How to Use a Portfolio Career as an Asset When Applying for Jobs

How to Use Your Portfolio Career as an AssetOne of the small complications of being a portfolio careerist is figuring out how to present your overlapping permanent positions and short-term projects on your resume, and then talking them through in an interview situation.

Chances are if you are applying for a position at an established, large organization, your recruiter is likely to start asking questions to the effect of “Are you going to use your time on the clock for us and our resources to pursue outside unrelated projects?” Which is why you need to head off that line of questioning at the pass by incorporating your portfolio career as part of the pitch for why you’re the right hire for the position.

Having been through this conversation a number of times over the course of my career, I’ve found the key factors for navigating this topic successfully are:

  • being transparent about your overlapping projects
  • reinforcing what you learned from the projects
  • clarifying what overlapping projects, if any, you have at the moment
  • ensuring you gain understanding from the recruiter and the hiring manager on the organization’s policies about concurrent projects

Start an interview off right by ensuring transparency in your resume

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in an interview situation is trying to gloss over the fact that you’ve previously held concurrent positions, especially if you did so while holding a full-time position. Why? By not addressing it out of the gate, the recruiter may wonder if you’re hiding a termination, or if you were doing a number of overlapping jobs without your employers being aware of each other.

There are two ways you can do this. If you most frequently held a full-time position and took on your additional projects outside of work hours, list each of your full-time positions as their own entry, and do a combination entry for your portfolio projects, under a header of freelance projects, consulting, or concurrent part-time positions. If your portfolio career has manifested itself primarily by having a number of part-time positions at the same time, be sure to list the months and years of the duration, and note (part-time) in the header.

Reinforce the skills you honed and the experience you gained through your portfolio career projects

So, why do prospective employers care what you’re doing outside of their work hours? Your free time is your business, right? So why are they asking? Because they want to ensure you’ll be giving their job your primary focus, and not working on outside projects on work time– or worse yet, missing work to pursue your outside interests.

This is why you’ll need to show the recruiter how your portfolio work actually enhanced your engagement and performance at your primary job. As an example, my interest in social media’s applications to building community was not something I could pursue in my previous full-time position. But rather than looking for a full-time position to scratch that itch, I worked in a portfolio project that let me explore this interest in a professional setting and see if it’s something I wanted to do full time.

What was the benefit to my employer for allowing me to do this? My full-time employer was able to retain a long-tenured employee. And I was able to pursue a professional development opportunity that grew my applicable job skills. Further, I was able to bring back my learnings and experience from the part-time gig, and share it with my colleagues. And all it cost my employer was allowing me to pursue my interest.

Clarify your current portfolio career commitments

Before you head into an interview for a full-time position, define your dealbreakers. Which of your current portfolio projects are you absolutely not willing to give up? Which projects are ending their life cycle? Which projects are you OK with putting on the back burner for a while? Make sure to have all of that clear in your mind before heading into the interview.

As you go through your work history and are talking about the position at hand, make sure you are transparent with the interviewer regarding your outside commitments, and any impact they could have on the position. For instance, if one of your dealbreakers is needing to have every Saturday off for a portfolio project, and the position description noted there were occasional night and weekend work for special events, that’s something to talk about directly.

Ensure you understand the organization’s policies on holding concurrent positions

In an interview situation, you’ll have the ability to ask the interviewer a few questions. As a portfolio careerist, make sure one of those questions is about the organization’s policies around engaging in outside work. And don’t just ask the recruiter — ask the hiring manager too so you can gauge their personal level of comfort with the policy. Even if the corporate policy allows outside work, if your manager isn’t a fan of it, you’ll encounter friction.

Most frequently, I’ve encountered policies of not doing anything in an external capacity that could be seen as competing with the company, and not using your position or employment within the organization as an endorsement for your outside of work activities. In one case, however, I was sent a copy of a policy that not only prohibited any outside employment but also claimed ownership and copyright for any written works created while employed by the organization. Needless to say, I declined that position.

After all this, you may find a prospective employer decides to pass on making you an offer, preferring to hire someone who is looking for a single position to be the sole focus of their career. And that’s a good thing. If that’s what they are looking for, as a portfolio careerist, you may have found yourself restless and bored in quick order without being able to pursue your outside projects. I know I certainly would have been if I’d taken the position that wanted to hold copyright over any of my written works!

If you’ve found some effective tactics for using your portfolio career as a selling point in the interview process, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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