Tips for Young Women Entering the Industry - An Experienced Engineer's Perspective

When I was asked recently how women choose the companies for which they work, I responded that women choose employers in a similar fashion as men do: they look at the compensation package, the scope of the job, the opportunities for upward mobility, and whether the company has a good reputation in the industry. Often, they also look around to see if there are women executives and women in highly placed technical positions, who have been well regarded by the company over their careers.

I spoke recently to a group of students at an SPE student chapter meeting on making the transition from academia to corporate life. They had great questions about how to get started on the right foot. Most of them already had completed more than one summer internship during their college careers, and most already had accepted their starting job offers. They were thinking beyond the starting salary and sign-on bonus, benefit package, and educational assistance for graduate degrees. They were looking at the work/life balance programs, technical training, leadership development, mentoring programs, health and wellness programs, and opportunities for dual-career couples.

Students were comparing different companies’ career-development programs designed to accelerate time to competency. They discussed how performance expectations are set and how often the plans are reviewed by the employee with their supervisor. They compared the location of their first assignment but may not have realized that in the oil and gas business, it is highly unlikely that an engineer will work an entire career without being transferred to another location. Students reviewed the financial results and operational strengths of various companies, as well as company records of safety, environmental performance, and social responsibility.

Build and Maintain Relationships

Building relationships throughout the college years should be an important goal for every student, second only to maintaining good grades. A student can start by becoming involved on campus in organizations that give the student an opportunity to develop leadership skills. It is also good to build relationships with employees from various companies during SPE meetings, interview visits, or internships, so that the student’s impression of the company’s culture isn’t completely dependent on the recruiter who comes to campus. I urge freshmen to interview as many times as possible and to continue that habit during their college careers so that they can form business relationships with several engineers at more than one company.

If students are able to get an internship after their freshmen summer, I recommend that they intern with different employers during their summers to get a variety of perspectives on corporate culture. They will form friendships with fellow interns during each summer from a variety of universities, and they will get to know employees at more than one company.

Maintaining relationships with fellow alumni and professors after graduation also is important. Engineers from different companies work together in SPE committees, reconnect at industry meetings, and often collaborate when their companies form partnerships.

Build a Good Reputation

A new engineer should start building a good reputation within the industry by demonstrating high ethical standards in partnerships, showing strong moral character, and by contributing more than her share of work in technical meetings. Practicing new skills, learning from others, and being prepared for assignments will help an engineer develop her talent.

Once an engineer finds a job about which she is passionate, she should look for opportunities for the next assignment within the company that continues to fuel that passion. She will be more successful in an assignment where she looks forward to coming to work every day. An engineer should take responsibility and be accountable for her work, and she also should learn how to demonstrate good teamwork skills.

Treat Others With Respect and Trust

Having the courage of one’s convictions is important, and it is also important to know how to focus one’s effort on what is important. To get a good start on a professional career, always treat others with respect and trust.


Susan Howes is Horizons Program Manager in the Organizational Capability group of Chevron. Horizons is a 5-year, developmental technical-training program that supplements new hires’ on-the-job experiences. Susan previously was Learning and Organizational Development Manager at Anadarko. She has a BS degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas, is the Gulf Coast Regional Director on the SPE International Board, and has served as Chairperson of the Gulf Coast Section Board. Susan received the 1997 SPE Young Member Outstanding Service Award, the 2003 SPE International Distinguished Member Award, and the 2005 SPE International Distinguished Service Award. She is currently Chairperson of the SPE Monograph Committee and mentor to the SPE Young Professionals Coordinating Committee. Susan recently served as Cochairperson of the 2008 SPE Colloquium on Petroleum Engineering Education. She was selected to serve as Chevron Women’s Network Vice President in March 2008.



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