Become A Rock Star at Your Oil Company | RefinerLink

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Become A Rock Star at Your Oil Company

By Ralph Laurel

Sep 15, 2019

8 career accelerating tips from professionals who have thrived in Oil Corporations.


We know that getting a job in the oil industry is easier than finding oil in the Bakken. The real question is how high do you want to climb with your career?


Unlike other professions, the oil business is unique and dynamic.  It is multi-disciplinary, multi-regional, multi-cultural and politically charged. Success follows many common formulas found in other industries; however, there additional qualities that distinguish top-tier performers in the field of oil.


The following tips were collected from top performing employees at several major oil companies. We will take you through what needs to be done in the first 10 years of your career to become the envy of your peers. 



1. Embrace the Safety Culture


Safety is now, and will always be the number one focus of any Oil Company. When you start your first day on the job out of college, this is the most important thing that you should commit yourself to. 


Whether it be personal safety, process safety or environmental safety, your intellectual capabilities will mean jack squat in this industry unless you can demonstrate a strong commitment to safety. And don’t just talk the talk – your actions better be genuine.


2. Find Team Wins


We all enjoy personal accomplishments; however, you should quickly find ways to succed through teamwork. It does not matter if you work in upstream, downstream or even midstream – oil corporations succeed through team progress, not individual efforts. 


Many young professionals are misled to think that individual performance rankings mean that you need to shine as an individual. The sooner you learn the fallacy of this approach, the sooner you break free from the pack. 


Every activity within the oil industry requires at a minimum Operations, Maintenance and Technical staff to progress. If you become a successful collaborator, this skill will take you far.


3. Remain Dedicated


Dedication is a virtue that can never lead you astray. The oil business tick 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Challenges will always surface at the least opportune time, and employees will always have to rise to the occasion.


Don’t ever lose sight of your personal and family life, but don’t think that you can get away with working 40 hour weeks for the rest of your career.  Professionals find a way to get things done, and Do-ers are the ones who advance beyond everyone else.  


If you work in industry long enough, you know that incidents seem to find a way of surfacing during holidays. Be ready to man-up and get the job done, regardless of situation. 


4. Have Patience


If your career is not developing at the lightening speed that you envisioned, remain patient. We all know that more opportunities exist in our industry then capable bodies can fill.


If you distract yourself with wondering why your peers are getting promoted faster than you, you will waste energy on matters out of your control. If you keep your head down and just keep pushing along, your turn will come.  


If your turn does not come, it just means that you are not as good as you think you are.


5. Be Flexible


If you want to excel at an oil company, you will need to accept the fact that you will not specialize in anything. Did you start your career as a Reservoir Engineer or Process Engineer thinking that you will continue as a technical specialist? We hope not. 


Climbing the oil corporate ladder means that you will have to learn a little bit of everything. You may spend time in the Finance, Environmental, Operations, Technical, Maintenance, and even Compliance.


At large corporations, you will work within the various operating companies, such as Refining, Chemicals, Lubricants, Pipeline, Exploration, Production, Research & Engineering, Commercial Trading, Gas, Transportation and Logistics, and Sales & Marketing.


Do not think that you are above a single job, because every job is a learning opportunity.


6. Accept Global Mobility


To accompany your job role flexibility, you should also expect to move to many locations around the globe. Oil corporations are multi-national entities that have operations in numerous countries.


You cannot grasp a company’s reach unless you work in various different locations. Beyond learning a different part of the business, you will also learn what it takes to conduct business in various cultures.


It is not uncommon for oil professionals to have lived in 8 – 12 locations throughout one’s career. How else do you expect to successfully run a global company?


7. Respect the Power of Respect


Regardless of how many locations you have worked in, or how far you have advanced your career, don’t think for one second that you are above anyone else.


Your shit will still stink like everyone else’s, and you will not be where you are today without those around you that have helped along the way:  from the field operator, to entry level engineer, to middle level manager.


If you find yourself in a position of leadership one day, you must still respect every individual the same as you respect yourself. Embrace the Pay-It-Forward mentality, and that respect for others will come back to you 10-fold.   


8. Maintain Confidence


Like everything else in life, people respond positively to confidence. One cannot inspire or lead an oil organization without confidence.


As I have stated in point #2, every activity in the oil industry will require collaboration between multifunctional groups. Confidence is the glue that will keep everyone moving in the right direction. Whether you are providing a technical recommendation, a leadership directive, or even a career preference, maintain confidence in your communication.


Do not confuse confidence with arrogance. It is easy for engineers to either lack confidence, or be too arrogant.  Find the right balance.



So there it is, the Top 8 traits that one should keep in mind to climb the corporate oil ladder. We know that it works, as proven by the successful many who have blazed this path.

You cannot control the bad luck that will come your way, but you can surely do many things to maximize your success. Are you up for the challenge?

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  • RD :   A pretty good summary

    Aug 27, 2014

  • John Symons :   It is hard to add to this list. I have certainly noticed the impact of being hired on a multinational oil company's regional rather than its international staff and of accidentally following a specialist rather than a generalist career path. I did not want to be ordered abroad at a fortnight's notice, however, and this whole article shows up the possible conflicts with family life. An additional tip might be to chose a partner who can easily accommodate the oil business lifestyle. Parallel careers and coordinated moves abroad would be an advantage. I would recommend working in medium sized companies if you have a choice. Large companies can afford to have very blinkered views. I had a great experience and good feedback from trainers on reservoir engineering courses and when I expressed an interest in retraining from economics I was told "You are a chemist. We only use physicists as reservoir engineers".

    Jun 12, 2016

  • John Symons :   The point about being patient when career progression slows is a difficult one. I joined a multinational with an excellent on the job training process of changing your role every 9 months to one that was only half familiar. Then one position lasted 18 months and international moves ceased. It is possible that the company was overstretched by an acquisition and building a pipeline in Alaska but if so management foolishly did not communicate this. So with "itchy feet" I left one company's downstream, joined a nuclear industry association which turned out to give well below inflation pay rises and 3 years later joined another company's upstream. It was rumoured that 3 major companies had a gentlemen's agreement not to poach each others' graduates, so the move outside the oil industry may have been necessary. In those days of defined benefit pensions you could lose 1/3 of your pension every time you changed employer. Not now with the less attractive defined contribution pensions.

    Jun 12, 2016

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