Human resources

Guest Editorial: How To Thrive in a Downturn

The industry is in one of its periodic downturns. Jobs are uncertain or scarce. Profitability is challenged. Bankruptcy looms. Projects are being canceled. Deals are dropped or delayed. It seems there is bad news everywhere. So how do we survive in this environment?

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The industry is in one of its periodic downturns. Jobs are uncertain or scarce. Profitability is challenged. Bankruptcy looms. Projects are being canceled. Deals are dropped or delayed. It seems there is bad news everywhere. So how do we survive in this environment? And, more importantly, how do we go from surviving to thriving?

The leadership of the SPE Gulf Coast Section (GCS) has launched a new initiative called “Members in Transition” with the aim of providing support, advice, and best practices for thriving in a downturn. The key principles are the following:

1. Be innovative. Plan A is often not available these days. We have to look for alternatives. As an individual, whether you are a prospective graduate with an ambition to work for a major producer or a service provider, or have just lost your job, consider all alternatives.

  • In addition to your first choices, also look for jobs in marketing, finance, regulation, midstream, or downstream. Your expertise is in the petroleum industry, as well as in petroleum engineering. Your skills are much broader than you might think.
  • Extend your education by taking advanced courses or by earning a new degree. This will be time well spent preparing for the future. Explore the educational opportunities available from your SPE section.
  • Start your own business. This could create a rewarding new career path. In partnership with the Houston Technology Center, the SPE GCS is establishing an Ideas Launch Pad program to match members’ ideas with angel investors. Entrepreneurs will need realistic financial projections and need to be able to tell the business story in a convincing way to potential investors. Employers value entrepreneurial skills. These business skills will serve you well if you eventually decide to move to a corporate role. Creating a great business story (Fisher 2014) for investors will help you develop skills that are useful for moving projects forward when you are hired by a company in the future.

As a company, your previous business plan may no longer be viable in the current price environment. Take a clean sheet of paper, throw out all past preferences and prejudices, and start afresh. Develop a new plan that works in today’s environment.
Now is the time to explore new technologies and new processes that improve performance. In the January issue of JPT (Rassenfoss 2016), the SPE technical directors talked about innovations needed for “Doing Better in Bad Times.”

2. Be curious. To come up with new ways of doing things, you need new ideas. To get new ideas you need imagination. This is a good time to look for ideas from other industries.

3. Cut costs. When prices are low, it is important to cut costs, whether you are an individual or a company. Now is the time to be diligent, even ruthless, with cutting costs. In the end, you will be more secure and better prepared when good times return.

Lean Six Sigma techniques can be applied to streamline workflows. Work roles may need to be expanded or consolidated. There may be opportunities to develop collaborative relationships between and among companies. Explore every avenue to cut costs and improve performance.

4. Work hard. This is a bad time to be sitting around waiting for something good to happen. If you are employed, commit yourself to being a valued ­employee. Think like an owner—this keeps you aligned with your employer and helps you add value. Being the best performer is a good thing.

Look for resources to find help. Many SPE sections offer Distinguished Lecturer talks, monthly technical meetings, short courses, and soft skills workshops to upgrade your competencies. Additional opportunities are offered by SPE at regional and international conferences.

Individuals create more value by discovering their strengths (Buckingham and Clifton 2001) rather than trying to address their weaknesses. Personality profiles help users to categorize their strengths, and then put their strengths to work at three levels: for their own development, for their success as a manager, and for the success of their organization.

5. Keep your enthusiasm. Many of us have been through downturns in the business before. We know we can get through them, just as we have done in the past. A good spirit helps—doom and gloom do not.

Remember, life does not move in straight lines. There are good times and bad times, sunshine and rain, whether you are in this industry or any other. We all have to manage our lives prudently in the down times, confident that the good times will return. In the meantime, avail yourself of SPE resources and talk with others in SPE.

Career transition experts tell us that face-to-face engagement with professionals in our industry is the best way to work through a transition, rather than spending all our time at our computers. Engagement in a professional society such as SPE will improve your outlook on the future, particularly if you take advantage of the resources and networking that SPE provides.

SPE Resources

SPE cares about each and every member and is doing everything it can to help. SPE Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Mark Rubin (2015) listed SPE initiatives in an earlier JPT article:

  • SPE e-Mentoring Program ( Finding the right mentor can make a world of difference, particularly for young professionals.
  • SPE Job Board ( In partnership with Oilpro, SPE has developed a comprehensive jobs search engine to help members find the latest opportunities in their field.
  • SPE Web Events ( SPE web events include live webinars and on-demand online training courses and videos.
  • SPE Competency Management Tool ( The SPE Competency Management Tool is a free online member benefit that allows you to assess your current professional capabilities against one of 41 key exploration and production job competency models.
  • SPE Insurance ( The SPE Insurance Program is a unique group insurance program designed to meet the specific needs of petroleum engineering professionals. The SPE plans offered can continue to protect you even if you change jobs or no longer have a corporate insurance program.

Network To Build Relationships

If you are unemployed or want a change, develop your networking skills. Jeffrey Gitomer (2006) wrote in his book “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends.” If you are planning to start a business, your first clients will likely be colleagues who know you and trust you to get the job done. Consider four connection questions to “unlock the answer to growth and success:”

  • Who do you know?
  • How well are you connected?
  • Do you know how to make a connection?
  • Who knows you?

The skills that you develop during your job search, i.e., networking, finding leads, making phone calls, and getting meetings, translate well to becoming a successful rainmaker for your business (Fox 2006). The most important of the various job search techniques is networking—“just plain talking to people” will always help in a job search. Use networking to tap into the “hidden” job market, those jobs that are not posted online. The majority of the job market falls into the hidden category. There is less competition in applying for hidden jobs than when applying for “open” posted positions online.
The best ways to thrive in a downturn include being innovative, cutting costs, working hard, keeping your enthusiasm, and networking to build relationships. Increasing your engagement in SPE will provide you with numerous opportunities to accomplish these objectives.


Buckingham, M. and Clifton, D. 2001. Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York: The Free Press.

Fisher, B. 2014. The Six Secrets of Raising Capital: An Insider’s Guide for Entrepreneurs. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Fox, J.J. 2006. Secrets of Great Rainmakers: The Keys to Success and Wealth. New York: Hyperion.

Gitomer, J. 2006. Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships. Austin, Texas: Bard Press.

Pierson, O. 2006. The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search: The Proven Program Used by the World’s Leading Career Services Company. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rassenfoss, S. 2016. Doing Better in Bad Times, J Pet Technol, 68(1): 38–41.Rubin, M. 2015. SPE Provides Support During Industry Downturn, J Pet Technol,67(5):22.

J. Roger Hite is a petroleum engineering consultant with Inwood Solutions in Houston and part owner of a production company with property in Louisiana. He has published a number of papers and articles, primarily on various aspects of enhanced oil recovery management. Hite is an SPE Distinguished Member and a recipient of the International Management and Information Award. He is currently Regional Director for the Gulf Coast North America Region. He holds a BS degree in chemical engineering from Tulane University and a PhD in chemical engineering from Princeton University.

C. Susan Howes is a reservoir management consultant in Houston. She was formerly a reservoir management consultant at Chevron, with a prior role as learning and organizational development manager at Anadarko. She has coauthored several papers and articles on the topics of uncertainty management, risk management, and talent management for SPE conferences and publications. Howes is chair of the SPE Soft Skills Committee, previously served as Regional Director for the Gulf Coast North America Region, is a recipient of the SPE Distinguished Service Award, and is an SPE Distinguished Member. She holds a BS degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas.