When Colleen Connolly, Lindsay Knight and Rex Willis graduated from Virginia Tech, none of them ever predicted their degrees would lead them to the frontlines of Washington, D.C., media.
Then again, the three of them would argue that they aren’t exactly on the frontlines of media — though their television-worthy office building in downtown Arlington would suggest otherwise. The three Hokies work behind-the-scenes on the business side of POLITICO, a corporation responsible for bringing political news from Washington, D.C., to readers, listeners and viewers the world over. They also know, however, that the Arlington-based media giant, as with all media organizations, could not operate without jobs like theirs.
“A misconception is the only way in which to interact with media is to be a reporter or to be a writer, but we are working in a media organization in kind of a different way, unique way,” Knight, an account manager who works with POLITICO’s congressional clients, said. “We’re not breaking the news, but we’re providing access to policy influencers all around the world.” Studying political science made Knight interested in politics and policy, and she also knew that she liked cultivating relationships with people, so she considers her job at POLITICO to be a perfect blend of her interests. “I have the opportunity to interact with members and staffers on the Hill,” she said. “(It’s) humbling in that I had just a little bit of a part in ... helping people do their job better.”
Willis, whose name current Hokies may recognize — he served as Student Government Association president from 2017 to 2018 — also found himself seeking a role upon graduating that would combine his interest in policy with a passion for people. Serving as SGA president forced him to relate and communicate to different kinds of people, and it also showed him how policies could directly affect the people he knows. He works now as an assistant account manager.
“Coming here right out of college ... to a place with a well-respected name like POLITICO, I was definitely intimidated,” he admitted. “But everyone here, regardless of what team you’re on, is very collaborative and very excited to share what they’re doing and learn more about what other people do, just because we’re all working for the same purpose.”
Connolly also has fond memories of her time at Virginia Tech, where she spent a year as president of her sorority chapter, but her path to POLITICO was slightly less smooth. She graduated right into the economic recession of 2008, and she found herself taking the first sales job that would have her. That job, along with her second, was “very male heavy,” she remembers. “I felt my gender every time I walked in that building.”
Now, Connolly works as a managing director of audience solutions, managing a team that works with POLITICO’s potential advertisers, and she appreciates that POLITICO places a great deal of emphasis on diversity and inclusion. “It’s really cool and inspiring to see the woman reporters who have to be bullish in what they do, who are approaching some of the most powerful people in the world and asking really tough questions,” she said. “I love being able to work in a place where ... it kind of gives me the license to be powerful and strong and say what I want in meetings, because I see females in media doing the same thing.”
All three Hokies echoed the same excitement for their careers, but they also noted the bittersweetness of graduating and leaving college life behind. “When you’re in college, and you get the leadership position or do something great in class, it’s easy to get recognized and applauded by a lot of people,” Willis said. “And then you come to work, and … they’re like, ‘Okay, it’s your job.’”
Still, none of them miss the stress of trying to make huge decisions after graduating, and they also offered the comforting perspective to current students that things will indeed work out. “There’s so much pressure because you feel like everyone has a job,” Knight said. “Don’t compare yourself too much to everyone else … Even if you take a few weird turns and you’re not exactly like ... the person next to you, it doesn’t mean you’re doing the wrong thing, just your own thing.”
“Everyone’s timeline for success is different,” Willis agreed. Seeing other people’s flashy social media posts, he added, can be hard, but “that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is not cool.”
For students who already know they might want to work in media, Connolly had words of encouragement, too. “Journalism is never going to go away,” she said. “There is always going to be some type of role for media. If you are willing and ready to be agile and go with the flow and be open to starting in one position and ending up in another, this is a great industry to be in.” And it’s one that she, Knight and Willis don’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.