?

As always, it comes down to knowing yourself. Knowing the pros and cons of each option in relation to your specific requirements.

Or to put it another way, you need to map our where you are, where you want to be, and have a thorough understanding of the leverage the different options can give you to help you get there.

You also need to consider your career values – those things that are important to you at this point in your life. Some examples of career values include material reward, creativity, autonomy, security and status. Choosing a career option that helps you live those values fully is a smart move.

Consider contracting. You may wish to become a contractor, but will it suit you? Contracting offers flexible hours, but you aren’t guaranteed ongoing work. If the company downsizes you’re the first to go. In many cases the work can be monotonous or limited, and it’s usually without significant management responsibility.

Can you afford to take that risk? It all depends on what factors you hold as important. In the case of contracting, consider security, status, and autonomy.

Running your own business can promise huge rewards, but at what cost? If you want to go out on your own because of the lifestyle – think again.

The decision to “go out on your own” should not be founded on illusions of freedom from the boss. If you don’t plan ahead, you business will become the boss – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You can find fulfilling work that allows you to have the lifestyle that you want, especially if you are prepared to consider other career options besides full-time work.

But beware of the pros and cons before making the leap.

Message: Career goals can be achieved via a wide choice of employment vehicles. While it is easier than ever to jump between the different forms of employment, it pays to be aware of the pros and cons of each choice.

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