By Briahnna Brown
The career path for Isabel Pellegrino, B.A. ’19, was never clear-cut.
The Phoenixville, Pa., native came to George Washington University with plans to use the creative skills her mother taught her to educate people and thought that journalism was the best way to accomplish that goal. Ms. Pellegrino did some arts reporting in Washington, D.C., and found an interest in telling stories about artists and innovators.
It was then that she realized she wanted to speak on behalf of these people to share their ideas with the world, and after talking to professors in the School of Media and Public Affairs, she made a switch to public relations. Ms. Pellegrino was a Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund (KACIF) grant recipient last summer for an internship with the Federal Communications Commission and a KACIF travel grant last fall with the National Endowment for the Arts. She further developed a passion for arts and tech innovation through these internships, which made the path to working at a public relations agency much clearer.
"I listened to the people around me, I sought out opportunities that sparked an interest in me, and I think that the pieces fell together,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “There was never a very specific clear-set plan, I think it was just picking up on the signals on where my interests and skills kind of merged and the areas I excelled and went from there."
Knowing that she was graduating in December, Ms. Pellegrino also took advantage of her fall break with a trip to New York through Career Quest, a program sponsored by the Center for Career Services that offers GW students the opportunity to visit and learn about companies in major cities. Ms. Pellegrino said she needed something to help her focus on what she actually wanted to do and how she could find a work environment that was focused on creativity, curiosity and learning.
“I was all over LinkedIn looking at people I admired trying to figure out what type of person I wanted to become and what company would allow me to become that type of person,” Ms. Pellegrino said.
On LinkedIn, she found a posting for a public relations internship with Edelman, a global communications firm, and reached out to the poster—who was a GW alumna—to request an informational interview. Ms. Pellegrino said she made a point in this request to express her interest in the internship and why she was interested. And after scheduling a call for the informational interview she made sure she understood, in detail, what the opportunity was and prepared questions to ask the interviewer, something she learned from Career Coach Amanda Rey.
After the informational interview, Ms. Pellegrino submitted her resume to Edelman’s human resources office. The interviewer told Ms. Pellegrino to notify her once she applied so that Ms. Pellegrino’s resume would not get lost in the mass of applications. Ms. Pellegrino heard back from human resources but never got a reply to her subsequent response about setting up an interview. She learned from her journalism studies the importance of following up, and said that if she never followed up with human resources then she may never have gotten a formal interview.
She had a phone interview with human resources and three different members of the Edelman team, and they asked her questions on a range of subject such as what things she liked, why she applied, what type of person she was and what she wanted to learn. Ms. Pellegrino started the internship in January, and said it was more like a “two-month-long interview” because she received a full-time job offer and is now an assistant account executive.
A value for learning and being able to take feedback and improve are important skills that she said propelled her to where she is today.
"I think looking back on it now I understand why they seek applicants who are eager to learn and are eager to take feedback because no matter how smart you are, no matter how prepared or whatever your internships offer you, you can never really know what you're walking into until you're there,” Ms. Pellegrino said.
It was hard for her to take on an internship after graduation, she said, and she was nervous because she was not sure if she was making the right decision. She thought about the New York location into consideration and what it offers for her life and career path. She also talked to people in the industry and learned that the conversion rate to full-time work is high in public relations. It became clear to her that this internship was the best place for her to start her life after college.
"It was very difficult, and there were a lot of moments where I was questioning what I was doing,and I had a lot of uncomfortable moments where I had to reach out to people and ask hard questions and ask myself difficult questions,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “You don't go to GW and take your next steps lightly, and I wanted to make sure whatever I did next lived up to this amazing education and opportunity that I had."
Her advice for those looking to work in media is to keep an open mind on what it means to be a media professional because the field is very fluid and learning from professionals in the media community was helpful at GW, she said. Applicants also need to be confident in what they can do, which was a hurdle she said she had to overcome or she never would have submitted any applications.
“No opportunity is going to come your way unless you pursue it,” Ms. Pellegrino said. “You have to work really hard and put yourself on the line if you want to move ah