Only a generation ago, it was common to find a job right out of college or high school, hone a specific set of skills, and work for the same company — or at least in the same industry — until retirement. But today, you’re lucky to find an average full-time worker who stays with their employer for four years or more.
That’s because in an era marked by constant change, broad uncertainty, and a search for authenticity, some workers have responded by experimenting with a collection of work experiences. They’re curating “portfolio careers,” diversifying their skills and their resumes as one would with any long-term investment. And they’re doing it in different ways and for a variety of reasons.
To some workers, a portfolio career can mean managing more than one work pursuit at a time, perhaps even in different fields. This is my own path, having worked as a writer and content strategist and later becoming a licensed psychotherapist.
Others create a portfolio career purely for extra income, or as a way to have more autonomy than any one job can offer. Still others, like beauty brand influencer Amber Katz, turned a passion into a business. While working a full-time job as a creative at an asset management company, Katz reviewed beauty products and attracted advertisers to her popular blog. As influencer marketing budgets evaporated, Katz pivoted her revenue model and launched a popular cosmetics newsletter and now also works as a consultant for major beauty and consumer product brands.
Organizations are certainly beginning to recognize the immense value of portfolio careers — at least when recruiting for C-suite positions. Increasingly, successful candidates for top roles are chosen because of their exceptionally broad experiences and crucial transferable skills acquired in atypical prior roles. Eclectic career histories are often seen as an asset on senior leadership teams because the agility gained from working in a variety of roles generally exceeds that of a more traditional candidate.
Below, we break down four reasons it’s advantageous to take a second look at candidates with portfolio careers.
1. The future of work demands more skills
People with unconventional work histories frequently come to the table with an impressive range of skills and a growth mindset. These workers have a proven track record of being able to adapt and see change as an opportunity. When reviewing candidate backgrounds, consider looking for these key attributes:
- Initiative: The ingenuity to constantly be testing and learning new skills.
- Flexibility: An ability to pivot with changing demands and shifting circumstances.
- Courage: A willingness and ability to work through uncertainty, be uncomfortable, and take calculated risks.
- Curiosity: A spirit of experimentation, which is central to problem-solving.
- Creativity: The ability to envision and execute innovative outcomes with limited resources.
2. Candidates with portfolio careers help build diverse, smarter teams
The research is clear: When people with an array of perspectives come together to solve problems, employee engagement, productivity, innovation, and profitability all increase. People with different ways of thinking, nontraditional educational backgrounds, and historically marginalized identities are good for business because diverse teams are smarter.
Though it may seem easier to maintain the status quo and hire an entire team of people with similar backgrounds, it’s a mistake. From a business perspective, conformity is short-sighted and costly. It stifles a company’s intellectual potential and discourages good friction that tends to spark innovative thinking and deep insights.
3. Unconventional candidates remind us to check our biases
It’s too easy for hiring managers to take a look at a person’s career zigging and zagging and make incorrect assumptions. After all, every human holds biases that can interfere with decision-making, such as similarity bias, which is the tendency to view people who are like us more favorably than those who are not. We all have these unconscious biases, but once we become aware of them, we have a responsibility to do better.
If you see an unconventional resume, and you’re not sure how this person’s background might be a good fit for your team, one way to learn more is to ask the candidate directly, also known as perspective-getting. Unlike perspective-taking, which is when we rely on our own experiences and knowledge to try to understand another person, perspective-getting requires us to obtain new information directly from the source. It’s an opportunity to ask straightforward questions and then practice active listening.
4. Create an environment where it’s safe to disagree
Increasingly, organizations understand the business case for creating and maintaining work environments in which people feel safe enough to be who they are, take risks, and experiment without worrying about negative repercussions. Perhaps more than most, candidates with portfolio careers have had experiences in such environments. Hiring people with different perspectives on how to work and problem solve can send an important message to your staff without saying a word: “We value all perspectives and experiences. It’s safe to disagree, be whoever you are, and use your voice here.”
Workers with portfolio careers offer a powerful reminder to hiring managers: Consider widening your lens or risk missing out on candidates with the skills and mindset it will take to compete now and well into the future.
Author: Berta Garcia Bustamante