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Careers: Geology/Petroleum geoscience career


QUESTION: Dear Keith,

I would like to ask the following two questions.

I was wondering how the big Exploration companies (e.g. BP,Shell, Chevron or service companies like Schlumberger) pays there employees while on overseas posts. Let say, after completing your 3 year training/probation period(with BP challenger UK, or Chevron Horizon USA) and then you decide to take a geoscience post overseas as an expat (British or American)to work in Venezuela or Brazil for 2 or 3 years with the same company, do they still pay your salary in British Pounds/USDollars at competitive UK/US rate or will you get the same salary as that of the local staff abroad (say, a Brazilian salary in reas)?

I am currently an undergraduate geology major student with the University of London. After graduation I'm planning to take a masters degree in petroleum geoscience, but the popular ones that are known to be heavily linked with the industry (like Imperial College, Aberdeen, Leeds, manchester) are way to expensive for me to self fund. Even with a loan I would still fall short to meet one year of living maintenance etc. However, I've learned that the University of Southampton runs a high quality postgraduate MRes (master of research) degree in Marine Geology and Geophysics, which offers a marine geophysical exploration pathway. And this course cost only a third of the aforementioned Uni's, thence I could self fund myself for a full year without much hassle. This course includes courses on seismic acquisition, processing, interpretation and 2/3 of the degree program is research based. You can find info on this course on:
Thus, the Uni of Southampton may gave me the vocational preparation at master degree level for a career in upstream. Now, with that said, I still wanted to hear from an experienced professional like you who knows about the recruitment process for upstream, the following. Whether a lesser popular degree from a lesser popular University(in regards to the Oil sector recruitment process) is still regarded by the industry when competing for graduate recruitment positions. Caveat; make no mistake here, the University of Southampton(which houses the UK national oceanography centre) is a top ranking university and well respected in the UK.

Thanks in advance.

Please feel free to reply on here or via email: or

Anwar Fuenmayor

ANSWER: Anwar:

They pay you at the going US or British rate. They do not reduce your pay to match the local pay scales.  In fact, for a US or Brit, overseas posting is desirable for just that reason. They pay your taxes, and the local cost of living is so low, in some places you can live like a king for virtually nothing and save a lot.  Overseas pay is usually higher since for US citizens it is considered a "hardship" to live in some locations.  I had a friend in Indonesia, who had a driver, a cook and a housegirl in a home with an inside courtyard large enough for a half court basketball court.  He paid his staff $50 a month each.  he said that was about $20 more than the going rate.  He paid his cook who also shopped for him, about $15 extra so she wouldn't skimp on him.

The university is fine, but don't get too caught up in the prestige thing.  What recruiters look for is if you have the matching qualifications or experience.

Now if you are coming out of school, then GPA and class standing might mean more to some companies, in absense of any experence.  What some might see is too much 'research" type classes and not enough practical applied classes.

The best thing is to talk to some people in the hiring companies and get their direct input.  Some of those companies still have research departments.  I myself was hired at Phillips Pet Co into research, but it took me 5 years to get out and into an operating group doing exploration.

Now there are two avenues to get hired, an you might check out the websites of the companies you mentioned to see what I am talking about.  Some have a new hire type program where you come in and get a how we do it here type training.  If you can get in at that level, then your class background experience may not mean too much either way.  

If you get hired for a position where they expect you to know what you are doing from day one, then they will be hiring you on the content of what you know from your classes and not the basic knowledge they assume you have on which they can build on in their in house training.

One thing you need to know is in the recuiting process, the HR people are worthless.  Today HR people use search engines to pull up and down load resumes and CVs.  (Note:  what is a good CV or Resume in the states and in the EU are TOTALLy different.  No pictures, no forms.  Resumes in the US are everyman for himself.  Form resumes and applications are commonly used in the EU and are ridiculus everyone is reduced to the same form with little means to be able to raise yoru self above the other applicants.

HR people pull up resumes or evaluate ones they recieve.  What do they compare it to?  A job description written up by a manager who may or may not be good at it.  They use key words to match qualifications in the description to the ones in the resumes.  Miss several or all the key words and your resume never makes it to the "send to manager" pile and never even has a chance to make it into the "have in for interview" pile.  That is why a good resume and tailoring your resume to each job you apply to is so critical.  If a job is or a seismic processor, then you make a version of your resume to "fit" that job description.  Re-order lists of qualifications to match the ones they use, to bring out how perfect you are for the position.  You sell yourself on the basis of the open position, not some other job.  

I have recieved resumes that sounded like they were looking for another position and were just too lazy to at least make it sound like they wanted the job I had open.  In the age of word processors, that is the height of laziness, and told me all I needed to know, I didn't want to talk to them much less waste time interviewing them.

What you need to do is compare the curriculum listed at the other universities you mentioned for the similar degrees and look at them from the persepective of a hiring person.  Check out jobs on line like those at and see how they are listed, at least the openings for new hires.  Check out the Chevron, Shell Exxon sites and see what openings they have, how do they describe the openings, how would your study curriculum fit and how would you present your self based on the classes you will have taken.  Would it be a good match or not?

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thank you for your advice. It really did clarify a lot. I would like to know two more things.

If exploration geoscience is the pathway I would want to follow later on, does it make a difference on the long run, if I start my career with a major E&P company (Chevron, BP or Exxonmobil) or service company (schlumberger, halliburton etc)? Will a career start with a service company get me pigeonholed into a specialization, in comparison to the  more all-round training a major E&P oil company would provide their graduate trainees? In other words, how smooth can someone make the transition between E&P and service companies?  

Being a mature student of 36 years old. I will finish my masters degree with the age of 39/40. Now of course I do have a substantial previous career and real life experience to add to my resume. But should I worry about my age, since I will be competing for a graduate program with other young kids half my age? Taking into account the petroleum industry's HR hiring culture.

Thanks in advance



I worked for Schlumberger.  To be honest, they will more than likely station you in your native company and you'll never leave.  They will pay you the local wages which will be lower than your peers in a place with a higher standard of living.  And yes ,you might bet pigeon-holed.

Starting with a major is preferable.  They will give you the training they want you to have.

Schlumberger is more technical, you would probably sit wells or do logging. Only a small segment of the company does research.  You will learn a lot of stuff, but it may be very difficult to transition into a major, since the service companies do not do EXPLORATION.  They do support for drilling and developing software.

With a major you would be taught to look for oil by originating play concepts, interpreting the data and selling your ideas to management.   You won't ever do that with Schlumberger.

The last question is tough.   Yes it will put you at a disadvantage since they approach new hires as prospective workers their to make a career.  They train you with the outdated notion that you will spend a career with them and that they are investing XX dollars the longer you staty with them the better their investment.  Of course they will more than likely lay you off that you leave, but thats business.  The interviewer is not supposed to take age into account, so if you put together a good resume and get an interview, you maturity and life experience should be a plus and you can sell that in the interview.  Maturity = responsibility and work ethic.  At least that is the way it is supposed to be.  

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Keith Patton


Career and educational options open for fledgling geoscience students. What courses you should take to prepare for the current job market.


24 years experience in Petroleum, Environmental Consulting and geological and geophysical computer software development.


Registered Geologist in Texas
Certified mapping scientitst in RS

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