Given the current state of the oil and gas industry, many professionals in this vertical are looking to refocus their career on a less volatile field, while others want to reform the industry from within. An MBA may be a good option either way.
If you are currently working in oil and gas and are considering applying to MBA programs, here are five tips to help you make that decision.
1. Consider why you want an MBA.
These are the first questions you should ask yourself: Why do you want to get an MBA, and why do you want to get it now? Do you just want to get out of the field, or are you interested in returning to the industry in a different role? Perhaps you haven’t decided but would consider using the two years in an MBA program to take a wait-and-see approach.
2. Do your research.
Unlike in consulting or banking, the path to or beyond an MBA is not always clear from within an oil and gas company, especially for those in technical roles. Seek out others who have successfully forged this path so you can ask for advice on your application strategy and career goals. One resource is your own college alumni network. Many schools offer online directories allowing you to search for keywords, such as your target school name or your target post-MBA profession.
Alternatively, reach out to your target school’s Admissions Office or energy club to find students with a similar industry background. Ask them the following questions: How did their experience prepare them for business school? How was their transition to business school? What do they know now that they wish they knew when they were applying? What kinds of post-MBA positions are a natural fit for someone with your background?
3. Define your post-MBA goals.
If leaving the oil and gas space is important to you, think deeply about how you can leverage your education and work experience to transition to something new. Investment banks, private equity, and strategy consulting firms are often looking for MBA graduates with specific industry experience and advanced analytical skills. A great way to land one of these jobs is to stay tangentially connected to the energy field by targeting natural resources groups.
Another way to pivot is to consider other sectors that would value your unique background, such as sustainable energy, or to build upon strengths you developed outside of work. If returning to the oil and gas space is important to you, research post-MBA roles that pique your interest. Are you more interested in the finance or managerial side of the business, or even the people side of the business? Are you interested in an integrated major company that operates globally, or in a nimble, play-focused, independent organization? Do you have a preference among upstream, midstream, downstream, or services?
4. Choose your recommenders carefully.
As is true for all MBA candidates, ideally one of your recommenders would be your direct manager. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Asking a direct supervisor can jeopardize current or future work assignments.
Additionally, some potential recommenders don’t have insight into the process or have what it takes to write a stellar recommendation. Alternates for a direct supervisor would be a (significantly) senior colleague or a prior manager—someone who knows you well and can provide detailed support of your candidacy. Prepare your recommenders by sharing your key accomplishments and project specifics so that they can take these into consideration. Make sure they are aware that the letter is not a performance review but rather advocacy on your behalf.
5. Focus on the personal.
Many oil and gas candidates have significant technical achievements and capabilities. Although these capabilities are an asset in exploration and production, they are not particularly persuasive on an MBA application. The admissions committee would be more interested in interpersonal dynamics: How do you manage leadership, teams, colleagues, or external issues? What have you done to overcome a hurdle? Is there anything in your personal life that is the key to understanding how you have developed as a human being?