Finding a Job in North Dakota

I received an email from a reader yesterday asking for my advice on finding a job in North Dakota’s oil industry – and I’m guessing many others have wondered about this. Below is what I told him:

Hello there. I’m an attorney and a writer and I’m knocking around the idea of chucking my life here in Chicago, moving to North Dakota, and seeing what kind of work I can get related to the oil boom. I thought you might know a thing or two about it, might have a suggestion or two. I recognize that winter is probably not the best time for a move like this, but I am a bit unorthodox. I was wondering how best to go about securing some sort of oil field work with almost no experience.

Thanks for any thoughts you might have!

[Name Withheld]

Hi [Name Withheld],
Nice to hear from you. I’m not sure how much I can help as I’ve only talked to people who have found jobs in the oil industry, and not gone through it myself. From what I’ve heard, it’s more difficult now to get hired than it was five years ago when the boom was just starting, but plenty of people, including a 56-year-old grandmother I interviewed, have been in your same position and succeeded in landing a high-paying job there. Based on everything they’ve told me, here are a few common themes:

-Know someone (I realize this is pretty much the same in any industry, but most people I talked to who had zero oil and gas industry experience were hired through a friend.) There are frequent job fairs in the area and plenty of ways to meet people. One friend recommended taking Amtrak to Williston and spending time with the roughnecks who travel back and forth to see their families.

-Figure out a housing plan. I lived in a trailer for two months in Williston that I pulled all the way from CA. You can rent a trailer while you’re there, but expect to pay at least $1000 a month. Apartments will be much more. If you do snag an oil industry job, you’ll likely have your housing paid for, but be prepared to pay your own way for at least two months or so while you search for work.

-Plan to start at the bottom, work insane hours, get little sleep. One roughneck I talked to hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. The last time he had was in the cab of his truck on site. I was blown away by how little sleep oil industry workers seem to survive on.

-If possible, obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL) before going to ND. I know a lot of oil industry jobs require it and having it will open up a lot more doors for you. Most people I met who were “making it” in North Dakota had theirs.

-Apply online as much as possible before going. Plenty of people I talked to were hired (at least temporarily) from applying online.

-Expand your search to more than just ND. There are lots of booming areas all over the country (here’s a recent piece I wrote about them), and a less-publicized area might be easier to break in. That said, the harsh conditions in North Dakota aren’t for everyone and a lot of people head home after trying it. The turnover rate is high so if you’re at the right place at the right time, you should be able to get your foot in the door.

If you do decide to go, good luck and stay in touch!

All the best,