Process Operator Job Titles

What’s the deal with all of these Process Operator Job Titles:

Are you confused about some of the Process Operator job titles mentioned in job listings? Job titles like Process Operator, Plant Operator, Process technician, Chemical Process Operator, Refinery Operator, Operations Technician, Light Hydrocarbon #9 Operator, and Unit Operator are all terms that describe a basic position, Process Operator.


  A Process Operator is essentially a person who operates a chemical production process. A refinery and/or chemical plant is really just a super sized industrial chemistry set, and people have to operate it. Operating, is referring to starting/stopping the process and keeping it running. To operate a chemical process requires some typical equipment such as distillation towers, storage tanks, pumps, compressors, valves, and heat exchangers.    At their core job, all Process Operators have the same job function, which is to operate the process units.


There are differences between a Refinery Operator job and Chemical Plant Operator job mainly relating to the size of the equipment, complexity of the processes, and real estate their units take up for equipment. Most refineries are older than equivalent chemical plant so the refineries tend to not have as many structural levels as where chemical plants tend to have many levels. Another difference is that refineries are really just one BIG process meaning it starts on one end and goes all the way through to coming out the back where a single chemical plant unit usually produces its own finished product. Refineries have much larger volumes of flow due to being one big process, so generally the piping and equipment is much larger that a chemical plant unit on the same size of real estate.


Please comment on this article if I can add anymore information to clarify.  I hope this article cleared up some confusion. BTO


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How to apply for a Process Operator job

Are you trying to figure out how to apply for a Process Operator job? Then this post will be for you!

Every large petrochemical company handles it application, and screening process online. Meaning you have to apply for the job on the internet.

There are 3 ways to find jobs online. First off would be a search engine, like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Try all of them; they do not always yield the same results for searches. Next way to find a job is through a job listing page. On this site there is a job listing page, is another one. My pages lists the jobs by state, and on you can search by city as well. Lastly, you can search each petrochemical company’s career page for available jobs. All the major companies that hire Process Operators are listed at the bottom of the job page on this site. You can go there and click on each one and do your own search if you so desire.


When you apply online, and before they let you submit your resume there will be a few multiple choice questions such as, are you a convicted felon, are you willing to work shift work, are you willing to work nights and weekends, are you a U.S. citizen or have a right to work here, and all the normal regulatory questions. That is the first weed out for applicants. A convicted felon can not hold this type of job. For an entry level Process Operator, you will have to work nights, weekends, holidays, and lots of overtime. These are mandatory for employment.

Next and this part is very important. They may ask you a few questions that require a written response. You need to give these questions your best effort to answer with an appropriate, and intelligent sounding response. This could be your second opportunity for being weeded out if you skip the question without answering, or if you give an answer that looks thrown together. Think of these questions as if you were putting them on your resume, or sitting in an interview, because basically you are! Potential online application questions could be: Why do you want to work here, Tell us about yourself, Why do you want to leave your current job, and why do you think you are qualified for this job. Those are just a few questions they could ask. They are not timed, so take your time and give a well thought out response. It may be helpful for you to just write the questions down, save the application on the companies website, then sit down and take you time coming up with your responses. It doesn’t take much effort; please don’t weed yourself out of a job by being lazy.


Finally, they will ask for you to upload a copy of your resume. We have a page on this site that gives some good advice on how to setup your resume, and we also offer a book that will assist you in getting your resume up to company standards. Just make sure you are 100% satisfied with the quality of your resume, because you can only submit it once per job, and it could be the only job listed at that company for a year or more.


Keep in mind that you are not the only person that is applying for the job, and there are not that many open positions. When a large petrochemical cooperation hires, they tend to hire in groups of 10-40 at a time. A smaller company may hire one person as needed.


it took 2 year for me to get an interview application from ExxonMobil after I passes the test. That is a true story. Why did it take so long, I don’t honestly know. Luckily, I did not wait to hear back after I received the letter saying that I passes their test. I had applied, and tested for another great job, got it, and was working there for 1.5 years before mother Exxon called.



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Pre-Employment Testing

So what’s the pre-employment testing like for the Process Operator job? Honestly it depends on the company. I’ve seen everything for basic math, and science to troubleshooting examples of a simple process. There isn’t really a magic bullet here unless you know someone that’s tested for that exact company recently. The test will be broken down into different parts. Examples of the parts may include, basic math, basic science, trouble shooting, reading comprehension, simple machines and mechanics, and behavioral questions. Each part will be timed, and the test may be setup as so you can not finish every question. Use some strategy during the test. Only answer the questions your sure of, and skip the rest. You will come back to them after you finish answering the ones you know. Once you’ve tackled all the ones your positive of, then go back and try to figure the rest out. The important thing during a timed test is not to get bogged down on a question and waste too much time on it, then not have time to answer the questions you would of gotten right.

So what’s the best way to prepare for your pre-employment test? Watch the math review video below, or you can buy a math for dummies but that includes basic math, geometry, and algebra. Don’t get too far into it, there will not be complex algebra, or geometry on the test. All tests include some type of basic mechanical aptitude assessment. I’m including some vidoes below that will help if you do not understand simple mechanics, and simple mathematics.

You also should try to make sure you are not stressed before you test. Take the whole day off work, get there half an hour or more earlier, and just try to relax.


Good Luck on your Pre-Employment Testing.

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What Makes a Great Process Operator

What is a Great Process Operator?

To be a great Process Operator means that person is a subject matter expert in their units, they have a better than average understanding of process in general, they are dependable, they react instinctively, and have excellent trouble shooting skills. I will go more in depth on each of those attributes below.

Unit subject matter expert- In todays industry a Process Operator has to operate multiple units. In my roles, it has been between 4 to 6 depending on complexity. Some of those units might be identical, but they all won’t be. All of that real estate contains a lot of equipment such as pumps, control valves, compressors, flow meters, furnaces, refrigeration units, and specialty skids, just to name a little bit of what they are responsible for. All units have their problem areas, and knowing how to handle them is one of the first thing a new operator will have to master. Some things just take experience and time to see. For instance, during a turnaround you will find isolation valves you didn’t know existed, you will learn your unit better by isolating it, cleaning it, and getting to see inside of it. Some types of units have turnarounds yearly, while others may not be shut down for 10 years or more. All of that to say this, to be a unit subject matter expert, you know the unit flows front and back, you know all pieces of equipment and can accurately describe the process occurring in each one, you know what to do in an emergency, and most importantly you know process in general.

A great Process Operator KNOWS processWhat is process? Process is basic chemistry and how a production unit uses it to produce a product. If you increase the pressure of a liquid you increase the boiling point. If a distillation tower sump is getting too hot, the draw should be increased because heavies have condensed in the sump. When preparing a section of piping you cannot clean from the bottom up and expect to get all the liquid out of it. An increase of the process temperature in a pump will lead to cavitation due to the liquid in the pump flashing.  A drop in suction pressure on a pump could mean that the suction strainer is plugging. Those were just a few examples of the basic type of conceptual chemistry an operator needs to possess. See, none of this is rocket science. The key to mastering process is to ask a lot of questions about your equipment, whats going on inside of it, and what happens when something starts to go wrong. As you learn, you will develop a mindset where you can look at your equipment and almost see whats going on inside of it. Once you master your unit, you will be able to apply that to other units Not making you an expert there, but allowing you to figure out whats going on much faster than the average Operator.

DependableAs a Process Operator your unit has needs 24/7/365 as I previously discussed in another post. First, your unit has to be manned. Relieve other Operators ONTIME, or early. As much time as we spend at work we want to get home on time. Don’t call in sick unnecessarily, once again, another Operator will have to cover your shift, and it could likely make them work 18 hours. A great Process Operator is know to be where they are supposed to on time. Answer your radio calls. Don’t be that guy that forgets to turn on his/her radio, always has a dead battery, or doing what they should be and not able to respond to a call.

React instinctivelyFor a Process Operator to react instinctively they have to know their units, and know process, as we talked about earlier. Another thing is they either have of been there a long time, or have studied their procedures to know what to do when things go wrong. Any Operator can answer a normal call, be a great Process Operator means answering the calls that don’t come often, and being able to handle the situation with success. You can learn from experience, which will likely take you years, or you can study, read your procedures, walk them out, and ask more experienced Process Operator scenarios and pick their brains.

Excellent troubleshooting skillsThis term gets thrown around quite a bit. What is trouble shooting? Problem solving and using the process of elimination to narrow down the problem. Don’t freak out, eliminate the problem variable by variable. I’m telling you, I’m see many sets of big eyes when something goes wrong. Some people freak out and don’t know how to react, some people can’t stop looking at the big picture. Just pause, every event I’ve ever been involved in did not have to have an immediate reaction. Take a minute, look at the big picture, identify potential causes and start attacking them one by one. Even if its your first day on the job, I promise using a process of elimination in trouble shooting will make you a better operator.


Lastly a great process operator is safe.  As all companies like to say,  SAFETY is #1. Just as the company says, we all want to go home safe everyday. I have to agree that that is true. I’m sure if you ask anyone that was ever hurt, they would tell you that they did not set out to hurt themselves intentionally. So why do people get hurt? There are two main reasons.

  1. Carelessness- Pay attention to what you are doing. Always ask yourself, how could I get hurt doing this task? Stop, take a second, and think through what you are doing. Nothing has to be done at that exact instant. Protect yourself, if you are not positive of the conditions with whatever equipment you are working with, get sure before continuing.
  2. Hurrying- There is no rush. Believe me, it’s true. Think about what you are about to do, and get clarification if needed. Problem solving is using the process of elimination. Is this going to hurt me when I do this, is this valve supposed to be open or closed? Please just step back, and ask yourself if you are confident that you understand what you are about to do.


Great Process Operator

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