This year's Canada GeoConvention tried a few new things. There was the Openness Unsession, Jen Russel Houston's Best of 2013 PechaKutcha session, and the On Belay careers session. Attendance at the unsession was a bit thin; the others were well attended. Hats off to the organizers for getting out of a rut.
I went to the afternoon of the On Belay session. It featured several applied geoscientists with less than 5 years of experience in the industry. I gather the conference asked them for a candid 'insider' view, with career tips for people like them. I heard 2 talks, and the experience left me literally shaking, prompting Ben Cowie to ask me if I was alright.
I was alright, but I'm not sure about us. Our community — or this industry — has a problem.
Don't be yourself
Marc Enter gave a talk entitled Breaking into Calgary's oil and gas industry, an Aussie's perspective.
Marc narrated the arc of his career: well site geology in a trailer in the outback, re-location to Calgary, being laid-off, stumbling into consultancy (what a person does when they can't find a real job), and so on. On this journey, Marc racked up hundreds of hours of interview experience searching for work in Calgary. Here are some of his learnings, paraphrased but I think they are accurate:
- Being yourself is impossible in a unfamiliar place. So don't be yourself.
- Interview experience is crucial to being comfortable, so apply for jobs you have no interest in, just for the experience.
- If the job description doesn’t sound exactly right to you, apply anyway. It's experience.
- Confidence is everything. HR people are sniffer dogs for confidence. If you don't have it, invent it.
- On confidence: it is easier to find a job when you have a job.
What on earth are we teaching these young professionals about working in this industry? This is awful.
How to survive the workday
Jesse Shoengut gave a talk entitled One man’s tips and tricks for surviving your early professional career.
Surviving. That's the word he chose. Might as well have been enduring. Tolerating. TGIF mindset. Like Marc, Jesse spoke about a haphazard transition from university into the working world. If you can't find a job after you finish your undergrad, you can always have a go at grad school. That's one way to get work experience, if all else fails.
Fine, finding work can be hard, and not all jobs are awesome. But with statements like, "Here are some things that keep me sane at work, and help get me through the day," I started to react a bit. C'mon, is that really what people in the audience deserve to hear? Is that really what work is like? It's depressing.
A broken promise
Listening to these talks, I felt embarrassed for our profession. They felt like a candid celebration of mediocrity, where confidence compensates for complacency. I don't blame these young professionals — students have been groomed, through summer internships and hyper-conventional careers events, to get their resumes in order, fit in, and follow instructions. We in industry have built this trap we're mired in. And we are continually seduced. Seduced by the bait of more-then-decent pay and plenty of other rewards.
I talked to one fellow afterwards. He said, "Yeah, well, a lot of people are finding it hard to find a job right now." If these cynical, jaded young professionals are representative, I'm not surprised.
Were you at this session? Did you see other talks, or walk away with a different impression? I'd love to hear your viewpoints... am I being unfair? Leave a comment.