Downturn doldrums: Don’t just survive, thrive.

February 17, 2016

It’s no secret that our industry has its swings.  Layoffs and downsizing worries become a common watercooler refrain in lean times, and few are spared the stress that this causes. $30 oil has a tendency to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the effects aren’t limited to office closures and consolidations. If it hasn’t happened already, you will eventually be put in a position where you have to fight for your current job, or be ready to compete for a new one.

So how can you be sure that you rise to the top?  Be awesome at what you do, and never stop improving. We’ve culled together a few practical tips to stay sharp and help you thrive in the midst of the downturn.

Expand Your Network

Everyone knows the cliché: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While it seems trite and banal to repeat it again, it’s never been more true. Even the most qualified engineers face an uphill battle in the modern age of job hunting. More often than not, faceless digital application portals are where dreams go to die.

The best way to circumvent the black hole of job applications is to know someone on the inside. And the best way to do that is to network, both internally and externally.  Though traditional methods can still work, networking doesn’t have to mean joining an SPE committee or attending every YPE happy-hour.  My personal favorite method is what I call the LinkedIn Advice Ask. It works like this:

Step 1: Determine the type of company and role that you are best suited for.  Spent your first few years in an Encana rotational program, but want to eventually transition to a small PE-backed E&P with a chance for more responsibility? A quick search shows Encap Investments currently has 6 Denver-based portfolio companies that match that description.

Step 2: Find the people who work in interesting roles at those companies.  LinkedIn makes searching for these people easier than it has ever been.  Completion Manager at Company X, Operations Manager at Company Y; potential mentors and introductions are at your fingertips.

Step 3: Find a way to make contact.  This is the part where many start to feel awkward (sales guy looking at engineers here), but it gets easier the more that you do it.  You can use LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who can make an introduction, or you can reach out directly with a connection request.  Protip though – go straight for the email.  You already know their name and company, so a few guesses should get you to an email.

Step 4: Ask for advice!  Keep it simple, show that you’ve done some research, and be kind:   you’ll be amazed how many awesome people there are who are happy to help.  My recommended email would go something like this:


My name is Tim and I am a petroleum engineer here in Denver who also went to A&M — Gig ‘em!  I’ve spent the majority of my career at major independents and am currently trying to learn more about working for a smaller private organization.  I saw that you made a similar transition, and I would love to pick your brain to learn what made you successful in that process.  

Would you be open to letting me buy you a cup of coffee to meet and chat?



Simple as that, and don’t forget that this works internally too!  Make a habit of it and before you know it people will be asking YOU for advice.

Be a Data Wizard

“Big Data” is the buzzword of the day today, but anyone involved in exploration and production knows that massive data sets have always been a daily reality and challenge.  Every operational discipline has their own unique challenges, but it is an inescapable fact that Excel wizardry is practically a prerequisite at this point. That said, stepping up your game and demonstrating the ability to understand and use all of the tools that you have to analyze large data sets could be what sets you apart in your next interview.  In my time as a recruiter I saw it happen regularly.

Improving your skills will require dedicated time, but that seems to be one resource that we have plenty of at the moment. Practically, I’ve found a few specific ways to buff up:

Industry Provided Training:

SPE courses and industry lectures are a great place to start.  Here in Denver, there are a number of great classes coming up.  Check them out here.

Self-teaching through Software Knowledge Base:

Your company is likely already paying for a number of industry standard software applications.  Reading the support articles and knowledge base forums can be a great way to become a self-taught expert.  Webinars can provide a similar self-training opportunity, at the Well Data Labs office we will regularly put one on the conference TV and watch over lunch.  Julie Schellberg from SM Energy has a great webinar on using Spotfire for converting both wrapped and unwrapped LAS files to text files.

Non-Industry Training:

There are plenty of available resources online for manipulating data with spreadsheets and basic databases, but if you are currently in-between jobs and really want to go all out – local startup hub and education company Galvanize has recently spun up a nationally recognized 12 week immersive Data Science program.  You can learn more and apply here.

When it comes down to it, there is no substitute for being a knowledgeable and competent engineer who does everything you can to help your team succeed.  We might not be able to influence macroeconomics, but we can absolutely influence our own level of education and company impact.  Eventually the tide will turn, and those who have thrived in today’s downturn will be the ones leading tomorrow’s E&P’s.