Portfolio careers: What are your tent-pole skills?

tent poleOne of the buzz words reverberating around the job search market is the need to identify our tent- pole skills or skill.. This is rooted in company jargon which according to Bruce Watson means:  “the tent pole  is  a term that refers to a company’s most promising or prominent product. Generally, a tent pole generates most of an organization’s income, making it possible for workers to make products that may be less profitable.”    

Believe it or not there are people who are so multi-talented and have such an amazing combination of left and right hand brain competencies that they excel in every activity they turn their hand to. They have a wide range of interests, passions and skills and have built up excellent portfolio careers.  Hard to imagine that this could present difficulties – but it does.

How can these individuals make informed decisions on which  tent-pole skills or skill to anchor their careers, when they need or want to make a change ?

One story

Jonas has had a glittering portfolio career. Multi-lingual and multi-cultural, qualifying as a lawyer in a Magic Circle law firm, he then pursued an opportunity in corporate law where at the same time he gained an MBA from a top-tier business school. A two-year stint in Marketing for a boutique law firm followed, where his creative marketing strategies attracted the attention of a major international player resulting in a successful acquisition. He then decided to  launch a landscape gardening business going on to employ a team of 16. This was eventually sold to allow him to pursue his passion for film, and he succeeded in winning a much coveted international prize for corporate video production.

Now at age 45 with an expensive divorce and child care responsibilities every second week, he is looking to refocus. He is despondent about this failure to return to the workplace as a corporate employee and is somewhat baffled by the response. Jonas stated his needs briefly “Put simply  my requirements are to identify which of my skills can make me revenue rich (or richer) without making me time poor.

Now that sounds like a universal goal most job searchers would put at the  very top of their wish lists.  Ironically,  Jonas has gone from feeling generally unique with high levels of recognition, to becoming simply one of the crowd. Words which have never been applied to him  before, he now hears regularly “flight risk” and “job hopper,” plus “lack of long-term commitment” to name but a few, with a demoralising effect.

Do you need help identifying your tent-pole skills? Check out the individual coaching programmes.

Key skills

Generally speaking the identification of  skills, tent pole or otherwise, has to be done with a dose of realism.   Strong soft skills without up to date hard skills can be high risk currency for many organisations. A law degree acquired 20 years ago would almost certainly need some updating and would be valueless today as a stand alone qualification. But it does tell part of Jonas’ story which needs to be re-created not just  in terms of the chronology, but in light of his  achievements. These soft skills, more tent poles if you like, are also more effective and powerful in clusters. They allow the canvas of a career story to be erected across a number of poles, rather than relying on one solitary support.

Cluster skills

What Jonas does bring to the table is a strong combination of a legally trained mind, combined with analytical business skills, commercial and entrepreneurial acumen, plus leadership competencies. He has gained experience in building diverse activities into successful enterprises attractive for acquisition, and pursuing personal projects to achieve international recognition. It’s not so much the time he has spent at anything, but the result. Not forgetting of course he has always achieved excellence.

Jonas is currently in negotiation with a consulting firm which has been fully appraised of his domestic circumstances.

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