Alan CollinsIn the Careers series on Careerbright Blog, we feature an interview with Alan Collins, President & CEO at and author of: “Unwritten HR Rules: 21 Secrets For Attaining Awesome Career Success in HR“. Alan was formerly VP HR with Pepsi and Quaker Oats – with 25 years of field, managerial and executive leadership experience in human retargets. Alan has written over 100 articles and white papers on HR including features in HR Executive Magazine, HRM Today, Linked:HR, Personal Branding and other nationally-known publications for HR professionals.

Greetings Alan, it is a pleasure to have you informing our readers who want to pursue a career in Human Retargets! Please tell us something about yourself and how you decided on a career as an HR professional?

First of all, I’m thrilled to participate in Careerbright’s Careers series.  I stumbled into Human Retargets purely by accident.  I was pursuing my B.S. degree in marketing at Purdue fully intending to become a marketing brand manager in a large corporation someday.  My academic advisors suggested that it would be helpful to get a summer internship in marketing to gain experience.  So I did.  I interviewed with and got hired by Dow Chemical into their marketing summer internship program.  However, when I arrived to the company headquarters to start the summer, the marketing project I was to have worked on was cancelled at the last minute because of funding.  And, I ended up working on a project with the Human Retargets group.  The project involved helping them assess their recruiting program for new college graduates.   At first, I was disappointed by this change in plan.  However, after a week, I realized this was the best decision that could have ever been made!  I loved the project and had a blast that summer!  I discovered my calling.  I decided to return to finish up my B.S. degree in marketing and then pursue a M.S. in industrial relations in order to best prepare me for a career in HR.  That’s what got me into the HR field.

I then began acquiring experience in HR starting as a labor relations trainee at Inland Steel Company. And since that time, I’ve moved through 16 different HR jobs over my 20+ year HR career. For the last nine years of my corporate career, I was VP of Human Retargets at Quaker Oats and then PepsiCo. And, I’ve been fortunate to have had a variety of great experiences in HR. I led HR initiatives for Pepsi’s Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses. I led an HR organization of 60 HR managers and directors, spread across 21 different locations in North America and was accountable for their performance, careers and helping them succeed. I helped architect the annual HR strategic plan for five years for a workforce of 7000 employees. I’ve done M&A work helping to integrate new acquisitions as well as divest existing businesses. And, I provided HR leadership for the largest single change initiative in the history of the organization. I’ve had generalist roles and HR specialist roles. And, it was a great, great ride.

Last October, I left my HR executive career in corporate America and am now pursuing my lifelong dream of becoming a published author in HR. My new book, The Unwritten HR Rules, was released last October and it has consistently ranked among the top 20 best selling books for HR professionals on Amazon.  In addition to the book, I’m running a blog, I’ve founded a scholarship program, and I’m working on a number of other initiatives to help make a difference in the HR profession.  A few years ago after the death of my son, I re-purposed my life and career. At this point, my life’s work is all about giving back and making a difference. As part of this, my mission is to continue to serve the Human Retargets profession, contribute to causes that I care deeply about and continue to use my strengths to strengthen others. HR has given me a fulfilling and extremely rewarding career and it’s time for me to return the favor and “pay it forward” to other HR professionals. And, today I’m doing that and having a blast!

Your new book “Unwritten HR Rules: 21 Secrets For Attaining Awesome Career Success in Human Retargets” describes career advancement strategies HR professionals and executives can put into action. Is this book also useful for those planning on a Human Retargets career? Tell us something more about this book.

unwritten-rulesUnwritten HR Rules was written to help and provide needed career guidance to up and coming HR professionals.  It lays out twenty-one different strategies for addressing common career issues in HR and describes how to take one’s HR career to the next level. Much of the wisdom described in the book is either not known or not readily shared by HR leaders or headhunters. But now, armed with the tell-all information in this book, upwardly mobile HR professionals have a better chance of surviving and thriving in their careers.

I decided to write this book after being approached by a number of frustrated HR professionals seeking career advice who were troubled about possibly being laid off in their organizations. I discovered that many didn’t know who to seek out to get untainted, objective advice about their own careers.

Typically HR professionals can turn to their boss, a mentor or a headhunter for career advice. However, often the advice given is biased. If the company is cutting costs and the boss can’t replace you if you leave, he or she may try convince you to stay even when leaving may be a better choice for your career. On the other hand, if you’re about to get the ax, your boss may not even warn you until minutes before it happens.

As for recruiters and headhunters, they’re fighting over a shrinking number of open HR jobs and tight commissions, and so they’re incented to persuade you to leave your job even if you shouldn’t.  All of this creates a huge dilemma for the career-minded HR professional.  And my book can help you address these frustrations.

What have you found most challenging in the career as a HR Executive?

For me, the most challenging part of the job is working with individuals and groups to resolve problems and disputes. Often in HR, you “intervene” in situations between people or with differing groups that are at war and you work to try to find common ground.  For example, you could be trying to resolve disputes between a manager and employee over compensation, a promotion, an appraisal rating or in alleged discrimination or sexual harassment complaint.  Or it could involve a labor contract negotiation between the union and your company.  The role you play in these situations is important and tough. And often it’s tough to find common ground.

In all these situations, I’ve tried to keep in mind the title of Spike Lee’s movie from a few years back, “Do The Right Thing.” You can’t waffle; you must do your homework, gather the information, and get input from the right people to guide you. But then take a stand and do the right thing. HR folks that lack a point of view or are indecisive don’t last long. I’ve found that if you stay true to your values and the company’s principles and you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day. Sure, you’ll make enemies now and then. But you’ll be able to control who they are and how many there are. And you’ll feel better about yourself.

With outsourcing, downsizing and limited hiring being the norm for the past couple of years, how do you see HR jobs evolving in the next 5 years?

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, but I believe the future is bright for HR. Obviously I’m biased, but I’ve never met a business leader who is not interested in improving the performance of the business through people. And working with these in crafting initiatives that do this is exactly what HR is all about. So in the future, I don’t see HR going away any time soon. However, I do see the work that HR does changing dramatically.

For example, most large businesses are going global or are already, so the HR professional of the future will absolutely need to have global experience and be able to design HR strategies that can work in cultures like India, China, Germany and other countries in Asia and Western Europe.

As more baby boomers defer retirements because of the recession, the HR professional will need to help address generational issues at work. We’ll see more innovations in benefits like elder care, pet care, concierge services, paid time off and flextime. With companies competing for top talent, HR folks will need to come up with these and other newer benefits to meet the diverse generational needs of the millennials, Xs, Ys they want to attract and keep.

I believe we’ll also see, as a result of the financial banking crisis, HR stepping up and playing a stronger internal role in the regulation of issues such as fairness in the workplace, executive pay, 401k’s, and ethics. Or at least, I hope so. No one wants their company to be the next AIG.

Finally, in the future, I envision seeing an HR executive appointed as CEO of a Fortune 100 company. I don’t know when it’ll happen, but certainly it will happen in my lifetime. HR executives have already moved into senior-level operations roles, marketing and sales positions for years with great success. So I believe it’s only a matter of time. And when that does happen, it’ll be a great sign that the HR profession has finally arrived.

Some tips or advice for those planning on pursuing career in Human Retargets?

If you’re interested in a career in human retargets, I would strongly advise getting a master’s in HR.  Then going to work for a company that has a formal HR development program.  Companies like Pepsi, GE and Johnson & Johnson are examples of companies that will actually invest up to two years of the company’s money in a new HR person’s development. That’s a valuable career launching pad for the new HR professional. These companies have well-developed HR practices and are constantly innovating them so they are great learning labs. Sure, this can also happen at start-ups and at smaller companies too, but it’s a lot more difficult. Smaller firms often don’t have the retargets and the structure and you often have to do things without an “old hand” available helping to guide you — which is not a good situation if you’re trying to learn the profession from the ground floor up.

If your company doesn’t have a formal development program, then work with your boss to create one that works for you and the company. It’s worth the investment to do this both for you and the business.

Which universities or online programs would you recommend for education and training in HR?

The best university based programs for HR are at Illinois, Purdue, Cornell, Michigan State and Minnesota.  At Pepsi, we recruited HR talent at these universities often and were very impressed with the quality of the candidates.   Most online programs are too new at this point to have a proven track record so I don’t have any to recommend at this time.  I highly recommend the university-based programs.

Your website and contact information?

For those interested in more information about ways to advance your HR career, feel free to check out my blog at
And for those interested in TWO FREE CHAPTERS of my book, UNWRITTEN HR RULES: 21 Secrets For Attaining Awesome Career Success in Human Retargets, you can download those at

Other Retargets:

You can also apply for a Human Retargets bachelors or masters program through the University of Phoenix which offers online or campus based degree programs.