Hey, millennials: Mika Brzezinski is not impressed.
Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” has a new book out called “Grow Your Value,” following 2011’s “Knowing Your Value.” The latest book, focused on helping women build their professional brand, includes personal stories and insights about work and home life, as well as plenty of advice, lists and mental exercises aimed at helping women develop and project their value in the workplace. For instance, if you had to write a 15-word ad for yourself, what would it say? (Brzezinski’s would read: “She’s smart. She’s direct. She’s funny. She’s informed. All this and fabulous too.”)
The book features a chapter aimed at millennials because, well, every new book is required to discuss millennials. “The truth is that an undue proportion of young women who have crossed my threshold looking for a job . . . have not made a great first impression,” Brzezinski writes. But don’t worry, millennials — here’s how you can do better.
Wear a simple outfit. “You may think you’re putting your best foot forward by presenting yourself in your most fabulous attire, but you risk rubbing your potential employer the wrong way,” Brzezinski warns. “You don’t want to be overdressed and appear as if you don’t need the job. You don’t want to be underdressed, either. It’s a fine balance. But here is the key — anyone can afford the perfect outfit, because it should be simple and clean.” Clothing should not distract from your credentials, she notes, but “it is the package in which your professional value is delivered.”
Get your hair and makeup right. Brzezinski cites her friend and fashion entrepreneur Michelle Smith, whose Milly clothing line “is one of my favorite labels for projecting my professional and inner value because its color palettes and lines are fresh and classic at the same time.” Brzezinski devotes a full page to the tips Smith offers on how to look “simple and smart, subtly attractive” to impress a prospective employer or investor: “Your hair should be neat, tidy, unfussy. If your hair is more than three inches past the top of your shoulders, pull it back into a sleek ponytail. Long, untidy hair can look overwhelming and unprofessional. . . . You want to look natural and fresh-faced. This means minimal but well-done makeup. Healthy, moisturized skin; a little mascara; a tiny touch of eye-liner; natural lip color. You don’t want your makeup to be noticed.”
Stop requesting constant affirmation. On this point, Brzezinski offers the insights of Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Joanna Coles and BBC World News America’s Katty Kay. Coles told her about an employee who wanted to talk about where her career was going after only being on the job for two months. “I said to her, ‘The good news is that you still have a job here.’ And then I got up and said, ‘Come back in six months’ time when you have something meaningful to say.” Brzezinski says Coles is “dead on,” and that the constant liking and favorite-ing of social media doesn’t happen in real life. She also cites Kay, author of “The Confidence Code,” on “how dangerously pervasive she believes young women’s craving for approval is — and how social media doubles down on the problem.”
Remember, you’re not Mark Zuckerberg. “When Millennials look on Facebook, on any social media platform, they see that there are people their age who are changing the world by creating these very social media companies, making ridiculous amounts of money and having Wall Street on their beck and call,” Brzezinski explains. “But what they don’t seem to understand is that entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and the Twitter guys are wildly successful outliers. They’re not truly representative of the generation. For every Instagram there are thousands of start-ups that crash and burn before you blink. Not everyone can or even should be wearing a hoodie and launching an IPO.”
Don’t try to be friends with your boss. “Your boss doesn’t want to be friends with you,” Brzezinski declares. “Your boss wants to keep the boundaries intact. And actually those boundaries make your life easier and make your boss feel comfortable with you.”
Get the little things right, and the big things will come. Brzezinski gives entry-level employees this advice: “Take even getting coffee, getting lunch, running an errand as seriously as if you were dealing with the White House social secretary. These are your tests — these are your chances to prove yourself.” She offers the example of a young woman who started at NBC as a page, and who describes the experience like this: “One of the most important lessons I learned from Mika came from the first time I met her. . . . After telling me she was happy to have me on, she intently asked if I would be the one getting her coffee in the mornings and then followed up with a, ‘You better not f— it up!’ This was followed up by laughter around the room. Although partly joking, I was shaken up in a way that allowed me to understand the importance of the tasks ahead with clarity. Instead of being intimidated, I saw that as an opportunity to do well and gain Mika’s trust. . . . It allowed me to understand the importance of attention to detail.” Today, this young woman “is flourishing as a coordinating producer on the show,” Brzezinski writes with pride. “She has been given responsibilities that are far beyond her age, and I can honestly say that this is because she took that coffee order as seriously as if her life depended on it.” (FYI, if you’re ever in that situation, Mika likes Black Eye Misto, extra hot, extra foam.)
“Grow Your Value: Living and Working to Your Full Potential” was published by Weinstein Books on May 12. Brzezinski is hosting “Grow Your Value” events across the country, most recently in Washington, D.C., and coming in Chicago, Boston and Orlando in the fall. (The events feature a competition which women can pitch Brzezinski on why the deserve a bonus.)
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