Soft Skill Development as an Independent Contractor
With more than 10 years of experience in the energy field as a researcher and analyst, today I can proudly say that some of my soft skills have helped me a lot whenever it came to dealing with situations that didn’t entirely depend on my knowledge of the subject and technical skills.
The best way to test your soft skills is to become self-employed. Even though the numbers for self-employment is different for different countries worldwide (with higher values for developing countries in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa), the average self-employment rate among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is still about 17% (including workers who work for themselves, members of producers' co-operatives, and unpaid family workers, as per OECD definition). In this article, I will relate my first-hand experience working freelance.
Self-employment is the one of the most effective ways to know yourself better, as well as those who might support you. One of the first hardships I encountered while working on a 2D/3D seismic data-processing and interpretation project for a Russian hydrocarbon field was to surround myself with a good team to assist me with an immense scope of work. Before I even started talking to people about the project, I came up with a short list of the most suitable, in my opinion, candidates among my professional network. And much to my chagrin, all of them refused to participate in the project the moment I offered them, or they didn’t care to show enough interest and excitement, which was an obvious lack of commitment. All of them did possess required experience and technical skills but considered the risks too high for the offered salary. Furthermore, the majority of them were already employed with major oil and gas drilling/field development/production companies, which is a direct conflict of interest as well as they needed time off from work for themselves. Ultimately the people who helped me were just as qualified but were more flexible with their time and career. Together, we managed to submit our work in the necessary time frame and get paid for our work. Even though this may seem like a situation with an obvious outcome to some extent, it clearly illustrates that self-employed people actually have to be more flexible, creative, enthusiastic, and sometimes they must be ready to take risk and accept a challenge.
Finding a niche for your business within such a fast-changing industry as the oil and gas industry can be quite challenging, but data analysis and research is probably the best choice for self-employment in petroleum sector. In many oil and gas exporting countries the analytical industry reshaped itself after the major drop in the oil prices in late 2014. If you have been in the oil and gas analysis field for a few years, then understanding personality profiles would be the best approach to start your journey as an independent analyst. No matter what, people want to hear a second opinion, which could be slightly different from their own. They might even want to pay for it when they are lost in their own approaches, and they are committed to a deadline and have to submit their work.
Effective communication and upselling skills; outstanding approach and customer service excellence skills such as deep knowledge of etiquette, cultural awareness, patience, and diplomacy; effective implementation of various interaction techniques—the list of important soft skills for independent contractors can be endless. The main point is to know your client: the more you know about them, the better. Your ability to build channels for long-term international business communication based on the principles of mutual trust, professionalism, and protection of business reputation is the key to keeping your current clients and spreading your client database.
Conflict management and mitigation within the team while dealing with customers is also an important aspect one should take into account as a “guest analyst.” It is tantamount to separate the business from interpersonal conflicts within your team. Business will continue as long as these conflicts don’t interfere with project delivery. If your colleague is ill and you have committed to a tight deadline, you may be required to work longer hours to deliver the project. Do your best to manage within the existing time frame, but don’t feel guilty to remind your colleague to cover you next time, because this is a genuine partnership.
Last but not least is the ability to control and report the current status of your analytical work. Do not hesitate to interrogate the project deliverables prior to submission. Ask different questions about the submitted work: “Why this approach has been used? What is the sense of implementing this model?” Remember, the main goal is to submit a quality project in the required time frame; all members of the team should be aware of this. Delegate the work, but always check it.
Technical skills will be those by which people judge you when reading your CV, but soft skills open new doors and, what is most important, form your reputation. Be smarter, learn how to be responsible and be a good example for your team members. At the end, it does not really matter whether you work in a big corporation or in a small, independent agency. What’s important is that you are known for delivering on your project.
Rimma Subhankulova is a freelance oil and gas analyst and researcher with more than 10 years of experience, and a keynote speaker at international conferences. She is originally from Moscow, Russia, and is currently working in Dubai, UAE. Previously, Subhankulova founded an energy consulting company World Energy Expert Group. She holds a master’s degree from National Research University, Higher School of Economics, and a bachelor’s degree from the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University. A member of SPE, Subhankulova has worked in the corporate ratings department of Standard and Poor’s, strategic planning division of LLC Mareven Food Central, and brokerage firm Rikom-Trust.
The article was sourced from the author by TWA Editor Radmila Mandzhieva.
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