Working out your north star

Having some direction in life is important for all of us especially when it feels like you have very little control over outside forces affecting your life. Your career is no different, how do you know what a good opportunity looks like if you have no idea what you want? 

This article aims to sow the seed of being able to get what you want from your career, it’s not intended to be a replacement for a coffee with a Quality Talent Consultant but it will hopefully get your mind thinking about the right questions to be asking yourself. If this is the first article you have read from myself I should point out I have spent 22 years advising organisations and individuals on all things career and Talent related, the comments below are based on my dealings with literally 1000’s of individuals over those years as a recruiter and as the founder behind Hurren & Hope.

Be Realistic

As I highlighted in my ‘Find out your why…why?’ article, life is made up of chapters and there will be times when you are making decisions for the short term, redundancy, health issues, etc. life will throw you a curve ball once in a while. 

This may be lost on the non-snooker players but when building a break you always play for space with several reds open to you, not a specific red, if the shot doesn’t quite line up for your preferred red you will have other options to fall back on. Similarly managing your career, in the same way, will ensure you can still move forwards, though like all things worthwhile it will rarely be a straight shot to where you are trying to get to, the trick is to avoid getting snookered along the way. 

So for a real-world example, a project Manager moving between change management or software delivery environments may not detract from them moving forward but choosing to make a move into Service Delivery would be questionable if it’s not the direction they want to take their career in. 

Ask yourself how many times have you moved into a role because your current company knows you are capable, but it’s ended up making you feel like a jack of all trades and master of none? Will the market view you in the same way if you continue to dilute your core skill sets? I’m not saying diversity is bad, what I’m saying is if you want to be hired as a programme manager in 5 years time, your stint in Service may go against your application. 

Did you take the choice to make that questionable move for a salary increase? If you did you may be interested to read “how much do you need to earn to be happy”

What do you hate?

Often it’s easier to talk about what you don’t want to do than what you do, “I don’t want to be client facing” will rule out a large swath of career paths. “I don’t want to manage people” statements like this will require some thought as to how far you can take your career path Software Development manager Vs Lead Architect for instance. 

A useful approach is to draft a Venn diagram list on the left circle any tasks you do where you are ‘in flow’ it’s easy and doesn’t drain you, on the right tasks you don’t enjoy ‘out of flow’ the middle crossover is for the tasks you don’t mind doing but wouldn’t want to have a focus on. Don’t sit down and try and do this in one hit, fill it out over a couple of weeks and leave it somewhere near with a pencil next to it so you can fill it in as things come to you. By the end of the fortnight, you will have the basics for your north star,

it will likely be useful to talk it through with someone without the talk of ‘managing stakeholders’ and similar loose statements to distract you you will be able to cut to the chase. Do you want to put up with clients bending your ear for non-delivery? Do you see it as a challenge for you to solve or would you prefer to boil your head? It’s really basic, but we all lose sight of what we really are looking for when searching for work, this will keep you honest. The aim is to have 70% or more of your working week being spent doing tasks from the ‘in flow’ circle.

What are your redlines?

For all of us there are certain elements in life we will not compromise on, and should we lose sight of that our mental health, physical health, and or happiness levels will be impacted. Be clear about what yours are, they don’t need to be grand statements. “ I want to be able to have dinner with my family every night” may be one for example. “I’m not willing to work past 19:30 in the evening” whatever this is for you in your life, stay true to it. Playing the martyr and simply soldiering on will only in time make you resentful towards your employer. 

The reality is most of those redlines are perfectly acceptable you just need to adjust your working behaviour, are you working late because you procrastinated during your day etc? 

These redlines are non-negotiables if you choose to sell any one of them for an increase in salary, experience tells me it will not work. Try and reverse the thought process and ask yourself how much would you pay to be able to eat a meal with your family every night? It may be the right employer/role is actually not the highest paying. If you are crossing these redlines on a weekly basis the extra wage will quickly be of little interest to you. if you can have your salary expectations met and your north star on track then it’s all gravy!

Your label?

The world of recruitment loves a label it’s a horrible state of affairs but it’s the reality of the game and if you want to play you have to understand the rules. Employers tend to think of skills and people as if they were a product ( I know I hate it too, don’t get me started about employing people for the future not the present, etc. one for another post) but this is the game we are in so, back to the product analogy… 

You need to work out what superstore you are in, the department you are in, the shelf you are on, and what it says on your tin. You wouldn’t look for a tin of beans in the bakery aisle any more than an employer would look for a Project Manager in the Service Delivery sector. If you wear a label for too long you run the risk of being hard to find, so be sure you are mindful of what label comes with that job role. 

Worse still if you find yourself wearing lots of hats all the time with little definition to your role you could be starting from square one when it comes to your next move. Be proactive about what you say yes to, try and influence the shape of your working week by saying yes to more of the work you want to do, and seeking qualifications in the roles you want to do. 

All too often in the early chapters of our careers, we are swayed by circumstances around us at the time. 

Remote working

The advice above has become even more important with remote working limiting opportunities to learn from others like we once did. It’s far harder to move across departments now we are less able to gain knowledge from our peers in the same way he would pre-pandemic. 

A contentious one I know, with the advocates for WFH selling the importance of Teams, Skype, etc. However, when did you last go on a teams call with someone completely unrelated to your current project, when did have a chat at the coffee point with an experienced employee and ask them about how their career enabled them to get to where they are now? Those interactions are far less than they once were so it’s vital you proactively culture the right contacts and give thought to your North Star so you can seek out the connections who can take you closer to it.


Perception is reality, lean on those around you, a trusted Recruiter former boss, older friend, or family member. When you are stuck in the 9-5 of working life it’s easy to keep digging and working hard only to realise you just lost five years moving in the wrong direction. 

Share your goals for the future with people you trust and meet up with them regularly. When I was a full-time Recruitment consultant I frequently had 3-year reviews with professionals I had placed into job roles, “you told me you wanted to… is that still true?” “Do you feel you are still moving towards that?” A basic sanity check, taking a bad move in your career isn’t terminal, but staying in that role for too long could be.

Be mindful

  • Check your redlines regularly have you sacrificed too much too often?
  • Surround yourself with the right people who can move your career path in the direction you hope.
  • Be proactive about what you say yes and no to.
  • Before you take that new role, ask yourself does it place you on the right shelf for the future.
  • Keep your Venn diagram, the likelihood of you having a personality transplant is unlikely so what you hated 10 years ago will probably still be true, check it before you agree to attend an interview and have it in the back of your mind when you are being sold the dream from your next potential employer.

Looking to add talent to your team, or looking for the next step in your career?