Experience: Our Way of Evaluating Landmen is Hurting our Industry

A demon that has always been lurking in the corner in our business is how we decide how much someone is worth.  Think about the last time you recommended someone to your supervisor.  The first question they asked was probably “How many years of experience does he/she have?”.  Occasionally you’ll get the “send me their resume” or the preferred “are they good?”, you might even get a “Do you want the person on your team?” line from particularly bright supervisors.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that using “years of experience” as an indicator of skill is a method that will get you taken advantage of time and again.  Yet, as an industry, we continue to place great emphasis on it.  There is some merit behind the analysis.  Someone with 3 years of experience is unlikely to have had the time come across as much of a variety of issues as someone with 7 years of experience.  Landmen learn on the job, and sometimes it takes years to run into seemingly ‘common’ situations.  Conversely, we have all met that landman with 10 years of experience, only to later find out that they actually have 3 years experience (over and over).

On the flip-side of this argument is that the emphasis encourages the landman to overstate his experience, which is the first step down a road that leads to accepting work that you don’t know how to do.  The problem is that the number of years of experience a person has is surprisingly easy to falsify.  There are so many small brokerages across the country that you simply can’t trust the references you are given.  Do you know if the reference you are speaking with is a legitimate broker, or the applicants brother-in-law?  Sure, you can ‘reference check the reference’ by checking AAPL directories and finding common acquaintances, but the potential for abuse is obvious.

Is there a better way?  There are many solutions I’ve seen implemented over the years, and the answer likely lies in the middle of all of them.  If you use the tools that are available to you, it’s probably possible to screen out the worst offenders.

Social Media

You’ll see me talking about ‘groups’ on LinkedIn occasionally in my articles.  These groups are a great way to check people out.  There are other places as well, like Landman Connection and postings on Paul Nielsen’s blog, LandNews.  If you search for postings by the appplicant on these resources you may find that landman with 5 years of experience was “trying to get his foot in the door” 3 years ago.  (This really happens, I’ve seen it)

I’ve also received resumes from landmen whose names sounded familiar.  I’d do a quick search on LandNews and see a posting looking for a job a year or so earlier.  Often enough to cause concern I’ll compare the old resume to the current one and see completely different dates.  So make sure to look for older sources of a person experience.  One great idea is to come up with a filing system to keep all the resumes you receive.  Maybe save the names like “LastName_FirstName_YYYY_MM_DD.pdf” in your recruiting folder.  Over several years you may receive resumes from folks more than once, this is an easy way to do some initial verification on a potential hire.

For all your independent landmen out there, I hope this underlines the fact that you should watch what you say and how you say it on these online forums.  It can and will be used against you in the court of employment.

References

I personally think that references that the hiring manager doesn’t personally know are next to useless.  Most companies won’t allow their employees to give honest references that have any value, and many brokers don’t have the time or inclination to remember specifics of a particular landman.  When I get a resume I’ll review the references, but if I don’t know them I’ll go to Step 2.  I’ll review their work history and find someone I know that has worked with them, for them, or supervised them.  If you have been around, and networking, any amount of time this should be easy to do — as long as they have worked for at least 3 or 4 brokers.  If you can’t find anyone who knows the person, that could be cause for alarm.  Although it wouldn’t cause me to discount the person completely.

Independent landmen can also take note of this.  When I am talking with a company about going to work for them (brokers, operators, anybody) I try to provide references that are familiar to them.  I’ll review the hiring persons work history, if it’s available, to provide a reference from a previous employer.  Or I might provide a reference from an employee at one of their clients if I know that information.  The point is to make it easy for them pick up the phone and ask your reference about your work.  It’s very easy to do if they already know the person, and probably would love a reason to catch up with them anyway.

I know that if I was a broker, I’d also love to get a resume from someone with references from potential clients.  If I know that you have personal relationships with decision makers at companies that I’d like to be my clients, then you’ll get a heck of  a lot of consideration.

Certifications

One way that I’ve seen used more frequently is qualifying people via AAPL Certifications.  (For more about AAPL Certifications see my blog: Landman Certifications – RL, RPL, CPL)  Very recently I saw a post on Landmen.net looking for RPL/CPL applicants:

…currently looking for self-motivated individuals with 3-5 years of experience in title research to join its team in Canton, OH. Candidates must have their RPL and a CPL is preferred. Local candidates are strongly preferred.

Now aside from how many RPL/CPL applicants that are local to Canton, or the brilliance behind wanting a CPL with 3-5 years of experience — this is a solid way of verifying a minimum amount of experience.  Since you need a minimum amount of experience to get your RPL, and the verification process the AAPL uses is stringent enough.  Sure, it can be manipulated, but that’s not as likely as lying on a resume.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe certifications can give any weight to an individuals ability to do any particular job.  I’ve known many CPLs who have never done in-house work, and vice-versa, a few CPLs who have never had to run an index.  So just because someone has a particular designation, you shouldn’t assume that it verifies anything more than what it is:  The person can provide verification that they worked a certain number of years (here it is again), and they can go to a review session and pass a test.  It also proves they know at least 3 CPLs who will vouch for them, although this does not apply to those with an RL certification.

I’ve long argued that certifications aren’t important for those with 20+ years of experience and good industry contacts.  They are very important for landmen who have less than 10 years of experience though.  Going forward these types of requirements will increase, not only in in-house positions but also in field positions.  Clients want to know that the people they are paying are actually qualified to do the work they are assigned.

Education

There are consistently more ways to show an edge via education in the land industry.  We have Bachelors level PLM (Professional Land Management) degrees, PLM ‘Certification’ programs from colleges, industry courses from the AAPL, and more recently an influx of those with law degrees into the field.

Education will become more important in the years to come, as these newly educated individuals gain more experience.  If the experienced landman wants to remain relevant, he would be advised not to ignore these opportunities.  I often use an example of a 20 year landman vs a 10 year landman with a law degree.  Which one would you choose?  The choice becomes more obvious as the candidate with more education gains more experience.

Testing

One technique that I’ve seen used on a few occasions is administering some type of test to gauge an applicants knowledge of the job tasks needed.  This is rare, but a few brokers are using this to weed out candidates.  Of course this is very subjective, because most groups using this approach are developing their own tests.  It’s entirely possible they might be super easy, or incredibly difficult.

There has been some discussion over the past few years about having a field landman certification through the AAPL.  I think this would be a great solution to ‘standardize’ the testing practice.  If you provide field landmen with an opportunity to certify their knowledge in topics like mineral rights, leasing, title examination, and surface operations then I think it would be very beneficial.  Of course, this isn’t currently available so we’ll just have to keep waiting.

Conclusion

While there are many opportunities to make mistakes in the onboarding process for landmen, there are an equal number of ways to avoid those mistakes.  I’d suggest that hiring managers in the land industry adopt a mix of these techniques to evaluate landmen.  In addition, I’d suggest that the practice of placing emphasis on the number of years of experience an individual has is probably foolish at best.

Now I’m not saying that the number of years someone has been a landmen isn’t important, but we should be very careful about how we evaluate those years.  Are they quality years with a wide variety of tasks?  Is there a sufficient amount of experience to master an particular aspect?  i.e. Is your candidiate a jack of all trades and a master of none?

Let’s work, as an industry, to get better at evaluating individuals based on a combination of experience, education, certification, and references — and let’s stop making our first question “How many years of experience do you have?”

Randy Young

Randy Young

Randy is a land consultant with experience in field and in-house land work, land administration, and software consulting with systems used in the land management business. He is an active member of the AAPL, HAPL, and NHAPL and is a regular attendee of industry functions.

Randy’s latest projects have included land data systems integrations, with a focus on Quorum Land System.