Mika Brzezinski: 7 Tips for College Women Entering the Workforce

Mika Brzezinski laid out a career roadmap for young women on Wednesday during a keynote address at the annual Women’s History Month Luncheon hosted by the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware.

By Julianne Pepitone

As founder of Know Your Value, Mika Brzezinski has doled out a lot of career advice to women. And she summed it all up Wednesday during a speech to college students preparing to enter the workforce.

Brzezinski, who is also the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” gave the keynote address during the annual Women’s History Month Luncheon hosted by the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware.

“Let’s get you guys where you want to go, maybe a little more smoothly, maybe with a little more insight and context and understanding, so that maybe you can find the fulfillment of it earlier” Brzezinski said at the virtual event.”

Other guests of the Biden Institute — a non-partisan public forum founded in 2017 by then-Vice President Joe Biden to give students at his alma mater a place to discuss politics, public policy and public service — also shared their single best piece of advice they wish they’d received as students.

Here are the seven pieces of advice Brzezinski shared with the Delaware students:

Know your value.

It’s always Brzezinski’s No. 1 tip for women of all ages, and she explained that knowing your value isn’t just about confidence, but also about how to present yourself. “It’s kind of a way of life,” she said.

“When you know your value, when you’re in a job interview or a negotiation or your first or second or third big meeting at work, there isn’t this panic of, ‘oh no, I have the lights on me!’” Brzezinski added. “When you’ve planned for what it looks like to know your value, that [permeates] to your posture, to your countenance, to the message you are sending.”

Practice speaking with confidence.

“Get that voice under control,” Brzezinski said. “Your voice is the most important tool in these meetings, because your voice is the last thing to go and the first thing to reveal a problem.”

By that, Brzezinski meant nerves show in a person’s voice: If someone hasn’t prepared enough or is stressed out, it is obvious when they speak. She acknowledged that she gets a lot of practice these days co-hosting “Morning Joe” as well as speaking frequently at events, but students and other up-and-comers don’t need a formal venue to do this work. Volunteer to do a reading at church, give a presentation at a school club, recite a poem on a street corner or invite friends over to practice as a group.

“When you sit there and physically speak, you can feel how hard it is actually to get it all right,” Brzezinski said. “But you then learn that you can mess up and move on and recover. You want to learn these things in situations where the stakes are not as high, and push yourself so you’re ready once they are high.”

Find your voice.

Brzezinski was talking about voice in the figurative sense: “You have to learn how to tell people about yourself.” Don’t assume that because something is on your resume, it’s known or understood, she explained. It’s up to you to weave that narrative and express your passion, and she said even 21 and 22 year olds should have their elevator pitch down.

“Even if you’re just starting out, you can identify what qualities you have right now that would make you really useful when you are in the room,” Brzezinski said, adding later that this is also helpful for later in your career. “I actually thought for a long time somebody would say, ‘Oh wow, you’re doing such an amazing job, we’re going to promote you.’ And it doesn’t work like that — you’ve got to be able to say it.”

Seek respect first, not friendship.

Young women in particular may feel that the workplace is a popularity contest, with those who make the most friends becoming the winners. But that thinking is completely backward, Brzezinski said.

“Chatting it up with people and getting to know people on a friendly level is not building trust,” Brzezinski said. “What builds trust is your work. What builds trust is your ability to be there for people at work in a professional way. It shows that you’re actually valuable.”

Once that respect is built, friendship can certainly follow. But when the foundation of respect isn’t there, it can become a problem, particularly in inherently uncomfortable conversations like salary negotiations.

Don’t fear career pauses.

They’re not only OK — they can be great for your career. Brzezinski shared that she was devastated when she was fired from her role as a weekend correspondent at CBS News in 2006. She was out of work for a year before landing a part-time job at MSNBC. Eventually a few hours in morning coverage opened up, and it was an opportunity that would become “Morning Joe.”

“I went from 40 years old thinking my career was completely over, to starting the most amazing job of my lifetime,” Brzezinski said. “That pause in my life was incredibly powerful for me because when I started working again, I never appreciated a job more.”

Learn to press reset.

Brzezinski has since pressed the reset button “many times” in her career, but in the days after her firing from CBS, she felt like she had a neon sign reading “FIRED” on her forehead. The truth, however, is that no one is thinking of us as much as we believe they are, she noted. Bad times will happen in every career — a lackluster interview, a project that didn’t go so well, a flub during a presentation — but what matters is what you do next. Men tend to be good at this reset, Brzezinski said, and she wants to see women do the same.

“People don’t have a lot of time to remember everything and they don’t want to,” Brzezinski said. “They know that what they see right in front of them is really working for them, so give them that. You can change the feeling of a room, and the way you conduct yourself, so own that power.”

Pace yourself.

Brzezinski didn’t. And that’s why she knows the importance of this final piece of advice.

After an unpaid maternity leave with her second daughter, Brzezinski had come back to work anchoring overnights at CBS News, and was pushing herself far too much . As she detailed in the introduction of her book “All Things At Once,” she was beyond exhausted at the end of her weeks at CBS. One Friday she was at the top of the stairs holding her fou-month-old and talking to her babysitter when it suddenly felt like she was sleepwalking. The pair crashed down a full flight of stairs, and her baby broke her femur.

“I remember kind of peeling down the hospital wall to the floor with my face on the granite crying, thinking I have just done this because I thought I had to go back to work and I couldn’t believe how stupid I was,” Brzezinski said. “Take out a loan, be broke, downsize, take the time you need when things come up, because nothing will give it back to you.”

Overall, it’s important to pace yourself, Brzezinski stressed.

“You’ve got a long runway,” she said. “I was 30 and I envisioned my career had maybe 10 years left to it. And that was the worst mistake of my life, hands down.”

11 quick tips from 11 other powerful women:

The Biden Institute’s event Wednesday also included time for students to meet with just under a dozen women in positions of power in Delaware and beyond. Each of them shared their best tip for young women about to embark on their careers.

Susan Bunting, Delaware Secretary of Education: “A line of poetry from Maya Angelou: ‘Nobody, but nobody / Can make it out here alone.’”

Sara Crawford, Head Designer and Creative Director at Anara Original: “Do not be afraid of the unknown. We’re so eager to figure out what’s going to happen next that we can easily talk ourselves out of things.”

Joan Coker, physician at Christiana Care and member of the Board of Trustees at University of Delaware: “don’t let your talent take you where your character can’t keep you.”

Kathleen Jennings, Delaware’s Attorney General: “Hear what your heart is telling you and listen to it.”

Carolyn Morgan, board member of the Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence: “From [political activist] Angela Davis, a different answer to the Serenity Prayer: ‘I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things that I cannot accept.’”

Amanda Nguyen, CEO and founder of Rise Inc.: “It’s OK to have a lot of different interests. We are multitudes.”

Janice Sears, member of Board of Directors at Invitation Homes: “Even if you’re scared, take whatever stretch role or promotion or that comes your way. A lot of us have impostor syndrome and you have to defeat that.”

Jasmine Smith, Senior Associate Chemist at The Chemours Company: “Extend yourself some grace and have faith in your journey. You’re all more than capable of achieving beyond your wildest dreams.”

Rachel Vogelstein, Director of the Women & Foreign Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations: “Make integrity your North Star.”

Kristin Wingard, former Senior Vice President of Worldwide Public Affairs at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts: “Be the person everybody wants on their team: someone who works hard and goes above and beyond, who can handle the responsibility, who is humble in victory but gracious in defeat.”

Sarah Wootten, Policy Director of the Delaware House Majority Caucus: “Be eager to learn, but don’t be a pushover. Build that spreadsheet and do that research project, but don’t be the one that offers to grab everyone coffee every time.”


Image: Miller Hawkins