3 Brutal Truths About Managing Your HR Career Most Learn The Hard Way

by Alan Collins

Brutal truths can be tough to hear.

But to prepare for success in the future, it’s often helpful to expose them. 

To that end, here are three brutal truths about navigating your career in HR.

Most learn these the hard way.

Hopefully, they’ll steer you away from costly pitfalls and make you much savvier in managing the years ahead.

You can thank me later.

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The BRUTAL TRUTH about aging in HR.

Ageism is something we’ll all be guilty of and subjected to at some point.

Here’s what I’ve observed…

Fresh, early-20s grads come in eager to make their mark in HR.

They have the energy of a turbine engine.

They have the memory of a baby elephant.

And they eat constant change & new HR technology for breakfast.

However, in your mid-30s, don’t be surprised if you’re regarded as “old” in some organizations.

So use your early 30s to start more clearly defining the direction you want your career to go.

The reality however is this…

Most HR pros that don’t reach high
middle management or senior leadership
roles by 45–50, will struggle to
break through at all.

The few that do are the exception, not the rule – and get there by changing jobs more frequently than their peers.

But it’s just fine and dandy if you don’t aspire to reach a CHRO, SVP, VP or other senior HR leadership role in someone’s organization.

Not everyone does.

The world we live in offers many HR opportunities outside of corner offices to have an inspiring career, make good money, impact people & build a legacy in our profession — as the CEO of your own career!

Just know that most big corporate cultures don’t seem to smile on junior HR employees with gray hair.

Just what I’ve seen.

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The BRUTAL TRUTH about your HR colleagues.

Every colleague you work with HR is better than you at something.

Someone is better than you at selecting terrific job candidates.

Someone is better than you at giving great HR presentations.

Someone is better informed than you on HR metrics, new HR technology and analytics.

Someone is better than you at dealing with tough personalities.

There are better leaders, listeners, relationship builders, conflict diffusers, influencers, mentors and employee grievance handlers.

So what do you do?

Try this…

Don’t be jealous.
Don’t envy them.
Learn from them!

There’s no need to think about your colleagues as enemies and your workplace as a war zone.

Instead, reimagine your workplace as one giant HR classroom and your colleagues as teachers.

And look at every peer interaction as an opportunity to LEARN FROM THEM.

When you do, you’ll be amazed at:

-How much more quickly you’ll GROW.
-How much more CAPABLE you’ll become.
-How much better you’ll FEEL!

Just sayin’.

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Finally, the BRUTAL TRUTH about money in HR.

I’m a passionate advocate of making sure you earn what you’re worth.

So go get your money!

However, recognize to max out your income, you may need to change jobs.

After all, in general, external hires are paid 15-20% more than internal promotions.

What does this mean?

It means, for example, if someone is internally promoted to an HR position paying $100,000 — know that you as an attractive external candidate will be offered $120,000 or more for the same exact position.

HR compensation surveys tell us this.

Countless anecdotes from others tell us this.

HR recruiters tell us this.

It’s the brutal truth.

Hopefully, you won’t need to change HR jobs to earn your value.

But don’t ever shortchange yourself on pay.

–Don’t take an internal promotion without a raise. (Hint: that isn’t really a promotion).

–If all you can get is a better title with no a raise, then look to parlay that title into a new job with a different company.

–Whatever you are offered for an internal promotion, negotiate for 5-10% more in salary or other non-monetary benefits. The money is there.

–Don’t ever consider a promotion a gift. If you’re the right person, you are a gift to them.

–At some point to max out your comp, you may need to change organizations.

–To really max your comp in the long term, be geographically mobile and prepared to relocate.

I’m sure you know this already.

I’m just validating it.

So go get your money!

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There you have it, three brutal truths.

These lessons about aging, your colleagues and your pay are typically learned the hard way.

Hopefully, being mindful of them now will put you in a much better place to make smarter decisions in the future.

‘Nuff said.


Would welcome your comments. 

Post them below by clicking HERE.

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Want more brutal truths for excelling in your current role?  Then check out:  WINNING BIG IN HR: 100+ Powerful Strategies For Accomplishing Great Results Faster & Getting Your Clients To Rave About You As A Human Resources Professional!   For more detailed information about this book, go HERE. 


…Or if you’re a brand new HR leader and you want more brutal truths for getting off to a fast start, then check out:  THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS: How To Start Strong, Hit The Ground Running & ACHIEVE SUCCESS FASTER As A New Human Resources Manager, Director and VP.  You can get more details HERE.

About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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5 Responses to “3 Brutal Truths About Managing Your HR Career Most Learn The Hard Way”

  1. Amee Says:

    This is definitely the (sobering) brutal truth about managing your HR Career. Unfortunately, most learn these lessons too late while waiting for the right door to open at what they deem the right time for them. We as HR folks should be advocating for multi-generational talent and should be leading by example.

  2. Alan Says:

    Great points, Amee – especially about leading by example and advocating for multi-generational talent. A lot of organizations and HR leaders are missing the boat on this. Thanks.

  3. Joe Says:

    I wish I knew these truths 3 years ago! I would have made my recent career moves sooner.

    Nothing like learning through experience…

  4. Muhammad Tahir Says:

    Thank you Alan.

  5. Alan Says:

    Spot on. Absolutely, Joe!