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McKinsey Recruiter and Former NFL Player Shares 5 Insider Tips for a Career Touchdown

For Carlyle Holiday, getting dressed for work once meant putting on shoulder pads and a helmet. He was living a lifelong dream as a pro-athlete, playing in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers.

But when he suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2007, Holiday traded in his jersey for a collared shirt and dove into the marketing business. He found that the lessons he learned on the field translated to the boardroom.

“Marketing for me was interesting because you have the opportunity to attract folks and use certain strategies when doing so,” he says. “And I felt like I was already doing that as a football player, forming strategies every day,”

Today, Holiday is a recruiter for the San Francisco-based management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, pursuing doctors, lawyers and other heavy-hitters from top schools around the country.

Here are the lessons Holiday has learned on and off the field.

carlyle holiday mckinsey recuiter nfl player

Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

Whether you are trying to snag that big promotion or get the attention of the hiring manager at your dream job, you need to stand out from the crowd.

“It’s a very smart generation,” Holiday says of the young professionals he recruits. However, there is one blind spot he sees too often.

“I often don’t see them taking advantage of some of the opportunities, whether it be helping out in the communities [or] going to do things in other countries to volunteer.”

“Those are things that a lot of companies look at,” he says.

If you are still in school, he says, take classes outside your degree program. It may provide another career path or set you apart as a well-rounded job candidate.

“Everyone is going to get these great candidates now from these great schools and you have to find a way to differentiate yourself,” he says.

Carlyle Holiday’s Guide to Football Terms in the Office

He may have left the NFL, but the NFL hasn’t left him. Holiday admits to tossing football terms around the office. “Everybody understands, like ‘Carlyle is using his football terms again, we don’t know what he’s talking about,’” he jokes.

“The Locker Room” is what Holiday calls his recruiting pod – the room where all the San Francisco recruits sit and work. “No one is on board yet, but I will continue to do it.”

“Playbook” is Holiday’s code for workplace strategies such as work hard, network, and make yourself better.

“Break the huddle” is what Holiday says when ending team meetings.

Always Be Networking

Successful businessmen and women and pro-athletes alike all know the power of networking, Holiday says.

“Start with your networks and connections, whether it’s a friend, personal connections, business connections … do whatever you can just to connect in industries or committees you are interested in,” he says.

He suggests keeping a LinkedIn page, joining industry-specific Facebook groups or finding mutual friends in the city where you want to live. Also, try clubs or professional associations where you can meet new people.

Networking, Holiday says, has become “the biggest key in terms of folks who are interested in opportunities.”

Move Past the Hurdles

“There’s always going to be a hurdle,” Holiday says.

“There’s always going to be a hurdle.”

He should know. He suffered his first football injury when he was seven years old. Then he lost his starting quarterback role during his senior year at Notre Dame. And later, he was forced to start a new career from scratch after a final knee injury ended his NFL career.

“Bad things are going to happen,” he says. “Find your best way of dealing with them and moving on to the next situation.”

It’s not a lesson unique to football. Sometimes a client will send him the wrong documents or the CEO will ask for a presentation with only five minutes warning. A thick skin, he says, will contribute to your success.

“Just let whatever happens, go by you,” he said. “Get over it as soon as you can.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Disagree

Be positive – that’s the key to pushing back when necessary.

“There’s an obligation to dissent wherever you are, in my playbook,” Holiday says. Whether you are disagreeing with your manager or business partner, have the courage to speak up.

“Dissent where it means doing things for the better,” he says. “I see a lot of people who have that courage and the ability to do that be successful.”

Keep Your Eye on the Big Picture

When Holiday was studying at Notre Dame, he majored in marketing because he found it interesting and thought it might be a good fit for him after football. But he admittedly didn’t give as much thought to “after football” as he should have.

“Football is your livelihood and it’s important, but you got to find a way to think about the future outside of football and starting doing that early on before it’s too late, I’d say, is a big lesson,” he says.

And one that all young professionals could benefit from. Don’t just look at the present – plan for your next move. Make yourself better, he encourages recruits, because it will pay off, personally and professionally.

“For me, in football, it was looking at more film,” he says, meaning taking the time to review playbacks as a way to learn more about his game. “I’ve translated that into the business world by looking at other areas where we can improve without being prompted to.”

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