Career Management in the Oil and Gas Business

This forum offers young professionals the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences on soft skills topics. The article in the first issue of TWA presented a picture of the energy job market from a young professional’s perspective. Among the various questions, respondents were asked to evaluate their job satisfaction and highlight career preferences. One conclusion was related to the difficulty in managing an individual’s career. The increasing career possibilities linked to our aging industry work force and the difficulties managing the flexibility and mobility that companies continue to demand bring us to the topic of the second forum: career management. Again, the results show the desire of young professionals for mentorship and touch on the themes of career paths, career plans, training, and meritocracy.—Loris Tealdi, TWA Forum Editor

This forum investigated the thoughts of young exploration and production professionals on their own careers in the energy business. The questions were aimed at investigating the perceptions and attitudes of our industry’s youth on subjects that are relevant to them and on subjects they are able to cast their opinions on. The responses were well reasoned and eloquent and express the honest opinions of a cross section of our community.

Each question has a deliberately provocative tone to stimulate discussion and offer the opportunity for expanded discussions in subsequent issues of The Way Ahead. The forum is divided into two sections: (1) Job satisfaction and personal career management and (2) perceptions of corporate culture toward career management. Fig. 1 shows the population that participated  in the forum.

Fig. 1—Respondent demographics.


Section 1: Job Satisfaction and Personal Career Management

The intention in this section was to probe some of the results, already briefly discussed in the forum in the first issue on the “Job Market in the Oil and Gas Business,” in more detail. That analysis showed that there was a general satisfaction and interest in an individual’s given job. However, the difficulty in managing private life issues because of mobility needs and a lack of clear career direction and understanding regarding career opportunities produce problems.

Question 1: Do you feel that you are continually improving in your career?

Almost 90% of those interviewed answered positively, independently of company size and type, gender, nationality, and work experience. Here are some of the most interesting comments:

  • “Yes. Own initiative is the key to continually improve. I think in our company there is lots of room for own initiative.”
  • “Yes, sometimes. Recently I have the impression that I’m moving on, but it wasn’t always like that. Things are starting to happen now after 4 years, but it took some time to take off. Maybe it also has to do with my involvement in SPE/YEPP? Who knows? I have worked for smaller companies, but it’s not necessarily said that things move faster in smaller companies. It just takes less time to get to know the right people.”
  • I try to, but often feel that opportunities within employers are usually short lived, with the biggest steps being made through changing companies every few years.”
  • “Not vertical career development, but the expanded horizontal experience. Have to accept the transfer in different departments, which I considered as an opportunity to gain other necessary skills and knowledge of business for my personal informal career plan.”

Question 2: Do you have a 5-year (middle-term) career plan? Have you discussed it with your manager?

Nearly two-thirds of the young professionals answered positively.

Here are some of the comments:

  • “Yes. My company motivates me to think about the future. I make the plan myself.”
  • “Yes. I’ve noticed that the direct hierarchy (the one you speak to on the yearly interview) is usually not the one that could really help you in making career decisions. They are usually too involved with making their own career fly. Therefore, I prefer to speak to a more senior manager about these matters.”
  • “Not developed by the company; it’s rather difficult to make it by yourself because priority changes often. The oil industry is a cyclic industry, more than any other industry I guess. Planning 2 years ahead is already a challenge.”
  • “No. Never had a talk with my manager about it. It is obscure, which could be the opportunities for my career. Obviously, I’m not happy with it.”
  • “No. I feel there is a lack of organization in the human resources managing system. People are given opportunities, much depending on holes in the system rather than real potential or wish to express their potential. Anyhow, I hope to be wrong.”

Larger companies appear to define a clearer career plan for their young employees. A high level of standardization and a greater presence of young resource management procedures may explain this. Large organizations have been in the business long enough to accumulate experiences and to be well established and organized. They have developed systems in place to acquire information periodically about job performance, personal ambition, technical and soft skills levels, achievement, and potential. In the smallest companies, complicated career systems may be considered an unaffordable luxury.1  But, as highlighted in later questions, there are significant advantages to belonging to small companies with regard to career improvement (see Questions 4 and 5).

Question 3: Do you feel you will be able to achieve your career objectives?

It was interesting to observe that, independent of company size and type and employee gender, the answers were mostly positive (80–90%). This indicates a high level of optimism toward the future. The same kind of responses can be obtained grouping the data by years of experience and age, indicating that the initial enthusiasm does not wane with time. Such optimism may be related to the confidence of young professionals in their skills and the immediate need for young professionals for management positions because of the industry’s aging work force.

Responses included:

  • “Yes. I am moderately positive about this although I have to push it a bit in the right direction myself.”
  • If I keep working hard on the development of my professional and technical competencies, I will be able to achieve my career objectives.”
  • “Not at this stage. I need to find better ways to remove the barriers from my career development, which requires taking larger career risks. Unfortunately, at my current stage in life, with young family and mortgage to pay, career risks are a large gamble to take.”
  • “No, it doesn’t seem to me that my company has any clear career objective for me.”
  • “Maybe. In the oil industry, it is not wise to have one specific goal for your career. And I think that is not even wise in any industry in this time. You always have to have a healthy ambition to move up, but in case this is not possible in the direction that you had in mind initially, you should look for other opportunities. I believe that flexibility and how fast you adapt to change is the key factor in the oil industry these days.”

As pointed out in the last issue’s forum, the need for flexibility and mobility is considered both an opportunity for career development and a complex problem for maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

Question 4: Do you think the company considers you a unique and important individual? (Conversely, do they consider you just as one of the many?)

The results indicate that 60% believe their daily contribution is recognized within their organizations. The larger the organization, the more widespread the feeling of being just “a small fish in the ocean” (Fig. 2a). Considering company types, this kind of negative feeling is more evident in oil companies than in consulting and service companies (Fig. 2b). In these latter types of companies, employees are the image of the company itself in the eyes of their customers. The performance of the company depends upon the capability of the people to sell their products and their ideas. Conversely, in oil companies, especially in larger ones, the importance of the individual is somewhat reduced because the results of highly capital-extensive projects are more dependent on integrated teamwork than on the abilities of an individual. Often, it is the team in this kind of work environment that shares the benefit and success, even in cases in which the input from a particular employee has been outstanding. Given this consideration, it is important to implement a careful career management system to monitor and adequately reward an individual’s performance against measurable objectives, especially in large, team-driven organizations. Some survey responses indicate that there can still be a gap between “appraised performance” and “offered career opportunities.”

Fig. 2—Do you think the company considers you a unique and important individual? (% of Yes)
Fig. 3—Do you think that meritocracy is the basis for career development in your company? (% of Yes)


Here are some of the most indicative comments:

  • “Yes. Our company is so small that everyone has the chance to contribute. It’s one of the best things about my job.”
  • “No. In this stage, they consider me as one of the many, but after a while I will make them change their mind.”
  • “No. I’m just one of many; I am a number.”
  • “No. Personnel managers, who do not know you personally, make decisions remotely. Line managers can make recommendations, but usually do not, not wanting to rock the boat or be overruled by the personnel department. It is rapidly made clear by the company that you are just another number.”

Section 2: Perceptions of Corporate Culture Toward Career Management

In this section, we investigated the parameters that could control career path.

Question 5: Do you think that meritocracy is the basis for career development in your company?

Approximately 60% of those interviewed answered positively. The answers were grouped by company type and size, work experience, and gender to point out possible trends and explanations. Analysis by gender or work experience did not show significant differences. The results show meritocracy playing a larger role with the decreasing size of the company. Among the different company types, the operating ones are those in which nonmeritocratic parameters seem to be more relevant.

Here are some of the most significant comments:

  • “Yes. Usually the people who do well for the company are rewarded.”
  • “Definitely. We’re too small to have passengers.”
  • “Yes, at least in most of the cases. If you’re good and make sure that you get recognized, you could go quite far in a short period of time.”
  • “Yes, the system for career development is based on performance management. However, people have to know about you and your performance, so networking forms an important role in career progression.”
  • “No, the talented young employees as valuable assets for the company should be identified and accessed, and their development should be controlled not by the direct supervisor but by the higher-level managers. The problem is that the more skilled and outstanding the employee, the more difficult to move forward, since he is already very good at his current position.”
  • “No, my opinion is that people have to ‘cover holes.’ Accept the standard is the key in my company.”

The results clearly indicate that meritocracy is not considered the main driver for career success, especially in large oil companies. Therefore, what are the other parameters that may control career path?

Question 6: What controls career paths and progression in your company? (Identify nonmeritocratic factors, if any.)

Comments were grouped into two lists, depending on how much influence an individual has to control career progression.

Parameters that can be influenced by an individual:

  • Proactiveness and willingness to travel.
  • Results, personnel skills, presentation skills, soft skills.
  • Bringing yourself into the picture, which means being able to sell yourself.
  • Aggressiveness.
  • Education, motivation, and experience.
  • Being able to match your requirements with those of the company.
  • Working in a niche technical area where there is a shortage of staff.
  • Taking advantage of opportunities that are offered. Getting involved with things above and beyond your day job.
  • Assertiveness, awareness of chances and possibilities, communication.
  • Positive outlook, attitude, intuition.
  • Availability to consider work as the first priority in life. Work devotion.
  • Public relations.
  • Availability to move from one location to another.
  • Competencies, organizational skills, and employee passion.
  • High technical credibility.
  • To be connected with major clients and internally with the upper management, meanwhile have to keep smooth working relationship with colleagues and subordinates.
  • 85% personal effort and 15% relations with your manager.

Parameters that cannot, or can just partially, be influenced by an individual:

  • Knowing the right people in the right places.
  • Technical and professional skills only if effectively supported by someone in the company.
  • Being in the right place at the right time.
  • Being considered one of the “elected.” From the beginning, careers for young employees are often defined without any evaluation of the real technical value of people. Some people are already destined to good positions in good countries. Some very good opportunities are completely denied to others.
  • Age, time with company, gender, and nationality.
  • Good work supported by good luck. “Very often in my company the technical knowledge and the curriculum vitae are partly (or not) considered during the position definition. It is just a roulette.”
  • Networking and having the right information at the right time.
  • Who your manager is. Some managers have more power in the company and promote their staff better than weaker managers.
  • Business requirements in a particular contingency.

One comment deserves particular attention: “You have to do a lot yourself and can’t expect bosses to take care of things. If you want a change or progression, you need to make it known. These things don’t just happen for you by themselves.” This message is very important. Sometimes we believe that it is someone else’s responsibility to facilitate and fulfill our desire for career progression. We rely on mentors, managers, and other personnel to instigate the discussion. However, regardless of the complexity in any company’s career managing system, career development remains strongly dependent on the individual. We are often surrounded by nonmeritocratic constraints that limit or aid the progression toward our goals. We need to preserve a positive attitude and work hard to reach our objectives. We need to drive our career, not be driven.

Question 7: How important is knowing the “right person” in your company in accelerating your career?

The data have been grouped by gender (Fig. 4a), company size (Fig. 4b), company type (Fig. 4c), and work experience (Fig. 4d). The larger the company size, the greater the importance of knowing the right person to advance. This points out that despite the implementation of more complex career development systems (see comment about Question 1), larger companies offer a lower level of transparency.

Fig. 4—Importance of knowing the “right person” for career progression.


The most interesting comments follow.

  • “Low. Not that important at middle management, but I feel it is very important in upper management. Too much power tussle going on, it seems.”
  • “Low. Not very important—knowing the right person is only important if you are good.”
  • "Low. I don’t think many reasonably small technology-based companies would remain profitable for a long time in this type of environment.”
  • “Low. Don’t think it’s important; I’m almost positive that work counts more than who you know within the company.”
  • “Medium. The work of people who may be quiet but produce strong results and have just the ability to work in a team are difficult to ignore. They also tend to get more respect than the people who direct their energy toward office politics.”
  • “High. This is very often the key factor. Hopefully things have started to change now, with the new generation of managers. Anyhow, the hierarchic structure of the company and the old fashioned way of thinking of many old managers still generate this preferential career development path.”
  • “High. As it goes, I think this is important in many companies. Why would you be considered for a position when nobody has ever heard of your name? With big companies this can become annoying, though, because there are limited occasions for young professionals to meet up with the people in the hierarchy. But that’s why most big companies have systems in place that will take care of these career management issues.”
  • “High. One needs to develop a network that can help one progress. However, this can initiate politics.”
  • “High. My company has fewer than 10 employees; therefore, everyone knows who you are, and there’s no problem with progression. I have worked for a very large company in the past and was overlooked on many occasions simply because I didn’t have a sponsor or didn’t know the right person, even though I was the most experienced and qualified in most of the cases. I was also overlooked as my mentor fell out of favor with some of the other managers, which had an adverse effect on my career with that company and ultimately resulted in them making me redundant (sacked with a payout) because they thought I was a mirror image of my mentor.”
  • “High. With the biggest career development moves being when you change companies, and many jobs in the industry never being advertised formally, career development is 90% about who you know, and 10% about what you know.”

The Way Ahead to the Next Forum

This issue’s questions were aimed at gathering opinions on how young professionals feel about their own career ambitions, attitudes of corporate culture, and plans for career progression. This second forum continued the “career” theme begun in the first issue and raised many more interesting topics of discussion that will be explored in future issues. The editors thank all the young professionals who answered the questionnaire with attention and rigor and who have recognized the great opportunity of learning offered by the forum. The Way Ahead editorial team is eager to hear from its readers. If you have any comments or suggestions about the forum section, especially regarding provocative question topics, please contact us.


1. Haboueif M., “Career Development System: A Giant Nascent,” SPE 93680, SPE Middle East Oil and Gas Show, 12–15 March 2005.


Stay Connected

Don't miss our latest content, delivered to your inbox monthly. Sign up for the TWA newsletter.  If you are not logged in, you will receive a confirmation email that you will need to click on to confirm you want to receive the newsletter.