Careers in Government: A Conversation with Alumna Lisette Carbajal

Last month, UVA alumna Lisette Carbajal participated in our State & Local Government Alumni Drop-Ins to speak with students and answer their questions. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Foreign Affairs with a concentration in Latin America in 2013. Since graduating, Lisette has had an extensive career in both the public and private sector. In these drop-ins, we had a chance to hear about her life after college, differences between the private and public sector, and advice for students.

Life After Graduation

For college students, leaving the bubble on Grounds where you are surrounded predominately by peers can mean there is some adjustment needed as you find your place in your new post-graduation world. For example, once you are off-Grounds and working, there are shifting expenses, responsibilities, and priorities that may be different to those you had as a student. Lisette highlighted to us that the balancing of these changing responsibilities can take a while and advises, “Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t try to have your whole life figured out so quickly” as every person has their own path to follow after college.

Lisette herself states that she did not take the “traditional” path of a full-time job after graduating. Instead, she chose to work a temporary job with a gubernatorial campaign for six months. However, she does not see this as a disadvantage, saying “Sometimes what is the non-traditional path opens more opportunities to you.” 

After her graduation, Lisette worked under former Governor Terry McAuliffe after interning for Senator Tim Kaine’s 2012 campaign and the Virginia House of Delegates. When asked about how she got appointed to Governor McAuliffe’s administration, she emphasized the importance of maintaining relationships with those she worked with in her previous jobs. She was consistently staying connected with her former colleagues and others in state government.

Lisette pursued her master’s degree in public policy while working under Governor McAuliffe. Virginia Tech has a satellite campus in Richmond, Virginia, which allowed her to pursue this degree as she worked full-time. She felt the two-to-three-year gap between her bachelor’s and master’s was a positive, especially working in the field of public policy. She noticed that people who earned their master’s right out of college lacked the legislative experience and political understanding that are often learned by work experience. Knowing how to write and advocate to those outside of the academic sphere was a skill she learned on the job and was then able to bring into the classroom in her master’s program.

Private versus Public Sector Work

Currently, Lisette is a government affairs professional for a Fortune 100 company. She serves as the company’s government relations liaison in several states. When describing the difference between working on policy for a private company and the governor’s office, she stated that they can be more similar than one would expect. In either job, you are working towards advancing a respective agenda. She said a majority of the difference lies in the policy areas she was exposed to in each of the different roles.

Advice to Students

At the end of the interview, Lisette offered salient advice for those looking to get started in this career path: “Relationship building is important because you never know whose path you may cross with down the road. Being authentic and honest about your authenticity throughout your career shows that you genuinely care about your work and others. People will respect and value that.” 

Get started on following your passion and building your network by connecting with Lisette and other alumni on LinkedIn or Virginia Alumni Mentoring today!