Getting Started as a Self-Employed Geoscientist
Thom Tucker, CPG
HGS Continuing Education Committee
Cheryl Desforges, CPG
Robert Pledger, CPG
HGS member, AAPG House of Delegates
Susan S. Nash, PhD
AAPG Director of Education and Professional Development
HGS Continuing Education Committee
Sorry you lost your job… Congratulations! You are “Self-Employed” – by definition. We have assembled information from several sources, and nested-in our own experiences, to help you get started.
First, it might be a good idea to adopt the perspective that you have always ‘worked for yourself’ – following your dreams through school, maybe finding your passion that motivates you, and getting a job that, at least, sort of fits into that scheme as well as making a living.
The company for which you worked may have provided formal schooling or mentoring and on-the-job training. Those decisions were made by others, from the perspective of your perceived capabilities and what was needed by the company. Your days of corporate paternalism have ended.
Each of us is ultimately responsible for making our own living. Especially within a corporation, we rarely “…know when or how conditions will change, only that they will. That realization requires us to continue to learn and grow, and to adapt to new technologies, circumstances, and challenges. In the ultimate sense, then, the only real job security we have is that which we can provide for ourselves.”1
What can you offer?
“All of us possess unique knowledge, experience, and personal talents. Success comes by recognizing and understanding…” these as “…our personal assets, and working to build on and enhance them.”¹ “Your assets are your keys to employment/work and personal fulfillment. They may include proficiency in a specialty such as geophysics, petrophysics, drilling
” and operations “or reservoir engineering, management information services, multi-media presentations, or a foreign language. Or they may involve specialized knowledge in a particular geographic region, gained through work in or study of the area. Specialized technical knowledge, applied within a specific basin of province, can be especially rewarding.”¹ Some might have business acumen, or the ‘nose’ for a deal.
“Recent geoscience graduates may be apprehensive about establishing a
” consultancy “with little previous work experience, but they should take comfort in the realization that their education has probably prepared them for a much broader range of opportunities than they may have previously considered.”¹ Talk to your Graduate Advisor and get some additional ideas.
Task 1: Taking inventory
“List in as much detail as you can your areas of expertise, your strengths, and your professional experiences. List what attributes [and specific skills] you have that might be useful to a company, and what you could contribute to a company’s success.”¹ Yes, this could vary between an E&P company and a consulting company, but just GET STARTED! “List the activities you like to do and what you do best. Also identify those activities that you should not do, and stay away from them.”¹ Do you have a ‘niche’ in which you have some experience, knowledge or skill that is not common? “Simply cataloging on paper your personal assets and your long-term objectives will help you determine the best use of your time and efforts… Most long-term independents will acknowledge that the greater difficulty is in deciding, from among the myriad of available activities, the few that offer the most satisfaction or profit potential.”¹
Task 2: Articulate what you have to offer
A. The 30 second elevator speech/pitch. Now remember, you are looking for work – not specifically a job. We have found people to be more receptive when they know you are trying to spread the word, and not button-holing them for a job (see section on networking below).
Between Jobs Ministries (http://www.nwbc.org/betweenjobsministry) is a great resource to help you craft your 30 second commercial as well as a safe environment to practice, get feedback and revise it. Like it or not, you are in the marketing business now.
B. Be able to express it in a few words or single phrase, such as what you will put on your business card. For example:
Prospect Generating Explorationist, East Texas & NW Louisiana
Consulting Geoscientist, Exploration and Exploitation
Geophysicist Consultant using Quantitative Analysis in Prospect Identification & Maturation
A well-known member of the HGS, in addition to being owner of a company, summarizes as “Consultant specializing in 2D and 3D interpretation using Kingdom Software.”
The point is to give the person you are talking to something simple and easy to remember!
Raise Your Flag!
Now you are ready to:
- Print your business card.
These can have as little as four items: your first and last name, telephone number, email address, and the few words or single phrase that articulates what you have to offer (from B above). These are available from your local ‘copy shop,’ as well as online.
- Build your LinkedIn profile.
In the ‘Summary’ section, start with your 30-second elevator speech, followed by a list of skills. In the ‘Experience’ section, fill in a brief summary of what you did for each job situation, focusing on accomplishments which had an economic impact and illustrate skills you offer.
- Keep your resume up-to-date.
Make sure your resume is top notch! Check out this article on skills for resumes in 2019: https://novoresume.com/career-blog/most-important-skills-to-put-on-your-resume
- Affiliate to form strategic alliances
“No one is truly independent. We all rely on others.” Anyone in business “soon learns that they need the support and counsel of friends, business and professional associates, clients, investors, and others to conduct their business. Every day, we meet and mingle with others who can impact our business in some way.
As someone in business for themselves (independent, sole-proprietor), “no one can know or do enough working alone. It may be helpful to affiliate with one or more professionals with similar or complimentary talents and experiences.” Synergistic multi-disciplinary teams are more the norm within oil companies now than 20 years ago, and likewise, “effectiveness often increases when independents with different skill sets work together on projects.
- A team approach is usually better at solving complex problems.
- New ideas often occur in discussions with others.
- New knowledge is often discovered at the interfaces of specialties and professions.
- Associates can serve as mentors, critics, or partners.
- Professionals work primarily in their areas of expertise. Team efficiency increases.
- Teams can reinforce positive attitudes and goals and can encourage other team members to complete segments of work.”1
One immediate way to look for alliances is with former co-workers who are now self-employed. Another is to ask former co-workers, whether self-employed or still working for the company, who they might know and trust in the consulting world. This is part of the “Who Do You Know?” approach to marketing.
Another way to meet people is to attend and join…
- Join/attend/network/participate in professional societies.
“If you are not already active in local, regional and national societies,” then you are probably not reading this when it is first published, but “now is the time to begin.”1
Current President of HGS Deborah Sacrey wrote “Many geoscientists have ‘transitioned’ in their careers, similar to my experience… until they found themselves out on their own, either as a consultant, or as a small independent… Regardless of how one moves in their career paths, success is dependent upon the network of professional contacts and visibility within the geosciences community one can build.”2
“Many of my best friends and business associates are people with whom I have worked with on various committees, conventions, and other professional activities. By expanding my network through volunteerism, I have expanded my consulting business, and found additional opportunities for professional and financial growth.”2
Within the societies you have the opportunities to:
- Diversify yourself -- learn more about other topics that interest you.
- Keep your skills sharp: take courses, participate in workshops, even organize your own ‘lunch and learns’ or ‘coffee encounters.’
And if you are looking for a multi-disciplinary alliance, then attend the meetings of other petroleum professional societies. Team up and come up with a project with definable outcomes.
The authors of this article have intentionally listed one of their current roles in professional societies as an example.
Here are ten actionable tips to make the most of your professional meetings.
• Meet More – the key to any meeting is to meet others. In a science and technology professions like ours, you may be drawn to the topic of the presentation. But the biggest mistake most folks make is that they don’t meet more new people. During the short, often half-hour social period before the meal, many people will cluster with people they know. Many people tend to stay in ‘their group.’
Do not stay in your comfort zone! One approach is to look for someone you know in one of the other clusters and see if there is a space beside them to join. Another approach is to introduce yourself to people who are also standing alone, or turning away from the bar with a drink in their hand. Make it a practice to sit at a table where you know the least number of people. Or sit next to someone you recognize, but do not know. Make it your goal at every meeting to approach ten people you don’t already know. This can include the people at your table.
• Get Business Cards, By Giving Them – It is customary in our business to, at an appropriate moment in the conversation, offer your business card and say “Here’s my business card. Do you have one on you?” If they say “No, I forgot to bring some”; or “Actually, I just gave my last one away”, then you turn over one of your cards, hand them the blank side, and “Could I get your contact information so we can stay in touch?” Most will assent, some will decline, but respect their decision!
Then do ensure that, once you get back to the office or home, you send them a follow up email, Facebook or LinkedIn request, Twitter shout out. You’ll meaningfully increase your odds of staying in touch.
• Be the Connector – there is great value in positioning yourself as the person that can connect people at networking events and meetings. Take the time to introduce people that might be able to work together, are looking for jobs, or could be co-founders. By positioning yourself as a connector at meetings you’ll find your professional/social credibility climbing steadily.
• Do Favors for Others: the law of reciprocity dictates that people want to help other who help them. Most folks at meetings spend most of their time talking about themselves or seeing what they can get out of the situation. By being the person that focuses on helping others you’ll instantly stand out among the crowd and will build a bank account full of goodwill that you’ll be able to repeatedly withdraw from in the future. For more on this watch the video by Jason Nazar on How to Persuade People
• Make Sure Others Know What You Do – how many times have you left a conversation with a long winded person, still having no idea what they really do. Make sure everyone you talk to knows what you do, and could easily explain it to anyone else at the meeting. Your goal is to have lots of people talking about you, and it starts by having others easily be able to communicate what you’re all about.
• Social Proof is Key – don’t make the mistake of telling others how great you are, get other people to do it for you. Having someone else at the meeting point you out or suggest that you’re an important person to get to know, is infinitely more valuable than anything you could do to talk yourself up.
• Don’t Talk to Anyone for Too Long, especially if it is in your “comfort zone” – the purpose of the Social Hour is to identify as many people as possible that you might be able to work or connect with in the future. Save the very thorough conversation with one person for the meal table. Meaningful business can get accomplished at meetings, but it is usually pre-arranged.
• Set Up Meetings Outside of Meetups – you can do everything correctly at the meeting but if the connections end there, it’s all for naught. Make sure to set up follow up 1 on 1 meetings where you can really sit down and get to know someone and build more meaningful relationships.
Ask for informational meetings and referrals. You will be surprised how many people will make time for you when you’re are NOT asking for a job. Ask for 15 minutes of someone’s time. Ask “what they would do in your situation?” “who would they talk to?” “would they put you in touch with, or reach out to 2 people on your behalf. Try to understand their needs. Maybe there is a place you can help. Maybe not. Maybe you know someone that can. But the goal of these meetings is to meet more people and get advice – NOT to ask for ‘a job’.
• Be the Organizer – there is a lot more value being the organizer than the attendee, mostly because everyone knows the organizer. It may be more work up front, but the professional dividends that pay out over time make it very worthwhile.
A recent example of this is Sydney Weitkunat, who returned home to Houston after earning her Master’s degree in Spring of 2015, but no work, because the oil companies were down-sizing. She joined the HGS online, and in the “Are you interested in volunteering” section, indicated an interest in the Northsiders’ Group. The previous leadership of this group had been moved by their companies, and the venue location became less-than-convenient. Sydney agreed to chair the group at a new, more convenient venue location at Southwestern Energy's Conference Center, and was mentored by HGS VP, Cheryl Desforges. Through this involvement, she re-connected with someone she had encountered in Graduate school, who referred her for some geoscience consulting work, launching her career.
• Ask for the “sale”- indirectly, in the “Who do you know?” approach. Usually, no one likes to be button-holed - for work or anything else! Make sure everyone you talk to knows what you do [Task 2.A Elevator speech or Task 2.B Sentence ].
Then toward, or at the end of the conversation say:
"If you hear of anyone needing a [short phrase Task 2.C], I would appreciate you letting me know!" or,
"Keep me in mind if you hear of anyone needing a [short phrase Task 2.C]." This is also said to acquaintances that you haven't seen in 4 weeks.
Contracts and Agreements
SIPES has developed, in conjunction with the DPA of AAPG, useful professional Model Contracts for Independent Geoscientists. A model Confidentiality Agreement form and Contract for Geoscience Services are now available.
It is recommended that you immediately become familiar with the model Confidentiality Agreement to understand how to work with people and companies concerning data and properties.
Before you start work, you will want to have a Contract which spells out the terms (hours and money) under which you will work, and what is expected of you, in specific and general terms. For what to expect, see the model Contract for Geoscience Services.
These forms, in PDF, are available from: https://sipes.org/resources/model-contracts/
“Time may be contracted on an hourly, daily, weekly rates and with a maximum of schedule flexibility. It may include involvement in the company’s everyday business activities, or be specific to a project. In every case, the short-term contract allows the company to benefit from the knowledge of a specialist while evaluating the effectiveness of the consultant’s contributions. The professional gets to “try on” a new environment, meet other professionals, and add valuable work experience to their vita.” 1
“Determining an appropriate fee schedule may be troublesome. Consulting fees span a wide range and are dependent on many factors: knowledge and expertise in a specific area, record of proven success, personal or firm’s reputation, state of the industry, and so on. Conversations with others involved in similar work is perhaps the best means of initially setting rates; then fine-tune them as circumstances change.” 1
Good Business Tips: Records, Receipts and Bookkeeping
- Buy a calendar, or appointment, book that will fit in the inside pocket of a suit jacket or a small purse. This author prefers the style with the whole week on the 2 facing pages when the book is lying open on a table. The smallest this author has found is a little smaller than a 3 by 5 card (write small!) for about $9. Largest recommended in this category would be 3-7/8 by 6-1/2 inches with replaceable, spiral-bound year insert, for about $25. The replaceable insert spiral bound annual calendar measures 3-1/4 by 6-1/4 inches.
- Keep Records: Use the appointment book to record Meetings, car Mileage, Tolls, and Parking. Find and record the Blue Book value of your car for the mileage when you ‘started looking for work’. Or do this for the New Year.
Start a Spreadsheet to keep track of these.
- Keep and file Receipts: all business related expenses: Registration fees for society Meetings, Conferences and short-courses and other networking opportunities, Parking, Gasoline, Auto insurance and Repair, any cash payments. Check with your tax adviser as to how these may be deductible as ‘Job Search’ or ‘Continuing Education’ expenses.
Start a Spreadsheet to keep track of all these.
At some point you may want to get a simple, inexpensive bookkeeping program.
When you know you have Work / a Contract coming, and no later, this author recommends:
As much as possible, keep from mixing your funds / cash flow streams.
- Get a separate Checking Account for Work. It is so much simpler at Tax Time to have the ‘work checking’ separate from the ‘domestic checking’. You will probably need to make a deposit (get it from your savings or domestic account) to open this account. Keep things ‘clean and auditable’. Also, many larger companies pay – even their contractors – by Direct Deposit. This information will be requested among the other paperwork on the day you sign the Contract.
- Get a separate Credit Card for Work. Put only work-related expenses on it, e.g. registration for meetings and courses, professional society dues, sales Lunches – but not Gasoline.
Of course, funds can be transferred between the two accounts, as long as they are clearly notated as such, and cannot be confused as income. In the early months, amounts may need to be transferred from savings into the Work account. Later, funds can be transferred from Work to the Domestic account for living expenses.
Business Strategy: Consulting
In this article there is only room to focus on one, and the most generally applicable is Consulting. Many “independents” have found their niche in consulting, having found that their specialty is useful in multiple basins nation-wide, if not world-wide.
“Companies that merge or down-size may release employees only to realize that” a specific project or projects require workers with the same skills “for an indeterminate period of time.” 1 Finding such work is out there, but requires a lot of digging and networking.
“Small or start-up companies may not have the financial resources” or the need “to hire a specialist on a permanent basis but may occasionally need professional services. They want access to high-tech knowledge and experience that the geoscientist gained with a previous employer. Other companies need help managing electronic data, selling prospects,” selling geophysical data and services, “ or doing well-site evaluations.” 1
“Do not evaluate properties for a client in an area where you are exploring! If you tell a client that a local area has no oil or gas potential, you can never change your mind after more well control. If you have a well drilled there, the client may accuse you of cheating him.” 1
Persevere – “…establishing a reputation and garnering clients” can “take more time and perseverance than”…”expected.” 1
Affiliate – Several of us have established strong relationships with different consultants in different disciplines who may already have an established client base. While Gibbs (1999)1 mentions that “sometimes they manage by affiliating with established consulting firms, handling the associates overflow work, or contacting prospective clients” 1 we have found this to happen rarely. Not the least of which is due to the consulting firm trying to retain its own worker base
References: [We recommend that you obtain these for yourself!]
1. James A. Gibbs (1999) Becoming an Independent Geologist: Thriving in Good Times and Bad; Now On Sale for $ 5 (plus the shipping of $7.16 by FedEx)
2. Guiding your Career as a Professional Geologist (2006) Rose and Sonnenberg eds., https://dpa.aapg.org/career_guide.pdf
3. Alternative Strategies (Self Employed) https://archives.aapg.org/careers/jobs/strategies.html
4. Adapted from: Jason Nazar (2010) Ten Networking Tips for Entrepreneurs
Thom Tucker, CPG, SIPES, SPE has worked for over 25 years in multidisciplinary Appraisal, Development, Revitalization and Reserves determination for Oil and Gas Fields in 18 basins world-wide. This has extended into the evaluation of Oil and Gas properties and exploration Prospects. Tucker consults to E & P operators, those with interests in, and those interested in acquiring, productive properties. He has, and still serves, on several committees of the HGS, and on the Continuing Education committee for 20 years. He is also an active member of SIPES and SPE.
Cheryl Desforges, PG, CPG has 40 years of experience in exploration exploitation, acquisitions and divestments, and reserve evaluations. She is currently consulting in property evaluations. She has served in numerous capacities of leadership, including her current position as HGS Vice President, and on committees, including the Continuing Education Committee, for the Houston Geological Society (HGS). In addition, she currently serves as a Delegate from HGS to the AAPG House of Delegates. She is an active member of SIPES, as well as SEG and SEPM.
Robert Pledger, CPG Consequent to his 40 years experience as an Independent oil and gas operator in 6 states and 9 other countries, Pledger now focuses on his consulting to numerous domestic and international companies involved in raising capital, acquisitions, divestitures, and taking companies public. He has served in numerous capacities in professional societies (HGS, SIPES, AIPG, currently an HGS member for the AAPG House of Delegates) ; and on university and governmental advisory councils. Pledger also provides professional support relating to oil and gas operations to investment banking firms.
Susan S. Nash, Ph.D. currently serves as the Director of Education and Professional Development for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in Tulsa, OK. For the last 15 years, she has focused on developing programs that develop human and natural capital using a multi-pronged, interdisciplinary approach. Her goal is to help professionals constantly reinvent and retool themselves for quickly changing times.
Bryan Flynn, is a Consulting Geophysicist committed to getting the most geologic information out of seismic data so that better decisions can be made more quickly. He has a background in seismic processing, quantitative interpretation, and prospect identification and maturation. Bryan has worked geologic settings ranging from deep water clastics to onshore carbonates, and still believes that the best geologists are the ones that have seen the most outcrops. He is a member of the HGS Continuing Education Committee, the AAPG, and the SEG.