HR Consulting On The Side — Without Cheating On Your Day Job… 

by Alan Collins

If you ever decide to have an extramarital affair, there are some unspoken rules to abide by.

One, you sure as hell don’t want your spouse to find out…unless you have a death wish.

Two, you’re probably going to have to fabricate stories about your whereabouts from time to time to cover up your liaisons.

And three, unless you’re a total scumbag, you’ll probably need to figure out how to cope with the emotional guilt of lying, being unfaithful and leading a double life.

Clearly, the decision to do this is going to complicate things for you at home.

And while I’ve never cheated myself, I’m guessing that making these kinds of personal changes just scare most people to death.

Interestingly, many HR people seem to feel the same way about doing part-time HR consulting on the side, while holding down their full time day job.  To them, it’s tentamount to cheating on their spouse.   Because they believe it requires them to lie, be disloyal to their organization and compromise their morals and ethics.

But I disagree.


Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you have a full-time HR day job, doing a few consulting projects on side can be a terrific step in your career.

It can:

So there are lots of benefits.

And relax, you CAN do it without cheating on your current organization.

Just so you know, this is my philosophy…

I’m a strong proponent of not doing anything at all to jeopardize your HR day job if it’s currently your main source of income. And until the day arrives that you are ready to replace it, it pays your bills and is your security net right now, so you should never risk screwing it up.

But make no mistake about it, if you want to try consulting on the side, without putting your primary paycheck at risk, you can.

But only if you follow four simple, common sense unwritten rules — and they are:

  1. Don’t make assumptions
  2. Don’t compromise and disparage
  3. Avoid “borrowing”
  4. Answer the question: “Should I hide what I’m doing?”

Let’s break down each one of these in detail.

If You’re Going To Consult On The Side, Make No Assumptions – Know What Kind Your Organization You’re Working For.

Let’s face facts.  Many big, traditional “old school” organizations probably don’t share your enthusiasm for part-time consulting. In fact they believe they own you and your HR expertise, as long as you work there.

They want your 100% loyalty…on and off the job, 168 hours per week…even though they’re unprepared to provide you that kind of loyalty in return.

By paying you an annual salary and other benefits, they feel are entitled to “first dibs” on your time and your ideas.

But that’s just one type of organization.

There are other more enlightened, “new school” firms. In these types of companies, performance rules.

In their view, as long as you kick butt on your job, what you do on your own time doesn’t matter to them…as long as you don’t disparage the organization or compromise their main line of business.

In these companies, you have people highly engaged away from work. Some teach in the evenings. Some run small unrelated businesses on the side. Some participate in non-profit organizations. Some coach and do non-competitive consulting.

Here’s the point: You must know what kind of company you’re working for!  Is it the old school or the new school type?

If you’re not sure, check your employee handbook, your legal department or the corporate policy on moonlighting and running side businesses. Also, examine any employment documents you may signed when you began working in case you have agreed not to work with anything that conflicts or competes with your employer.

If you’re NOT certain, then ASK!   And here’s what you want to know:

You want to go into part-time consulting with your eyes completely wide open and armed with all the facts.

But that’s not all, you’ll also want to embrace…

Avoid Doing Anything That Will Compromise or Disparage Your Current Organization. 

This is important especially when preparing documents for your consulting clients. A better way of stating this rule is: “Don’t write about anything you would not want plastered on the “Worst Practices” pages of HR Magazine, next to your name.” This includes:

This also applies to HR-related information too.

Your company has valuable confidential information that it wants to keep under wraps. For example, it could be the HR strategy, it’s system for tracking time and attendance, the list of recruitment sources it uses, or its performance management process.

As an HR professional, violating this is morally and legally wrong. You have an obligation to preserve these secrets whether or not you signed a non-disclosure agreement. And, if you have signed such goesan agreement and violate it, you could be liable for damages – and face a possible court order to cease and desist.

And then there’s…

Avoid Borrowing (or Stealing) Anything That Belongs To Your Employer. 

Yes, I know this is obvious. But in this case stealing goes well beyond just swiping office supplies from your day job to stock your home office. It also means that you:

All of these are big no-no’s.

In most companies, this kind of misuse of company property is considered theft and you can expect to be reprimanded or let go. Sure, you can rationalize this theft by saying “hey, the company can afford it.”

But since misappropriation of company property and office supply theft accounts for a fairly large chunk of the $67 billion lost to employee theft every year, many employers clearly don’t agree with you.

All this said, I’m sure there’s at least one final concern you should still have.

And it’s covered by…

Should You Hide What You’re Doing From Your Organization? 

This is an important consideration. You deal with your firm primarily through your boss. And there are only two ways to handle your boss. You either tell her or you don’t. Only you can assess your situation, but in most cases I recommend that you be totally upfront with both your boss and your company.

Here’s why? Sure, you could conceal what you’re doing. That is, operate like Clark Kent during the day but then turn into Superman during the evening .

But the big problem hiding what you’re doing is that if you get found out, it gives the impression that you’re trying to hide something.

Or that you’re subtly looking for work elsewhere.

That’s not exactly the kind of move that will enhance your HR career advancement prospects or your job security at your day job.

So, because of these reasons, I believe it’s best to be completely upfront and tell your boss what you’re doing. It’s then up to your boss to make the next move.

She may not care.
Or she may want to know more.
Or she may want to see examples of what you’re doing.
Or to cover her own butt, she may need to check in with Legal or the higher ups.

Resist the urge to say “it’s none of your business.”  Instead, be upfront and provide any information required.

The worst case is that she or the company balks or objects.  Then you have a decision to make.

You can:

Even though these choices may be difficult or not ideal, I favor being open.

Honesty is the best policy.

Let’s now sum this all up.

Consulting on the side clearly has great benefits.  But it’s not for everyone. Most HR folks do quite well in their careers without ever doing any side consulting.

However, if this is a career option you want to try and keep your day job too you’ll need to follow these unwritten rules: Know what kind of company you’re working for and avoid compromising, disparaging and “borrowing” from your company. It’s also helpful to be totally upfront and don’t hide what you’re doing from your boss.

By following these steps you’ve put yourself in the best position to keep your day job while pursing your consulting endeavors on the side.

And you won’t feel like you’re cheating on your spouse.


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If you want to capitalize on your HR expertise but NOT quite ready to do side consulting?  Then you may be interested this alternative.  How about creating your own HR report…or an entire series of income-producing reports based on your HR skills and experience.  You can do this on evenings and on weekends — without leaving your day job.

Read about my journey in doing exactly this — and how you can too!  It’s all laid out in my book called:  YOUR HR GOLDMINE: How To Turn Your Human Resources Know-How Into A Lucrative Second Income …Without Leaving Your HR Job  (pictured left).  In this book, I’ve revealed all my strategies, shortcuts, insider tips and ideas and a step-by-step plan you can use for putting it all into action…again while keeping your current HR day job.

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

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