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  • Personal Branding Interview: Alan Collins

    Today, I spoke to Alan Collins, who is author of Unwritten HR Rules: 21 Secrets for Attaining Awesome Career Success in Human Resources and a former Vice President of Human Resources at Pepsi.  In this interview, Alan talks about employee referral programs, how HR has changed over the past decade and some trends to watch for, job seeker and HR tools and more.

    Do you think companies have empowered employees to do the recruiting for them enough?

    Dan, yes and no. Most of the best companies have put lucrative employee referral programs in place. Though these programs, employees are empowered to refer job candidates. And they can earn referral bonuses that can range from $1000 to up to $8000 if their referrals are hired and stay with the company. This is great news for employees that have large networks. They literally can create an additional income stream for themselves by just referring candidates from their network to be hired at their companies. It’s a win-win for these companies too because it’s a proven fact that employee referrals are the best source for qualified new hires.

    On the other side of the coin, companies have made it extremely difficult for employees find time to do this because while they’ve downsized their workforces– they’ve not downsized the work. As a result, everyone’s overworked these days. When you’ve done massive headcount reductions and you’re now left with 20 “survivors” doing the work that 50 people used to do, these folks are overworked, frustrated, angry and looking for jobs themselves. And frankly, they’re not that excited about helping to recruit people for the company if they’re also in the job market themselves.

    How have you seen HR change over the past decade? What were the major milestones and what do you think will happen in the future?

    The biggest change for HR over the past decade has been moving from “pushing paperwork forward” to helping to “push the business forward.” In the old days, HR spent its time on processing new hires, doing reference checking, and pestering managers to get their performance reviews in on time – very paperwork intensive. Today, the most successful HR professionals are business leaders who specialize in improving business results by maximizing the company’s talent. They work to ensure that their company is competitive by developing ways to retain the best employees and helping these employees improve their productivity and commitment to the organization. That’s a big change. The paperwork is still there but technology has eliminated it a lot of it…along with the old-school HR paper pushers.

    The future is bright for HR. Obviously I’m biased, but I’ve never met a CEO or business leader who is not interested in improving the performance of the business through the talent in his or her company. And that’s what HR does and will continue to do in the future. So, I don’t see HR going away any time soon. However, the work of HR will continue to change in the future.

    For example, as more baby boomers defer retirements because of the recession, the HR leader 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, Gen Xs, Gen Ys and others they want to attract and keep.

    Technology innovations will continue to be big too. Enterprise-wide platforms like SAP and PeopleSoft that standardizes HR work will continue to evolve. So will the use of social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in recruiting and the use of virtual teams of employees who communicate through video-conferencing, e-mail, and text messaging. Online technologies that allow more work to be done without much face-to-face interaction will also grow by leaps and bounds in the future. And, HR will need to stay on the leading edge of all of this.

    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, I also expect to see more HR executives appointed as CEOs of large organizations. HR leaders have already moved into top positions in sales and operations positions in many companies. So, it’s a natural evolution to expect that they will fill more roles at the very top. And when that happens, it’ll be a great sign that the HR profession has finally arrived.

    What tools do you recommend for someone in HR?

    For HR professionals looking to advance their HR career, there are two tools that I believe are absolute musts.

    1. The first is LinkedIn. It’s the greatest career management tool ever invented for anyone – and especially those in HR. There are 500,000 HR folks on LinkedIn and it’s a great tool for branding yourself and getting yourself “findable” by other HR professionals, employers and recruiters that can help your advance your career.
    2. The second tool I recommend is my new book: “Unwritten HR Rules.” In today’s economy, advancing your HR career is all about performing, knowing your business cold, building the right relationships and marketing yourself just like your company promotes their products. And in my book, I not only dive deeply into all these areas, but provide numerous solutions as well. It’s tough to find unbiased career advice. In a tough economy, your boss and even some headhunters can be biased as it relates to what’s best for your career. All of this creates a huge dilemma for the career-minded HR professional that wonders who they can really turn to. My book provides needed guidance and fills this void in HR. It lays out twenty-one different strategies for taking one’s HR career to the next level.

    What tools do you recommend for a job seeker?

    The number one tool I recommend for any job seeker is their personal network. Most recruiters will tell you that networking will deliver more job interviews to you than any other method. More than answering ads. More than hitting the online job boards. And more than putting your resume down Monster’s black hole and hoping that you’ll get some hits. The tough thing about networking is depending on your personality, it’s either a lot of fun or a lot of work.

    For me, I’m not a natural networker, so it’s work for me.  So, if you’re like me, you have to discipline yourself to do it. But if you’re in the job market, you must do it. Good networking takes effort, sincerity and time. Start taking people to lunch. Start attending cocktails, dinners, and networking events. Set goals for yourself. For example: “I want to have a good conversation and exchange business cards with at least 3 people during this event.” There’s an old saying that you should dig the well before you’re thirsty. Well, this applies to networking. LinkedIn is also a great tool for helping you do this too.

    Can you go over your personal brand story with PepsiCo? How did you get started and climb the ranks?

    I started as an HR trainee at a steel company and then went to Quaker Oats. I’ve moved through 16 different HR jobs over my 25 year HR career. When Quaker merged with PepsiCo in 2001, I became an HR executive in the PepsiCo organization. As VP of Human Resources, I was responsible for HR initiatives in the Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses. I provided HR leadership for one of the largest single change initiative in the history of the PepsiCo organization. And, I led an HR team of 60 HR managers and directors, where we supported 7000 employees and $8 billion in sales spread across 21 different locations in North America. It was a terrific experience. I’ve climbed the ladder by building relationships and trying to leave a legacy in every assignment I’ve had along the way.

    A few years ago after the death of my son, I re-purposed my life and career. My personal brand and life’s work today is all about giving back, making a difference and serving the HR global community. I contribute to causes that I care deeply about and focus on using my strengths to strengthen others. Last October, I left my HR executive career in corporate America to pursue all this on a full time basis. Today, I’m a published author, run a scholarship program and have other initiatives in the works that will help make a difference in the HR profession. HR has given me a fulfilling and extremely rewarding career and I’m working to “pay it forward” to other HR professionals…and I’m having a blast!

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    Alan Collins is author of Unwritten HR Rules: 21 Secrets for Attaining Awesome Career Success in Human Resources. He was formerly Vice President of Human Resources at Pepsi where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses. Today, he is President of SuccessInHR.com, a company providing HR professionals and executives around the globe with insights and tools for enhancing their careers. With 25 years of corporate, field and executive experience in HR, he has written over 100 articles and white papers on human resources topics.

    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

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