University of South Carolina alumna Joanna Mueller is still in the early stages of her career, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been through more ups and downs than one might expect. She found a home in sustainable tourism at Peek, a company that helped others stay in business through the worst of the lockdowns. Now, as a business development representative for enterprise partnerships, she builds relationships and is eager to share the lessons she’s learned.
Mueller graduated in December 2019 with a B.S. in tourism management with a focus in meeting and event management. She had interned during school with Stone River (a West Columbia event venue) and with the Columbia Fireflies.
She was hired to do outbound sales for Cvent, an event management technology company, after earning a certification with them through a class in the UofSC College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management.
She applied and when called to interview shared her story of how she learned about Cvent from Professor Miyoung Jeong and earned their event certification. She believes that story was the key to getting the job.
“When you go to an interview, tell a relevant story,” Mueller says. “Interviewers love it when you tell a story. It really captures them and engages them.”
Chutes and ladders
After five months at Cvent, due to the state of the industry and COVID-19, Mueller was laid off and put into a huge pool of people trying to find a job.
“My journey was a lot like the board game Chutes and Ladders,” she says. “It’s completely okay. It’s normal. It happens, especially these past few years.”
Mueller found a job outside her field. She knew right away that she wanted to be back in the hospitality and tourism industry and kept looking despite the challenges of the pandemic.
While watching the U.N. World Tourism Organization virtual expo, she heard a speaker from Peek talk about how they were thriving despite the pandemic. They were helping businesses create a more sustainable platform and a more sustainable way to connect with their guests and customers.
That sparked her interest. She did further research on the company and applied and was hired in January 2021.
Peek is a fully remote company with the mission of connecting the world through (safe) experiences to create a sustainable and valuable business and improve the lives of its partners and customers
“Creating experiences is huge. Just going to an event doesn’t cut it anymore.” Mueller says. “You have to create an experience. It has to be immersive and interactive. COVID-19 has made things hard, especially for local businesses, but the fact that there was a technology provider there to help cover for them and help them figure out how to stay in business speaks volumes. That’s one of the reasons I love being at this company.”
Mueller adds that she has heard from Peek clients that they would not have been able to stay in business through 2020 without Peek’s help.
“I might have never made it to Peek if I hadn’t been laid off last year,” she says. “It was a blessing in disguise for me.”
Lessons learned while sliding and climbing
Mueller has learned even in her short time in the post-university world that things can change in the blink of an eye. She advises students to be aware that things are not permanent, and to be flexible and ready for the next challenge.
“I really do want to emphasize networking,” she says. “People in this industry know other people and I think a lot of times that’s why they’re very successful, so network your hearts out while you’re at the University of South Carolina and beyond.”
Mueller has taken time to speak to current UofSC students to help them with networking and shares her experiences as an alumna working in the tourism industry.
She also advises those currently job searching to do little things to improve their resumes and skill sets, and to be willing to think outside the box.
“A lot of people who are at my company now have no experience in technology or sales, but they do in tourism,” she says. “Don’t be scared to do something new. Just go for it.”
One of the last undergraduate classes Mueller took at UofSC was Sustainable Tourism Planning and Policy. She says it opened her eyes to a whole new world, learning not just about going green but about economic and cultural sustainability and environmental sustainability.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for UofSC and Professor Jeong,” she says.