One year in, here are 6 career skills I’ve put to good use

Unbelievable as it is to me, this week marks one year since I started contributing to FuelFix.  Prior to this column, I’ve published 64 others, and have received reader questions from thirteen countries, including Latvia, Kazakhstan, Kenya and Thailand.

It’s amazing really, far beyond the response I expected when I first pitched this idea to the FuelFix staff.

This project has helped me develop a lot of competencies that I feel are really important to a career anywhere, not just in the oil & gas industry.  To the extent that I get the feeling much of my audience is comprised of young professionals and the “career advice” articles I’ve written have been really well received, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in my year of keeping this blog.

Remember, the goal is to make this column as interactive as possible, so if you have questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line with comments or questions get through my website, LinkedIn, or through email.

Now, onto the list:

It never hurts to ask

A year ago, no one at the Chronicle solicited my contributions, or even knew who I was.  Rather, I saw a “gap” in the market in that no one was writing about energy issues and careers from a young professional’s perspective.  After realizing that, I found the name of the Chronicle’s business section editor and put together a “pitch” email with writing samples.

There was some back and forth after that, but long story short, a year later here I am!

Sure, I could have been turned down or been ignored, but as Wayne Gretzky said:  “You miss a hundred percent of the shots you never take”.

In fact, just the act of asking is a powerful negotiation strategy.  I took a course on just that topic when I was in business school and one of the professors, Gaylen Paulson, is well known for advocating just that strategy:

“Always ask for the things you want, even if you don’t think you can get them.” 

The author of the piece I linked to mentions that he gained $22,000 (!) just by asking.  While I can’t guarantee you that amount of money, the idea is sound:  whatever it is you would like, whether that be a raise at work, an upgrade for your flight, or a recommendation from a company Vice President, just ask (politely, of course!).

If you get a “yes”, make sure to hold up your end of the bargain

Let’s say you get that airline upgrade.  Are you going to let your newly acquired “status” go to your head, acting like a jerk to fellow travelers and airline staff?

Of course not.

You’ll recognize that someone has done you a favor, given you a nice opportunity, and you’ll pay it forward.

That’s how I felt when the FuelFix team granted me a username and password to the Voices blog:  they put their faith and trust in me, so I was going to show them that this wasn’t misplaced, by delivering high-quality articles, in a consistent and timely fashion.

You must do the same and understand that trust and a reputation for dependability are very hard to gain, but very easy to lose, so if you end up on one end of a deal as a professional, do your best to meet and exceed expectations!

Be flexible

When I first made my pitch, in my mind I was thinking I’d play the role of some young Tom Friedman or Paul Krugman, writing opinion pieces that would help elevate me to an oil & gas expert known the world-over.

It hasn’t worked out that way (yet)!

It turns out that finding good material to write about (even just once a week) is quite hard, but as I was brainstorming and researching ideas, I found that no one had covered, or was covering, “the basics” of a career in the oil & gas industry, things like how to enter the industry, how to secure an internship, and why attending business school is a good idea.

Those topics aren’t particularly glamorous, but I had a feeling there would be an interest in them.  I wrote about those topics, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, leading to interactions with readers the world over.  Actually, I estimate that even today, months after it was published, the piece on joining the oil & gas industry is behind 9 out of 10 reader emails.

This just illustrates that over the course of your career, you have to be flexible.  Having a plan to start out with is great as it gives you a general direction in which to aim, but stubbornly sticking to that plan is not always the best course of action:  do your best, gauge people’s reaction, and continue to refine your approach based on that feedback.

Be patient

You can probably tell from my above Paul Krugman comment that I was a little naive in my expectations when I first started out.  Nevertheless, a lack of immediate worldwide renown wasn’t going to prevent me from keeping my original commitment, which was simply to produce the best pieces of writing I could, once a week.

As you can imagine, it can be quite hard keeping that commitment, as I have my full-time job to balance (which, like this week when I’m traveling for meetings, can present me with some difficult schedules), and up until as recently as December I was also juggling a heavy course load.

Despite those challenges, I convinced myself that if I just did good, consistent work, then I would see results over time.

I’m grateful to say that that has been the case!

We all want to “run the show” on day one, but if you try to push too hard, too fast, you may find yourself being pushed backwards rather than propelled forward.

Do your best, be patient, and results will come to you eventually.

Be persistent

You may have gathered here that “patience” doesn’t just mean sitting on your hands waiting for opportunities to come.  Rather it means that you are constantly working towards your goal, but not letting yourself get discouraged if you don’t immediately start to collect the fruits of your labor.

Persistence is really important:  I’ve always said that I’m seldom the smartest in room, but I’m 100% certain that I’ll outwork and outlast anyone there.  That’s worked well for so far, so when you find yourself getting bogged down in a project, or discouraged as you enter the 10th hour of a problem set, remember that the ability to stick things out and finish strongly and consistently will set you apart.

After all, what’s the alternative?

Sure, you could quit, but then all your goals – an engineering degree, a promotion, a huge CEO salary 10 years from now, anything really – go out the window.

When you stop, your dreams stop!

See the future, and work backwards – big goals and dreams are the culminations of little ones

I’ve lived in Houston for the most part of my life, and have been reading the Chronicle f0r much of that time, so the better part of nearly 30 years.

Had you told me even a few years back that I’d have a chance to write for it, I’d have laughed politely, but probably not taken you seriously.

But in that time,  I achieved several very reachable goals, namely going back to grad school and volunteering heavily with the SPE.  Over time, those achievements helped me build a real skill set in oil & gas, as well as the confidence to reach for more, this column included.

Some examples of management literature state that it’s better to have smaller, more consistent “quick wins” than to hold out for “home runs”, so whatever your long terms goals are, work backwards to break them up into regular, short-term achievements to stay motivated.

In fact, going back to my thoughts on being flexible, setting these small goals allows you to react quickly to new information and events as they come up, rather than forcing you to put all your eggs in one basket and “double down” no matter what.

In summary

The short summary of this article sounds, I’ll admit, cliche:  set big goals, work hard, and occasionally take a chance.  Having said that, “saying” and “doing” are totally different things; many times the difference between success and failure is in the execution.

I’m going to spend my second year writing for FuelFix  working further on these skills.  If these habits aren’t yours yet, give them a shot, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve by putting even just a few of them into practice, and there’s never a better time to start than now.

Good luck!