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Graduating in a Downturn? Take a Look at These Job Search Lessons

The oil and gas industry is attractive to university graduates because of the opportunities it presents. However, depending on your timing, it can be a challenging job market to enter because of the fluctuation in oil prices.


The oil and gas industry is attractive to university graduates because of the opportunities it presents. However, depending on your timing, it can be a challenging job market to enter because of the fluctuation in oil prices. Graduating during a downturn can leave young graduates looking for “survival” jobs. In this article, I share some advice based on what I learned through my experience navigating one of these downturns, when my company decided to shut down its geoscience department in 2014. I split my suggestions into two periods: before you graduate and after you graduate. Although this guide was written for industry downturns, it can also be a helpful reference if you graduated in a period of good oil price conditions.

Before You Graduate

In this period, you have more time on your hands before you start a full-time job. Let’s look at two areas to focus on:

Academia or industry? Acknowledging what your passion is will help you to plan what direction is best to start looking for opportunities. Knowing whether you want to pursue graduate studies or immerse yourself in oilfield operations is a good place to start to filter out opportunities and focus your view on potential paths forward.

Invest in your graduation project. Whatever is your above decision, invest in your graduation project. It is one of the most undervalued opportunities that can give you an appreciable amount of skills, information, and industry exposure. 

Here are a few tips on how to make the most of it:

  • Make tutorials to educate other students about what you are doing.  Are you using specific software, tools, or methodology? Then record a short video explaining to others how these tools work and develop your coaching skills. 

  • If you think others will find your work valuable, create a venue or online post talking about it. The SPE website provides many tools to do this—take a look at SPEConnect.

  • Spend time practicing your presentation. This is a great excuse to get quality presentation practice in front of your colleagues and improve your presence in front of a crowd.

  • Most of the graduation projects end after you graduate and your report will most likely will be tossed away; how about you create a small Wikipedia page to explain your project and what you have done? You could even add this this link to your résumé.

When selecting my graduation projects, often I selected the projects that enabled me to learn a new skill, explore new areas, and read new subjects. I have learned Matlab, R, Latex through these projects and even Computer Modeling Group Simulation experience.

Graduated. Now What?

Whether graduating in favorable industry conditions or a downturn, you’ll need to spend time looking for a job and polishing a résumé that stands out among your peers. Here are two parallel paths that I suggest can be helpful: sharpening your skills and marketing yourself.

Sharpen Your Skills

The past is dedicated to the future you. In the age of information, the knowledge you need is out there; all you have to do is decide to take action.  Below are some ideas you might find useful to sharpen your skills.

Read, read, read. Reading is a free journey into others’ minds. By reading, here I refer to reading oil and gas related journals and magazines. The SPE website is a god resource for this.  Try to develop a habit of reading an article every day or every week.  Here are a few suggestions

Massive-open-online-courses (MooCs). Moocs have changed the way we learn forever.  Nowadays, there are plenty of helpful online courses that you can take without heading to a university. Courses range from economics to finance, whatever your interest may be.

Examples of such courses are Planet Earth and You and Oil and Gas Industry Operations and Markets from Coursera, Reservoir Geomechanics from Stanford University and Geoscience: Earth and Its Resources from edX.

Learn Coding. Spend some time learning coding.  There are several online resources for this and many local options may be available depending on where you live. I suggest learning the Python language, which is used frequently in the oil and gas industry. Udacity offers a free course on Python programming.

Join professional societies. Professional memberships are one of the best ways to stay current in your field. A side benefit of these memberships is that you can showcase your interest in staying up-to-date in your area and display knowledge of relevant industry matters when talking with a potential employer.

Resources at SPE. You may be surprised about how many good resources and courses you can find on the SPE website. I encourage you to take time and explore the website. Taking some of these courses can make you eligible for continuous learning credits. This can show others that you are continuously working on your professional development and refiling your skills matrix.

Polish your language. If you are not a native speaker, like me, it is a good time to add some vocabulary. Consider this free course by edX for training:  edX IELTS Course

Write a paper. Do you have an idea? Write it down into a summarized abstract. Talk to a professional about it, add more content to it, and mature it into a good paper. Here are tips from SPE about writing an abstract.

Market Yourself

If you have state-of-the-art skills but don’t know how to show them, how will an employer know?  Here are some ideas on how to effectively market your skills:

Make a good-looking résumé. You may want to look at your abandoned résumé and clear the dust off of it. There are several websites that can help you prepare a great looking résumé at no price. I have tried Enhancecv and Novoresume websites and recommend both.

Tell the professional community what you are doing. In my experience, LinkedIn is the first place that many employers look.  If you are reading an interesting paper, working on a side project with promising results, or taking a course online, share what you are doing with your professional connections. Stay away from Facebook here. If you have content that you think deserves more than a LinkedIn post, consider writing an article or paper.

Attend events. Usually they are free for students and fresh graduates. Don’t hesitate; attend, network, and give presentations if you can. These events usually host many small companies as well. Talk to them and offer to work to train for free, take business cards, and email them back.

Volunteer. Giving back to the community can be a good source of inspiration. Try to find local events related to the oil and gas industry and contact them about volunteering. You can go to and find volunteering opportunities.

A final note: The suggestions above won’t guarantee you a job, but they should increase your chance of getting one. Perhaps you will discover new ideas or techniques along the way and be able to share them with future industry professionals.  Either way, you will come out stronger on the other side. Good luck on you journey!

The image at the top of the article is a modified cover of the February 2015 issue of the TWA print magazine. The issue focussed on the theme of recent graduates "Navigating the Industry" and can be found here.


Atheer Al Alattar is a data analyst at Dynamic Flow Computers, where he assists in the process of data analysis and technical content creation. He holds a master's degree in petroleum engineering from Louisiana State University and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Basra. He is a Fulbright scholar and has two published papers in OnePetro.