Authors: Barrie Hopson and Katie Ledger
Publisher: A & C Black, 2009
ISBN: 9781408116302

Although portfolio careers have been discussed for two decades, Hopson and Ledger’s refreshing overview is timely. Their various case studies quickly convey the excitement and risks of a portfolio lifestyle. As the book suggests, a portfolio career is not the same as holding down three bad jobs and wishing you had one. The concept of going to work will increasingly alter as individuals form relationships with more than one employing organisation. Work-life balance will become work-life blending.

The authors bring out several important dimensions: portfolio working is more about cash flow than income and, unlike salaried work, there are no upper barriers to earning. The book has some lively and inspiring examples of portfolio careers – some are eclectic mixtures of freelance and voluntary commitments, others grounded in conventional roles. There are downsides, including uncertainty, the risk of overwork or a lonely life of self-marketing. The upside is that those following such a career are more likely to be working in a way that matches their skills, values and motivation.

Charles Handy’s The Age of Unreason predicted much of this, but today multiple factors push us towards portfolio lives – the increasing cost and complexity of travel, the technological ease of mobile working, employers’ interest in reducing overheads and in a flexible workforce. The trend seems clear: the US Department of Labour predicts that today’s students will have between 10 and 14 jobs by the age of 38.

This book challenges assumptions about the kind of people who might chose this option – not only the semi-retired, middle-aged and financially protected, but younger talent too, with case studies including several people under 30.

The book’s strength is in its opening discussion about work’s place within life choices. The authors then move into a rather more predictable sequence of exercises to help readers match themselves to new career routes. This works well enough, but leaves less room for valuable information about how people take first steps and build their portfolio, and how they get past barriers along the way, including the confused reactions of colleagues, recruiters and employers. Further discussion of the organisational perspective would have been a useful addition to a well-grounded and inspiring text.