The value of promises for the future

When I was 18 years old and first got my driving license, all the talk among my peers was about insurance costs.  When you’re a young male – and by definition a total idiot – car insurance is understandably very high, and you can end up being quoted premiums of $2,000 per year on a $700 car.  The standard refrain from the insurance companies was “it’s high because you’re under 21”, and 21 was the magic age at which car insurance suddenly became cheaper.

Only it didn’t.  By the time I got to 21 I was still being quoted premiums several times the value of the car, only the line trotted out by the insurance companies had changed slightly: “it’s high because you’re under 25”.  When I got to 25 I found I was still being treated as a “young” driver, and the premiums didn’t come down any (although the cars I was driving were considerably better, in that the brakes actually worked, the window didn’t keep falling out, and gaffer tape was not a component of the vehicle’s overall structural integrity).  I became aware that the goalposts were being shifted every time I reached a previously-cited milestone, and that I’d be better off ignoring promises of future discounts and just shopping around for the best quote I can get today.

I was reminded of this recently when I was talking to a young engineer who in turn had been talking to what laughably gets called his Career Manager.  He was being put under considerable pressure to take a position which was, in short, shit: it was a crap role in a dodgy location and would have put substantial strain on his family.  Even the monetary uplift wasn’t that great.  One of the levers his management was using to encourage him was the promise that if he took the position better opportunities “might” open up for him “later”, and the company would look upon his decision to go favourably and hinted he would be rewarded in some unspecified manner in the future.  Perhaps because he knew I am the most cynical person in the entire oil industry, he came to me for advice.

I told him he ought to ignore any promises or hints of future opportunities, as they are nothing more than empty words spoken to try to get him to do something that may not be in his own interests.  He asked whether he could get something in writing, and I said that was a complete waste of time.  Modern oil and gas managers are as slippery as hagfish, especially those that end up in an HR-type role.  Even in the highly unlikely event these individuals (who are in no position to make such promises) occupy the same position in the company at the time he needs them to make good on their commitments, they will dismiss him with a wave of the hand telling him “things have changed” within 10 seconds of his initial overture.  In fact, no they won’t: they’ll simply ignore his emails and not answer his phone calls.

Anyone who’s done 10 years in a large oil company ought to know that genuine career progression is reserved for a handful of favoured sons and daughters who tick all the right boxes in terms of social background, school, nationality, compliance, and above all an ability to brown-tongue the hierarchy.  They are the ones for whom opportunities present themselves, doors open, and high-profile positions become available.  And they don’t get told to do shit roles in dodgy locations.  Sure, they do the dodgy locations, but the roles they get given are good and they are whisked out of the place long before the plebs, who are lectured on the importance of completing a full x-years of an assignment.  I told him he ought to understand that these individuals want him to take the position for their benefit, which might not even align with those of the company.  They sure as hell aren’t interested in what’s good for him.

My advice was to understand what his own interests were, professionally and personally, in the context of the global oil and gas industry.  In doing so, he might well realise that an assignment in some shithole will look good on the CV and boost his prospects for future employment outside the company; that this should dovetail with what his management want him to do is nothing more than a happy coincidence.  Alternatively, he might find that it is not in his interests to take the assignment.  I gave him as much advice on this topic as I was able.

My point was not that you should disregard the future impact an assignment will have on your career and job prospects, but that the analysis should be carried out based on your criteria and what is good for you, disregarding the self-serving empty promises of people who claim to be managing your career.  For they, just like the insurance companies when I was a spotty teenager, are adept at picking up the goalposts and wandering off with them.

“Are they heavy?”


One Response to The value of promises for the future

  1. Kathy D says:

    I agree; every position you take in a large or small company should be weighed carefully. Often the “powers-that-be” are more interested in filling the position than how it can affect you and your future. Because I am hardworking and willing to take difficult jobs, I am often asked to do what others will not do. When I was younger and first working in the oilfield, I thought I had to take the given position. But, as you say taking a position only because it looks good on a resume, is not the best decision. Weigh all options, and make the best decision for yourself, your family and your career. If you do so, you may find that you are better thought of in the oilfield than you would be if you took the “shit job” in the first place.