How To Use An Experience Portfolio To Plan Your Career

Roles and titles are abstractions from the actual day-to-day work activities you do, but it’s easy to get caught in the trap of climbing a title ladder rather than exploring a portfolio of experiences. 

In this week’s design leadership coaching reflections (which is actually last week’s posted late 🤦🏼‍♂️) I talk about the idea of an “experience portfolio” rather than just your design work portfolio. It’s also a great qualifying tool when it comes to saying yes or no to the many opportunities and asks of you.



[00:00:00] Andy Polaine: Roles and titles are abstractions from the actual day-to-day work activities you do. But it’s easy to get caught in the trap of climbing a title ladder rather than exploring a portfolio of experiences.

My name is Andy Polaine and every week I spend my days coaching design leaders and in these videos, I reflect upon the common themes and questions that come up in the week. And this week, I want to talk about your own career path, since it’s a thing that comes up a lot in coaching.

Title vs Activities

[00:00:24] Andy Polaine: You might yearn for the title of Chief Design Officer, for example, but it’s important to think about what that means as a daily activity. There’s not going to be much actual designing involved, for example, it’s mostly going to be about interacting with your peers in the C- Suite. And the enabling work for design to thrive in the organization, by helping the organization thrive. And that probably means a lot of meetings and calls every day. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all about being clear about whether those are things that energize you or de-energize you.

Consider an Experience Portfolio

[00:00:55] Andy Polaine: Another way to think about your career growth beyond roles, levels and titles is to consider an experience portfolio approach.

So as a designer, and certainly when you’re more junior, you’ll be used to having done work over the years. And then you put that together in a portfolio that you show someone and say, look, this is all my design work. And this is how I think about designing. And as you get into management leadership roles that happens far less.

But even as a more junior designer, let alone being more senior, it’s useful to think about what kinds of things are missing from your portfolio of experiences? Not just the actual work.

So that could be what context or manner of work do you want to experience that you have not yet. That could be something around tools and technology. It could be around management and leadership. It could be about business knowledge and value proposition development, strategy, product leadership. It could be something around culture and quality or process or storytelling. Or it might be around the size of the company or the industry. Quite a lot of my coachees have maybe worked for startups and want to work for somewhere more established or vice versa where they’ve been working say in a large enterprise and then actually much prefer to work somewhere smaller or a startup.

Using the Gaps to Qualify Opportunities

[00:02:03] Andy Polaine: For other people, it might be, "I’ve been working in healthcare for ages and I’d like to move into FinTech, or I want to move into social impact work" and things like that.

Once you have an idea of the gaps in your experience portfolio that you want to fill, you can use those as qualification criteria for opportunities that come up where you are now. You’re always going to have more demands on your time and attention than you have time for. So this helps you to consider what you say yes or no to. There’s lots of people who will say, "Oh, you should do this thing it’d be really great for your career." And actually what they really want is "I’ve got this thing on my plate and I’d like to shovel it off onto your plate. And I’m going to tell you, it’s a real opportunity for you so that you take the bait."

So does this opportunity that is being presented to you, take your step closer to one of those experiences you want? So, for example, if you’d like to be managing people, and you haven’t really done much of that yet and you get the opportunity to mentor one or two designers in your team.

Or maybe it’s the chance to lead a project really much more on your own than you have done in the past. Those are all good experiences for moving upwards. It might be an opportunity to think about the whole career matrix or the structure of a team, if you’re a little bit more senior already, and that might be something you haven’t done yet already.

Or are you being asked to do something that you’ve done a million times before? And you could literally do this standing on your head. So you might want to say no to that because there’s not much growth in it for you.

So this way you can think about your career pathway. And it’s somewhere between something that’s very, very planned—and actually my experience has been when coaching people that nobody’s careers are really that planned. And when you listen to people, maybe well-known people talking about their experience and their career pathway, it sounds like it’s all been terribly cleverly planned and actually it’s much, much more random and generally people are often just going, "There’s an opportunity that came up and I went for it." So this idea of an experience portfolio gives you something between something that’s very rigidly planned, which is unrealistic, and something’s just kind of completely chaotic and you’re just a pinball being batted around whatever offers are there. It gives you a plan, but it’s loosely held.


[00:04:05] Andy Polaine: I hope that’s useful for you. If you would like to check out my coaching practice, it is at and I’ll put the link below. If you’ve got any of your own ideas and suggestions, or would like to share your own experiences of your career pathway, please post a comment below.

For everything else, such as my newsletter and my podcast you can go to and you’ll find it all there.

Thanks very much and I will see you again soon.

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