HR Discussion

Career Road Map: Insight From Industry Professionals

Young professionals (YPs) can feel overwhelmed and directionless at times while trying to navigate our robust industry. In this article, oil and gas industry professionals at different career stages share their insight and answer some of the burning questions that students and YPs have about their career launch.

Sarah Mohamed Youssef (SY) is a reservoir engineer for an international oil and gas company. She holds a BSc in petroleum and energy engineering and a minor in economics from the American University in Cairo. She is currently working in the Gulf of Suez.

Sherif Abdel Rahman (SA) is a master’s degree student of petroleum engineering at Cairo University. He graduated from Suez Canal University with a major in petroleum exploration and production engineering. He is a graduate petroleum engineer for BG Group.

Mohamed Tariq (MT) is a well engineering graduate for BG Group in QGC as part of the international graduate development program. He holds a BSc in  petroleum engineering from Suez Canal University.

Sam Mathew (SM) is an operations consultant for Accenture at Aberdeen. He is a chemical engineer from LD College of Engineering, India, and earned his MBA in oil and gas management from Robert Gordon University.

Sherif Khairy (SK) is a final year petroleum engineering student at Cairo University.  He has been a writer for an Egyptian magazine for the past 3 years.

Josh Hickman (JH) is the president and founder of YPE Pittsburgh with a decade of experience in the energy business. He holds a BS in geology, an MS in geoscience with a specialization in geophysics, and an MBA from Pennsylvania State University, and currently owns and manages Hickman Geological Consulting.

What made you choose a career in the oil and gas industry?

SY: I have always had an interest in rocks and in modeling. I also wanted a fascinating career with little routine. Petroleum engineering satisfied these desires while providing great opportunities for future growth.

MT: Engineering and energy have always interested me. When I learned that petroleum engineering was an option at the university, I thought it would be a perfect fit. I now enjoy what I do every day.

SM: After obtaining a chemical engineering degree and working with a service company for 6 years, I made the decision to upgrade my education with an MBA in oil and gas management in order to begin a career on the upstream side of the business.

JH: My interest in the oil and gas industry was fueled by two things: the idea that I could be an explorer and that I wanted to make a decent living for my family (I was married at 21). This industry pays good wages for coming up with new ideas and finding new deposits of oil and natural gas (among other things) and provides access to amazing tools to make those ideas a reality.   

Tell us about your first job/internship. What were some of your greatest challenges?

SY: After several internships with the same large service company, I was hired as an access engineer. My greatest challenge was to find a job with a proper work/life balance; new graduates oftentimes do not have the luxury to choose. As a female, working in a male-dominated environment was another challenge.

SA: I applied for the international graduate development program within BG Group for the graduate petroleum engineer track. It was a long and arduous process but the skills that I learned from my work with SPE were very helpful.

SM: In my first job, I was expected to hit the ground running and that did not come easily to me. To overcome this, I started off by aligning myself with a mentor, and that helped me in fast-tracking my integration process within the firm. That apart, I started to seek regular feedback on my performance from peers and seniors at work. At the risk of it sounding like a cliché, in many instances these feedback sessions were eye-opening experiences and helped me gain insight.

What are some pros & cons of working in the oil & gas industry?

SY: Pros: job satisfaction. It’s not easy work and we are providing energy to our countries. Cons: tough conditions, environmental concerns, work/life balance, and being a female in a largely male-dominated industry.

SA: Pros: ease of relocation and overall travel opportunities. Cons: work/life balance. 

MT: Working in the oil and gas sector, like all jobs, has its advantages and disadvantages. You are trained to the highest level of competency and are able to work in a very dynamic environment—no day is like the day before. Yes, sometimes you have to work for extended hours or be away from home for long periods, but you are afforded the opportunity to travel, see the world, and enjoy your life; every day is a new adventure.

SM: Pros: the global nature of the business, which allows me to travel, meet, and interact with people from different countries and cultures. Which other industry can offer you such a diverse range of work locations? Cons: being carried away by the heady nature of the business. Being in a fast-moving, cash-rich working environment, it is easy to lose sight of work efficiencies and processes.

How did getting work experience after your bachelor’s degree help in your career?

SM: It helped me get my feet on the ground and gain some industry experience. Interactions with experienced industry professionals broadened my horizons and helped me to truly appreciate the global nature and the enormity of the industry I was now a part of. It was also this work experience that helped me make a more balanced and informed decision when I started to research on my future career options.

JH: I interned with various companies during both my bachelor’s and master’s work. The first was at an engineering and environmental services company between my sophomore and junior years and the second with a producer operator that I later went to work for after graduation. These experiences during school allowed me to try out several different “hats” and decide what I wanted to make a career. This also allowed me time to shift my course work to better prepare myself for full-time employment in that chosen field.

SPE: A Springboard for Your Career

How does getting involved in the community and SPE help fresh graduates/YPs improve their skills and career?

SK: Members of the SPE Cairo University student chapter have the full chance of attending any workshop, session, or event organized by the chapter. Their role changes according to the committee they are in. Working on organizing such projects gives them the opportunity to develop several skills, for example, presentation skills and the ability to lead and work in teams, which become essential when they start a career.

SPE’s system of operation ensures that members know their duties and rights, and they are closely observed to identify the areas they may need to strengthen and work on, and are given the required assistance.

Starting Your Career on Campus

What companies look for when they come to hire students, apart from the obvious minimum GPA criterion, is how good of a fit the student would be in the organization’s culture and business. We encourage students to check and similar sites and think about whether this is a company that they would want to work for. So think about your fit too. Also, provide recruiters with stories that highlight your behavioral skills and well-roundedness.

University career services departments have several tools to help students prepare for their career launch. TU holds an exclusive petroleum industry job fair in the spring. There’s a “résumé doctor” on campus who helps them polish their résumé. The “big interview” is a training tool for students to record themselves staging a mock interview and then have the experts make suggestions for improvement.

We also have a partnership with CareerFair Plus and have developed a mobile app for getting all the information and updates in the palm of your hand. We think it’s important for students to get internships as early as they can. Alumni relations also go a long way in encouraging their companies to come back and recruit.

Shelly Holly (SH)  is the director of career services at the University of Tulsa (TU). She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology from Oklahoma State University and a master’s in human services administration from St. Edward’s University.

Making Correct Career Choices 

How do you help students make the right career choices?

There’s a distinction between graduate and undergraduate students. Undergraduates may not really know what they want—they could become drilling, production, or reservoir engineers. To help them, we encourage internships to enable them to understand what kind of work they would want to do in their careers. Also, we offer them equal emphasis on the foundation courses of petroleum engineering so that they have a good background and are well prepared for whatever career path they choose. Most of our graduate students have a fairly good idea of their research interest, so they will end up with jobs based on the topic of their thesis. We also have a very active industrial advisory board and students have opportunities to interact with the members.

When is it a good time to obtain a second degree?

In petroleum engineering, getting an advanced degree may not be really necessary. The students who get master’s degrees are not treated any differently because the industry does a pretty good job of training all the students well. Now, there are many companies that are involved in product development, be it hardware or software, and that is when they require specialized skills. For example, if a company is building a software simulation package, they would exclusively look for students with specialized knowledge and understanding of the subject matter.

Master’s courses allow students to develop advanced problem-solving skills. One becomes an engineer who learns the methodology of solving fundamental, open-ended problems and this helps grow intellectually. At the same time, it is a good idea to gain some experience in the industry before going back to academia so that you have a better understanding of what the industry is looking for. Because to pry yourself away from a regular job and go back to being a student with limited means requires you to understand what you really want from your career and makes you more determined to succeed.

Mohan Kelkar (MK) is Williams endowed professor and chairman of petroleum engineering at the University of Tulsa. He obtained his BS in chemical engineering from the University of Bombay, India, and MS in petroleum engineering and PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.

Climbing Up the Career Ladder

SY: Never give up, a start is a start. Plus you should always seek to develop yourself. In our industry, you are valuable with whatever experiences you have and whatever work have you accomplished.

SA: Get engaged in nongovernmental organizations and develop a broad set of skills, both technical as well as soft skills, such as  leadership, communication, negotiation, and working under pressure.

MT: Have fun in school, study hard, and make good memories. Identify your goals and look for a position where you will have a clear learning and development path.

SM: Be perseverant and aim to do better than the previous day, both in school and at work.

JH: Networking is essential to your job, your company’s success, and your personal success over the course of your working life. Also, your individual skills pale in front of the challenge you are tasked with accomplishing and the only way to get work done is to lean on the skills of those around you and keep learning from them.

SK: Learn to balance your time and develop nontechnical skills. Seek the advice of experienced professionals; they will be more than willing to help you.

SH: Get a mentor—perhaps an alumnus or someone who interviewed you, and keep consistent contact with them, not just when you need them. Keep in touch with your faculty and let them know what you’re doing. Also keep in touch with your friends in class to stay abreast of the news and technology, because this industry is very global. Keep learning and upgrading your skill sets.

MK: Read at least one paper from OnePetro every day, before you get into the noise of the day. You may not understand it, but over a period of time, you will have out-read your peers and will become an expert. Nobody is born a genius but you can become an expert with time and effort. There is a lot of information out there; discipline yourself and take advantage of it.


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