20 key insights into working for the energy sector

Adam Bernstein of New Energy Capital

Adam Bernstein

Adam Bernstein, Managing Partner at New Energy Capital, provides valuable guidelines for students and graduates wishing to work in the energy sector

  • Overview of employment in the energy sector
  • Starting your career in the energy sector
  • When in the job: mindset
  • When in the job: behaviours
  • Progressing in your career

Overview of employment in the energy sector

  1. The energy sector is characterized as a large scale, project-oriented industry with a high level of workload and analysis.
  2. Ten years ago, wind was the growth employer in the energy sector, and today many people that started in wind are spread across the industry. For the past 5 years solar has been a huge driver of recruiting and talent incubation within energy. Storage may well be the next growth technology.
  3. Energy sector businesses that deploy capital ultimately produce a relatively small volume of transactions.
  4. Energy is an erudite sector incorporating many disciplines that include science, technology, politics, markets, environment, finance, and global dynamics.

Starting your career in the energy sector

  1. Be wary of working for start-up companies directly from school: get more industry familiarity first.
  2. If students are MBA, it must be understood that most MBA entry positions in the energy sector are largely financial, either within a CFO reporting line, or working on business development/M&A.
  3. The challenge is for companies to give new MBAs work that doesn’t ultimately reduce to translating emails from junior folks to senior folks.
  4. Energy companies are usually levered and highly structured entities: know your accounting basics for the job interview and be able to tell someone the difference between income and cashflow.
  5. As a career in the energy sector progresses, former students will spend much more time dealing with local and national government bodies. A rule of thumb here is to avoid neglecting basic understanding of policy and regulation and seek relevant available coursework.

When in the job: mindset

  1. Foster intellectual curiosity: it is tremendously rewarding to work in such a multi-faceted field, and with endless learning opportunities. Chance favours the prepared mind.
  2. Be excited about the future: going forward, smart technologies will continue to reshape energy on even an individual level. Think about questions such as the energy usage impact of being able to turn your thermostat up and down remotely from your smartphone.
  3. From NEC’s perspective, the company focuses on hiring Creators with a capital C: that is, both junior and senior individuals who can generate work production on their own without relying on experienced partners to micromanage workflow.
  4. Employees must learn healthy scepticism, pressing and challenging their information sources when the dots aren’t connecting, and never resorting to guessing or hypothesizing answers to questions.

When in the job: behaviours

  1. Root your analysis of energy business problems in first understanding the physical parameters: Energy is a physical business that exists in real space. Read your car owner’s manual and your hot water tank instructions; install your own light fixtures!
  2. Employees should be able to impose structure on chaos and be able to turn a disorganized soup of information, people, and documents into a coherent thesis and action plan when working on deals.
  3. Often a simple “I don’t know” is a great answer to a question: it accurately and concisely conveys understanding of a situation and yields a clear follow-up step.
  4. Build a culture of efficient precision when it comes to information.

Progressing in your career

  1. It can sometimes be challenging for companies to hire new MBA’s. Whereas pre-MBA analysts can effectively undertake work such as doing financial models, reconciling portfolio company reporting, and gathering information, strategic decisions like negotiating deal terms or advising portfolio company management has to be done by experienced partners.
  2. MBA graduates should take a core specialty skill, for example a certain technical expertise or a specific financial structuring expertise (i.e. tax equity structuring of ITC/PTC) from before business school, and build an in-house knowledge around that.
  3. Employees may spend a lot of time on projects that aren’t executed, but they’ll be evaluated on their process quality.
20 tips for working in the energy sector
Adam Bernstein, Managing Partner, New Energy Capital
Read Adam Bernstein’s full article Working for the energy sector: be excited about the future!
For further information on the company, visit the New Energy Capital website

Useful Links for sites specialising in graduate jobs in the energy sector

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Edited by Tom Gamble, Communication coordinator at the Council on Business & Society, from Adam Bernstein’s notes and speech at the Council on Business & Society’s 2015 Boston Forum Energy, Business, and Society.

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