21 Stone Cold Truths For Moving Your HR Career Forward…Starting Today!

By Alan Collins

Below are some stone cold truths I’ve captured as I’ve traveled through tons of SHRM conferences, read numerous HR blogs and had countless coffee chats and debates over the last year.

These ideas are NOT politically correct.

They do NOT sugarcoat the truth.

They do NOT conceal the realities of what it takes to really succeed in HR.

These are the real deal…the STONE COLD TRUTHS, if you will…about what it takes to really succeed in HR.

I tried to keep the list to 21, but I couldn’t. 

So I added a few more bonus truths at the end. 

And finally, as you’ll see, I’m big fan of Dave Ulrich.




“A newly graduated student excitedly called me and said she had HR job offers at Google and Amazon and wanted my counsel.

I quickly said, “Take one! Get a job and move on!”

She laughed, then asked, “Which one?”

My counsel was to look at her personal strengths and passions and to take the job that best fits her personal identity.

Amazon’s success comes from rigorous discipline and getting products delivered on time.

Google’s success is from innovation and tolerance of ambiguity.

After a day of thinking, she took the Amazon job because she felt the structured environment would work better for her.

The stone cold truth:  When faced with a choice of jobs, pick the one that best matches your HR skills and passions.  

–Dave Ulrich, from his article 5 Career Tips For HR Students



“If you’re a candidate for your dream HR job and the hiring manager spends 45 minutes talking about himself, the company or his Harley — let him.  He’s going to come out of the interview saying you’re a great candidate.”

–Kris Dunn, CHRO at Kinetix, who blogs at HRCapitalist.com
and author of the HR best seller,  The 9 Faces of HR.



“To get ahead in HR, you must continually make yourself relevant.  

“Don’t get trapped only learning what only applies to your organization.  Stay ahead of the curve by getting outside of your company and comfort zone regularly…to learn new ideas, meet new people working on interesting, leading edge projects and to build relationships.

Go to training sessions on topics like finance, business development and marketing that make you uncomfortable — especially if you’re the only HR person there!  All of this will help you become a better business partner and prepare you for a future of uncertainty in HR.”

–Theo Killion, Retired CEO, Zale and former SVP Human Resources at Macy’s, Lane Bryant and Tommy Hilfiger — spoken at a Future HR Leaders Seminar in Chicago



From an old, classic People Magazine article published in the UK.  The advice still applies today.  Perhaps even more so…



“Resolve something that you deeply regret doing…once and for all. Make the damn phone call.  Write the freaking letter (you don’t have to actually send it!).  Step up, find some spine and have that dreaded face-to-face chat with your boss about your HR career. Or simply decide that you are no longer going to drown in the lingering remorse or disappointment from this horrific experience in your past.  Whatever, just put it behind you then get on with your life!”



“HR is not about HR.  HR is all about the business and the outcomes of doing HR work.” For example, if the HR work you do (i.e. staffing, talent management, leadership development, etc.) isn’t delivering the outcomes (increased productivity, cost savings, etc.) that are truly valued by your clients and the organization, then you’re probably not doing REAL HR work.”

–David Ulrich, University of Michigan, from his most recent book Victory Through Organization



“You have become a great HR coach when you can give real, authentic, actionable feedback to people…without pissing them off.”

-From “Best Kept HR Secrets”



“You can build more relationships in TWO MONTHS by becoming interested in other people than you can in TWO YEARS by trying to get people interested in you.”

–Dale Carnegie



“Your job in HR will NOT take care of you when you are sick. Your friends, spouse, partner, relatives and parents will. Never get so busy that you neglect staying in touch with them.”



“Most of us use applicant-tracking systems that scan résumés for key words. The secret to getting your résumé through the system is to pull key words directly from the job description and put them on the document you submit. The more matches you have, the more likely your résumé will get picked and actually seen by a real person.”   Yes, I know you’re a pro in HR and already know this, but it needs to be said.

Chris Ferdinandi, HR professional in the Boston area



“The time for creating your new HR career is not the day you get downsized or when you decide it’s time to move on. You need to plan this months in advance. This planning is mainly because you need to grow your network first. In my case, I started networking 18-24 months in advance.”

Mark Griffin, founder InHisNameHR.com and former VP Human Resources, VALCO (above).



“To achieve true success in HR, you cannot see HR as just a job. Or even as a career. And it’s certainly not as something that is owned by the company you happen to work for at the moment.

You must regard HR as a CALLING.

A calling because, as an HR professional, you are in a unique position to make a difference in people’s lives and help create inspiring work places.”



Below is a recent post by on LinkedIn by Dave Ulrich that disappeared quickly. Glad I was able to grab it. It covers the role of HR and the unique insights we bring to the party around talent, organization and leadership.



“If your HR job is repetitive or can be documented in a manual, then someone else can do it cheaper and it can be outsourced…and eventually done by a robot or through artificial intelligence.  You need to figure out your HR super-power and what makes you really special in your current role — or you’re expendable.”



“If your dream ain’t bigger than you are, there’s a problem with your dream.  Your dream, when achieved, must add value to others way beyond just yourself.”

-Deion Sanders as he was inducted into the Football Hall-of-Fame



“How to brand yourself — even when you aren’t ready.  Go to godaddy.com or another domain name service, and buy a URL that represents something in Human Resources you’d like to do someday.  Just owning the domain lets you know that the possibility is there for you when you are ready.  In my case, I bought the domain name SuccessInHR.com over ten years ago.  I held it for three years before I finally got off my butt and did anything with it.”

-Alan Collins



“To enhance your HR career, you MUST get feedback. But, don’t be surprised if the feedback you get is unclear, doesn’t make sense or even seems unfair.

Very few companies or leaders give feedback clearly.

Don’t discount what you hear because of this.

Probe more deeply to get beyond vague and cryptic statements and dig out the REAL concerns about how you’re TRULY viewed in the organization…and then act on this feedback anyway.”



Can you pass the The Blackboard Test?

Years ago, when Lee Iococca took over Chrysler he spent the first week calling people into his office and gave them the “blackboard test.”

He told them to go over to the chalkboard and take 7 minutes to diagram for him how whatever they did directly contributed to Chrysler’s primary business…selling cars.

Anybody that couldn’t draw a clear diagram was fired. ”

As an HR professional, if you were called into your CEO’s office, could you pass his/her blackboard test?”

From the book, Where Have All The Leaders Gone? (Note:  If you pass this test, then go see if you can survive the Steve Jobs “Elevator Ride” from hell)



“The key to success in HR is authenticity. If you can FAKE that, you’ve got it made!”

–Unemployed Senior Vice President of HR having difficulty landing a job.



“Clients will do business with you the first time because you can give them something they want – expertise, advice, or valued information. They will keep doing business with you because they like you and they trust you. So part of your main job in HR is just bonding with your clients.”



“When interviewing, don’t ask, ‘Can you tell me about your business?’ Seriously, HR folks. There’s something called an Internet. Look up what you need to know and impress the interviewer with your knowledge of their business – then ask a deeper, more specific question based on that knowledge.”



“Perform a quick, free branding study on yourself. Ask three people from different areas of your life, “What are the three most valuable ways I contribute, add value, or make a difference to you?”  Now find a common thread in what they told you, and develop a private tagline for yourself.   For example, “From my family to my office, I provide great insights and support” or “My creativity and ability to think out-of-the-box stimulates and inspires others.”



“Recognize Your Passions. Ponder on your strengths, passions and value. Learn what work problems you want to solve. Work should not be a four-letter word and drudgery, but an opportunity to solve problems that matter to you. You might find out if HR is your passion by asking if you are interested in helping people grow and organizations succeed? In your quiet and private moments, do you think about building better organizations that will serve people? I have been told by my psychologist wife that I have a unique version of OCD — Organization Compulsive Disorder. I enjoy reengineering organizations I visit, from restaurants to hotels to churches to retail stores and so forth.  Ask yourself, what do you enjoy?

–Dave Ulrich, from his article 5 Career Tips For HR Students



“Embrace the awesome power of CLARITY.”

When you walk into a restaurant, you don’t just say, ‘Bring me some food.’ Instead, you’re very specific – you pick exactly what you want from the menu.

Do the same with your HR career.  

Don’t say, ‘My goal over the next five years is to just get promoted.’ Be specific. Imagine your HR career three years from now,living the life you desire: doing rewarding work that you love, fit and healthy, engaged in loving and supportive relationships, joyful and without stress.  What’s the role? What kind of organization?

The clearer and more vividly you visualize your career goal, the easier it becomes to reach it.

When that ONE image is solidly in your mind, ask yourself this question: “What is the one thing that I did today that created the opportunity for me to live that life in my future?” Are you willing to do that one thing?  If so, start today.


Have comments or some stone cold truths of your own?  Feel free to add them below by going HERE.


For a more stone cold truths for getting ahead in HR,  check out: BEST KEPT HR SECRETS: 400 Most Powerful Tips For Thriving At Work, Making Yourself Indispensable & Attaining Outrageous Success in Human Resources.  Get MORE INFORMATION by going HERE.


…Or if you’re a brand new HR leader, and you want more stone cold truths for launching yourself successfully in your new role,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 including BEST KEPT HR SECRETS 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.

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24 Responses to “21 Stone Cold Truths For Moving Your HR Career Forward…Starting Today!”

  1. Greg Stobbe Says:

    When you doubt someone’s benefit, you should no longer give them the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Alan Says:

    Greg – awesome! Love it and will add it to the list.

  3. Ashley A. Reed, PHR Says:

    Huge thank you for posting this, I needed it. It seems as though when you read something, you absorb what’s applicable at that moment, but when you read similar or even the same advice later it applies differently in a whole new area. Love it, thanks!

    And P.S. Just finally launched my own website a week ago, thanks to your advice. 🙂

  4. Alan Says:

    Ashley – thanks – timing does appear to be everything! Glad you got your blog launched! Pls continue to keep us posted. Best, Alan.

  5. Amy McGeachy Says:

    Greg – I love what you added!

    These are blunt but oh so true and extremely valuable if you can get past the initial shock of how candid some of the tips are. Steve Job was probably HR’s worst nightmare and yet I admire him deeply for his results and business success. It just goes to show that a cookie cutter approach to business and HR is not always the only way.


  6. peggy Says:

    Thanks Allan for your great tips in success in HR. It has really helped in many ways, especially getting to do other things with myself, networking and getting out of the office a bit more.

    Look forward to greater tips.


  7. Amit Says:

    Hi Alan,

    I have been reading your posts since last couple of months now and I have been deeply moved by most of them. Never before I have come across such practical advice for HR professionals.
    Since I have been trying to follow some of your suggestions to take my HR career in top gear..I am glad to inform you that I have posted by first HR Blog today and it feels great.
    Will be writing and sharing more from here on.


  8. admin Says:

    Hi Amit – Congratulations on your blog! Way to go. Please share your link, would love to drop by and check it out. Fantastic.


  9. HR Career Strategic Advice Says:

    […] Collins operates a site called Success in HR and recently offered 20 Brutally Blunt Career Tips to Ponder.. One stood out for me – one that wasn’t even among those he highlights, but which is […]

  10. Kate Niller Says:


    Tha aticle is truly amazing!
    I love every point described!
    The only thing that ipressed me so muh was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdh2ZB5BKrI which I have watched recently.

  11. Cindy Says:

    I especially love the last point – set a clear, vivid and meaningful goal for your self, and then start acting on it. Link everyday’s work to contribute to that goal. Dear to dream!

  12. Cindy Says:

    To enhance your HR career, you MUST get feedback. But, don’t be surprised if the feedback you get is unclear, doesn’t make sense or even seems unfair. Indeed sometimes we feel depressed when we get a feedback that we think unfair, but things exist for reasons. Open your heart, reflect on these feedbacks.

  13. Greg Stobbe Says:

    The Culture of an organization is an elusive and indefinable entity. That said, the backbone of the Culture lies within unwritten policies of that Organization.

  14. Joshua Karren Says:

    As I eagerly try to enter the HR arena, I thought it was a fascinating read and very insightful!

  15. cathy Says:

    This is great advise. Especially 4,7 and 11. I total agree. Thanks!

  16. Shelly Evans Says:

    Your tips are always interesting and give me a takeaway or the opportunity to pat myself on the back for already doing something well or not doing the things you say should not be done.
    Quite a few on this.

  17. Byron Says:

    #12 has been a life quote I have been living by since the Hall of Fame induction.

  18. Edward Sati Says:

    Great tips, especially for kicking off the new year. Here’s to a great 2013 everyone.
    Many Thanks !

  19. Milwon Says:

    Useful tips applicable to modern HR. In reality it is not the theory at college that helps but practical tips like this.
    Good work.

  20. Prajitha Says:

    Hello Allan,

    Your post is an eye opener for me as I am planning to kick start a career in HR
    I will definitely visit some of the blogs here and read the books mentioned I am sure it will help me much.
    Thanks Alan

  21. lolly Says:

    I love every tips listed above, the most fascinating and insightful for me is point No 19, i must perform that quick brand for myself. expect my feedback in couple of days. Much appreciated.

  22. Agnella Says:

    You are such an inspiration to me. I love the practical aspect of the great inspiring resources you share .

    Thank you so much

  23. Michuan M IRBY-Fleming Says:

    Great tips! It doesn’t matter if you are just starting out in your HR career or a seasoned HR pro. There is something for everyone on this list.

  24. Diana Says:

    Very useful insights Alan. Serve as guidance in all levels of HR career development. Thank you for sharing.