The following excerpt was taken from “Earn It!: Know Your Value and Grow Your Career, in Your 20s and Beyond” by Mika Brzezinski and Daniela Pierre-Bravo. Order your copy HERE.
When you are comfortable in your skin and can articulate your ideas clearly, you should also be able to read your audience. Being in the moment, listening to what’s being said and responding thoughtfully, shows you have emotional intelligence. That you understand the complexities of the person you’re talking to— and know exactly what they’re looking for from you. You put your best foot forward by communicating why you are the best person for the job and how you fit into the equation.
This will come up again and again, whether it’s navigating a new environment, delivering an effective presentation, or negotiating at work. You must know and be able to read your audience. Are they nodding, and encouraging you to continue? Are they looking like they’re trying to get a word in edgewise? Do they look impatient, as if they want to switch the subject? If you’ve prepared in advance, you can remain calm enough in an interview to see the signals the interviewer is giving you, and pivot when the interviewer seems to want something more or different.
Being able to engage your audience is a life skill that will stay with you and make you an effective communicator in any situation.
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Cal Newport, associate professor at Georgetown University and author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, asks young people to think outside their personal concerns in interviews in a way that shows self-awareness. As you go through the interview, try to think about the following: What value am I offering to this job or organization? How useful am I? What are the things I could be doing that make me indispensable? What skills can I develop in this job to become even more valuable down the road.
Keeping in mind these two questions in particular can help you keep your conversation on track: “How can I benefit X organization? What can I learn here that will better my skills?” Use them as a framework to underscore your compatibility with the job, while also exploring the needs of your potential employer.
Demonstrating self-awareness is a strength that opened doors for Daniela early in her career: “When I was interviewing for internships and my first jobs, I always ended with ‘Is there anything that you didn’t find in my résumé that I can help answer?’ This ensured that if there were any hesitancy about my qualifications or experience, they said it out loud, and I had a chance to answer and leave the interview on a good note.”
Another trick Daniela used in her own interviews is some- thing I find very effective, too: adjusting your demeanor based on the person who’s interviewing you.
She remembers: “If it was someone in the news department, I knew to have at least five major news stories I’d been following in my back pocket, so that I could dish out common talking points whenever possible. In my interview with Saturday Night Live, I knew it was a laid-back culture, so I tried to be a little more relaxed in my demeanor and more conversational.
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“I’ve always found that mimicking the demeanor of the person interviewing you will help you resonate more: Are they speaking slowly or at a rapid pace? Loud or softly? Do they appear relaxed or more professional? I tried to be aware of my environment and use their cues to adjust my tone and movements as much as possible.”
This is knowing your audience and adjusting yourself to communicate effectively in a way that the person in front of you sees immediately.
From early on in her time at NBC, Daniela has interviewed hundreds of young people who go on to work for us, from interns to the NBC pages who rotate in and out of Morning Joe. Self- awareness is one of the big things she looks for in interviews.
“In order to be effective in all areas of the job, we need interns and entry-level assistants who have a strong sense of what they bring to the table, and how they fit into the ever-changing environment—whether they’re running around during the live show or adapting to the office hours afterward. They should have a sense of when to take charge of a situation and make decisions vs. when they just need to put their head down and do the work.”
As Daniela knows, it’s important for our interns and production assistants to grasp the urgency of their tasks and to be meticulous about how they complete them. She adds, “Whether it’s errand running, getting coffee, printing scripts, or running them to set for our show hosts, the assistants and interns need to be professional and to maintain a great attitude (because the worst thing is to have a grumpy intern greet our television guests at the crack of dawn, while the sun is rising ). With our early hours, it’s important to appear alert and approachable.”
Being able to function well as part of a group is also essential. Daniela asks the following questions to help evaluate prospective candidates:
“In a work group setting, what role are you most comfortable playing? What is the adjective you’d use to describe yourself when working in groups?”
The answer usually falls somewhere among the “leader,” some- one who calls the shots; someone who supports the leader (the person who’s head-down working to get something done); or the devil’s advocate of the group, who brings up ideas that seem out of the ordinary, or even contradictory, to make an end result stronger and more sustainable.
She explains, “I pay close attention to how they categorize themselves and why. It usually gives me a good idea of their experience working in groups, and whether they’re effective problem-solvers.”
Daniela is trying to evaluate whether the prospective candidate is self aware enough to know when to stay in his or her lane vs. when they need to take the initiative if need be. Both are important skills. Overall, the candidates who knock it out of the park are self- aware enough to know why the job is likely to be a good fit, and always have questions and answers prepared. They come looking as if they’re ready to do the job.
Another common question asked in interviews is “Why do you want this job?”
This one may sound pretty easy, but there are lots of different ways to answer it.
“One sure way to go unnoticed is by answering that question from the perspective of what the job can do for you,” Daniela explains. “For example, I have had tons of prospective candidates answer this way: ‘I want this job because I really like the fast pace of it all. I like not being at my desk. I prefer to run around. And being in a live studio environment seems like an amazing opportunity.’ ”
Before answering, stop and think about why anyone would ask you this. Yes, the interviewer does want to know that you’re enthusiastic about the job. However, even more important, they want to know what you can add to the job. This goes back to Cal Newport’s point about thinking from the company’s perspective.
Show that you are aware of the organization’s needs. What can YOU bring to the table?
If you fail to add that element to the answer, you may be losing out on a valuable opportunity to stand out.
Donny Deutsch, a regular on Morning Joe and chairman of the multibillion-dollar advertising agency Deutsch Inc. encourages anyone who is interviewing to bring what he has coined the “hungry eye.”
“It starts in the eyes. I’m looking for the person who’s looking to prove something beyond the job.”
Bring eagerness and fire to communicating why you are the right fit—but you also want to show that you can play well with others.
At the end of the day, Donny says, “I look for good human beings. I don’t get seduced by pure talent because there are enough people in the world that are wildly talented and also really decent human beings. That’s what makes a workplace work.”