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For the yachting professional on the Mediterranean
Laurence Lewis YPI

LAURENCE LEWIS FROM YPI CREW, IS OUR RESIDENT RECRUITMENT GURU.

OVER THE COURSE OF THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES LAURENCE LOOKS AT HOW TO CLIMB THE CAREERS LADDER, PREPARE AND SUCCEED IN INTERVIEWS, DEVELOP YOUR CAREER IN YACHTING, AND IF YOU’RE AN EMPLOYER, LAURENCE HAS ADVICE ON HOW TO CONDUCT A SUCCESSFUL INTERVIEW AND GET THE MOST OUT OF THE INTERVIEWEE.

The age wisdom

Laurence Lewis looks at the benefits of hiring an older crew member if you are a younger Captain. It will bring diversity and in turn build a stronger crew

Captains, why hiring crew who are older than you can make for a stronger and more balanced team and ultimately create a stimulating work environment for all and, most importantly, an enjoyable yachting experience for owners and their guests.

Just as there are now young millennial CEOs, there are young millennial Captains at the helm of ever-larger yachts and crews. This is changing the face of our industry as the introduction of MCA certifications did a generation ago in the late nineties, when a new wave of certified crew came to the front.

Young Captains have worked hard to get to the top and share values such as dedication, vision, and drive whilst having probably worked with experienced mentors who helped them along the way. Whether yachting ‘through and through’ or from a mix of commercial and yachting experiences, regardless of your unique path and story, captaining a large motor yacht is a great accomplishment.

Building a crew is a challenge for anybody and nothing is truer than this for the first time Captain. ” He’s older than me, should I hire him? ” is a question in every millennial Captain’s mind as he or she sifts through CVs.

Initially, it might seem odd to have someone older than you report to you, so here a few points to keep in mind:

– New job, new yacht, your first Captain /Owner relationship to create, develop and manage…you have a lot on your plate. An older crew member, be it Chief Engineer, Purser, Chef at your side can give you much needed support and will require less ramp up time to get the job done quickly and efficiently without too much input from yourself, giving you more time to concentrate on your new day to day job of a Captain.

– An older crew might need less maintenance – they want to do their job, do it well and go home on holiday or rotation.

– If an older candidate wants the job you are offering, it implies he wants to be there and has chosen you, just as you have chosen him. This person will be focused on delivering a top service and doing a good job, for the benefit of the operation as a whole.

– An older crew member has probably got a great network of handy industry contacts that as a new Captain you might not have had the chance to fully develop, yet can instantly benefit from.

– An older crew member can also act as a mentor for the most junior crew of the team, thus creating a nice dynamic. The mentoring is thus split and does not solely rest on your shoulders.

– An older crew member can bring stability; resilience and years of experience will have taught him how best to overcome set backs and how to move forward. This person will likely have been exposed to a multitude of guests and will know the importance to think on his feet and even pre-empt events and demands.

– An older crew member can have a calming effect in the crew mess and have a positive influence on others.

Safety is obviously a key component of running a top yacht and naturally, it is very high on most owners’ agenda. An age diverse crew and the mix of individual experience which comes with this kind of team, contributes to creating a strong safety culture. Which owner would not appreciate that?

So, in summary a diversity of age within the crew can be good, and as a Captain, hiring an older crew member will definitely have a positive impact on the whole crew and yacht and probably increase your efficiency as a first time Captain.

The two way street

Laurence Lewis looks at the role of a recruitment consultant and how managing expectations for both the potential recruit and the employer is an essential part of the process

These days we all have high expectations, all the time. We expect better jobs with better salaries, on better yachts, with better crew and colleagues, better social and family life with more rotations, better wi-fi, better food, better crew cabins, better tips, better heads of departments, better absolutely everything.

Employers and employees have access to vast amounts of information through social media, crew know what is going on elsewhere onboard other yachts and therefore, expectations come at you from every angle. Managing and addressing those expectations is paramount to ensure a successful recruitment procedure.

Also in this picture is the recruiter, that trusted middle person whose role is to advice both parties and navigate towards a common ground and positive resolution, managing expectations because, most of the time …. recruiters know best – of course we do, it’s our job, we spend our days talking to crew, to clients, to the market.

Getting off to a good start will often involve writing down a good job description, a concise summary of the role with some insights into the specifics of your yacht, the culture and value onboard. This is often an overlooked process, yet, once done the job description will become a valuable and reusable tool only requiring  minor updating from one season to the next.  Recruiters love professional job descriptions and will use them to truly champion your jobs with candidates.

Your recruiter will discuss your expectations and how they fit with the market. Will it be a struggle to fill the job because of an unrealistic salary in a candidate short market? Is your leave package competitive enough? Are you asking too much in terms of skills when perhaps onboard training can be a solution?  Recruiters know unicorns don’t exist and will transparent with the client. One must also consider the necessity of building a strong team on board. So the environment amoungst the rest of the current crew is an important element to discuss and evaluate. Looking at individual strengths and evaluating what the new crew memeber will deliver into an already successful team, at any rank, can be vital.

Recruitment is a two way stream and just as the client is assessing the candidate, candidates also evaluate their potential new employer - First impression count. Keeping the line of communication open is important and any delays or change of plans in the interview schedule have to be addressed / discussed quickly and a new plan of action set up.  Once the momentum is lost, it is very hard to regain it and the candidate will have found another job, elsewhere.

Recruiters of course also manage candidates expectations and we have endless discussions on salaries, leave, rotation and the grass supposedly greener on the other side….We can help and guide a decision making process and make suggestions. And yes, absolutely, sometimes the ‘first job that comes along’ is the best job, nothing wrong with that, just as the majority of yachts are private, so why wait for that elusive charter yacht ? You need to way up the benefits of both situations. Make a list of your personal pros and cons of both charter yachts and private ones, and also think about your future career progression.

Managing expectations on all sides is part of the recruiter’s remit.  Only naive recruiters will stick to the candidate and client’s brief. Decision making always involves an emotional dimension and thinking outside the box and championing the underdog, is often what will make the difference and bring two sides together.

Working together and building a strong team

With the global fleet of superyachts expanding at a rate of knots, Laurence Lewis looks at the challenge to build strong teams on board with crew from different cultural backgrounds

The yachting industry is in good health as seen by the number of sales recorded by the brokerage market in 2017 and by the number of vessels presently under construction and planned in the next few years. There are 773 yachts being built which will require up to 8,600 crew to man them and, together with the existing fleet, this could bring the total number of yacht crew in the world close to 85,000.

As the demand for qualified crew is increasing and looks set to rise further over the next decade, a shortage of new talent is threatening the yachting industry. The need to embrace cultural diversity in yachting has never been greater. English is of course the ‘lingua franca’ of our industry but no longer can our industry be the preserve of the stereotypical ‘Jolly Jack Tar’.

Candidates are required to disclose their nationality when they register on our database yet in order to comply with the need to prevent discrimination based on nationality, this is not a searchable criteria so we do not capture statistics as to who comes from where. We can however look at candidates who ‘check in’ and in any given period, over a third of the deckhands and stewardesses who check in are British, followed by South Africans and far behind Australians and New Zealanders and even further behind European citizens and the rest of the world. This gives us a snapshot of the industry and the makeup of the yachts (except for Filipino crew who mostly work with Filipino based agencies).

There are 28 countries in the EU, that’s 28 countries whose citizens can move with ease around the world, yet many of these countries are, for various reasons ranging from lack of seafaring traditions/maritime history from being land locked to lack of a long standing hospitality industry, to political isolation up to recent years, very much under-represented in the industry. Often, even at equal skill level when they come forth, crew coming from this pool of potential candidates struggle to break into the industry. This has to change, the industry needs to open up to new talent, yachting clearly needs more intercultural cooperation.

Multicultural teams are prone to ethnocentrism with minority crewmembers feeling ignored and disconnected

Yachts are of course highly self-contained, where crewmembers work and live together. More so then ashore, a sense of ‘belonging’ is necessary to build a successful team. Cultural diversity, when badly managed, can indeed be the source of further conflicts, misunderstandings, alienation and even a hazardous working environment. Multicultural teams are prone to ethnocentrism with minority crewmembers feeling ignored and disconnected which leads to low morale, frustration and a high crew turnover.

There is therefore no doubt that increasingly, the challenge facing captains will be to establish a cohesive team with crew from various cultural backgrounds and in doing so, develop a cultural intelligence allowing him to understand the ‘fault lines’ within the crew and the potential for misconception and miscommunication which may arise.

Making every crew member feel valued will create an environment of trust where people will know they can rely on each other to get the job done. There are no small jobs, everybody counts, everybody is essential in the success of a trip.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a good way to build personal bonds and will help in anticipating challenges.

The captain must establish team norms and a clear code of conduct that everyone sticks to — no matter what their personal default might be. Yachting is not for everybody and never will be, but the industry needs the cultural melting pot of crew to grow from a teacup, where it is currently, into a cauldron; we’ll all be better for it in the end.

Laurence Lewis asks why ageism should be such a big issue in superyacht recruitment

Age is something that does not matter unless you’re a cheese.

So said the surrealist genius filmmaker Luis Bunuel…. Yachting, where are we at on the topic of ageism ? Do captains and crew feel discriminated against for being too old or too young? Does age matter?

I felt it might be interesting to look at how age is perceived in a wider European context before looking at our niche market and in doing so I stumbled upon an interesting survey published by Eurage (European research group on attitude to age) which had been commissioned by Age UK. The survey sought the view of 55,000 people across 28 European countries and it emerges that age discrimination is experienced more often than any other form of discrimination, which came as a surprise to me.

Age discrimination is of course very different from any other discrimination such as sex or race, as our age changes continuously. We go from young to middle age to old and as we age, our perception of age discrimination evolves with time. We can assume that age discrimination is not necessarily deliberate and does not result from negative intentions but is the result of how we perceive and categorise one another, as being young or old.

For example the age at which youth is perceived to end varies considerably from 34 in Sweden to 52 in Greece and across the 28 countries participating in the survey, the mean age that young was perceived to end was 40.

Further studies show that the middle age group is seen as having the highest social status and the old age group the lowest. One can then extrapolate to say that the middle age group is also perceived as being more desirable in a work environment. Not surprisingly, people also feel more positive towards their own age group which again, in a professional environment, can create a bias towards hiring people from the same age group.

Yachting is a niche market exposed to the same issues as the rest of society and therefore what one needs are tools and solutions to combat this grey ceiling syndrome

Yachting is a niche market exposed to the same issues as the rest of society and therefore what one needs are tools and solutions to combat this grey ceiling syndrome. “Failure to hire” cases are notoriously hard to prove and litigation is hardly ever the answer.

So we ask what is it? Liz Ryan from the Human Workplace movement has the answer with the ‘pain interviewing’ technique. It’s not a cure for age discrimination but it will shift the attention away from age and in fact, will make the frosty topic of age irrelevant during the interview. The key is to find which business pain the interviewer needs to solve and to position yourself as the solution, as an adviser, a consultant.

This works because it makes sense. Let’s face it, most people hate having to recruit. They don’t know what questions to ask, they worry about getting it wrong and hiring someone who won’t fit, they worry about investing precious time in hiring and training someone who will leave, they are not sure how to assess candidates and differentiate them. If done badly recruiting can be a time consuming exercise employers generally dread and this goes for yacht owners recruiting captains too.

An employer in pain, and unfortunately most are, is good news for a candidate who can take control of the conversation and focus in addressing the pain. It is not about answering questions in a sheep like fashion, like perhaps more inexperienced candidates might do, but more importantly, about positioning yourself as an expert, who has an opinion and solutions. If you can do that, the employer can’t afford to care about how old you are because he will have identified you as the solution to his pain.

Its not all about answers, you should have some questions you want answered too

It’s time for the Monaco Yacht Show and the beginning of another recruitment season; if you are on the job market, you need to prepare and rehearse. I have often written about interview techniques yet there is one topic I have never approached even though it seems to catch candidates unaware at the end of the interview. The moment when the principal asks “Do you have any questions for us?” Sitting there agape with a bewildered look is not an option so, how do you avoid stumbling at the last minute ? It is your last chance to make an impression, so, let’s make it a good one!

Most captains and crew are well prepared to answer technical questions but many have overlooked this important period during the interview process. They have simply not thought
about any questions to ask or are unable to improvise and think on their feet. They ask questions that suggest they have not done their homework about the yacht or ask about the salary and benefits which is a real turn off for most employers. Not having any questions to ask sends the signal that you are not really interested in the position so, even if you feel a lot of ground has been covered during the meeting, you must think of at least one question to ask.

Of course, an interview is a two way street but when an employer asks “Do you have any questions for us ?” he is not interested in how the job will impact your private life. Unless you have been head hunted which is a different scenario altogether, now is not the time to ask if the yacht can winter in Palma just because you live there with your family! Through these final questions, an employer will try to assess your interest and curiosity in the position and the yacht, if you are interested in bringing added value to the yacht and if your personality is the right fit. So, let’s look at some of the questions one should NOT be asking at this point; the ones best left for a second interview or conversation once an offer has been made:

How often will you actually come on board the yacht ?
This is really off putting for the yacht owner as it implies you want to see him as little as possible. You come across as lazy and self-centered.

I live 15 minutes’ drive from the port where you winter, I’d like to go home every evening off season, would this be okay with you?
This question is all about you; you bring zero added value to the yacht by asking this.

What kind of salary are you offering?
Wrong time to ask, this is best left for a second interview or once mutual interest has been expressed. Same for any benefit related questions and time off – now is not the time.

Do you have any plans to buy / build a new yacht?
This make you seem uninterested in the job on offer and invariably alarm bells will ring with the interviewer : will you quit the job he is
offering you at the first opportunity?

Things you could easily find doing a google search or talking to the recruiter: i.e when was the yacht built?

This shows complete lack of interest and preparation.

So, what kind of questions should you be asking ?

Questions about you:
“Do you have any concerns about my application?” This is a great question as it allows the interviewer the possibility to express his reservations about you and it gives you the opportunity to tackle his fears and really change his mind about you. It also shows that you are a confident person, not afraid of handling rejections. This really works, try it ! You can also say “From what you said, I am very interested in the position. How many other captains am I competing with for the job?”

Questions about the job:
“Why is the position vacant?”, “Why is the current captain leaving?” Anything along those lines such as “How long was the last captain employed with you?”

Questions about the employer:
“What did you like best about your last captain?” or “What is the most important quality you look for in a Captain?” If you want the job, go for it. The “Do you have any questions for us?” can really be a deal maker or indeed a breaker and certainly not a question to be underestimated.

Happy interviewing.

Grit, resilience and yachting. How do you know if the interviewee has what it takes to last the distance?

Grit has always been one of my favourite English words, it’s punchy and powerful with a dramatic connotation. Worryingly, I could not find a French translation which truly satisfies me… what does that say about us French? No no; no French bashing! What I concern myself with today is the topic of strength and resilience in the work place.

Yachts are like no other work places and present unique challenges given the closeness and lack of privacy which clearly exacerbates any existing and underlying tensions. What could be blown away overnight for office workers can easily turn highly toxic in the confined environment of a yacht… And next you know you find yourself quitting your job impulsively, on a whim, I call it the “bridge-burning quit”. Recruiters witness it all and hear it all, the anger, the deception, the inability to manage emotions… and often, it happens even before the season has truly started. Things are just getting going; the sous chef is throwing a wobbler and is quitting on the spot, leaving the head chef to worry about filling his place and cooking for the crew..or worse, he’s leaving in the middle of a guest trip. We’ve all experienced it at one level or the other, mostly with junior crew, but not always.

Acceptable if the employer has a history of dangerous or unethical behaviour, ghosting is, most of the time, a very ill-chosen strategy and often crew come to regret it. The message inferred is that you’re a bad decision maker, unable to keep calm and to evaluate a situation rationally. It is also often a selfish, self-centered act which does not take the interest of the group, in this case the crew, into account. “Apres moi le deluge” carries that sweet taste of instant gratification but will invariably leave a bitter taste with your fellow crew members and captain. It’s also not the best as far as reputation building is concerned, but that point is just confirming the obvious.

Reacting impulsively or responding resiliently… vast question Angela Duckworth is a psychologist who studied this quality and wrote a book ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’. She says,“empirical evidence confirms common intuition: a disposition to endure to the end rather than quit early is the hallmark of high achievers. Moreover, grit goes hand in hand with both life satisfaction and emotions like joy and pride. So it seems that in general, not quitting is a pretty good way to live life.”

If grit is so important in yachting, where excellence and attention to details are also highly sought-after traits, how does one recognise it at the interview stage? How can one detect this mix of competence, persistence and grace? Basically, how do you know you’re not hiring a quitter? It is, after all, easier to teach someone new skills than to change their character traits.

The bottom line, grit is very difficult to identify when reading a CV and is even more so with junior crew who have little relevant yachting experience.

Yet, clues can be found here and there, in the hobby section of the CV perhaps. Is this individual a high achiever in sport or other hobby? Has he taken responsibilities at a young age or shown some other goal-oriented pursuit? Any sign of patience, courage and endurance? The candidate will probably enjoy talking about a subject he enjoys and will open up and reveal his personality.

If nothing jumps out, the direct approach works too with junior crew “ You have little experience on yacht, how do I know you are not going to leave the yacht in the middle of the season?“ and “what would you do if you realise in the middle of an important guest trip that yachting is not for you?”, “ What do you think the goal of the crew is on a yacht? “ “Tell me about a successful team work experience you’ve had”, “Have you ever worked with a difficult person/crew member and how did you deal with the situation? “, “How do you manage your stress?”

More than a generational indicator, grit is a process of gradual discovery of one’s ability to forge coping mechanisms to navigate through a crisis. So perhaps, grit does also come with experience…

The pillars of wisdom - what are the four pillars of a Captain's job which need addressing during interviews?

A large number of seasoned chief officers are hitting the captain’s job market and are thus competing with established captains for a small number of jobs. Between 2015 and 2016 we recorded an increase of 21% in terms of new registrations of Chief Officers and 20% for captains. This is a large increase, bearing in mind that YPI CREW has been trading for over fourteen years and is therefore already an established player. This is not the surge of activity a start-up can expect from year one to year two. The increase of captain’s registrations is a sign that this market is highly competitive and basically, securing a captain job is getting tougher. Interview preparation is therefore paramount in order to succeed.

Clients enlist crew agencies for captain head hunting assignments mostly when discretion is required but the majority of captain jobs are still filled by word of mouth or through personal recommendations. One of the least enjoyable parts of our job as recruiters is to inform captains “no new jobs have come up”. Whilst we might not immediately come up with a job, we can however, share a few interview tips to ensure you make an impact with the decision maker in the aforementioned crowded market.

There are four ‘pillars’ of a captain’s job which need addressing during interviews; Navigation and Safety, Crew Management, General Yacht Administration and Finance / Hospitality.

These four points need discussing and developing in a confident way during the interview. I cannot stress enough how decisiveness, together with confidence, are the qualities most owners of today’s large yachts will look for in a captain which is why developing and qualifying answers is critical. I sometimes witness that captains hold back in sharing their knowledge and professional opinions due to the fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ which could ruin their interview or show them in a bad light, not realising that this is totally counterproductive. Coming across as a ‘nice guy’ is important of course, but more important is to position yourself as a charismatic leader who has a total grasp of his profession and duties.

If somehow the interviewer is not addressing one of the four pillars, take the lead and ask all the questions allowing you to build of clear picture of the job and what is expected of you. By asking questions the captain will transform an interview script into a warm human conversation and that’s when the chance of nailing the job greatly increases. Here’s an example regarding the Hospitality pillar: “I have changed job frequently over the last few years for the reasons I explained earlier, but what about you, how many captains have you had so far?” This question may not always be appropriate but it has the merit to open a conversation on what works and does not work with this specific client and invariably, a genuine exchange on his expectations can follow on from there, allowing both parties to assess if they fit with each other.

Many interviewer like to start an interview by asking “tell me about yourself” or “what brings you here ?” It’s your job as the interviewee to prepare ahead of the day, to walk through the interview process in your mind in order to answer in a concise and interesting way. Hopefully your interview has turned into a conversation and you feel more relaxed and comfortable to then address the three real questions in the owner’s mind, the questions which ultimately matter and which he will not ask aloud: Can you do the job? Will you like the job? Will I like having you there?

2017, when the interviewee takes control

I have covered the subject of interviews various times over the years yet I feel this topic deserves further coverage before the start of the 2017 Mediterranean season when a new generation of captains and crew will hit the job market.

There is no denying it, whether you’re a deckhand, stewardess or captain, being interviewed is a nerve wracking experience and it is often how you handle the associated stress which determines the outcome.

How can you ace an interview and obtain a job offer? After all that’s the ultimate goal, anything else is a waste of time, yours included.

One of the best pieces of advice is to put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer; if you’re a captain then that will probably be a yacht owner and his spouse or the owner’s representative and manager. If you were them, what kind of qualities would you want your captain to have?

Well, here’s the thing, most employers, yacht owners included, regardless of their nationalities and lifestyles, will be impressed if you position yourself as a confident problem solver. That’s the secret in acing most job interviews.

How can you position yourself as a confident problem solver?
It starts with your body language, be natural, wear clothes in which you feel smart, comfortable and which are appropriate for the occasion. If I am writing about this it’s not because my word count for this article is low and needs boosting but because people often get it wrong. Where and what time of the day is the meeting? Is it a breakfast meeting in a hotel by the sea? Is it a lunch meeting in the City in London? Two radically opposed environments which require different outfits. We’ve all done it, being overdressed or under dressed is never a good feeling, it not only affects our performance but it also instantly influences the interviewer’s opinion in a negative way.

Being natural is about having a normal conversation, answering and asking questions and developing on ideas and topics. What impresses clients most is when a captain is able to expand on ideas and have an opinion. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion, most owners don’t want a yes-man; they want an intelligent man or woman who can lead and who will run the yacht in a safe manner for him and his family.

An interview requires practice, take the time to prepare. Do you know how to talk about yourself in a concise, professional and interesting way?  Are you confident in answering the “tell me about yourself question”? With some many tutorials available, including our own series of YPI CREW “be amongst the best” videos on YouTube,  there is no excuse for stumbling on this question; the reply should be smooth and to the point.

A problem solver gives detailed, informative answers to questions and tries to enter into a conversation by asking a question back – the more the conversations flows the better.

Of course that’s not always possible and there are as many interview scenarios as there are yacht owners, but it is my experience that too many captains hold back during an interview and fail to share important information.

If there is a point in your career that is particularly important or impressive, or something that really defines who you are, you must absolutely find a way to say it and place it during the conversation.

If an owner has experienced previous issues with a captain and crew he may ask seemingly odd questions:  “what would you do if xxx and xxxxx happens?” Answer the best way you can and follow up with your own question “I am surprised by this question, have you had such issues before?” or “I am surprised by this question, may I ask why you are concerned about this?” By doing this you really position yourself as someone who is confident and invariably this will open a frank discussion allowing the tension to drop a notch.

“I’m just going to be myself” is a comment I frequently hear and I agree – nobody wants to work with a phony.  The key however is to be both natural and well-prepared, an interview is not a chat, and it’s the “well prepared” that will make all the difference and give you the edge. Best of luck!