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Image of the author, Robert Martinez Unprecedented.

Robert Martinez, Titan Rock Exploration & Production
27 April 2020

Post is part of Professional Pride section of content

That’s the word that keeps being thrown around this month. “We are living in unprecedented times in our industry.” For the first time in recorded history, we had negative oil prices. The old-timers in the ‘86 bust can no longer use that as the benchmark for how bad it’s gotten. 2020 just said, “Hold my (insert your drink here). Watch this.” 

Our industry has done a remarkable job of producing oil and gas from places and formations no one ever dreamed of 25 years ago. Engineers, in the words of one of my old mentors, “you’re too good for your own damned good.”  

Those of us who have broken out in the industry during a bust (Class of 1998, here) have had the same question that recent graduates, current students, and new free agents are now asking themselves, “Will I find a job?”

The answer to that is “yes.” It may not be behind a desk. It may involve some blood, sweat, and tears, but if you want a seat at the table, you will have to earn it. It may be a longer, more perilous route than you originally planned, but if you want it bad enough, you will find it. I am living proof of that, having been laid off within months of my first job out of college in the Amazon jungle, then getting a CDL and driving a crane unit for a service company. Somehow, I learned how to swing a big hammer, didn’t kill anyone, and kept all my fingers intact. 

Everyone’s situation is different. Some have a mortgage and children to support. Others don’t want to MIRU (move-in, rig up) back at our parent’s house with a freshly minted diploma. But for those of us that find ourselves in the job hunt, here are the five questions I have personally asked myself that have served me well when considering a new position. I’ve found that if one of these facets is not right, it magnifies the difficulties in the other four. 

•    What will your day to day look like?

This question is generally aimed at your primary job function. Could you see this as something you would enjoy, or could this be a necessary step to help you obtain the position you would like in the future? Often it will involve getting your hands dirty or working very long hours. Can you see yourself coming into this type of environment every morning? If you’re like me, you may get bored quickly, so you should also ask yourself: Are there additional responsibilities I can gain, transferrable skills I can learn, and areas for potential advancement?

•    Who will you be working for directly?

If that person has a reputation for being an unfair or unreasonable person, run. While one bad apple shouldn't spoil the bunch, others will undoubtedly be asking him or her how the new hire is fitting in. It would also be wise to use your network to learn about the company culture. One of my old VP’s once told me, “Robert, your boss has to like you.” Even though my performance on the job made him look good, I was never going to win that battle.

•    Where is the position located?

We all would like an office overlooking the blue ocean in paradise, but for some odd reason, oil and gas companies never seem to set up shop there. Many of you already know the answer to where you would like to work. Either in a high rise in a happening part of a metropolitan area, or in the country where you can spend your free time on a lake or ranch, or in suburbia where you can run home to coach youth soccer or baseball. Your career path may take you through each of these places, so it is best to have a clear vision of the setting which best suits you.

•    What are the upward mobility opportunities? 

It can be difficult to project this, especially in light of the current oil price environment. It can help to ask around to learn about the company and its employees. SPE Connect’s Member Directory and LinkedIn are great tools for this. I have learned that good companies tend to attract smart and talented people. More often, those people will make wise decisions, and if you are good at what you do, they will be able to identify you and advance your career. At the end of the day, if you take care of your business and effectively network, opportunities will present themselves. Usually, when you least expect it. One of my promotions took place over the phone, during a time when many people in my company were being laid off. At the start of the call, I expected to be one of the day's casualties, and by the end was a newly minted manager.

•    What does it pay?

Compensation is usually a sensitive topic and rightfully so. That being said, for me, it is last in this list of five. The market isn’t very clear on this right now, but I can assure your value to an employer it doesn’t proportionally track oil and gas prices. Study the market research. Get in contact with recruiters and ask questions. Use the SPE Salary survey as a guide. Understand that sometimes you must be willing to take a slight step backward to take two steps forward. Don’t let them take advantage of you. I interviewed for a COO position a few years ago when the CEO told me, “If oil is down 50%, so should a petroleum engineer’s salary." My response was, “If you want to build an A-team to take this company to the next level, why would you rob me of a tool (compensation) to be able to compete for the best and brightest people?” Within one minute of his response, I had made my decision. “I appreciate the time, but I will never be able to work for your company with that philosophy on people.” I would have never succeeded there. Since then, that company has been a revolving door. When dealing with potential employers, be respectful, do your homework, and don’t sell yourself short. You’ve worked too hard for too long to settle for less than you are worth.  

Petroleum engineers will be called upon once again to solve the problems facing the industry, and we need to be ready. Engineers solve big problems and build big things, and it is time to solve this current industry problem and re-build it. It’s on us to raise our hand when we are asked to design or execute a project that doesn’t make sense. Engineering requires we work within our constraints and the two key components of economics and ethics.

I leave you with one of my guiding principles, which has served me well in times of the greatest uncertainty. It is best summarized in the Stockdale Paradox.

You must retain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of difficulties, and at the same time have the discipline to confront and conquer the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.
Admiral Jim Stockdale

As Dr. Tom Blasingame, a tenured professor at Texas A&M University and our 2021 SPE President, once told me in his well testing undergraduate class, “Just remember, diamonds are made under pressure.”

Robert C. Martinez is President and CEO of Titan Rock Exploration & Production.  He originally joined SPE during his student days at Texas A&M University, and has been a member continuously since 2006.







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