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It’s Not Just About Filling the Seat

March 3, 2020

The energy industry is always eager to uncover more top talent in the oil and gas candidate pool. By understanding a number of admirable changes and improved practices successfully utilized by energy companies as a model, the current recruitment landscape underscores diverse outreach methods and succession plans so another twenty year talent gap does not occur in any near term.

With that said, the crux of filling open positions today is to:  a) use resources that can tap the small pool of A-Player talent while favorably and accurately representing your company (all the while treating candidates like the Texas sweet crude they know they are); b) executing search processes that only deliver candidates in alignment with your company’s culture; c) identify and develop high potential talent two to three levels down from the current gap; and d) put a succession plan together or revisit the one you have.

Tapping experienced (and scarce) talent

Most corporations have determined that external, retained search firms fill the executive seat and access that talent with great efficiency.  Younger, midsize companies with catapulting early growth who have had good luck hiring via word-of-mouth and referrals from friends of their leadership, however, have shown resistance to using outside recruiters.  There’s no argument that that this type of “soft referencing” can uncover quality talent and natural culture fits, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind to do more than fill the seat.

D-I-Y recruiting

Do-it-yourself, in-house recruiters on a company payroll are assumed to have the best possible understanding of company culture and unspoken behaviors that are subtly valued but not usually advertised.  Consider your own in-house team and whether you feel 100% confident that every company and HR representative speaking to potential candidates in the market place can articulate your company subtleties in order to fairly vet the talent and accurately match them with the opportunity.

With a dramatically different discovery process for company culture and values from the in-house team, external recruiters typically agree that, at the line staff level, internal recruiters add the best value.  An internal team’s accessibility to reporting managers for regular dialogue and guidance can make for sound hiring.  As such, there are some admirable recruitment strategies going on in the energy industry to solve the immediate crunch.  For example:

  • Halliburton is purposefully changing the gender representation of their in-house recruitment teams. They would like to move more women with five to 15 years of experience to higher levels and realize that when women are considering a job they want to see other women who have been successful in the role.
  • BP has found a way to bring in more women by volunteering female employees to add recruiting to their list of responsibilities – real women in the actual roles, stepping out to talk to other potential female employees.
  • Transition training military and other complex instrumentation industry personnel into the oil and gas sector.

Outsourced recruiting

While the effectiveness of these recruitment strategies is assumed high, the volume of open engineering and related executive positions can be overwhelming to an in-house team.  A good outsourced recruitment firm should offer:  100 to 300+ man hours (depending on the impact and level of the role) dedicated to filling your position as quickly as possible, accessibility to the competition, transparent reference reports (this is particularly difficult to gather by an in-house contact), and a steady process delivering daily and weekly results. While an external firm should offer much more, these are highlights of the most challenging tasks facing in-house recruiters, which may be relieved by external recruiting. Consider outsourcing if you need a “nodding donkey” to get production started.  Identify search firms before your HR department burns through the company’s friends and word-of-mouth sources.

Culture as the success coefficient

An important element in the in-house, out-source discussion is culture and community. Culture is the behavior of employees – how things get done, and community is people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves.  Because talent changes frequently and retention packages are paid, repaid by the competition to lure a talent away and paid again by the latest hiring company, the new deciding variables are culture and community.  Henry Mitzberg says, in “Rebuilding Companies and Communities,” that a company without a compelling culture is like a person without a personality.  That resonates loudly because top down authority is out with regard to how things get done and community belonging and contribution by middle management (this is the small group of folks with 10 years experience you don’t want to get away!)  is getting serious results and retention.  These rising stars can drive key changes in the organization, and they want to stay to see the job through.

Does seeing the job through sound familiar? A Harvard Business Review study reports that those retiring Baby Boomers have nearly everything in common with the “Generation Y” workforce.  They both value “flexible work arrangements and the opportunity to give back to society” over compensation.  These elements are shaping company culture.

With culture and community being essential elements, a search process that produces candidates that align with the company’s culture and values is essential.  It is critical to evaluate the character of candidates, commitment to making a change, and the potential contribution of a candidate to the new company.  Literally hundreds of questions must be asked (both in the form of a written self-reporting methods and though face to face interviewing), but most poignantly the culture of the client company and what is desired by the candidate must be examined. A careful process can mitigate failed searches, which are roughly 45% in the industry. Take the time to define what your culture is (often) and purposefully evaluate each candidate against it for the best “fit.”

Good times and talent ahead

The data is optimistic: Harvard Business Review reports that 45% of our next round of leaders, “Generation Y,” expect to work for their current employer for their entire career.  In as little as five years, there will be a number (small but measurable) of early leadership level engineering talent who represent the new generation with 15 years of experience.  A few role model practices to retain and develop your high potential, but currently under experienced talent are as follows:

  • Shell has career stewards who meet regularly with emerging leaders, assess their level of engagement, help them set realistic career expectations and make sure they’re getting the right development opportunities.
  • A large manufacturer, in China, gives its rising stars privileged access to online discussion boards, led by the CEO, that are dedicated to the company’s biggest challenges. Emerging leaders are encouraged to visit the boards daily to share ideas and opinions and to raise their hands for assignments.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s high potential talent participates in a nine month program called LeAD receiving external coaching, regular assessments. They develop a growth project – a new product, service, or business model – intended to create value for their business unit. They also leave the program with a multiyear individual development plan.

Succession planning

Following the exercise of developing talent just below the current gap, establish a written succession plan detailing who they are and what the leadership activities are to foster and retain that talent.  Include other things like who has influence on the plan, when revisions and reviews to the plan are scheduled, actions to implement in the event of an emergency, etc.

So what about fixing today’s immediate problem? Adjust your expectations for the number of talented candidates you will select from in the short-term; push your recruiters to look globally; participate with your company’s top female talent in women focused energy associations like Women’s Energy Network (; take time to assess culture and ensure a search process that includes a proper evaluation of fit; and identify and evaluate your potential succession talent quarterly.


Author Bio:

Mary Campagnano has over fifteen years of business and executive search experience. Based in Houston with Allen Austin Global Executive Search, she works in the senior leadership Industrial and Natural Resources practice.  She may be reached at



High Performance Human Capital Leadership, Rob Andrews. 201.  Lulu publishing.

Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2009, pages 140-143.  “Rebuilding companies as communities.”

Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2009, pages 71 – 76.  “How Gen Y & Boomers Will Reshape Your Agenda.”

Harvard Business Review, May, 2010, “How to Keep Your Top Talent.”

Sixel: ‘Next level’ for women in energy. Posted on August 17, 2012 at 7:04 am by LM Sixel in Workforce