Building a Career Portfolio

Written by: Malek-ul-Ashtar Shipchandler

Malek-ul-Ashtar Shipchandler is a corporate lawyer who has practiced with India's largest law firms. He then pivoted to managing public perception and reputation of corporates at India's largest and most awarded communications consulting firm – Adfactors. He consults on briefs where public opinion shapes high-stakes business and legal outcomes. He also fulfills the duties of the General Counsel. Malek-ul-Ashtar has also co-founded a passion venture with his mother Rashida that designs wristwatches made of miniature Lego-like bricks – winning it accolades at the Lexus Design Awards and a feature in the Fortune-Next500 Magazine. He is currently finishing an executive program at the Harvard Business School. In this blog piece, Malek talks about how a bundle of diverse experiences can help make one’s career journey more fulfilling and rewarding.

'My experiences as a corporate lawyer, a millennial father to a toddler and a strategic communications consultant… led me to conceptualize ‘comic contracts’ for clients who were finding it challenging to communicate pages of legalese…'

Having had the opportunity to benefit from the viva voce proceedings held at Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah, the Dawoodi Bohra community’s premier seat of learning in Surat, Gujarat; a theme that resonated with me most as a professional was the true difference between being entrepreneurially-oriented and job-oriented. Dr Jafar al-Sadiq Imaduddin, one of the four rectors of the university, expounded on the benefits of having a business-minded approach in life where flexibility and ambition help an individual unlock doors of opportunities.

In this VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world where the race for automation in cars to supply chains for axing human capital, the growing number of hybrid workplace models around the world, and the ‘Great Resignation,’ it is becoming clear as it is imperative to rethink what a successful entrepreneurially-oriented career path looks like. An entrepreneurially-oriented career path is pillared on flexibility, freedom and the constant search for meaningful opportunities. Up until this point, the world has, to some extent, been hostage to a conventional mind-set when it comes to designing one's career path.

That said, a new vocabulary, a new approach to career design, is developing. At the core of it is a shift from pursuing a ‘career path’ to creating your ‘career portfolio.’ According to some quick research, ‘portfolio’ originates from the Italian words portare (to carry) + folio (sheet of paper). A portfolio is often thought of in terms of finance, business, or art. For example, investors or financial managers build ‘investment portfolios’ to diversify financial holdings, thereby mitigating risks. Artists, through a ‘portfolio,’ showcase works they're proud of.

A career portfolio is a different (and strategic) way to think about, talk about, and — most importantly – craft one’s professional future to navigate our ever-changing world of work with purpose, clarity, and flexibility.

The traditional verbiage of a ‘career path’ has a linear connotation to it (i.e. climb the professional ladder in one direction and focus on what is straight ahead); on the other hand, a career portfolio in that sense is non-linear – it is a never-ending source of discovery. It represents a vast and diverse professional journey, including the various twists and turns, through choices or circumstances.

My portfolio, as an example, includes a lawyer, a reputation and crisis management consultant, a public opinion shaper, an author, a speaker, a futurist, an advisor, an investor and a watch designer! All of these professional avatars took time to develop. Some included jobs, while others meant solo consulting, pro bono work and sweat equity investments. It's the ability to cross-pollinate, combine and weave together skills from various experiences to gain unique insights, tackle challenges, diversify income sources and serve the community at large in newer ways – thereby increasing the value of a career portfolio over time.

In our VUCA world, out-of-box thinking is in high demand. Those that can make an effort to build a career portfolio are better prepared to seize and create new opportunities by making strategic and creative connections between their varied skills – and – the skills required of the profession they most want to pursue.

So, what are the first steps? Creating a career portfolio isn't a herculean or scientific task, on the contrary, it probably already exists — even if one isn't aware of it and even if one hasn't ever earned from it. The first step is to figure out what's in it. While conventional jobs and assignments may be included in a portfolio, it needn't be necessarily limited to that. I like to think of it this way: a mixture, matching and blending of experiences, skills and talents make you one-of-a-kind. It also may be a good idea to exercise caution in letting others, such as HR managers, decide the constituents of one’s career portfolio.

Think about strategically building this career portfolio: include it in, for example, the time or experiences gained in caring for your siblings or parents, doing community service, or even helping plan someone's travel itinerary or event. Think of including experiences and skills typically left off a résumé but fundamentally define you. For example, my experiences as a corporate lawyer, a millennial father to a toddler and a strategic communications consultant playing a role in shaping corporate reputations – led me to conceptualize ‘comic contracts’ for clients who were finding it challenging to communicate pages of legalese to internal and external stakeholders. 

Each of us has our own process for keeping track of one's portfolio. Making a list may be a good beginning point. However, I believe the actual value of a portfolio lies in its diversity – and making strategic connections between all the major points. Keep updating this list as you gain new skills and experiences – ensuring it corresponds to a broader professional and life journey.

In today’s world, few things are controllable. It's never easy figuring out what to do or believing that everything will eventually work out. Taking ownership of your career portfolio is among the few things you can control in today's world. You can begin right now. Be a specialist at being a generalist. Your future self will be grateful.

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Last Updated
May 28, 2022
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