Written By: Chris Quinn
While finding a job in the oil and gas industry is your primary goal, choosing the job that fits your personal and professional goals is very important. There are several factors that a budding young professional should consider when looking for a job, such as a company’s management style, size, breadth of resource variety, and types of job responsibilities and engineering challenges offered. Before we begin to analyze these different factors, let us assume that the companies we are considering are in good economic standing. It is generally unwise to consider working for a company that may not even be in business in the near future.
The first important thing to consider when looking for a job is whether you want to work for an independent or an integrated oil and gas company (national oil companies will not be considered in this article). Integrated oil companies are vertically integrated with operations in upstream (exploration and production), midstream (transportation of hydrocarbons), and downstream (refining and marketing).
Some of the world’s largest integrated producers are known as “majors” or “supermajors” due to their large size and high dollar value on the public market. Working for a major oil company has many benefits, such as opportunities to travel domestically and internationally, new-hire rotation programs to help you gain experience in all of the major disciplines of petroleum engineering, added job security in times of industry downturn, and training and development programs for employees. The ability to change jobs or work in different areas of specialty without leaving the organization is also a major advantage of working for a major oil company. Many of these benefits also apply to other large companies that do not belong in the category of major or supermajor.
Working for an independent oil and gas company has many of the same advantages as working for a major or supermajor, though they have very different business strategies. Most independent companies have a different focus, such as a regional specialty or a focus on certain resource types, like shales. Majors, on the other hand, have strategies that focus on expanding their presence throughout every aspect of the industry. Most will jump at the opportunity to try something new. Shell, for example, has offered to buy BG Group, for its liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities as a part of its strategy to become a biggest supplier of LNG in North America. Major oil companies are always looking to add value to the company by expanding or improving all parts of the business, not just exploration and production. Independents tend to focus exclusively on perfecting their exploration and production operations in order to be able to compete with other oil companies. This difference in strategies is important to job seekers because company priorities are different in each case.
Major oil companies focus on large-scale, capital-intensive, long-term projects that are expected to bring in large revenues, whereas independent oil companies generally focus on relatively smaller projects that bring in revenue faster. Often times, these smaller projects include developing new unconventional resources, exploring and producing from local fields, or redeveloping mature assets from previous producers. Large independents have a greater variety of operations than small independents, but a considerably smaller resource base than the majors. Since the size of a company influences the type of operations that the company engages in, it is important to consider the company size when determining what type of projects an engineer wants to work on. For example, an engineer who prefers the challenges associated with offshore projects should consider working for a major oil company or an independent with a focus on the Gulf of Mexico.
Many companies have operations in multiple states, or sometimes even multiple countries, making them multinational companies. Independent producers that operate in multiple countries are often larger than those who do not have international projects. This results in different kinds of technical and professional challenges for the engineers, such as working in a multinational team or frequently travelling abroad, which is another major consideration inherent to choosing a job.
Besides the differences between working for independent companies versus major oil companies, difference in strategies exist among the independent oil companies as well. Some independents invest highly in a variety of different resources in order to have a diversified portfolio and minimize the risks, whereas others focus mainly on one region or type of resources that yields high rewards for high risks. Some independent companies produce both oil and gas, others focus on one resource type.
When choosing a company ask yourself, “What kind of technical challenges do I want to be working on?” Some key categories you might consider are conventionals, unconventionals, natural gas, oil, enhanced oil recovery, and engineering research. Knowing if you want to develop conventional or unconventional resources should be a factor in determining which company to work for. For instance, if the challenges of producing liquid oil from shale using horizontal drilling techniques interest you, then working for a smaller independent in the Bakken may be a good choice. Working for a larger independent company that produces from a large number of unconventional resource plays, however, gives you the opportunity to engage in similar technical challenges in the same region as the smaller companies but in the setting of a larger company. If someone wanted to work on unconventional oil projects such as heavy oil and CO2 flooding, then they should consider working for a company that is involved in these kinds of operations. Sometimes the types of problems that interest you involve research. If this is the case, perhaps working for research and development division within a larger oil company is a better fit.
Management style is another important consideration to make when choosing an oil company for which to work. Larger companies with a hierarchical organizational structure are different than “flat” organizations in terms of how you interact with the management and other employees. In general, the larger the company, the more reporting and management levels it has. This causes a difference in the responsibilities that you will have within the organization. Independent oil companies generally require more responsibilities from their employees compared to major oil companies, since independents will not have as many people working on any given project. Independent companies often adopt a flat organizational management style, where there is a more direct path to upper management. Working under a flat organizational management style also allows for change to occur more quickly within the company. This also makes you more visible in the company, and helps for your accomplishments to get noticed by upper management with fewer intermediaries present. Exposure to upper management can be very beneficial for your career and lead to more opportunities within the company.
Many engineers find that they perform better under a certain management style, making it an important consideration when choosing a company to work for. Everyone in the industry should endeavor to be a self-starter in order to add value to the company that he or she is working for, but smaller to mid-sized independent companies may require more risk-taker personalities than those in larger organizations. Your personality type should be a factor under consideration when determining which company to work for based on a management style and company size.
Though it is important to have an idea of your dream job, you may not always get your first choice. In this low oil price environment, the choices available to those seeking jobs or internships are limited. This means that sometimes you may have to work for a company that you did not expect. However, after working for the company for a period of time, your preferences may change as you find a newfound appreciation of the way your company operates. As you progress in your career, you may actually have opportunities to work for different companies with different structures, which may help you discover which ones make for the best fit. After all, you will never know where you fit in the industry until you get yourself out there.