Career Portfolio Planning: Your Key to Long Term Success

By: Shawn Driscoll

A “Career Path “is a thing of the past—a relic from a time when professionals had jobs that started at entry level and provided a clear path of promotions up until retirement. Today’s careers don’t follow a standard linear progression—we cycle through multiple career shifts—sometimes dramatically.

The good news is that your career no longer belongs to the company. It belongs to you. The challenge is there are very few milestones to tell you if you’re on track. Instead you are left to chart your own course. This can be fulfilling, exciting, and engaging if you are able to navigate the waters; however, it can also be confusing, stressful, and challenging.

So, what has replaced the good old fashioned career path?

Career portfolios.

I recommend managing your career as a portfolio of experiences and competencies that diversify you. Based on your strengths, interests, and level of risk tolerance you make career moves that fit your long and short term goals. You choose opportunities that stretch and expand your skills instead of focusing only on grabbing the next title on the rung. You find security in being in control of each move, rather than feeling at the mercy of your boss, your company or the economy to decide your fate.

A career portfolio opens up many paths for you instead of staying on a one-track career course. Having more options keeps you viable and having a diverse portfolio of skills increases your value in the market. Managing your career as a portfolio allows you to take risks, remain flexible and most importantly…thrive in any economic situation.

So, how do you do this? Here are my top 5 strategies for career portfolio management:

1. Take a long term view instead of making short term moves

As you would with a financial portfolio, you take a long term view. Think about your career in 5 year windows rather than just focusing on the next move.

What other career options interest you? Where would you like to be in 5 years? What are the competencies (knowledge, skills, abilities and experience) needed to be there? What moves could you start making now to get you equipped?

2. Diversify in several areas

As you begin to look at your career portfolio, you want to consider the following key areas

** People connections. Who is in your network? How might they support your long term goals? Who else might you need in your corner? How can you begin to establish those important relationships?

** Credentials. Do you have the credentials you need for the future roles you’re interested in?

** Results. Have you gotten results in your current and past positions? Do you know how to communicate them in a way that is meaningful to others, outside your company?

** Leadership. In what ways are you a leader. This isn’t a position-specific competency. You can lead without the power of the position. Are you a leader in planning? Are you a leader in relating to diverse audiences? Where do you stand out?

** Competencies. Do you have a diverse set of knowledge, skills and abilities? What opportunities do you have right now to add to your competencies?

3. Say YES to things that expand your portfolio and NO to single track career moves

Everything you say “yes” to means you are saying “no” to something else. So if you take on assignments, projects, education, training or even a new role you have to be sure that you are saying YES because it expands your portfolio. Oftentimes people say yes to career moves they think they should say yes to -- even if it doesn’t serve their long term goals. This is guaranteed to keep you in a rut.

4. Build “crossover” competencies not just skills and experience ‘in your field’

Map out at least 3 roles you’d like as options in your future. Start looking at job descriptions for these roles and identify the knowledge, skills and abilities required. Make a list and rate yourself on them. Once you know where you have ‘crossover’ competencies and where you have gaps, you can start making career moves that match up to this list.

Your goal, with any move you make, is to be able to check off at least one of the competencies on the list. Whether it’s a project you take on in your current role, a training program you sign up for, or volunteer work you do…everything has the purpose of growing your portfolio and expanding your capability.

Many people make moves that keep them in their ‘field’. But that can be a dead end track. If you get too much depth in one area, even if you love it, and the opportunities start to dry up -- you’re going to be at risk. If you’ve thoughtfully complemented your core strengths with other crossover competencies you will have options if you need them. It’s effectively building your career safety net.

5. Know your "most profitable competencies"

You can recession-proof your career by knowing exactly what your strongest competencies are and communicating them clearly. Instead of feeling stuck in your field or industry, look at what you do well that adds value. These are your most profitable competencies…the things other employers and departments want to bring in to their groups. By knowing and being able to communicate your best competencies you are able to stay flexible and fill a wider number of roles in wider variety of industries.

It helps to stay current on the trends in the economy and your field or industry. Look ahead a few years and make sure you’re moving toward opportunities that align with the trends (instead of leaving you on the chopping block). Social shifts, economic shifts and even legal/regulation shifts all create career opportunities for someone—see how it can benefit you to move with the times.

Have fun building up your portfolio and experimenting with new assignments and possibilities. This can be an exciting process because you pursue things that interest you and allow you to grow. It pulls you out of the rut of worrying about what will happen and puts you in the driver’s seat so you're ready for anything.

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