Lessons From Two and a Half Oil Busts, Part 1

For the next couple of years I’ll be giving advice as a LAGCOE mentor, so I’m using this blog to collect career-advice ideas as they come to me. I am lucky to be unencumbered by a corporate HR department and am free to speak my mind. Most of this advice comes from mistakes made or observed first-hand over the last 38 years.

Lesson 1 – “College is an obstacle course.”

This is advice I got from my older brother. At the time he shared it with me, he was a CPA with several years of working experience, and I was a sophomore in college. Without his perspective, I might have quit college out of frustration.

Despite the fact that my diploma says “petroleum engineering”, my college education did not teach me how to be a petroleum engineer. College is not intended to teach you how to do a job. College is intended to teach you how to think like a person needs to think to be successful in that job. A diploma is a tool kit, so to speak, and nothing more.

Along the way, there are a million obstacles. It seemed that the bursar’s office screwed up my tuition bill every semester. That Chem lab needed to stay on track for graduation was overenrolled. The prof failed to order enough books for Strength of Materials. In retrospect, these incidents seem to have been planned to create a series of mini-frustrations. Non-academic, procedural obstacles that seemed designed to discourage the less motivated, the less focused, the easily distracted or discouraged among us.

Call it paranoid if you wish. In any case, everyone finds college frustrating; realizing that the obstacles are integral to the process helped me achieve my goal, which was getting out with a degree. In the end, the student who has the time and determination to work the system is probably better prepared to cope in the real world.

Lesson 2 – A good résumé never got anyone a job.

A good résumé can get you a job interview, and the interview may lead to a job. A bad résumé can keep you from getting that interview opportunity.

Entire books and websites tell you how to construct your résumé, so I’ll be brief. An anecdote will serve as illustration.

Early in my career, during the beginning of what was to become the Oil Bust of 1986, my boss at a small company circulated an unsolicited résumé to me and another engineer. Both my boss and the other engineer were alumni former students of the same large university that the applicant would soon be graduating.

The résumé was pretty standard in form and layout: Career Goals, Education, Honors, etc. But under the title Organizations was this little gem:

> Served as Vice-Chair of the Campus Anti-Fraternity Council.

In thirty years of looking at résumés, this one line stands out as the best example of an opportunity-killer.

Your résumé should highlight campus leadership roles. Based on my boss’s legacy with the prominent, um, paramilitary anti-fraternity organization on campus, the applicant correctly assumed that this sentiment might resonate with him. (Have you guessed which university yet?)

The red flag relates to judgment, or the lack of same, that led the applicant to boast about it in writing. On his résumé. Truth be told, I shared his sentiment, but I would never have dreamed about putting it on my résumé.

You want your résumé to be passed around. Don’t sabotage yourself by assuming that every reader shares your prejudices.

The last person a corporate middle-manager wants to hire is one who speaks/writes/fires off an email before engaging his/her brain. Don’t let your résumé undermine your effort to snag that interview.

More to follow.

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