How to Get a Job in Petroleum Geology

Summer break is fast approaching. For most university students, this means freedom and fun, but if you’re hoping to be a petroleum geologist, you should be spending those long-awaited vacation days at an internship instead of by the pool.

This is according to recruiters at Chevron, BHP Billiton and Marathon Oil.

In fact, they say, with the job market more competitive than ever – both for the employer and prospective employee – internships are key.

“Candidates we consider hiring are more involved than candidates from previous years: seeking internship opportunities earlier in their academic careers; building, maintaining and fostering professional networks, and taking initiative to sculpt an experience base and skillset that places them in a competitive position,” said Dan Oakes, Marathon Oil’s petrotech development and university relations supervisor.

“We take a strategic approach in leveraging the opportunities we have to interact with a candidate prior to offering a full time position. This ultimately results in almost all new university graduate hires coming from our intern pool,” he added.

Internships demonstrate students’ technical experience and abilities in oil and gas applications, but also allow students to ensure the company and work are a good fit, explained Amy DeGeest, Chevron’s development geologist for major capital projects. She emphasized that students’ hectic schedules are no excuse to delay seeking internships, as Chevron will work with students and faculty to be more flexible on timing.

BHP Billiton won’t recruit graduates who haven’t gone through their particular internship program first, explained Paul McIntosh, the company’s vice president of geoscience for petroleum.

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Summer break is fast approaching. For most university students, this means freedom and fun, but if you’re hoping to be a petroleum geologist, you should be spending those long-awaited vacation days at an internship instead of by the pool.

This is according to recruiters at Chevron, BHP Billiton and Marathon Oil.

In fact, they say, with the job market more competitive than ever – both for the employer and prospective employee – internships are key.

“Candidates we consider hiring are more involved than candidates from previous years: seeking internship opportunities earlier in their academic careers; building, maintaining and fostering professional networks, and taking initiative to sculpt an experience base and skillset that places them in a competitive position,” said Dan Oakes, Marathon Oil’s petrotech development and university relations supervisor.

“We take a strategic approach in leveraging the opportunities we have to interact with a candidate prior to offering a full time position. This ultimately results in almost all new university graduate hires coming from our intern pool,” he added.

Internships demonstrate students’ technical experience and abilities in oil and gas applications, but also allow students to ensure the company and work are a good fit, explained Amy DeGeest, Chevron’s development geologist for major capital projects. She emphasized that students’ hectic schedules are no excuse to delay seeking internships, as Chevron will work with students and faculty to be more flexible on timing.

BHP Billiton won’t recruit graduates who haven’t gone through their particular internship program first, explained Paul McIntosh, the company’s vice president of geoscience for petroleum.

His career with BHP Billiton began with the company’s 1989 graduate/ internship program based in Melbourne, Australia. BHP Billiton internship applicants must also have a master’s or doctorate or be currently in the process of obtaining their degree before they can be considered. Once accepted, their interns undergo a two to three-year program with on-the-job experience involving two or three rotations to broaden their experience, and they are required to take guided course trainings during the process.

“People seeking a petroleum geology position have a unique advantage of a few extra years in school compared to other petrotechs (i.e. engineers) as a master’s degree is soon (if not already) becoming a requirement,” said Erin Roehrig, a geologist with Marathon Oil. “

However, this should not be seen as an opportunity to delay the pursuit of employment,” she added.

She advises students to build their resume during their undergraduate studies by participating in local geology chapters and seeking summer internships in the field.

“As a freshman or sophomore it may be difficult to find an office job interning as an exploration geologist; however mudlogging and geosteering positions are available and are a great place to start,” she added.

Recruiting Process

For summer internships, the process of interviewing prospects on campuses and at student expos begins in the early fall the year prior, and positions are typically full by November. As different companies have varied methods of recruitment, McIntosh recommended that students need to be proactive in their research.

For example, BHP Billiton only visits the campuses of the University of Texas, Texas A&M, the University of Oklahoma, Colorado School of Mines and Stanford University to recruit. Meanwhile, Marathon Oil relies heavily on technology for their recruiting, beginning with online posts to narrow the candidate pool via minimum GPA and other basic requirements, followed by a round of virtual interviews.

For students whose schools might not be visited by Chevron, BHP Billiton and Marathon Oil, these companies mentioned recruiting from AAPG events like the Fall Student Expo in Houston or the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous at the University of Wyoming.

Getting Prepared

At recruiting events, companies expect students to be prepared to discuss their research and technical backgrounds, answer questions about workplace behavior and articulate their interests in the industry.

McIntosh noted the importance of being able to communicate all of the above, plus career interests and passions, in 15 minutes or less.

“Most recruiters have already interviewed or spoken to ten people before you, so you need to be brief and leave a lasting impression,” he noted.

Students should also show up to career fairs, events and informational sessions with a polished resume, taking advantage their campus career centers beforehand. DeGeest explained that “recruiters get a lot of resumes, and while we try hard to review all of them thoroughly, having a short conversation with a student where they can walk us through the key points really helps.”

She recommended making sure resumes highlight the most important characteristics and experiences without burying key details; in other words: quality over quantity.

Presentation and speaking skills are one key characteristic Chevron looks for that students might not recognize as important.

“Just like grant-funded research, companies have limited amount of capital to spend, and ideas and concepts must be vetted and compared to other opportunities. In order to progress ideas, get effective feedback and develop concepts, we must be able to efficiently and effectively share our work with a wide range of audiences from technical peers to upper management” elaborated DeGeest.

And, there are other features companies look for, like the ability to collaborate on teams and see from different perspectives. Also, McIntosh recommended showing leadership skills outside of your technical subject, through other clubs or leadership bodies on or outside of campus.

Roehrig further pointed out that recruiters love to see a candidate’s personality: “looking for stand-out experiences that can be non-industry related, like studying abroad, hobbies and personal passions,” which may even be the deciding factor in selecting one candidate over another.

DeGeest noted that students should be aware that companies are aiming to increase efficiencies in this low price environment, meaning that many have reduced the number of interviews and time spent on campuses. However, she assures future petroleum geologists that there are opportunities with a range of technical focuses beyond just direct studies on oil and gas, and thus it is important for them to be flexible.

“We are looking for excellent students with a strong drive to understand Earth science, ask questions, and solve problems collaboratively,” she said. “We have a variety of roles for Earth scientists that range from those working in existing field operations all the way to strategic R&Ds,” long as students articulate the impact of their work and how these experiences can be applied to oil and gas exploration and production, there are many job spaces available in their future.

Finally, as someone who has been successfully navigated the process and is now on the other side of it, McIntosh said, “Start early! If you’ve waited until you’ve graduated, then you are already too late.”

In summary, petroleum geologist job requirements for all companies are essentially the same:

  • Strong technical backgrounds in Earth Science; master’s/ doctorate required
  • Ability to communicate topics to diverse groups clearly displaying methodology, results and impact
  • Willingness to work collaboratively on cross-functional teams and demonstrating leadership and teamwork

However, applicants differentiate themselves by:

  • Starting early
  • Researching companies recruiting methods and internship/ job requirements thoroughly, including: timelines, requirements, company statistics and culture.
  • Being consistently visible (participating in organizational meetings, local society chapters, job fairs, AAPG events and submitting applications online)
  • Communicating clearly with a polished resume at events; leaving a lasting impact in 15 minutes or less
  • Practicing for interviews
  • Gaining internship and field experience
  • Remaining flexible to locations and positions; specifically, having a willingness to work in more locations means more possible positions