Process, Pandemic, and Pivots

By Andrea Rodriguez

Andrea Rodriguez graduated from the University of Florida in the spring of 2019 with a Master of International Business, a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Marketing, and a Minor in Innovation. Her career has taken her all throughout Florida, from a Marketing & Sales Intern at Visit Orlando to a Marketing Manager at Topgolf in Miami. During her time on the UF campus, Rodriguez served as an Innovation Academy Ambassador, President of LEAD by IA, Secretary for IRHA’S Beaty Towers, and received the Director’s Award at the 2018 IA Summit.

When I graduated from my master’s degree in May of 2019, I thought success was an upward slope and guaranteed:

2017: Work as a Marketing Intern for Florida Hospitals

2018: Graduate with bachelor’s degree and work as a Marketing Intern for Visit Orlando

2019: Graduate from the UF Master of International Business program

Boy, was I wrong?

The Job Hunt is a Process, Not a Race

For 5 years, I would watch peer after peer announce their post-graduation job months before graduating. It seemed normal and expected to have something secured before walking the stage. So, upon entering my final semester as a student at UF, I knew it was go-time.

Mistake #1: I applied to everything with the word “sales” or “marketing” in the description.

Mistake #2: I took the first job offer I received and stopped looking.

In just 5 months, I would begin my journey as a Technical Recruiter for a consulting company in Miami, Florida. This aligns with my aforementioned experiences, right?... Definitely not. However, in my eyes I saw good money, a great company culture, and most importantly, a secure job with months left before graduating.

Little did I know that after three months of working with them I would feel exhausted, depressed, and wanting something different. So, I left.

Better and Greener Pastures

Starting from zero again, I gathered everything that the University of Florida taught me about networking and put it to the test, but this time, the right way. I immediately called my graduate program advisor, connected with alumni in similar positions I wanted, sent cold emails, and applied only to jobs that pulled at my heart strings. I remember getting tense about explaining my situation to everyone until one alumnus I spoke to working at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines

told me to relax – and that all I needed to say is that I am looking for “better and greener pastures.” I’m not sure what it was about that phrase that gave me a sense of confidence, but it worked.

Student Experiences Matter

I began getting second and third interviews with a company called Topgolf – an international “eatertainment” company. Instinctively, I gave them my elevator pitch and ran them through my internship and work accomplishments and while they were impressed, they actually wanted to hear more about my leadership skills.

Surprised by the comment – I continued with what I was comfortable with – the Innovation Academy. The main resource that the IA program offered me was a platform to become a recognized leader in what felt like a small community at a large institution with over 50,00 students.

Here are some of actual things I said about IA in my interview that helped me land the job:

Topgolf was looking for a leader who can manage a team of young professionals

- As the President of an IA professional development organization at UF, LEAD by IA, I chose to lead as a mentor. It was always important for me to understand how each individual on my team works best and what their long-term goals were to help them reach success.

Topgolf was looking for someone who was experienced with grassroots marketing

- As an Ambassador for the Innovation Academy, I spoke to hundreds of students and parents about the program who were looking for help on their college decisions. Presenting and informing an audience is something for which I trained, I enjoy, and have experience with.

Topgolf was looking for a fluent Spanish-Speaker

Typically, this is just a yes or no question, but I had proof: As a student, I helped the Assistant Director of IA translate the website into Spanish. This simultaneously proved I knew Spanish and had great work ethic.

Tip: Don’t downplay your student accomplishments after graduation – especially if they relate to the job description!

A Dream Job

In my first week at Topgolf, I was flown out to headquarters in Dallas, Texas for a week-long training. With all the information being thrown at me, I felt like I was drinking water out of a fire hydrant. I felt a sense of panic and excitement at once on the flight back home for my first week on the job.

I was a one-woman-marketing-band. I was tasked with hiring a team of 15 brand ambassadors, managing my own budget (which I had never done before), and growing the brand in the entire South Florida region. It was easily the hardest thing I ever did as I had to teach myself all of it. I’d work late hours and come in on weekends, but I loved every minute of it. In only a month my hard work paid off – we doubled year-over-year ticket sales, I surpassed company email-lead goals and was well on my way towards my first bonus until COVID-19 happened.

The Effects of a Pandemic

As the effects of the pandemic rippled through the country, all Topgolf properties began to shut down as the executive team assured that management was going to be taken care of. At first, I was calm – I knew I had done my best thus far and worked even harder by submitting upcoming quarter plans considering the pandemic. But then, we received an invite for a call the next day – we were being furloughed. They assured us that we would be back in no time. Two weeks later – all Marketing Managers, including myself, were laid off in a 5-minute zoom call. Individual performance didn’t matter – money did.

There I was again, for the second time within a year without a job.

Pivots

Luckily, this time I had a backup plan: Three months before being laid off, I had decided to start my own Amazon business.

The Innovation Academy taught me the pros and cons of entrepreneurship and I knew that having another stream of income was something I wanted for the long-term. Amazon was the #1 e-commerce site in the world so it was an easy decision for me – I would sell private label items on the web!

But the funny thing is that the product I decided to sell – a phone holder for economy flights – targeted travelers, which was also shut down by COVID-19. I recognized that while travel was at an all-time low, TikTok videos were on the rise, so I re-marketed the phone holder to a phone stand which could be used to take pictures and videos on. It was also more affordable than a typical tripod, so I went for it.

After shifting marketing messages and optimizing my product listing – I tripled my monthly revenue.

Now, while I continue to search for a full-time job, I am consulting new Amazon Sellers to help them successfully launch their own businesses.

Looking Back

Looking back on my experiences, I am at peace with my decisions and know that my moment will come. The University of Florida’s Innovation Academy was pivotal in helping me develop my creativity and leadership skills like none other. When they reached out to me about this

Trailblazer nomination, I was instantly honored, then confused because I felt as though my story was not worthy of an accolade.

However, my story does show how I’ve rolled with the punches. My only hope is that those reading this will learn that it’s okay if things don’t go as planned – it’s about the lessons you take away from it and how you adapt that matter.

Andrea’s website is hulaonline.com where you can find a link to buy directly on Amazon and also a How-To video. Readers can use a code for $2 off for purchase: INNOVATE2. Feel free to connect with Andrea on LinkedIn and Instagram to follow her updates.