Oil and Gas Jobs Advice By An Energy Industry Recruiter

In Houston, a lot of people express the wish to break into the energy industry but without industry connections or experience, this is no easy feat. To get oil and gas jobs advice from someone who knows the energy industry very well, I interviewed Dan Clark. Dan is the Managing Partner at EnergyHeadhunter, a firm specializing in executive search for the energy industry. My questions to Dan are bolded.

Oil & Gas Jobs
As a career coach, the most common question I get about the energy sector is, “How do I break into the energy industry without any experience or connections?” As a recruiter, what is your response to that?

First of all, you don’t “break into” an industry. You acquire a position within a company and then you develop a personal brand and then you develop a position in the industry.

The way you get your foot in the door is to have something to offer. Stop saying, “I’m interested in…” I don’t mean to be harsh but people don’t care about what you are interested in…they care about what you can do for them.

Also, job seekers need to realize that no one pays recruiters to source for entry level positions. If you are entry-level, don’t waste your time with recruiters; there are much better strategies than trying to find a recruiter to help you.

Good point, and I am glad you are making it because a lot of job seekers don’t realize that recruiters work for organizations seeking talent rather than individuals seeking jobs. Here’s another question for you: Job seekers are often told to network but they don’t know where to begin. Are there professional organizations that are good ways to meet energy sector professionals?

Honestly, think about the perspective of a person already employed in the energy industry. You’ve worked 12 hours and you are tired. At the end of a long day, are you really interested in meeting someone new, who has nothing to offer you?

It is better to meet people by contributing something. Be willing to accept any entry level job that builds your skills, and if you can’t get an entry level or temp job, do volunteer work. The important thing is to build your skills every day and focus on how you can help people rather than on how they can help you.

What job search advice would you give a friend or acquaintance who asked you about the oil and gas industry?

When you send your resume to a recruiter, make sure you “cut and paste” your resume into the body of the email. If you want to attach it as well, that is fine, but if you want to be found also cut and paste.

I wish people would stop saying they are an “energy professional” because it makes me roll my eyes. After all, no one admits to being an “energy amateur.”

On your resume, get to the facts. Get rid of fluffy claims. Superior performers don’t have to call themselves “superior”- they demonstrate their superiority through their accomplishments. You have to get real skills. If you don’t have real skills, you need to be making coffee at Starbucks to earn money part time while you get some real skills.

You may have to go back to school.

Once you have skills, explore what companies are looking for people with your skills. You have to get your foot in the door…there are no bad jobs.

With most jobs, they already know who they want to hire, before they put the position on a jobs board. They list the position for legal and compliance reasons, but they already know and they usually want someone who is known to them. So most of the time people spend on job boards is a total and complete waste of time.

Job boards give recruiters a place to send people when they can’t help them.

You are much more likely to make a real contact via your church, shared political interests, the schools your children attend, the places you hang out, and through friendships based on common interests.

People who have an active social life with 2-3 groups rarely remain unemployed for long. My company does research about job seekers and we consistently find this to be true.

I know a lot of people advocate connecting through social media but I’m not so keen on that. People rarely respond to LinkedIn “InMails” because LinkedIn is focused too much on revenue producing goals and they flood users’ inboxes. Facebook is not popular with the youngest generation and Google+ is a ghost town. We are on all the sites. We may use a site for an introduction to someone we already know has the skills we are seeking, but we don’t look at candidates because they approach us on social media. There is a big difference.

(Note from VocationVillage.com: This advice seems industry-specific as recruiters from other industries express much more enthusiasm about social media as a recruitment tool.)

Please say more about how to connect with people in the energy industry.

You are more likely to help someone you know in person than someone you only vaguely know via social media. So let’s take an example.

Let me tell you about someone I know well. She’s a Rice University grad who majored in anthropology (not exactly oil and gas material). She managed to land an incredibly boring job as a temp categorizing items in an inventory system for an energy company. She did the boring job with efficiency and enthusiasm. She exhibited skills in technology, writing, and analysis (assimilating information and knowing which slot in which to put information).

She timed coffee breaks so she could talk to select people. She learned who people were by looking at company photos. A VP was walking through the office one day and most employees didn’t even know who he was. A bunch of the employees were lounging around with their feet up on the desks. She knew who the VP was and she addressed him by name. She had a personal business card and she gave him one. A different day, the President of the company was visiting and couldn’t find a meeting room. She walked him there and made sure he knew her name. She developed a good reputation and she was hired full-time, then promoted several times. Now she runs a department…she understands the value of “face time.”

Nice. I know some readers will wonder how she even landed that initial boring entry level job.

Well, in the energy industry, companies get a thousand resumes per week. There is no way humans can read that many, so computers do the work for us. Everything is keyword driven.

Internships are unbelievably valuable because it gives you an opportunity to build some skills that map to those keywords.

Every day, ask, “How can I improve my skills?”

With a fast Internet connection, you can learn anything.

OK, so far we have mainly focused on entry level career development. What if someone has a lot of professional experience in an industry different than oil and gas? What advice do you have for experienced professionals who want to transition into the energy sector?

If you have lots of successful experience in another industry, then you will have to get someone at a company to believe your skills are both significant and desirable for their company; then they may take a chance on you. Bringing people in from another industry is risky — attrition is high, and sometimes career changers bring bad habits tolerated in other settings. In any event, you will have to get an insider of serious standing in the company to believe in you.

Let me share a story with you. My firm received an email from a man who was a farmer, and he shared in the email that he had a lot of supervisory experience because of the different farm animals that “reported to him” — three goats, six cows, twelve chickens, and three dogs; he was ready for a new challenge. His material didn’t include even one keyword we normally look for in a communication. The email was laced with sly humor and playful wording that I really enjoyed. At the very bottom of the email, he mentioned that he worked for the government for three years and that he had a Ph.D. in Math and a Masters in Chemistry from a top 100 school whose name begins with an H (name withheld to protect the guilty school) and finally, could we as “headhunters” help him? To make a very long story a little shorter, it turns out he was a Harvard guy with breathtaking intellect, who had worked for the CIA in cryptology, and who hated government work. We placed him with an independent oil and gas company and he set up a trading/financial engineering group for them. You can change industries, but you will need a champion in a company to believe in you and your skills, and it really helps if you are exceptionally talented.

Great story. Any other final words of wisdom?

Get to know people socially. I can’t stress that enough.

There are no bad jobs! Your first job in the industry may be boring but do it well and show your value. Even as a temp, prove you are special.

Finally, get a separate telephone number that you only use for the job search. That way, when it rings, you know it is job-related, and don’t answer the phone when you are drunk. It happens a lot more than you might think.

People answer the phone when they are drunk?

Yes, all the time. Here’s another tip: When you take a business call, make sure you are somewhere that your cell phone gets decent reception. If you are in a place with poor reception, let the call go to voice mail and call back later.

Dan, I know my readers will appreciate that busy as you are, you took the time to do this interview. Thank you!

Dan Clark Energy RecruiterDan Clark is an energy recruiter at EnergyHeadhunter. The firm specializes in the power, natural gas, refined products, and crude oil business. He can be found on social media on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.

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  1. Thank you for your useful, candid insights into this seemingly difficult sector to enter into. Most recently we have been working hard to get O&G employers on-campus to help our Oil & Gas Management students to understand how to make a smoother transition into the sector beyond the classroom.

  2. Dan-I worked in HR for a couple of energy companies and can say that you have spoken accurately and clearly about the realities of this particular job market. You must have a social/networking connection to get to talk to a potential hiring authority.

    In addition you must be able to articulate your potential “value add” both in print and in person. If you don’t understand the buyer’s needs and sell to them you will not get the job.

  3. Great realistic tips of how to get into a tough industry, I think a lot of job seekers today don’t fully realize what it takes to get a position. Companies and recruiters especially are looking for the best with demonstrated skill sets.

  4. Alex Mwaura says:

    I appreciate the great advises from that wise man. I am a guard undertaking Nebosh courses in safety with an aim of getting into the oil$ gas Industry

  5. I worked in the Oil and Gas industry for 10 years.

    I had a good Beng(Hons) degree in electronic engineering and entered the industry via a (mismanaged) graduate recruitment program.

    The recent fall in crude oil price and the industry “knee jerk” over reaction of cut cut cut has pretty much left me destitute, everything I worked for over the past ten years will effectively end up in the hands of the bank very shortly.

    There is a huge amount of nepotism inherent in the industry and often it is who you know rather than what you know that makes the difference, especially under the current circumstances.

    I am an advanced engineer with a wide range of industry specific competencies under my belt, but didn’t like to socialise much, I liked to do a good job and go home to my family at the end of the day.

    So where has all this led me?

    My degree is now worthless, I am unable to change industry as I have been in Oil and Gas for too long and the scant jobs that are out there are all being taken by “friends networks”. I may manage to get some piecemeal work fixing problems that “friends networks” create, but that won’t be enough to stop foreclosure on my home where I had invested all my savings.

    My advice to new graduates would be to go into government science based positions and at a later date you will be able to branch out as a consultant over a wide range of industries.

    The Oil and Gas industry is not to be trusted and will drop you in heartbeat despite your skills abilities and proven track record as soon as their profit margin is threatened.

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