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Hey all you cool cats and kittens - my name is Alaina Dahlquist and I’m a current student in the Legislative Affairs program. I’m a 2015 graduate of Stonehill College where I majored in Political Science and minored in Public Administration and Public Policy. 

Like I’m sure is the case for many of you, my interest in policy and politics was born out of taking AP Government in high school – my first in-depth exposure to the functioning of our great system. While in undergrad, I had the privilege of studying in Washington, DC for a semester where I took classes at American University and interned on Capitol Hill. My passion for the industry, and now the city, was confirmed. 

After receiving my undergraduate degree, I moved to DC within two days. I began my career as a Government Relations Assistant at the National Federation of Independent Business, where I aided the Government Relations team in advancing pro-small business policy on behalf of the association’s membership. A couple years later, I joined the bipartisan lobbying firm Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen and Thomas as a Legislative Assistant. In this role, I supported four Republican Principals and Partners on technology, tax, energy, and appropriations work for various clients. 

Currently I am a Government Relations Associate at the Pew Charitable Trusts where I work on a large portfolio of government performance policy issues including student loan reform, civil and criminal justice, state and local government fiscal health, retirement savings, and consumer finance. I also help manage relationships in our Government Relations partnership portfolio, which teams up with various organizations in order to promote Pew’s work and research. 

Last summer is when I became serious about returning to school for an advanced degree. After researching various schools and programs, GSPM became the clear choice for me. The school provided the opportunity to learn from skilled professors with distinguished careers and an ideal night-time class schedule for working professionals. The Legislative Affairs Program, in particular, offered a uniquely tailored opportunity unlike anything else offered in the city. 

Although I have had experience working at a trade association, a lobbying firm, and now a nonprofit, I felt the one thing holding me back from advancing in my field was a lack of time spent on Capitol Hill. GSPM has been an excellent academic supplement. My professors have had decades of experience on and off the Hill and classes such as Congressional Committees, Executive-Legislative Relations, and Legislative Politics have provided me with knowledge and skills that I use daily in my job.

Not only was I excited for the academic opportunities provided by GSPM, but I also sought to be as involved outside the classroom as possible. I successfully ran for a Senate seat in the GSPM Student Association and was elected last fall. After hearing about the GSPM Student Ambassador program, I was really interested in an opportunity to talk about my journey thus far in GSPM and provide advice in successfully balancing being a student and working professional. It’s certainly a fulfilling experience to speak to prospective students and I look forward to continuing being a resource throughout my time at GSPM.

A final note - As I’m writing this, the world is truly going through an unprecedented time. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s daily life. For those people (including myself) that are studying and working, it has been especially disruptive. 

I wanted to provide a few pieces of advice that have helped me in my transition:

  • Establish a routine and practice good time management. 
  • Keep your sleep schedule on track.
  • Exercise! I take some time every day during lunch to practice yoga.
  • Get some fresh air.
  • Stay connected to your friends and family virtually.
  • Read (for fun). This can often be difficult to do when having to read for class weekly, but I made this part of my routine by replacing one hour of TV every night with reading.
  • Don’t forget to take care of your mental health! I have found meditation vital in managing my anxiety and stress.

Naturally, there is a lot of stress in our country about people keeping their jobs and wondering if organizations are still hiring.  Already during the COVID-19 global health crisis, I’ve heard from employers who are still hiring and from others who are laying people off.

Should you continue looking for a job during the crisis?

Yes, of course, you should continue your job search during the COVID-19 health crisis. People tend to be a little more friendly and approachable during tough times. Fortunately, you can use several technology tools to aid in your job search.  Some tips to consider:

  1. Spring Cleanse - Make sure to review your Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts.  Present your most “professional self”
  2. Professional Email Address – I still see students who use “cutesy” email addresses. Those will not impress potential employers. If you must, use “cutesy” email addresses for friends. For employers, make sure your name is clear within the email. You don’t want to miss out on an interview either because the employer is unimpressed with your crazy email address or they can’t remember your name to contact you.
  3. Update your resume/cover letter - I see a lot of what I call “lazy” resumes and cover letters. By that, I mean that some job candidates tend to send out the “same-old, same-old” resume/cover letter for each opening. Back in the day, people had to sit down and type each and every resume/cover letter on a typewriter. I know, “Hey Boomer!"  Now, technology is your friend. You should have several different resumes/cover letters for the different targets you are going after.
  4. Skype and FaceTime are your friends during COVID-19 – The natural tendency is to do nothing during a crisis. While you may not be able to meet with potential employers for job interviews or informational interviews during the crisis, you can suggest Skype/FaceTime, phone and email exchanges. Reach out to people and ask for help.
  5. Linkedin – I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face … if you don’t have a Linkedin presence, employers may think you don’t exist. You should have at least 500 connections because employers are looking at that. I know, I know, there are exceptions – if you’ve been stalked and/or work in intelligence, you may be prevented from having a Linkedin presence. Those folks are in the minority. Don’t use it as an excuse if you don’t “fit the bill”.
  6. Keep Going – There is a thin line between success and failure. Don’t give up! Do whatever you have to do to try to maintain your mental and physical health during this trying period. Remember that your professors, friends, family, and university staff are with you during these hard times. Good luck!

Margaret “Mag” Gottlieb is the Career Director at the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University. Connect with Mag on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/margaret-gottlieb-1457753/ or contact via email: mag@gwu.edu

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