Photograph by Gary Burchell via Getty Images

Especially in a volatile industry

By Graham Hill
May 12, 2016

The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Graham Hill, executive vice president of global business development & strategy at KBR, has answered the question: How do you thrive in a volatile industry?

Working in a volatile industry comes with inherent challenges for young people. The turbulent nature can cause them to feel unstable, particularly when the industry is trending downward. I recently had the opportunity to speak to young professionals in the oil and gas industry at the annual Offshore Technology Conference Next Wave Program, and many of them expressed feelings of unease—and even fear—given the current state of the oil and gas market due to low oil prices.

However, the key to thriving in a volatile industry during both good times and bad is to understand that with every challenge, there are opportunities, which is why it’s so important to position yourself to capitalize on those opportunities.

In order to do that, you need to first build a foundation to work from. Sharpen your soft skills and your technical skills. Develop your ability to multi-skill across several disciplines and various areas of expertise. Build your brand. Know who you are and what you can offer, and how to articulate that idea to others.

An important part of your personal brand should be developing a reputation as being easy to manage. Managers proactively look for people who are easy to manage, particularly in challenging environments. So make your manager’s life easy. Be indispensable and low-maintenance. Be the solution, not the problem. Be proactive. Volunteer to take on new responsibilities. When managers find competent, easy-to-manage employees, they want to keep them around, and thus become advocates for those employees.

One way to be easy to manage is to be flexible. Young people have a big advantage in that they can go places others cannot go, and can accept terms and conditions that others cannot accept. Those of us who are a bit older and have been in the working world longer tend to have responsibilities that can limit our career choices, like families, mortgages, and deep roots/obligations in a community. During the early portion of your career, you most likely are not in that position. So use this time in your life to take advantage of that flexibility by saying “yes” to the opportunities that are presented to you—even the challenging and less glamorous ones.

While building a foundation and being flexible and easy to manage are integral to success in a volatile industry, networking is the ultimate skill that you need to develop. Build a network: Find advisors, get a mentor, and get involved in organizations and committees. A strong network with contacts that are active and invested in your success is the best tool you can have. That’s why we put a strong emphasis on teaching networking skills at KBR KBR .

In a volatile industry, in particular, it is often having someone to vouch for you that will make the difference when you are competing with others for a job, promotion, or prime assignments. So strong networks are not just useful and important—they are an advantage.

Finally, it is important to take time to critically evaluate yourself to assess who you are and where you need experience. Get ahead of third parties like supervisors or potential employers, and evaluate yourself before somebody else does. Ask yourself some tough questions:

  • What qualifications, training, experience, or knowledge have you obtained?
  • What have you accomplished and can you prove it with strong, demonstrable results?
  • Have you built and maintained relationships? What do people think about you? Are you good to work with?

 

It’s essential to have all of these three attributes in order to succeed. So analyze the gaps in your self-assessment and plan how to fill them.

There is no app for success in a volatile industry. There are no shortcuts. You have to do the hard work it takes to build a brand, to take on the challenges, to create a foundation, and to establish and maintain a strong, useful network. You must go through a regular self-analysis so you can address any weaknesses in your profile.

If you commit to that now while you are young and relatively early in your career, you will thrive.

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