Q&A with Patrick O’Keefe
The Gator Career Consultant Q&A Series aims to create a diverse collection of career experiences through highlighting University of Florida (UF) alumni.
Patrick O’Keefe graduated from UF in 2014 with a master’s degree in mass communication and is currently an adjunct lecturer for the political communications master’s degree program at UF. He is currently the director of customer success at Anedot, a financial technology company that helps nonprofit organizations collect donations. O’Keefe is responsible for managing the Success team to help Anedot customers get the most out of their efforts to drive fundraising and engagement.
The UF Career Connections Center spoke with O’Keefe on his experiences at the university and his career journey as a director of customer success.
How did you balance your full-time job and your time as a graduate student?
It varied depending on the semester. I think when you first get started, it’s very challenging. The university provided a lot of resources, and I was able to come through it. And then after that, I felt really good about it. Towards the end, it became a struggle again, but that was mostly because I was working a lot. If you have a 9-to-5 workday I think it works pretty well. If you’re working 80 hours a week, then it becomes a little more challenging. I did a lot of coursework on the weekends and in the evenings.
I think it was a huge leg up to be able to do that because if I had to take time off and not be able to have that full-time working experience, it would’ve hurt my career. It would have also hurt in terms of income. I was able to not take out as many loans because I was working full time, and I was able to pay off a lot of the degree.
It was really huge for me being able to do the degree the way the university positioned it because I have firsthand knowledge from the person who hired me that I got a promotion because I was doing the degree. I got to move from sales into more of a consulting role because of that. It was a huge jump for my career both in terms of advancement and in terms of salary.
What were you involved in as a student?
I did my undergraduate at Florida International University, and I was very involved. I was in Student Government, I was Student Body President when I was there and I was involved in a fraternity.
I always encourage everybody to get involved because I think that was a huge learning experience for me, just in terms of maturity and meeting people. A lot of the people I’m still friends with to this day. There’s a lot of advantages to that.
Now I’m in Daytona, I think the cool thing about UF was that I felt a strong connection despite being online and not being on campus. Beach and I’m looking at the local Gator club here, which I really didn’t know a lot about until recently when other alumni mentioned it. It’s been helpful to be able to connect in that way.
What advice do you have to students who are not on campus and might have to build connections virtually?
The key is to take advantage of the resources you have and really put yourself out there. There are usually Facebook groups for the colleges and there are alumni groups local to your area. Take advantage of all those big names on LinkedIn. If you do meet an alum, see who their second connections are. See who went to UF and lives in the area and reach out to them.
I think a lot of what you need to do is make yourself valuable in a lot of ways. If you reach out to somebody and say, “Hey, I really respect you. I’d love to get to know you because I like the path you’ve taken. Is there an opportunity to volunteer with you, or is there somebody else I should meet?” Most people are not going to say no. Most people are at least going to have the courtesy to say, “Hey, I’ll take a call. Hey, I’ll meet with you. Hey, talk to this person.” When I think of networking, I think of, “How am I going to reach out to people that I respect? How can I get them to help me? How can I be useful to them potentially?” I think most people think that it needs to be like a formal internship, which can be really hard with COVID, where a lot of companies don’t have these formal paid internships. But if you reach out to them and say, “Hey, can I volunteer with you five hours a week?” I think most people would be fine with that and let you shadow them.
Did you always know you wanted to hold the job you have at the moment?
Not exactly. It’s kind of been a meandering path. I always had an interest in politics. I really thought I wanted to work on Capitol Hill, and then I went to D.C., did an internship on Capitol Hill, and really didn’t like it. I went into business and found I actually didn’t love sales, but I was fairly good at it. Then I moved into marketing. I did digital marketing a lot. I sort of used my interest in politics and my interest in digital marketing and brought them together.
I definitely didn’t always know. I tried a bunch of things out. I found a couple of things I liked, and then I found the cross-section between a couple of the things I liked.
What are two things that you would tell students to do now to prepare for their future?
It’s all networking. When you’re in college, get involved, whether that be in student government, a fraternity, a sorority or a club. Whatever that is you’re passionate about.
Also, connect to your professors. I found some of my professors had amazing networks. Especially in the political field. Even though they may not have done it, they had friends who were consultants or people that connected with them, and they did things on an academic level. They worked with the people who were doing on the practice level when they were writing the report.
I think building those connections and really exposing yourself to a bunch of different types of opportunities is really important. Talk to people who are more senior level, who have the jobs that you think you want one day. Talk to them about their paths because everyone has a different path, but they can give you some good steps.
I think the other piece of advice I would give is don’t lose hope. A lot of people come out of college, and they can’t get an entry-level job in the field they want. They think they are not cut out for this.
Go get the job you can get and go spend five or 10 hours a week volunteering with the company or organization that you’re really interested in. If you don’t have the experience now, look at the job description and say, “What do I need to do to get that experience?” Even if it’s not paid.
With today’s technology, you can go and Google anything and learn how to do nearly everything. Use LinkedIn and use Google to their full potential because if you hustle, you really can make it in any field.
Want to share your experience with other Gators? The Career Connections Center is recruiting Gator Career Consultants.