Harvey Mackay on Job Seeking, Personal Branding and Life Lessons from Lou Holtz (Pt 2)

Feb 1, 2012
9 Min Read

Harvey Mackay says his best friend outside his own family is legendary former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz. Holtz was also the head coach at the University of Minnesota and says that when he arrived in the Twin Cities (where Mackay makes his home), the “wind chill factor was about fifty degrees below zero,” and “Harvey sold me six refrigerators.”

All jokes aside, Mackay is considered a sales and business guru who has shared his selling secrets with millions of people through his bestselling books, including his latest, “The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World.” He has also chronicled how job seekers can use his networking and selling strategies to find a job with “Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door.”

In the second part of this interview with Anita Bruzzese, Mackay offers his advice to newbies in the business world.

AB: There seems to be growing optimism about the economy. In your opinion, how should people best position themselves in their business or their career as things start to improve?

HM:  I would answer this question the same way I would for the last 25 years, no matter what was happening: You must go to school for all your life.

What I mean by this is that you would hate to have major surgery with a surgeon who graduated in 2002 and didn’t keep up on the latest technology. You must continually enhance your skills throughout your career.  Go to night school to enhance your computer skills. Go to Toastmaster’s International to enhance your presentation skills. You’ve got to keep enhancing your skills.

AB: Employers are being cautious about hiring. What words of advice would you have for the job seeker who may have been looking for work for a year or more?

HM:  I think there are some things these jobs seekers can do to make themselves more successful.

First, they need to really know the market and territory. Even though they’re using LinkedIn to network, 50 percent  to 75 percent of jobs still come through personal contacts. So, you’ve got to really get out there and meet people in your area or industry.

Second, I would immediately volunteer. Do something you’re passionate about. The biggest problems for nonprofits are money, money and money. So go knock on doors and make sales calls for these organizations. Not only will you start to feel better about yourself because you’re out there meeting people, but you’re also building a network.

Third, there are more people willing to help you than you think. Never say no for another person. Let them be the one to say no. The dumbest question is the one you never asked. I’ve mentored over 500 people, so don’t be afraid to ask someone to help you.

Fourth, get all the advice you can from career counselors or self-help books on the mistakes other people made in trying to get a job. Learn what you should be doing.

If they (job seekers) do all those things, their probability of getting a job goes dramatically up.

AB: Can you talk about some of the challenges faced by older job seekers?

HM: I think the age group of 45 to 65 has been hardest hit. It may sound corny, but unequivocally, they have to reinvent themselves.

You cannot solve a problem unless you first admit you have one, and about a third of them won’t even admit they have a problem. They still think just because their company closed up they can stay in the same industry, go across town to a competitor and get a job. That’s not going to happen.

So what can they do? They know one skill basically. They’ve got to go back to school. They may have to get an MBA, go to a career counselor, network – do all the things we’ve been talking about.

AB: A lot of career advice surrounds the idea that you’ve got to have a personal brand and promote yourself more to others. But a lot of people don’t have the chutzpah to do this. What would you say to them?

HM: They don’t teach chutzpah in school, so you’ve got to invest in yourself. Read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” You’ve got to promote yourself and meet other people. You can’t be successful by yourself. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.

AB: What lessons do you feel we can all learn – and should never forget – from the past couple of years?

HM: First, if you’ve had a job, you should be pretty damn grateful.

Second, you have to be prepared to be fired from Day 1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Let me give you an example: Lou Holtz was a 130-pound weakling and had no football skills when he decided to try out for the team in a small town in Ohio. He didn’t really have a chance to make the team except for one thing. He decided to learn all 11 positions. If he had learned only one position, he would have had to wait for that player to be injured. But if he knows all 11 positions, he knows the odds improve.  That also helped later make him a great coach.

My point is that if you’re going to be on an employer’s payroll, then you better learn to be a Jack of all trades. Learn about all the different parts of a business.

AB: You’ve been in business for a long time. Where do you get your energy and enthusiasm from?

HM: I have no negative friends. I’ve left people behind who got negative as they got older. I’ve carefully picked my friends – those people who have done something with their lives, who are relevant, who have continued to learn, stayed optimistic and continue to make a difference. I surround myself with successful people who can’t wait to get up in the morning, just like me. I constantly read or listen to motivational books or tapes.

AB: Do you ever think you’ll retire?

HM: No, no, no! Retirement is a dirty word.

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