A Recruiter's Perspective on the Employment
Process for Geophysicists
When I was asked to contribute an article on what a
recruiter looks for in a geophysicist, I found the question difficult
to answer because it seems every request we receive is unique. We
must satisfy out clients' needs or convince them that their specifications
should be modified. Of course, there are many types of geophysicists,
varying with the type of company that employs them and their own
specialization within the field of geophysics. Each specialization
and each company's exploration style requires somewhat different
attributes. Some companies want 'explorationists'; others want a
'team geophysicist'. Some have acquisition, processing and research
groups that provide specialized services to their exploration departments.
Then there are a whole range of service companies that fulfill this
function on an 'outsourcing' basis. Individual consultants' talents
are also utilized to provide expertise ranging from contract interpretation
to design of seismic programs. Within the realm of geophysics there
are also experts in gravity and magnetics, and whole industries
devoted to earthquake seismology and environmental geophysics. Based
on where they fall along this continuum clients will invariably
have a slightly different slant on what they seek in an employee.
The majority of my clients are oil and gas exploration companies,
so most of my observations will relate to their expressed requirements.
I would like to preface my comments with some remarks
in general about employers seeking talent in the employment market
we have experienced since 1986. Until recently it has been a buyer's
market. Companies felt they could hire about anyone they chose,
and as a result, often asked for qualifications well beyond the
basic requirements of their positions. This time period also saw
the introduction of workstation technology, and most employers demanded
expertise with workstation interpretation - because they could.
Specifications were also loaded with requirements for experience
in certain basins or plays. The use of consultants became a popular
way to supplement one's staff without increasing employee headcounts.
Over the past two to three years, we have begun to
see the employment market change.. Consultants are harder to find,
and more expensive. Exploration spending has increased and the demand
for geophysicists as well. Few geophysicists were hired over the
past 12 years, and very few are coming out of school, so competition
for those available, particularly in the two to twelve year experience
range, has turned into a feeding frenzy in the marketplace. Many
companies have instituted 'retention bonuses' and 'hiring bonuses'
as they seek to hold their current employees and grow their own
staff. This has led to a predictable rise in salaries and, sometimes,
long delays in filling openings.
Against this backdrop, what do clients seek in a geophysicist?
Almost all companies would like to hire a young tiger, well versed
in workstation interpretation on their own system of choice, perhaps
with cross training on other systems as well, and with experience
in the plays where they are active - often the deepwater GOM or
subsalt. Some companies are seeking specialists in 3D interpretation
or in the design of, acquisition of, and processing of 3D seismic.
Their focus is more on the quality of the 3D data than the broader
exploration aspects. Other companies want an individual who can
be a geophysical specialist as part of an exploration team. Still
others want an explorationist - someone who can handle the entire
exploration process as an individual contributor. Obviously companies
must make compromises. Not everyone can be a full-fledged expert
in every aspect of geophysical exploration, nor can a specialist
in just one aspect of geophysics carry the entire exploration load.
A thoughtful company recognizes these tradeoffs as they design their
organization. Larger organizations can afford to have highly specialized
individuals - even groups of them - to handle the various components
of geophysical exploration. Small companies must be wise in their
use of outside consultants or service firms to supplement their
staff's knowledge. The smallest firms may rely almost entirely on
outside expertise, using a geologist with only a limited knowledge
of geophysics as their primary prospector.
In addition, there is a growing realization that all
the exploration tools are interdependent - that good geophysics
depends on excellent geology and engineering input to insure its
success. How a company sets up its organization to handle these
issues will impact the characteristics it is seeking in a geophysicist.
Geophysics embraces a much wider variety of educational
backgrounds than most other technical disciplines. A geophysicist
may actually have a degree in geology, geophysics, math, physics,
electrical engineering, petroleum engineering-- or even computer
science or operations research. Their initial training may also
vary considerably. Thus when a recruiter learns that a company wants
to hire a geophysicist, a host of questions come to mind that might
be asked to help define the search criteria. Will the individual
be designing algorithms for the processing of specialized data?
Will he or she be doing seismic modeling? Will he be assuring quality
control of field acquisition? Processing? Will he be determining
what type of geophysics should be done, and how the data should
be acquired and processed? Will he be interpreting data acquired
years ago? Or brand-new 3D data? Will he be working side by side
with a skilled geologist or must he provide a stand alone interpretation?
Will he have ready access to workstation technology? Does he have
access to specialists to assist him with his workstation interpretation
- to show him the ropes? How much training is available to fill
in voids in his expertise? Does he have knowledge of special geophysical
problems in the areas where the company plans to explore? Does he
have an understanding of the basin and plays where he will be working?
Will he be called upon to quickly move from one play to another
that is vastly different? Does the company want someone with 'specific
expertise' or a 'problem solver' (experts differ as to which is
more desirable)? Must the new hire be able to 'hit the ground running'
or will he have time to adapt to his new environment and duties?
Many companies have dismantled their training capabilities and downsized
their corporate memory to the point where they have limited resources
to bring new hires quickly up to speed.
So, how should a company approach the hiring process?
First they must take inventory of their own needs, resources, capabilities
and exploration style. From this inventory will emerge the picture
of the perfect candidate. Of course, in today's market, the company
will probably have to compromise somewhat from its ideal. However,
those compromises should be made with an eye towards the long range
view of the problem and with a realization that a newly hired employee
will need time to become fully functional.
It is easier to teach an experienced, seasoned individual
to operate a workstation than it is to provide years of exploration
savvy to a "computer whiz". It also can be dangerous to
assume that either a skilled interpreter or a workstation expert
necessarily has a solid understanding of the theory of geophysics
that will enable him or her to reliably design geophysical programs.
It seems to me that it is all too easy to be seduced by the spectacular
presentations made possible by modern workstation technology and
conclude that the interpretation presented is necessarily correct.
Exploration management must be keenly aware of the limitations of
the various tools they are using, and ensure proper quality control.
Over and above technical considerations, teams are
a large part of today's work environment. There is limited room
for the eccentric scientist who must work in isolation from the
rest of his co-workers. Even consultants and specialists have 'clients'
they must satisfy. Thus, a person's interpersonal skills become
highly relevant. On the other hand, some employers may overemphasize
the 'team player' approach, forgetting about issues such as professional
integrity, and the natural quirkiness that sometimes comes with
true genius. Most individuals are well served by developing a manner
that allows them to skillfully disagree when necessary without becoming
disagreeable. The true team approach should encourage healthy disagreement
over legitimate issues, rather than encourage a "yes-man"
mentality that can lead to meager or even catastrophic results.
It has been my experience that a client is generally better served
hiring individuals of high integrity, with superior intelligence,
a strong work ethic and broad experience, and then providing the
specific training necessary to perform the tasks required. In many
instances companies have wasted extensive periods of time holding
out for the perfect candidate, when they could have easily had a
willing if less ideally qualified candidate, productive long before
they found their paragon - if they ever were able to find such an
My advice to companies is to enhance their employees'
Some ways to do that are:
- cementing relationships with service companies and suppliers;
- reinitiating corporate training programs;
- seeking outside training capabilities;
- possibly hiring some very experienced 'mentor' geophysicists
with a primary work assignment of providing an experience base
for their less well-trained co-workers.
My advice to an individual thinking of testing the
job market, or currently actively involved in a search for a new
position, is similar. As painfully introspective as it may seem,
think about your career goals. Take stock of what you do well. Do
get whatever additional training you need to enhance your marketability.
In preparing support materials, give careful consideration
to their impact on how you will market yourself. When writing a
resume, provide sufficient information on your skills and past work
assignments to allow another professional in your field to really
understand what you have done, can do, and have accomplished. Err
on the side of more detail than brevity. Prepare an individual cover
letter that directly addresses why you have an interest in a particular
company or position.
But more importantly, focus on your strengths. Look
for potential employers that need those strengths. Examine the company's
exploration philosophy to be sure that it is compatible with your
objectives. Do not try to make the foot fit the shoe. Find another
shoe! Keep in mind your own personal development needs. Do you want
to work new areas or learn new techniques? If so, find out if a
potential employer can provide such opportunities. By all means,
work on your interpersonal skills. They can and must be developed.
Be cautious about seeking new employment. From my
perspective, a job change should bring more than an increase in
salary. Long term career growth, an opportunity to see one's ideas
tested, a more satisfying life style - location, time with family,
etc., the chance to work new areas or gain new skills, or gain management
experience are far more important objectives. And, sometimes, a
little patience with one's present employer may pay huge long term
dividends in career advancement. Conversely, if one is totally stymied
in his or her career progression, procrastination, particularly
waiting for one's employer to seize the initiative, can be disastrous.
It is almost always easier to find a new position while still employed.
From my point of view as a recruiter, I am looking
for an individual whose technical skills are generally in demand;
who can represent himself or herself well - has a polished appearance
and good communication skills; who can provide excellent references
- (because I rely heavily on references to assess a candidate's
capabilities); who has a clear and realistic idea of his objectives
in changing jobs; who is 'coachable' regarding the employment process;
and who will keep me "in the loop" as the process continues.
It is also important that individuals realize that
a recruiter primarily works for the employer. While I would like
to help every applicant find a better position, or in some cases
return to the industry, I must put forth most of my effort toward
satisfying active search requirements. Unfortunately, my timing
and yours may not always coincide. Nor can a recruiter overlook
deficiencies in a candidates background. We will not misrepresent
someone's capabilities and risk alienating the client. At best,
sometimes all we can do is help identify one's 'problem areas' and
suggest ways the individual can compensate. This might entail retraining
or seeking a position that allows development of the necessary skills.
In summary, a recruiter is seeking an individual who
can be successfully marketed to meet a client's real needs, has
a clear understanding of his or her capabilities and desires, and
can communicate that information to the client. Lastly, I am convinced
that most clients will hire a sharp, likeable individual with the
potential to do their job over a lackluster, but technically qualified
individual. In short, enthusiasm coupled with substance will carry
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