Career development

Be a Keeper: 7 Imperatives for a Successful Energy Career

Your most valuable career asset and bargaining chip is your reputation for increasing stakeholder value; if you want to avoid lamenting missed opportunities, enhance and leverage that reputation by following the advice of oil and gas leaders who help teams navigate industry volatility.

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Making bold net-zero commitments and substantial investments in carbon capture technology, oil and gas companies continue to accelerate their enthusiastic embrace of “corporate” sustainability initiatives. However, employees of those companies are understandably seeking something of greater personal significance: “career” sustainability.

So, to help boost your odds of gaining and sustaining the professional momentum you desire, this article aggregates recommendations from industry leaders who share how young professionals can best navigate today’s uncertain energy landscape.

Please note that while their candid advice is influenced by corporate responses to recent global and industry-specific events, the individuals quoted have shared their personal opinions and are not speaking on behalf of their current employers.

1. Tell Your Company’s Story

Blake McLean, CEO of Ambyint, encourages you to be an industry ambassador by telling stories: “There’s a good story to tell about what oil and gas companies are doing to improve their operational and environmental performance, but that story isn’t being heard. Companies—and the industry as a whole—will value people who can communicate it well by becoming storytellers, both internally and externally.”

Telling an effective story starts by acquiring a solid understanding of the big picture. Many of those interviewed for this article stated that using storytelling skills to weave together your technical knowledge and your employer’s high-level objectives is a surefire way to make a positive impact on the organization and your own career.

You can begin by simply speaking with colleagues in other departments, reading your company’s public releases, and combing through earnings reports. Then, branch out and volunteer to share your company’s story with internal audiences such as interns or new hires or externally at recruiting or community events.

2. Connect Your Work to the Bottom Line

Elizabeth Mabie, director of human resources at EQT Corp., insists that you go a step further and connect the “big picture” to your specific role by regularly asking, “How does my day-to-day work impact the bottom line?”

If you can’t clearly answer that question, that doesn’t mean it’s time to start looking for another job. Instead, it’s time to ramp up one-on-one engagement with your internal network by asking questions that help you better understand the roles, responsibilities, and—most importantly—the pain points of others within your organization. Then, use the information you have gained to understand how your efforts might better support the objectives of your colleagues, and allow your work to clearly demonstrate how your value stretches beyond the confines of your defined responsibilities.

3. Adopt and Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Prathiba Arokiasamy, culture change global lead at bp, agrees that you must discern your current value and its relationship to your employer’s current objectives; looking to the future, however, she also emphasizes that “today’s rapidly changing energy industry needs visionaries who are constantly investigating alternate paths, embracing their vulnerability to experiment, fail fast, and evolve through continuous improvement.”

Because “no blueprint exists for successfully navigating the energy transition,” Arokiasamy insists that “to help yourself and your company keep up, it’s critical that you adopt and cultivate a growth mindset,” which is a belief that skills and abilities can be improved through curiosity, learning, and practice. The opposite of a growth mindset is a “fixed” mindset, which fosters the belief that skills and abilities are static and cannot be improved.

A growth mindset helps your brain reframe failures as learnings, thereby helping build resilience to recover quicker and use the experience as a stepping-stone to better performance. While it may not be realistic to see all failures as opportunities to grow, your mindset can be cultivated through regular moments of self-reflection and practice. A growth mindset will not only boost your own value and performance, but will positively impact the growth of your organization.

4. Insist on Fresh and Honest Feedback

Katherine Pirie, organizational development manager at NOV, concurs that the right mindset is a necessary starting point as you attempt to identify and act upon opportunities that will push yourself and your employer in a positive direction. She also knows that even the best mindset requires a healthy amount of external data to drive meaningful and lasting change.

“Self-awareness,” Pirie says, “is one of the foundational pieces of a sustainable career. If you’re not seeking out honest feedback from management and coworkers, you’re doing yourself and your career a disservice.” She adds that “we don’t always know ourselves all that well; we think we know what we’re good and bad at, but after years of convincing ourselves of certain things, it sometimes takes a third party to deliver the candid feedback we need to discover some helpful truths.”

If that feedback is overly positive or devoid of opportunities for improvement, then it’s your duty to insist on more complete—and more authentic—observations from those who may be afraid to point out gaps threatening your ability to sustain career momentum.

According to Pirie, one way to achieve this is to “ask for feedback anywhere, anytime.” Taking a minute to casually ask someone how you performed in a meeting or presentation immediately after it ends, for example, usually provides much more specific and actionable insights versus generalized feedback delivered months later or in a more formal setting.

5. Embrace Awkwardness and Discomfort

Caroline Hallmark, human resources leader at Equinor, acknowledges that the feedback process can sometimes be uncomfortable, but firmly believes that you must “embrace the awkwardness.” Pointing to how people have largely adapted to the potentially embarrassing moments associated with remote work (i.e., the unexpected visitors, odd background noises, and technical troubles that can plague virtual meetings), she encourages you to realize how such moments have actually become opportunities to let your guard down, share a few laughs, and build rapport with colleagues.

If you can carry the lessons from those formerly awkward moments into other professional interactions, Hallmark believes you can form stronger connections and have more transparent conversations, stating that “being comfortable with awkwardness makes us more flexible and adaptable; and it can make us stronger than if we fear the awkwardness, which can cause us to become more siloed and less connected to others.”

6. Strive for Optimum Performance Over High Performance

Kristin Fox, VP of human resources at Gyrodata, recognizes that the industry’s drive toward more streamlined and cost-effective operations means that simply doing your job well is not enough to sustain a career in oil and gas. If you are an employee who has burned yourself out and, subsequently, fallen short of your desired outcome, you are likely aware that high performance does not always translate into optimal performance.

Underscoring this point, Fox says, “Companies are re-evaluating what high performance means. In many cases, it doesn’t mean perfection; yet it doesn’t mean setting the bar lower, either. Instead, it’s about focusing on areas that will make the biggest impact.” If you ask yourself where the biggest impacts lie and how they can be achieved without adversely impacting your wellbeing, you are more likely to boost your odds of achieving sustained success.

7. Ask Yourself What’s Worth Protecting

Dave Elkin, EVP and COO at Vine Oil and Gas, emphasizes how critical it is for oil and gas professionals to protect their physical and emotional wellbeing. While there is universal agreement among all of this article’s participants that protecting your health should be a top priority, there is also a consensus that investing too much energy into protecting items of lesser importance can be a major impediment to sustaining positive momentum. For example, the temptation to protect your hopes of attaining a particular job title or salary or of moving to a new department can sometimes cloud your focus on protecting things of far greater value: your trustworthiness, integrity, and reputation.

Drawing a parallel between how a single environmental incident can cost companies their social license to operate and how quickly a single reputational hiccup can cost high-potential employees their career, Elkin says, “When individuals understand that operations within an entire basin can be threatened by a single catastrophic event, they understand how many jobs—including their own—are dependent on protecting the things that matter most.”

Career Sustainability Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

Living in fear of career-limiting incidents is, of course, not an approach that any of this article’s participants would recommend. Rather, a consistent theme is the importance of increasing your awareness of the things that threaten to disrupt the critical connections linking your current state to the successful future you desire.

Fortunately, the most effective tools for assessing those connections are also the simplest ones: Telling stories, engaging colleagues, asking questions, and seeking feedback. Consistently hone and use those tools, and you will not only increase your reputation as a valuable asset capable of helping organizations navigate the volatility of oil and gas, but you will also boost the odds of building yourself a productive, purposeful, and sustainable energy career.

[The article was sourced from the author by TWA editor Stephen Forrester.]