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Optimum Talks Blog

Engineering a Career Change

by Optimum Talent

The latest economic downturn has had a massive impact on many careers, especially in Alberta where we have seen some of the highest unemployment rates since the mid-1980s. Not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry has accounted for the vast majority of these with sweeping layoffs and a slow recovery, forcing many technical professionals, including geophysicists, geologists, engineers and others to attempt a move into new sectors.

As a career transition expert, I have encountered hundreds of highly intelligent and experienced professionals. A number have worked in oil and gas for 10, 20, 30 years, and for many, the thought of changing industries seems implausible – but rest assured, while not easy, it’s not impossible.

A key to making this transition is to look at competencies, rather than skills. Skills are one of three facets that make up a competency; the other two are knowledge and abilities. For example, a wellsite geologist can examine a well-log and provide a detailed record of the geological formations that have been penetrated. The hard skill here is reading the well-log, but the key competency is data interpretation. Spend some time reflecting on your experience and skillset to determine your competencies and how you can apply them in other fields.

Skills + Knowledge + Abilities = Competencies. Use this equation to look through your resume and identify your key competencies. Now, with those competencies in mind, here are some tips on making your move to a new industry:

  1. Conduct industry research. Look at your regional economic forecast to find out which industries are growing. Talk to people in the recruiting community to get a sense of trends happening in other sectors.
  2. Find the key competencies in demand. Within these sectors, there are going to be key competencies that are in demand. Look at what you have to offer and how it applies.
  3. Decide where you want to work. Choose the companies that you’re interested in working for, then research and network ahead of time. That way, when there is a job opening, you have already done the leg work and can rely on internal networks that you’ve developed within the organization to help get your resume noticed.
  4. Quality over quantity. When applying for positions, don’t send out the same resume with a generic cover letter to every potential employer. Determine where your competencies are most applicable or valued, and tailor each application to the specific job you are applying for.
  5. Be prepared. Be ready to discuss why you are changing industries. A potential employer must trust that you’re not going to run back to your old industry should that opportunity present itself. Your story must be convincing and true. Explain why this new industry is where you want to be and why you are committed to the change.
  6. Seek external insight. As with any major career change, obtaining an objective perspective can be extremely valuable. It may be beneficial to engage with a mentor or career coach when completing these steps.

Your skills are relevant experience from your past employment up until the present, but your key competencies are what bridge your skills to your future endeavours. Highlight them and apply them. You may have been a skilled engineer in the oil and gas sector, but you also have the competency to engineer a change in your career.