Carl Kutsmode and Christopher Bona

A Recruitment Expert and A Non-Traditional Careerist Discuss Portfolio Careers

In the interview that follows, Carl Kutsmode, Partner at TalentRISE, and Christopher Bona, a corporate communications executive with over 15 years of experience who has taken his career in a new and somewhat untraditional direction, discuss the relatively new phenomenon of “portfolio careers”.  Both provide insights on what this way of working entails as well as discuss the pros and cons of structuring such a career path for oneself and, respectively, hiring portfolio careerists to join one’s company.  Read more below.


Question: Carl, what exactly does the term “portfolio career” mean?

Kutsmode: “Portfolio career” is a relatively new term starting to be used in recruiter discussions and in the media to describe people who have found job satisfaction and/or work/life balance and flexibility in working multiple freelance, project-based consulting, teaching or other “gig” type jobs, such as driving for Uber and Lyft part-time.

Question: So, why are we seeing an uptick in people who are developing portfolio careers, as opposed to more linear, traditional careers?

Kutsmode:  Often people stumble into these opportunities while conducting a job search for their next ideal career opportunity as they look for something part time offering income to pay the bills, but with maximum flexibility to allow them to continue to interview.  In other cases, people who have a full time job want to do something completely different than their career focus to feed a personal passion or creative side such as teaching music, acting in a local theater, doing event planning or writing poetry for an online magazine.  Having more than one income source in today’s unpredictable world of corporate mergers and acquisitions, layoffs and restructuring can also provide people who embrace a portfolio career with a bit of an insurance policy against the shock of unplanned unemployment.  A portfolio career can also fund things that the income from a full time career cannot, whether a vacation, second home or a child’s private school tuition.

Question: Christopher, can you provide a bit of background on how you came to have a “portfolio career”?

Bona: I’ve spent the last 15-20 years working as a communications/public relations professional for large, global companies. I have also spent the last ten years teaching graduate school communications courses, and am presently on the faculties at Purdue University, University of Florida and Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.  Last year I made the decision to perform communications services for companies as an independent consultant and it’s been an extremely interesting shift in perspective.  I find working from the vantage point of a consultant requires the same professional skillsets and ability to drive the business as when I worked as a company employee.

Question: How is this way of working unfolding for you? What’s really different?

Bona:  Broadly speaking, it’s a paradigm shift that creates optionality for the worker to proactively manage their work and personal lives more holistically.  First, my priorities are serving clients as a communications consultant and serving students as a graduate school instructor, with my schedule remaining flexible to meet those needs.  I am available to work whenever my services are needed, and this can mean all day, late at night or on weekends. Second, because of this flexibility and the ability to manage an asynchronous schedule within a 24-hour period, it allows for making time for personal pursuits that may not always be possible during a more traditional work schedule.

Question: Christopher, what about pros and cons of how you have structured your professional life?

Bona: I am a communications/public relations professional, and how and where I apply that expertise, including managing my career development, has broadened to several adjacent pathways – working in-house as a company associate, as an independent consultant or in academia. The skillset is the same while the lens is different depending on the pathway. The trajectory and velocity of one’s career path can unfold in many ways, and I believe shifting to a portfolio career creates an opportunity and options for further professional and personal development.

Question: Do you think such a path is viable in a profession outside of your field?

Bona: Absolutely. I feel that shifting from a traditional career to a portfolio career requires the worker to be disciplined and understand and apply their value proposition as a worker to meet the demands and needs of their employer.  For someone entering a portfolio career transition, I recommend they develop a business plan to manage their career. Executing on such a plan and managing a portfolio career will leverage and refine a work ethic, critical thinking, and challenge the ability to work in ambiguous situations.

Question: Carl, building on what Christopher said above, what are your thoughts on when and how this type of career may not work best for one group and/or people in particular professions?

Kutsmode:  For many mid to late career seekers, securing one or more part-time adjunct professor teaching opportunities like Christopher has done, is a great way to transition into a new career in academia or consulting by capitalizing on years of expertise gained through a very successful professional career.

However, I wouldn’t recommend a full time portfolio career to someone who requires a structured work environment or income stability at a certain monetary level. A person who doesn’t handle change and ambiguity well, or is not a self starter capable of working independently, will possibly be too tempted to successfully prioritize paid work over other personal or family interests.  A full time portfolio career typically works best for those who have had some sales, consulting or corporate management background as those acquired skills will enhance their ability to find and win new projects. For many, the greatest challenge is finding the optimal balance between executing on assignments while marketing oneself for the next project.  The evolving online resources for “gig” economy participants (witness the growth of sites like Upwork) does make self-marketing easier.

Question: Christopher, on the employer side, what advice would you give to a business looking at hiring someone with a career portfolio when that candidate may not fit the traditional picture of an employee?

Bona:  Several factors will be considered when filling a position. My recommendation is to look at the needs of the business and ask how that candidate holistically fits those needs, regardless of how the candidate has structured their career.

Question: Carl, same question: what advice would you give to a business looking at hiring someone with a career portfolio?

Kutsmode:  Educate your recruiters and hiring managers on change; how people work is changing. They may need to look past their traditional bias against people whose career path is unexpectedly untraditional when reviewing resumes or deciding who to interview for a critical job.  In fact, I would argue that someone whose resume shows a record of consistent employment – regardless of whether it is project based, full time or otherwise squarely within their core area of career experience – demonstrates initiative and creativity. This is especially true when economic or other factors beyond their control have negatively impacted their career path unexpectedly, yet the individual has been able to secure some form of employment (or self employment) to keep skills current and earn a living.

This will become even more important as younger generations enter the workforce. They are used to being connected 24×7 via smartphone or computer so view “work” differently, as something that can be done from anywhere at any time as long as it gets done. The concept of being tied to an office or a desk doesn’t resonate well with them, BUT they are very willing to work long hours and be available 24/7 in exchange for work life balance and “in office” schedule flexibility.

Question: Do you think that HR would view a portfolio careerist as a job hopper?

Bona:  We are responsible for managing our careers and professional development.  While workplace events beyond our control can sometimes adversely impact a career; I believe it is how we manage through such situations where we can demonstrate the mastery and ownership of our career path. Expend energy on what you can control, like professional development, developing a plan for your career, building your network of support and living a healthy life.

Question: As someone who is pursuing a portfolio career, is there a “golden nugget” of advice you would pass along to others?

Bona:  Take charge of your life, your career and develop an action plan. In that sense, leading a portfolio career is no different than a more traditional career.

Question: Finally, Carl, same question: what’s your advice for someone wanting to pursue a portfolio career?

Kutsmode:  I have personally lived by this and advised others to “follow your passion and money and career success will follow you.”  Don’t let your career be defined by what others think it should be – make it work for you and your life.

Carl Kutsmode

About the Author

Carl Kutsmode has over 20 years expertise in talent acquisition transformation — assessing and optimizing corporate recruiting capabilities for greater efficiency and performance.

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