Commentary: So many job offers in oil & gas…how do you choose just one?

Hello from Russia!  This week, I’m coming to you from Moscow, beautiful even despite the cold and wet weather.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  if you want to travel the world and see some amazing places, oil & gas is a great industry in which to make a career.

Here’s another great thing about being in oil & gas:  if you work hard and acquire the right skills, there won’t be any shortage of work for you!  In fact, this week’s column was prompted by a question I received from another Young Professional, who’s in a position many would envy given the current, national employment situation…

Remember, if you also have a question, please drop me a line, either through my website, LinkedIn, or email.  If the answer ends up turning into something substantial, I’ll post it (with your permission) so that others can benefit as well.

I’ll turn it over now to the fortunate job seeker:

“As you probably know, now is the time many companies come to university campuses all over the US recruiting for full time and internship positions for next year. Prospective employers all come to campuses full of enthusiasm and free food, telling students they only hire the best and the brightest and we would all be lucky to work for them. Ideally students will have some offers in hand at the end of it all, but my question is how can we truly differentiate all these companies when their pitches are all the same?

I was wondering if you could shed some light on key indicators one should pay attention to in evaluating the fit of a company to a person with an offer? In other words, if a student is lucky enough to have multiple offers, are there certain things that describe a company’s growth, financial stability, opportunities for new hires, etc that may not come up in an interview or info session, but could be found on a quarterly report or elsewhere that would indicate a company has great opportunities for new hires to jump in on challenging and rewarding projects?

Conversely, are there other indicators that should warn someone with an offer that the company may be in stasis or in a precarious condition?”

Congratulations on being at this point, though I’m not surprised that someone with your experience/education (wireline engineer, graduating soon with a Master’s in petroleum engineering) would be in a position of having to consider multiple offers!

As far as my thoughts on the matter of choosing a company, there are a few things I can suggest you consider (bearing in mind that I don’t know anything from your message about the companies making the offers).

In terms of project pipelines and the financial health of a company, I would check out a website called Seeking Alpha.  That website is a community of people who write analyses on all types of companies, oil & gas included.  You have to be a little discerning, since anyone can write anything, but I’ve found that it’s a great trove of insights that would otherwise be very hard to find.

The site also provides transcripts of quarterly conference calls, so you can hear directly from the companies how they’re doing.  In that way the community provides some nice contrast:  the “official” line from the company, and then the fact checking/analysis by way of the user generated content.

If you haven’t already, you should also check out Glass Door.  This is a site where people can anonymously leave info on companies about things like salary and the pros and cons of their jobs; think of it as a “Yelp” for professionals.  Again, you have to exercise some good judgment, since usually the angriest people are the ones most motivated to give their input, but it’s nevertheless another good set of data for you to consider.

It may sound obvious, but don’t overlook the company info sessions/interviews as opportunities to dig deeper.  From your email, it sounds like you’re afraid that you end up with a lot of “boilerplate” from both, but in your position, YOU have the leverage!  Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions, and if you feel that you’re not getting a straight answer, make a note of it and try to investigate further through other means, such as…

Searching your school’s alumni database and talking to people who work/have worked for your potential employer.  As long as you talk to them outside of office hours via non-work email and phone, most people will give you the courtesy of being honest with you (and you can definitely state the position you’re in and ask for honesty upfront).  They can tell you about the company culture, what type of career progression you can expect, and what type of work you’ll be doing as a newcomer to the organization.

I would also give some thought to what type of company you want to work for.  “Big vs. small” is really important, and each has its pluses and minuses.  If you like defined processes and want to stay focused on a certain area, a big company would be great for that. However, if you want to “wear many hats” and don’t require/don’t want a set training program or career progression, you could consider a small operator, though bear in mind that the opportunities for advancement and options to work in different roles and geographies may not be as great.

If you go small, remember that the smaller you go, the more risk you bear.  So, if a start up operator with just a few assets really needs someone and they’re saying “this will be huge, trust me”, then you should be compensated more for taking a risk and the fact that in reality, that company may not actually be around for the long term.

You should also consider location.  Personally, I have no problems traveling anywhere, but for various reasons I want to keep calling Houston “home”.  If you want to stay in one place, a big multinational may not be the thing for you, since turning down a move can oftentimes be detrimental to your career.

Increasingly, many people (myself included) want to work for companies that practice good corporate stewardship.  What is the company’s reputation in the industry and the public at large?  Do your potential employers sponsor a lot of events in the community? Do they encourage their employees to get involved in outside activities?  For instance, one of the great perks of my job is that I’m allowed the freedom to participate in a TON of Society of Petroleum Engineering activities.

And now money…anyone that says money isn’t important is lying, or they already have plenty of it themselves.  If companies can look primarily to dollars as a measure of success and growth, then you are also entitled to go after every cent you think you can justify through your work.

Personally I make no secret of the fact that I worked really, really hard going to school while working not for fun, but to build a certain skill set.  To the extent that my skill set allows me to do several different functions and I have proved that I do add to the bottom line through efficiency and timely completion of projects, my expectation is that I will be compensated fairly for that.

I believe that every Young Professional (or professional generally) should expect the same.

Having said that, there is always a tradeoff: if one company is offering to pay you twice as much as another, will you also be expected to work twice the hours? Is that something that you’re prepared to do? Is the office environment incredibly competitive?  Those are really important questions you have to know the answer to before you accept an offer!

One last piece of advice I can give you is:  trust your “gut”. On one hand, I hate saying that because it’s such a “soft” piece of advice, but on the other hand I can tell you that when faced with similar big decisions, after considering all of the variables, I usually end up in a position where one choice just “feels” better than the others.

Honestly, that’s really the point you want to end up at, because if you just make a choice based purely on a list of pros and cons but without any real enthusiasm for the position, I can pretty much guarantee you’ll start looking for something else sooner than later.

Hope that helps, and good luck on the start of the rest of your career!