Commentary: Five pieces of advice to help you join the oil & gas industry

Well, this week I’ve left the cold climates of Moscow for something a little warmer, and I find myself in Singapore.  It’s been an exhausting two week trip, but what an opportunity, and it’s one of only several great upsides that make up for all the hard work!

Last week I wrote a piece prompted by a reader who wanted some advice on how to choose between the multiple job offers he had received from companies in the oil & gas industry.  The response was overwhelming to say the least:  tons of LinkedIn requests and emails, so thanks very much everyone for that great feedback!

Hands down the question I received the most from people was “Ok, I’m convinced, I want to work in oil & gas but don’t have any experience or know where to start, can you please help me out?”.

That ties in really nicely with not only the piece I wrote last week, but also one I wrote a few months giving a few pointers on what to do after you’ve accepted an offer.

I suppose you could say I’m working backwards, and today and I’ll address the first part in the process of getting your foot in the door, accepting an offer, and then getting down to work as a Young Professional in oil & gas (the last two of which are covered in the links above).

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

Now here are the 5 things to do in order to break into oil & gas!

Your cover letter and resume must be “perfect”.  This is the absolute bare minimum, and applies to any industry.  I have “perfect” in quotes because I’m only referring to the things one can objectively measure and evaluate:  consistent punctuation and spelling, clear layout, and well-formulated writing.

There are TONS of guides online on how to write both of these documents, and there is never one “right” way to do these:  it’s up to you to mix-and-match to find something that works for you.  You can find my resume as an example on, and make sure once you’ve done yours that you ask several people to look it over!

Just remember this:  in oil & gas, poor decisions can cost vast sums of money, and in the worst case maybe even cost people their lives.  If you can’t pay attention to details on something basic like a resume, how can you be trusted with some of these decisions?

The content in those documents must be in some way related to oil & gas.  You’ve heard the saying “talk is cheap”?  Well, that applies to your job search also.  Clearly, there are many people who see the positives of working in oil & gas, but how many are willing to back that up and actually DO something that proves their enthusiasm for the industry?  Why should an oil & gas company choose one person over another if they’re both equally inexperienced and don’t have any demonstrated passion for the business?

I was actually talking to a friend of mine recently who works for an energy-focused law firm, and his words to me were (paraphrased):  “we get so many people wanting to work here, but if you majored in philosophy and music before coming to law school, what sets you apart from the other candidates who also want to work here without any prior knowledge about oil & gas?  We just want to see something, a class or a position with a professional organization that proves they know about the industry and can work within it.”

Still, this doesn’t mean that your past experience is meaningless.  Since you can’t change your past jobs and training, you should tie your past successes into the position you’re applying for in oil & gas.  For instance, if you worked in the space industry before and played a role in improving health, safety and environment performance, emphasize that these are important to you and you can apply your knowledge in your desired role as an engineer designing oil tools (your cover letter to employers is the most obvious place you want to demonstrate that “mapping” of past work to your desired position in oil & gas).

In order to gain those initial qualifications, YOU have to take the initiative.  Ideally, a company would hire you and train you, but as you’ve all noticed it’s tough out there:  even though the industry needs people, it doesn’t want to start completely from scratch.

That applies for both technical and non-technical roles.  Say you’re an accountant wanting to break into oil & gas; there are some very specific rules that this industry has to follow, and understanding those rules does involve having an understanding of oilfield terminology and maybe even some basic understanding of reservoir engineering.  A great way for you to stand out would be to learn that on your own time.

For those of you with engineering backgrounds unrelated to oil & gas and no field experience, you could perhaps pay your way through offshore HUET training, or maybe take a community college class on oilfield operations.  Some universities also offer certificate programs for those looking to do coursework without the full commitment of an extra degree.

The advantages to doing such classes yourself are twofold:  first, you’re taking your own initiative to get trained (so you can tangibly show your motivation) and a lot of companies tap those programs directly for graduates, so you have a direct line to employers in oil & gas.

If you want to be even more adventurous, field service companies are a great way to get an accelerated lesson in oilfield operations.  Regular readers of this column will know that while I pursued engineering in university, my first job after graduation was in IT consulting.  I started out in oil & gas by making the leap to Schlumberger***.

Arguably, life is harder in some ways with a service company than with an operator.  The hours in the field are longer, the pay usually isn’t as good at the entry-levels, and turnover can be quite high simply because the work is very demanding.  Honestly though, that’s why I had more luck getting offers from service companies when I was trying to join the oil & gas industry:  they know their turnover will be high, so they just want to hire smart, eager people they can train (provided there’s a solid base of generally technical knowledge/skills already there).  My short time at Schlumberger was exhausting, intense, and demanding, but it’s exactly for those reasons that I am where I am today, and I can tie directly everything I’ve done the past six years or so back to taking a “leap of faith” to that service company.

Regardless of what type of position you’re seeking, DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING.  Sometimes, the difference between getting the job or not is having someone that will “champion” you within the company.  Their help may involve convincing the hiring manager you’d be the best fit for the job, or just doing something as simple as walking your resume over to HR as opposed to having you submit it via the internet (aka “the black hole”).

No matter how small the favor, no one will do this for you unless you’ve made a positive, personal connection with them.  This is why regardless your area of expertise, I would definitely suggest finding a local chapter of an oilfield related organization (SPE, AADE, CAPPA…there are many!), and getting involved.

Attend the lunch meetings, conferences and training courses they organize, and you’ll always meet friendly people.  Every time I go to one of these events, there’s always someone looking to switch jobs, or find a job, and every time, without fail, someone says: “here’s my card, give me a call and we can talk about it more”.  Plus, the more you go, the more you’ll learn, the more connections you’ll make, and the more your enthusiasm will show.

If you’re trying to join make a career change into the industry without experience, understand that you will not make it overnight.  You have to think of this as a process similar to applying to university, where you spent time building an application which basically amounts to you making your case as to why you should be let in.  Building your case to work in oil & gas by becoming involved in industry-related activities and getting the right training takes time!

Going back to my comment that “talk is cheap”, only those who make that long-term commitment to re-invent themselves will have a chance to earn the position they seek to attain.

I can’t guarantee anything, but I can say for sure that as with so many things, the more you dedicate yourself to the tasks laid out above, the more success you’ll have in attaining your goal.

Work hard, make some great contacts, and pace yourself:  you’re in this for the long haul.

Good luck!


***I’m mentioning that one specifically since I worked there, but remember that there are many other excellent service companies you could consider (Halliburton, Baker-Hughes, NOV, just to name a few).