I recently got approached by a yacht which was curious as to why they were experiencing high turnover on board amongst the Junior ranks. I decided to write a blog about this as I suspect a lot of yachts go through similar situations and I quite regularly get asked a variant of this question, e.g. how I improve longevity, how do I improve the working environment etc. Different questions but very similar answers. Plus, hopefully it will be reassuring to know you are far from alone.
This blog will actually be 3 parts long and all are vital to the process being successful. This part covers how to get the initial recruitment right. Part 2 covers inducting the new crew member on board and how to manage them and Part 3 is about building a happy culture on the yacht. Many of the points made are obvious, and some just aren’t practical depending on the yachts circumstances, however there should be a few things in each blog for everyone. I actually went on a management leadership course last week and learnt a lot. I thought I was a pretty good manager but realised there was a lot more I could be doing which is part of the reason for writing this, as we all need a gentle reminder every now and then.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an exact science, so adjustments will have to be made on a case by case basis. I’m also not trying to diminish what a Captain / HOD does or nor am I casting aspersions on their leadership skills as I know there are a huge amount of responsibilities to juggle. I also know managing crew is akin to herding cats! But if you are a Captain or a HOD you will get better results be following the below where you can.
The point also has to be made, that sadly junior crew are probably the worst they have ever been in terms of flakiness and unreliability. Unless you are offering something incredible a significant % won’t appreciate what they have and will think the grass is greener elsewhere. Even if you are offering something great and follow all of the points in all 3 articles - some of them still won’t be happy.
A poor recruitment process undoubtedly increases the chances of a poor hire which massively increases the chances of there being an issue further down the line. Unfortunately, all these things have a knock-on effect. Hire for example a poor Bosun or 2ndStew in a rush and I can virtually guarantee you will have increased turnover amongst the junior crew below.
Also, just to be clear I’m not writing this to try and drum up business for Quay Crew! This is applicable if you are using an agency, Facebook, a job board or word of mouth. I’m also not writing for this for those yachts which pay peanuts and treat crew poorly. This is for the decent yachts who are just looking for a bit of guidance to improve their retention.
Often, I speak to a yacht and they don’t really know what they want or need. They think they do and have a list of requirements but then hire someone who bears no resemblance to the initial brief. With this I’m not just talking about manning requirements and experience. I’m talking about a host of things. What sort of personality is leaving? What sort of personality would improve the culture on board? What additional skillset would improve the team? Is that skillset essential or would it just be the icing on the cake? You need to work out what you can flex on and what is non-negotiable. We often hear that a yacht wants another deckhand / stew with 2 years of experience and is a superstar. If your entire team is populated with ambitious, very experienced superstars then that can cause issues all of its own as they all vie for more responsibility and all think they should be bosun / 2nd.
If you are only offering 30 days of leave and 2500 euros yet want a deckhand with a year of experience (on 1 yacht) and a Yacht Rating or Yachtmaster then you are fishing in an extremely shallow pool if you are insistent the potential candidates tick every box. Unfortunately, the chances of getting this amazing crew member are slim because he will be interviewing with other yachts paying 2700 euros to 3500 euros and offering 60 days of leave at least. The chances of them taking your yacht are slim. Additionally, if they do take your yacht, they probably are reluctantly and will still be applying for jobs. Which means they could well leave 6 weeks later when that good offer comes through. If you aren’t offering an incredible package then sometimes you need to flex on the sort of candidate who is coming through the door and look for other qualities like attitude, enthusiasm etc. Consider less experienced candidates, consider candidates who are making the step up or coming from smaller yachts etc. All of this then takes us neatly onto….
Getting someone on board under false pretences doesn’t benefit anyone and drastically increases the chances of things going wrong down the line. This is something I hear a lot. From a yacht being sold as ‘busy charter’ (does one week a season at best and the rest is friends of the owner who don’t tip) to ‘it’s a busy yacht’ (owner lives on board the entire season and you won’t get a day off ever). The list is endless. You are better recruiting less of a superstar and being honest about what the role involves. Otherwise crew get on board, realise they have been lied to and instantly have a bad taste in their mouth. Like any relationship this is a bad start and will possibly never recover.
I understand that needs must and sometimes you have to be economical with the truth but it should be avoided as much as possible.
This includes all the obvious things like salary, leave, flights etc. But what else can you offer a good candidate? I’m talking about what makes your yacht appealing. Why would people want to work on board? There are lots of things that can be done which don’t cost money. A good atmosphere on board, good longevity amongst the crew etc are all appealing. If you can’t think of anything particularly appealing about working on your boat, then you need to reassess a few things as you are probably having to do a lot of recruitment.
Give yourself as much time as you can to find someone who is a good fit. Prioritise recruitment as finding a great crew member will make your life easier. Conversely, finding a poor one will definitely up your work load. Start the process early. If you know someone is leaving on a set date, then start looking 6 weeks before then. That gives time for the interview process to unfold and time for someone to work their notice period. Don’t think you have weeks to sort something out, the clock is ticking and suddenly you’ll be in danger of facing a last-minute nightmare because your options are limited.
There are always things that are more immediate e.g. the audit/survey, the upcoming charter, the interior refit and before you know it recruitment slides down the list until all of a sudden you need someone in 10 days. Then you only have those that are immediately available or crew who are prepared to stitch up their current job which doesn’t bode well or speak highly of them. I appreciate that things can be extremely last minute on occasion in which case you are limited in what you can do!
I would devote a significant chunk of time towards recruiting someone. Most yachts wait until they have half a dozen good CVs to go through in one hit, so they can compare candidates. I think this is a mistake. Open and look at the CVs as quickly as possible. Good crew don’t last long. Especially on the interior with Junior Stews, they get snapped up extremely quickly as there is a lack of them around. For those positions you really need to be on it. Put aside a good chunk of time to interview candidates, do some ref checking etc. This isn’t a quick process.
If you are recruiting using various sources create a new job specific folder in your inbox and put everyone in there so you don’t miss out on anyone. Use an excel spreadsheet for the candidates with some simple columns. Eg emailed, replied, interviewed etc. This may seem like overkill but if you are dealing with more than one role or a lot of candidates it makes you far more efficient. Have a word document you fill out for each candidate when you interview them and staple it to the CV. Additionally if you schedule in a phone call then make the call! A sure-fire way of annoying a good candidate is by not calling when you have promised to. Especially if they have stayed in all morning waiting for a call.
I would also suggest if you are using agencies to only use one or two. Engaging lots of agencies just means you have more admin to do and less commitment from the agencies in question to find you the right crew member.
Many yachts have an interview process that is completely unplanned and unstructured. I would have a set process and agenda I follow every single time. The most obvious structure is to do an introduction which covers the yacht, the culture on board, the job role and finally what is expected of the crew member (habits, attitude etc) joining before you start asking questions. However, doing things in that order means the interviewee has been given some strong hints about what you want to hear in the answers. So, I would interview the candidate first and then cover the yacht, culture on board etc. Have a word document printed out for each candidate so that you can make notes (e.g. when available, salary expectations) on as you interview them – Also in that document have some in depth questions that you ask every candidate religiously. I would suggest these cover both work & experience, but most importantly attitude.
Also, I would also suggest that the HOD does the initial interview and the Captain does a 2nd. Some yachts also make prospective candidates fill in a questionnaire which is a great idea, I think. One phone or face to face interview isn’t always enough I don’t think. This whole process from initially receiving the CV to making an offer should only take a few days.
Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want a more detailed breakdown of the structure for this or if you want an interview document to follow.
Don’t pin all your hopes on one candidate as this is setting you up for a problem down the line if they fall through for whatever reason. Additionally, if you interview a few people then you can benchmark the candidates against each other. You are also more likely to ‘know’ who is right for you when you do interview them.
This goes both ways. Once you have offered a candidate (which has been done the day after their 2ndinterview with the Captain) let them think about it if they need to. Any candidate who waits too long to think about it, isn’t that keen unfortunately. 24 hours max. Any longer means they are holding out for better from elsewhere. Once they have accepted, get a contract out to them asap and get it back from them signed. Delays from them gives you an indicator that all may not be well with the candidate and you can manage the situation. I would then get their flight booked. All of this shows your commitment but is also getting commitment from the candidate. I hear the following a lot, ‘I’ve accepted a job, but I don’t have a contract yet and I don’t have a flight or start date.’ What that really means is ‘I’m still casually looking’ until these things are in their hand. If you book a flight and a crew member then pulls out after sending a signed contract, I would send them the bill. Crew need to take responsibility for their actions more and appreciate there are consequences for their behaviour. Equally yachts need to do what is expected of them as many crew accept jobs, or are kept waiting on a promise that never materialises. It is a two-way street.
Take verbal references. This is absolutely essential. Even more so if your crew agent hasn’t done it.
Longevity is the most important thing you can look for in a CV. Both in yachting and previously. Especially if it is in a non-glamorous job! A crew member who has worked at McDonalds or similar for 4 years has staying power and commitment to the job they take. I guarantee they won’t be a drama queen on board. They also generally appreciate what they are now doing so much more.
Go for personality in junior roles. People who will get stuck in and get on with everyone else on board. Teaching a junior stew, the intricacies of the job isn’t too challenging if they have a brain and a good attitude. Trying to mould someone’s personality which they have developed over the last 20 plus years is a lot harder.
Be friendly and warm in the interview. Even though you will be asking some challenging questions how well you get on over the phone will influence the final decision. Build rapport and don’t be too confrontational.
This turned into a significantly longer blog than I anticipated, and I still don’t think I’ve covered everything in as much depth as I could have done! But it should help a little with how you approach your recruitment.
Part 2 will be published in 2 week’s time and will cover the Induction of a new crew member and how to manage them and your team more effectively.
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