In the next few months, thousands of college graduates will be experiencing one of the most important decisions they will make in their lifetimes: accepting their first job. It can be the fast track for success or it can be the start of a series of “hits and misses” at finding the right job. Some graduates will succeed at positioning themselves to work for a Fortune 500, a public agency, or a local nonprofit. They may enjoy a traditional career—2 or 3 years at one position with successive progress up the leadership ranks.
What if you haven’t found that first job? You are not alone. The Labor Department announced this week that the unemployment rate for 2013 graduates aged 20 - 29 was at 10.9 percent. Among those with a job, 260,000 are actually working in the service sector. According to a McKinsey study almost 40% or recent college grads are working at jobs that are far from their chosen career path. If you or your child or your friend is in that percentage, there is no shortage of advice on how to find a job. Unfortunately, the reality is that many organizations continue to look for ways of keep costs low and the contingency workforce is expanding. Almost 3 million workers have “temporary employment” in the US. Another 11 million are classified as independent contractors.
Maybe the Class of 2014 will break new ground and embrace what might be called a “portfolio career”.
A portfolio career is one that is defined by the kind of projects, assignments, or programs you complete or design as an independent contractor, part-time worker, or as a consultant. It isn’t about getting a title on the org chart and doing the work defined by that role. Instead, your portfolio of work speaks to your skills and capacity to “plug and play”—walk in and contribute to the task at hand and then move on. Your expertise is to get things done even without a formal role in the organization or without the infrastructure that most employees take for granted. You may also build a portfolio of work by creating a project for yourself— in essence, you are addressing a need that others don’t know exists.
A portfolio career does have its challenges. Contract work or temporary employment has often carried a stigma—a contract employee might not be invited to regular team events and functions because, well, they are not going to stay. Independent contractors must also constantly update their skills in order to create new opportunities. And yes, there is the need to keep looking for the next opportunity---you will often hear about a project, a start-up, a new program that needs your skill set and part of your daily routine will be to put yourself out there and invest in an opportunity to see if it leads to another contract.
If you are planning a celebration for your graduation and just landed that great job, I offer my heartfelt congratulations. If you have not, maybe this is an opportunity to treat your career like a “venture capitalist”. Chase your passions and invest time into several ideas at one time. One of those may turn into your personal “next big thing”. You may find the work life you have always wanted is truly out there after all--one project at a time. To Your Success, Maria