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The language we use to talk about careers usually includes the word "path."

Defined as "a way or track laid down for walking or made by continual treading," the word carries with it a connotation of linearity. A path, though it may be winding, is continuous and easy to follow.

But what if the career path concept is outdated? Futurist April Rinne, who describes herself as "equal parts global authority, advocate, ally and adventurer," observes trends in the working world and advises companies and individuals. Based on her research, today, there’s almost nothing “path-like” about a career.

It's a Portfolio, Not a Path

The language Rinne uses to talk about career trajectories is nuanced. She has seen the traditional career "path" become more of a career "portfolio," she says.

"The shift has been gradual but clear, and due to many factors—both push and pull—everything from people feeling unfulfilled at their jobs to technology making it far, far easier for people to work in many different, often remote, ways," she says.

She uses the term "portfolioist" to describe people who create their own platforms and find ways to use their varied skills to maximize potential. Someone who fits into this category decides what they feel the world needs and figures out how to use their unique skill set to create a business that provides it, she explains.

"The portfolioist's career is a bento box, with each skill in its place," she writes for Quartz.

Freelancers Will Remain in High Demand

Though a portfolioist is not necessarily someone who is freelance or self-employed, Rinne says, freelance workers do represent a significant chunk of portfolioists. The freelance sector is growing quickly, according to Rinne, and a recent analysis published by Upwork confirms her assessment. "Freelance workforce growth is accelerating and has outpaced overall U.S. Workforce growth by 3x since 2014," Upwork reports. 

Rinne says sights should be focused on bringing in freelancers and portfolioists. Attracting freelancers means becoming a destination for workers, she explains, because freelancers signal flexibility.

How can businesses appeal to this specific class of workers? Don’t get caught up in job titles when seeking a new hire. Focus on the skills you’re truly looking for and be clear about them in the job description. Then, when you review applications, focus on skills once more—don’t worry about the actual positions an applicant has held, but rather what they claim to have experience doing. Though a jack-of-all-trades candidate may seem like a wild card, it could be the sign of a portfolioist that’s well-versed in many fields.

Bottom line: don't underestimate freelancers or portfolioists in general, Rinne adds; they come in many varieties.

"Independent workers don't only exist locally; they're also a key part of global talent mobility," she writes. And they’re not all creatives. "It's not only your freelance photographer neighbor who is part of the freelance workforce; it's also the engineer, marketing maven or C-suite executive who has opted for a change of pace, wants to see the world, or simply wants better work-life balance," she explains.

"Colleague" Has a Broader Definition

According to Rinne, with the shift toward career portfolios, the definition of "colleagues" expands.

"For portfolioists, colleagues take on new meaning," she writes. "You have the ability to be part of far more communities of practice than the average employee, and to work with people whom you really like."

This translates to co-created work, the opportunity to work with people in different places geographically and more control over who else is in the 'office,' so to speak. While the traditional worker becomes a part of their community, the portfolioist gets to create that community. Just as a freelancer has control over workload (how many projects are on their plate at once), that individual can often decide with whom to work. If you’re lucky enough to hire a portfolioist even part-time, chances are they’ll bring with them a diversity of experience and thought unlike anything you could have expected from a traditional candidate.

And, there's no reason for a portfolioist to choose just one community. Often, as Rinne notes, an independent worker becomes a part of multiple communities that may or may not be related to each other. A freelancer with a diverse portfolio—the product of a diverse skill set—might cultivate a network that involves several different communities. That network is unique to the individual, and the people within that network become colleagues.

Still unconvinced that a portfolioist should be your next hire? Take a chance—you’re unlikely to be disappointed. 

Photo: Creative Commons