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Getting Started in Any Industry

Posted by | May 8, 2015 | Advice, Career

Via LinkedIn : When I started three years ago at an energy consulting firm, my knowledge of the energy sector was far from adequate. Coming from an economics background and a true economics nerd (who didn’t major in economics to pursue banking), I was more comfortable discussing recessions and economic indicators than issues plaguing the energy industry.

It’s quite unusual to expect fresh grads to have relevant energy industry experience (in my case oil and gas industry experience). But later I learned it’s very similar in pretty much everything else. Most companies hire employees to do very specific tasks: instead of energy, think upstream oil and gas investment analysis, for example. My first few months were truly difficult since I wasn’t familiar with oil and gas terminology but it gives me the belief that with the three steps below, everyone can start out in any industry with hard work.

1. Read, read, read a lot

Read anything you can about the industry, from the most relevant to something you only heard once during some corporate meetings. One book usually contains a wealth of information and is usually the product of months of reflection and organization. Read at least a book, if you can. If you’re starting out, begin with a primer or the most popular book on the industry on Amazon. Read your company’s white papers and watch webinars. Many companies have white papers that explain industry issues in laymen’s terms (see ICF’s white papers website for example – your company probably has something similar already!).

2. Take notes

In a notebook, phone or laptop. I still see many interns and new hires carry around a paper notebook to jot down questions and new terminologies they learn on the job. Notes never go out of fashion and you usually need to go back to your note once in a while. If you work in a normal corporate environment, it’s likely that you’re probably missing out on OneNote, a powerful Microsoft Office application built to help you keep good and searchable notes. An oft-mentioned competitor of OneNote is Evernote if you prefer that one.

3. Ask a lot of questions

I love interns and new hires that ask questions (and at the same time not overwhelming my schedule with questions of course!). It shows they’re motivated and eager to grow at the personal level. It’s normal that you don’t know everything about a project or business. In energy you’re likely to work with people having varied expertise: geology, database management, environmental policy, engineering. Most people don’t expect you to know all the subjects and materials required to fully comprehend a project so questions are expected even for people with experience. In my experience, asking questions is also a good way to build a professional relationship with colleagues who specialize in something different than you. Ask, and see the network give back to you.

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My background: I graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2012 with a dual degree in economics and statistics. I began career at ICF International where I focus on oil and gas market analysis for clients in finance, energy, and government sectors.

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