Economist's Corner

Planning Your Career Path: Is There a Magic Formula to Career Success in Oil and Gas?

Given my experience in the recruitment and oil and gas industries, people often ask me about career progression. Often, the assumption is that jumping from company to company is the most rewarding and lucrative path. My response has been that this is not usually the case: There are certainly times where a change will progress you further and faster, but too much movement can become a liability on your résumé that will take years to correct.

According to the Global Salary Guide 2015 by Hays Oil and Gas, 25.6% of the 45,000 survey respondents indicated they had worked for their current company for 3–5 years, and 16.3% for 6 years or more. As a rule of thumb, employers like to see signs of commitment and deep skill development, which typically means staying in a job for 5 years or more.

There is no clear-cut path that will guarantee a more successful career or one that pays more. Your worth is really determined by what value you bring to the role.

Contract Worker: Enjoy the Flexibility

Traditionally, contractors command a higher rate per unit hour or project as the employer does not have to pay the same overhead as a full-time worker, and benefits from having greater workforce flexibility. Choosing specific contracts can help you develop your expertise, creating demand for your skill set based on your specialty area. For example, niche expertise can help you demand competitive pay rates, particularly in areas where there are skills shortages. However, before committing to this path, there are a few things to consider to ensure your career progresses in a manner and at a rate that is going to help you achieve your career goals.

If your objective is to become a subject matter expert, then taking many contracts may be the right path for you. Contracts can provide you with the flexibility to choose exactly what you want to work on, including the location and duration. The trick is to ensure you are choosing contracts based not solely on salary, but that you are creating an asset which you can monetize in the future.

“For a younger person, I think contracting is going to expose you to a much broader range of experiences and potentially make you more valuable to future employers,” says Robert Frow, asset project manager, currently on assignment at a global exploration and production company. Frow has more than 40 years’ experience working in the industry and has spent most of his career on contract project assignments. Frow started with a full-time role as a piping designer and has steadily grown a successful career in project management. Whether it is working on a particular project with a new technology or for a target organization, Frow recommends having a plan of knowing what skills and experiences you need to add value to your résumé and to continue to keep your expertise in demand. Depending on your goals, and if the opportunities are available, aim to select contracts that can help you develop your skills alongside changing market needs, employers’ demands, and industry trends and developments.

Of course, this is often easier said than done due to changes in the industry’s skill requirements as well as economic cycles. The one rule that always applies is to leave each assignment with a positive recommendation, as this industry is small and your reputation for delivering on your promises is your key asset.

Tenure: Be Rewarded for Loyalty

Another option is working full time for a company over a long period. Tenure can carry a certain amount of prestige and potentially open up opportunities for career advancement and financial gain.

Julian (Jay) B. Haskell, president and chief executive officer of Absolute Completion Technologies, has more than 30 years of domestic and international experience. Haskell has built his industry career with more than 25 years’ experience at Schlumberger, where he held numerous management and technical positions. This provided him with a solid base of business management skills that he still uses while contributing to the successful and continued growth of Absolute.

Haskell believes that “working for the large companies first is the best training environment, and is key to obtaining a solid foundation in the industry.” Although the career path is usually well established, a variety of career options can be found that will assist you in developing a wide range of experiences.

Large companies often provide the opportunity to work on international assignments. This provides exposure to a variety of cultures and logistical challenges. The experience can be valuable in personal development and provide insight in becoming a leader. Haskell recommends evaluating your standing and advancement after 5 years, and if you find yourself not progressing at the pace you had intended to, then contemplate making a change.

Working for a small to mid-size company, Haskell believes, will provide better exposure to more areas of the organization, which diversifies your skills and expertise. He strongly feels that it is very important to work in cross disciplines in order to understand the big picture. However, should you choose to focus on a specific discipline, this could lead you to becoming a subject matter expert.

Increasing tenure can also lead to increasing benefits. Vacation days, share options, and retirement benefits can be tied to how long you have worked with the business, as can bonuses and perks. Training and professional development are often available only to full-time workers.

It is important to note that the grass is not always greener on the other side. A 2012 survey by Future Workplace (http://futureworkplace.com/wp-content/uploads/MultipleGenAtWork_infographic.pdf) found that it has been more common for Generation Y workers (also known as millennials) to leave a company after a shorter period of time. However, it is important to make sure that you are leaving for the right reasons. Ask yourself whether you have exhausted all the avenues with your current employer. Have a candid conversation with your boss about what your options are based on your career goals and what you have to do to get to where you want to be. Switching jobs can be risky as you could weaken your résumé if you switch too often. The next role might not be the right fit or could make you vulnerable during industry downturns.

The expectation should not be that the perfect role will fall into your lap, as sometimes you have to prove yourself before attaining the job you want. If regular change and variety is important to you, look for opportunities that offer workplace flexibility, project-based work, or organizations that have sites nationally or globally. If you have itchy feet, these types of companies may have more opportunities for you to explore.

Job Hopping: Find Your Niche

There is a growing belief, especially among younger generations, that having experience working for multiple employers is beneficial. Generation Y, in particular, has a reputation of job hopping—joining a company on a permanent basis, only to leave within 1–2 years (Future Workplace 2012 survey finding). The idea is that this can help expedite your salary increments and increase your knowledge base. While this may be true, this may also generate a negative stigma of not being loyal or committed to any one company.

Landing a new job at a different company can mean an instant salary boost, but it is not guaranteed, particularly when you take the additional risk into account. For example, a job with added responsibility or more demanding work usually comes with a higher salary, but lateral moves rarely provide a significant increase except in times of great demand. If looking to make a move, make sure to target positions in a company with the right cultural fit, which will develop your skills, provide a new challenge, and offer an opportunity for learning, as this is more likely to advance your career in the long term.

The benefits of working for multiple organizations are the different perspectives and holistic view you can develop of the industry. This is also a great way to explore different discipline areas before narrowing in on what you want to do long term. Spending time with a variety of teams can also give you an insight into different company cultures and which is best suited to your working style and preferences.

Whichever path you choose, great salary increases are not often automatically handed out. You will have to prove your worth by bringing the right skills, and attitude, to the table. The most important thing you can do to advance your career is to deliver on your promises and make sure that each employer regrets to see you leave.


John Faraguna is president of Hays Americas, and global managing director of Hays Oil and Gas. Previously, he has served as president of Xansa North America at Steria UK Corporate. Faraguna joined Xansa in November 2002 from Halliburton, where he served as the president of Grand Basin. He has also held several US-based executive positions with Top Tier Software, Baker Hughes, Arthur Andersen Consulting, and Western Atlas. Faraguna holds a BS in geology and geophysics from Yale University, an MS in geology from the University of Houston, and an MBA from Stanford University.


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