Petroleum Engineers


Employment Prospects


Approximately 33,500 petroleum engineers are employed in the United States. Petroleum engineers work for major oil companies as well as smaller oil companies. They work in oil exploration and production. Some petroleum engineers are employed by consulting firms and equipment suppliers. The federal government is also an employer of petroleum engineers. States with the highest level of employment for petroleum engineers are Texas, Oklahoma, California, Colorado, and Louisiana.

Starting Out

The most common and perhaps the most successful way to obtain a petroleum engineering job is to secure a summer internship or co-op during college and then apply to that company when you graduate. Also, oil companies often have recruiters attend job fairs for students in their last year of engineering school. Being willing to relocate will allow more opportunities.

Engineering internships and co-op programs where students attend classes for a portion of the year and then work in an engineering-related job for the remainder of the year allow students to graduate with valuable work experience sought by employers. Many times these students are employed full-time after graduation at the place where they had their internship or co-op job.

As in most engineering professions, entry-level petroleum engineers first work as junior engineers under the supervision of experienced professionals for a number of years. New engineers usually are assigned to a field location where they learn different aspects of field petroleum engineering. Initial responsibilities may include well productivity, reservoir and enhanced recovery studies, production equipment and application design, efficiency analyses, and economic evaluations. Field assignments are followed by other opportunities in regional and headquarters offices.

Advancement Prospects

After several years working under professional supervision, engineers can begin to move up to higher levels. Workers often formulate a choice of direction during their first years on the job. In the operations division, petroleum engineers can work their way up from the field to district, division, and then operations manager. Some engineers work through various engineering positions from field engineer to staff, then division, and finally chief engineer on a project. Some engineers may advance into top executive management. In any position, however, continued enrollment in educational courses is usually required to keep abreast of technological progress and changes. After about four years of work experience, engineers usually apply for a P.E. license so they can be certified to work on a larger number of projects.

Others get their master's or doctoral degree so they can advance to more prestigious research engineering, university-level teaching, or consulting positions. Also, petroleum engineers may transfer to many other occupations, such as economics, environmental management, and groundwater hydrology. Some entrepreneurial-minded workers become independent operators/consultants and owners of their own oil companies. Others become college professors. 

Tips for Entry

Join professional associations such as the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities. The SPE offers a variety of programs and resources for young engineers, including an eMentoring program (a distance mentoring program). Visit for more information.

Find an accredited engineering school with a bachelor's program in petroleum engineering by visiting

Join the Technology Student Association and enter a competition,

While in college, complete a summer internship at a company where you'd like to work. Many employers hire new graduates from their former intern pool.

Visit the following Web site for job listings: