Successful Alumni Offer Pointers on Washington Careers

GW students considering work in politics, government and journalism learn to be willing to start low but aim high.

Tim Miller (l), Gabby Morrongiello, Emily Jashinsky and Christine James, who moderated the Alumni Career Success panel at GW Alumni House. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
March 03, 2017

By B.L. Wilson

Austin Hansen, an economics and political science major and the outgoing president of College Republicans at the George Washington University, heard concerns from peers about getting jobs in the federal government after the recent hiring freeze imposed by President Donald Trump.

“It’s a really challenging time, so students may have to find jobs through consulting, [instead of looking] to the traditional routes,” Mr. Hansen said. “You have got to find innovative ways to find jobs.”

 So Mr. Hansen invited Christine James, a GW career exploration coach, to help set up and moderate an Alumni Career Success panel Monday evening at GW Alumni House for GW College Republicans. On the panel were Gabby Morrongiello, B.A. ’15, who covers the White House for the Washington Examiner; Tim Miller, B.A. ’04, who handles communications for the political consultant firm Definers Public Affairs; and Emily Jashinsky, B.A. ’15, who writes a column for the Washington Examiner.

“It’s been really cool to connect our membership to alumni that have been successful in their career paths in alternative and traditional ways,” Mr. Hansen said.

Shortly after graduating from GW, Ms. Morrongiello was assigned to cover then-candidate Trump when she started at the Washington Examiner. She expected to be on the beat a few weeks.

“My boss was like, ‘you are fresh out of college. You have never covered a presidential campaign before,’”  Ms. Morrongiello said. “‘I hope you don’t mind but we’re going to stick you on Donald Trump’s campaign. You don’t know what you’re doing. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.’”

Twenty-one months later, her new beat is at the White House covering President Trump.

“There are going to be so many times when you are not recognized for your hard work,” she told the students, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working hard every single day.”

The panelists agreed that Washington careers on Capitol Hill, at the White House, in journalism or related fields do not start—or end—as 9-to-5 jobs. The days are long, they said, and most often the first job will be a lowly position.

Mr. Miller has worked on the presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R). But he said he gained as much if not more experience working for second-tier congressional political campaigns.

There are clearly advantages to working for what he called “the hot, next up and comer,” he said.

“But the experience from doing a lower-tier race and being the man or the woman was actually awesome,” Mr. Miller continued. “I dealt with the candidate. I dealt with the pollster, the general consultant.  I never would have had exposure to those people if I had just been the low man on the totem poll on a big campaign. 

“I felt much better about losing campaigns I worked where I rode it out to the end and really gave it 110 percent rather than getting beaten down by the bad news,” Mr. Miller said.

Being on the winning side can feel heady after years of laboring in the shadows of Democratic administrations, according to Ms. Jashinsky, but she reminded students in the audience that there is a small pool of conservatives in D.C. so even now they may feel embattled.

“People here burn a lot of bridges. That’s a challenge that a lot of people in D.C. face,” she said. “They’ve talked so much trash at happy hours. It’s really tempting because we all think we are so important and have the hot scoop. Don’t do it. It will not serve you well.”

The panelists encouraged students to keep in mind that the relationships they are cultivating now help to form networks that will serve them the rest of their lives.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you met at a party,” Mr. Miller said.

“That’s not weird in politics or abnormal to have met someone you look up to or has a job that you hope you will have in five years and say, ‘Is there anybody you can introduce me to? Do you have any ideas for jobs?’ That’s totally acceptable to do.” 

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