COVID-19: You Don’t Need A Big Title To Make Your Mark in HR…

by Alan Collins

Confined at home during this pandemic, I find myself calling a lot of people.

A few days ago, I connected with one of the most impressive HR people I know — Amy.

We had an eye-opening conversation.

Not for her.

But for me.

Here’s what Amy told me she’s doing while imprisoned at home like the rest of us:

1. Along with her boss, she’s leading the reinvention of the labor negotiations process at her location. She’s doing Zoom meetings with the union leaders and giving phone updates to her entire senior management team, which views this as her Division’s top HR priority.

2. She said yes, when asked to be the project lead for a talent management task force.  This group is determining how to best recruit engineering talent on college campuses post-COVID-19.  This involves her working virtually with 5 different locations, with HR people who she’s only seen on a screen…but has never actually met in person.

3. She’s volunteered to do over-the-phone mentoring.  She’s counseling three “high-potential” HR folks, hired back in January, who are scared to death about their jobs and wondering if they should bolt the company to start their searches all over again.

Again, she’s doing all this — working from home  — on top of her on-going, core HR responsibilities. 

Let me tell a little bit more about Amy.

She is a newly promoted HR Manager at PepsiCo — and is buried 6 levels BELOW her HR VP on the org chart!

With just five years of HR experience, she works at one of their smallest manufacturing plants.

…And she spends a couple of hours a day studying for her SPHR certification.

I don’t know about you, but all this simply blows me away.

Clearly, Amy is a leader, even though she directly manages no one and lacks the big corporate HR title.  

But as impressive as all this is, here is what’s REALLY most impressive about her.

When I asked why she felt she needed to do all this and how it all fits into her career strategy.

She, without any hesitation, replied…

“Hey, I’ve got a lot to learn!
So, during this pandemic, I’m
 trying to SEIZE just about any
HR leadership opportunity that will
help me grow, provide visibility,
and make a difference in my
I’ll be honest. I’m also trying to do
things that will add great bullets
for my resume for the long term too.”

Go back and read the above quote again.

Why? Because in it, Amy summarizes one of the best career strategies in HR you’ll ever hear. 

It’s simple.

It’s clear.

It’s compelling.

And demonstrates how — in good times and bad — that you don’t need a great title to do great things in HR.

Now let me be clear.

I’m sure there are plenty of highly productive HR pros out there, like Amy, doing great stuff from home during this pandemic. If you’re one of them, my hat’s off to you! Keep doing what you’re doing.

However, if you’re not, here are two important questions to ask yourself: 

1. During this crisis, are there new or emerging HR projects, committees or initiatives you can step into and lead?

2. Are there HR certifications, skills or competencies you can build on during this time?

Your answers to these questions could well determine the trajectory of your HR career.

Crisis like the one we’re in provide the perfect opportunity to boost your value to your current organization and provide valuable experience you wouldn’t otherwise attain. 

That said, there’s probably nothing I’ve said so far you’d disagree with.

But, let me throw you a little curve ball…

There’s only ONE good reason
NOT to be following Amy’s
example and capitalizing
on this time to grow
your career.

…And that good reason is because you can’t!

Why can’t you?  Well, that was made obvious to me by another one of my HR contacts — Brenda.

Brenda is an HR VP, who leads a team of eight directors and managers and has done quite well in her career. Here’s what she told me bluntly when I told her about Amy…

“I applaud HR folks who can use
this time to work on extra projects
or self-improvement goals. But
that’s not realistic for everyone.
There are some people like me,
now working from home, with
no choice but to home school
my kids, take care
of aging
parents, deal with
a psychotic
ex-husband, find toilet
and masks, stay healthy
and keep from going insane.

I’m sorry, right now I don’t have
the time
or bandwidth other than
to do my job.  That’s it! I don’t
have time to do anything extra
in HR that’s earth-shattering
career changing. Sorry.

I just want to survive this.
However, I do keep a ‘Career
Growth To Do List’ that I’m constantly
updating. When this thing is over,
I’ll start doing the items on this
list, like I’ve
always done.
But just not now!

Guess what? I get it. I feel her.

I’m sure you do too.

Here’s the point.

Let’s be real. Everyone’s situation isn’t the same.

Amy’s seizing opportunities, developing herself and thriving.

Brenda’s just trying to do her job, get through this mess and keep her life together.

And the fact of the matter is, if you’re like Brenda, this may NOT be the right time to take those “above and beyond” steps necessary to grow your career. 

We’re all living in crazy times.  You’ve got to do what makes sense for you and your family. So don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty.

Now may be the PERFECT time to make your mark.  But it’s not the ONLY time.

There will be other times to seize opportunities down the road. Plenty of the most successful HR leaders I know have paused their careers periodically to regroup or focus on other commitments.

So if nothing else, if you haven’t already, at a minimum — use this time to put together your own “Career Growth To-Do” List  — with an eye towards executing it later.  

Right now, the most important thing for all of us is to stay safe.

Let’s summarize.

The thrust of this article is this…

When that right time comes for you,
whether it’s now or later, go after new
HR opportunities with a vengeance
…and don’t let your HR title
stand in your way!

You DON’T need a BIG title to
be a leader or make your mark.

‘Nuff said.

Stay healthy.


Would love your thoughts? CLICK HERE to add your comments about this article below.


Want more BIG ideas for making your mark in HR, right where you are beyond 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.


If you are an aspiring HR leader or anticipate moving into a new HR leadership role in leading an HR team soon, 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 or VP.

For more information about this book, go 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 including WINNING BIG IN HR. and THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

Feed your network — If you like this article, feel free to share it with your contacts by clicking the buttons below…

4 Responses to “COVID-19: You Don’t Need A Big Title To Make Your Mark in HR…”

  1. Alice Calkins Says:

    What a great article! Thank you! Amy is certainly accomplished. My only concern/gripe is that you included her pregnancy. It doesn’t belong. Sure, she is to be commended for taking on all the stuff she has, but getting pregnant is not a professional qualification. It also continues the stereotype about women as professionals, that they can’t do or be anything great unless they also give birth. It isn’t so, and people should stop including it, as you did, as part of their professional image. Do we say that about men? Of course, we don’t, so why do we do that to women? It perpetuates that women are only “someone” if they are a mom. It is sexist and it needs to stop.

  2. Alan Says:

    Alice, great feedback! I’ve taken that sentence out. It was certainly NOT my intent to be sexist or further a stereotype about successful women vs. men. This is especially important in HR, where according to SHRM women make up 70% of the HR professionals in the USA. There is no reason to write anything which would be perceived to undermine their accomplishments and their leadership in our field, which is significant and well-deserved. So, please accept my sincere apologies for this blind spot on my part. It’s critical that the main message of this article not be lost by including anything that could potentially distract others from digesting it fully. Thank you.

    NOTE: For readers of this article, just to clarify, I originally included the following sentence about Amy: “…and she’s three months pregnant with her first child.” I’ve decided to delete that sentence based on Alice’s comments above and because it takes away from the main message of the article.

  3. Wes M Says:

    I get it. I’m in both worlds: relishing the opportunity to be part of the leadership on COVID in our division, and trying to keep my head above water while primarily working from home. My wife’s not able to be home due to her job, so much of my day is conference calls and helping our youngest 3 kids adjust to homeschooling the remainder of their year. Truth be told though, I’m happily embracing both roles, as exhausting as it is!

  4. Alan Says:

    Awesome, Wes! Great job embracing both roles. Be well.