Portfolio Careers: Are You Ready for the Challenge?

By Gloria Dansby-Giles

Gutner (2008) maintained that interest in portfolio careers has increased as a result of corporate job instability. In addition, the workplace is changing whereby companies are hiring specialists through contracted services. Other considerations are that companies are recognizing the importance of work flexibility and its economic value. The concept of portfolio careers will be explored here in terms of types of portfolio careers, the application of Super’s model and the use of interventions to assist those who may be considering a portfolio career.

Types of Portfolio Careers

Portfolio careers are defined as “multiple part-time jobs that when combined, are equivalent to a full-time position” according to Gutner (2008, p. 84). Individuals who select portfolio careers are varied across age groups and industries. One common similarity is the ability to plan a distinct career path that combines a variety of interests.

Types of portfolio careers may include two or more part-time positions, or a combination of careers in the same field or careers in different fields. Individuals may have a portfolio career long term or within a specified period of time. Alboher (2007) has added that the pursuit of portfolio careers is usually represented by slashes. Examples are lawyer/chef, mom/screenwriter, rock star/humanitarian and businessman/little league coach. The portfolio careers that attract the most attention are those with incompatible combinations like the psychoanalyst/violin maker. Real life examples can include Benjamin Franklin, Politician/Inventor/Scientist/Musician/Author/Freemason, or Leonardo da Vinci, Painter/Sculptor/Architect/Inventor, and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Neurosurgeon/CNN Medical Correspondent.

Applications of Super’s Model

The arc of Super’s Career Rainbow includes life roles, ages and stages. Within the life roles component, the client can identify their different roles such as spouse, parent, worker, citizen, leisurite or student (Super, 1984; Blustein, 1997). Next the client can identify his or her current worker role and other life roles based upon the time spent in those roles. Super’s theory can be used to identify an imbalance of life roles and create a projected balance in five years, since this is the time period for Super’s life cycle of career development. By comparing the time spent in current life roles with the ideal work life balance and the projected balance in five years, the client may be motivated toward change and goals can be developed where needed. Lastly, the client can identify where he or she fits on the ages and stages component, since individuals have different career needs at different times of life.

Super’s theory has been updated to the Life-Span, Life-Space Model that examines the life span in terms of ages, stages and life roles of the student, leisurite, citizen, worker, etc. As individuals experienced the varied roles in different contexts, Super proposed that success in one role leads to success in other roles (Super, 1990). While Super did not specifically address portfolio careers, he did address individuals who are involved in multiple contexts in terms of success. Since workers sometimes need assistance in validating their work experiences, Super’s model can be helpful. In applying Super’s model, the client’s exploration of the following questions may prove useful:

  1. What are the roles and contexts of each part-time position?
  2. Have work, family, or leisure roles recently changed?
  3. Is there a balance between worker, family, leisure roles?
  4. What are some possible changes that can be considered to insure that worker, family and leisure roles operate smoothly?



A career practitioner might ask a client who has one or more part-time positions, how the different positions are working together and if they might be part of their career path.

  1. Is the current arrangement of the part-time positions working for you?
  2. Are the part-time positions connected or related in some way?
  3. Are you interested in combining the part-time positions?
  4. Are you interested in planning a distinct career path that includes multiple positions?

Career practitioners who are interested in applying Super’s Life-Span Life Space Model to clients with portfolio careers can consider the following interventions.

  • Identify clients who have two or more part-time jobs as having portfolio careers.
  • Determine if the part-time positions are in the same or different fields.
  • Identify how the part-time positions are connected or similar in some way.
  • Examine the positions for conflicts of interest or ethical challenges such as using confidential information from one part-time position in the second position without the use of release forms.
  • Identify roles and contexts (settings) for each part-time position.
  • Inquire about the extent to which a balance is achieved between life roles such as worker, parent, volunteer, or leisurite.
  • Employ Super’s Career Rainbow to determine five year goals.
  • Ask the client for his or her preferences for balancing the positions.
    • Inquire about interest in developing a distinct career path that includes the part-
      time positions.
    • Develop a distinct career plan that addresses multiple positions to include the considerations of the compatibility of the positions, exploration of conflicts of interest and ethical challenges between the positions.
    • Lastly, determine if the client needs assistance in navigating the unexpected paths of developing a brand for a portfolio career.


Portfolio Career Advantages

While juggling jobs or roles can be challenging, there are advantages to portfolio careers. A portfolio career is appealing to many individuals since it offers flexible work schedules, the opportunity to combine part-time jobs and new avenues of revenue. This career can be beneficial to persons who have additional career time as a result of an increased life span. Individuals may understand and use Super’s Life-Span Life Space Model. Career practitioners can assist clients in identifying careers that are dissimilar or incompatible as well as other challenges. Working with a career professional, the client can develop a career plan and determine if they are ready for the challenge of a portfolio career.


Biography.com Editors. (2014). Benjamin Franklin Biography. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/benjamin-franklin-9301234

Biography.com Editors. (2014). Leonardo da Vinci Biography. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/leonardo-da-vinci-40396

Blustein, D. L. (1997). A context rich perspective of career exploration across the life roles. Career Development Quarterly, 45, 3, 260-274.

CNN. (2016). Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/profiles/sanjay-gupta-profile

Goldsmith, M. (2007, June 23). Unleashing your many identities. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2007-06-23/unleashing-your-many-identitiesbusinessweek-business-news-stock-market-and-financial-advice

Gutner, T. (2008, February 5). Doubling up on careers suits more workers. Wall Street Journal- Eastern Edition, 251(29), 84.

Super, D. E. (1984). Leisure: What it is and might be. Journal of Career Development, 11(2), 71-80.

Super, D. E. (1990). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. In D. Brown & L. Brooks (Eds.) Career choice and development: Applying contemporary theories to practice (pp. 197-261). San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.

Super. D. E., Osborn, L., Walsh, D. J., Brown, S. D. & Niles, S. G. (1992). Developmental career assessment and counseling: The C-DAC model. Journal of Counseling & Development, 71, 74-80.


Gloria Dansby-Giles is a professor of Counselor Education at Jackson State University. She is a National Certified Counselor, National Certified School Counselor, National Certified Career Counselor and an Approved Clinical Supervisor. Gloria has served as Southern Region Vice President and Ethics Chair of the American School Counselor Association and Board Member on the Mississippi Board of Examiners of Licensed Professional Counselors. You can email Gloria at: gdgiles9@hotmail.com


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1 Comment

Linda Sollars   on Monday 03/04/2019 at 02:06 PM

Excellent article! The questions are especially valuable when working with those who are contemplating or currently managing portfolio careers. Ther are some clear advantages to this type of career layout in all life stages.

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