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Triton survey: Yacht captains prefer e-mailed CV, attention to detail, photo

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By Lucy Chabot Reed

A recent e-mail exchange with a veteran captain whom I know to inspire loyalty in crew left me perplexed. For years I believed that problems with crew could be traced back to captains, either in leadership mishaps or in hiring mistakes.

But this captain stays on yachts a long time, and keeps crew just as long. As the economy shifted and he moved yachts a few years back, he took his senior crew with him to his new command.

Well, as the economy continued to worsen and yachts continued to sit, he lost those experienced, loyal crew in recent years to more stable programs. Last year, for the first time in perhaps a few decades, he was tasked with building a crew from scratch. And he was having a hard time.

I was surprised. I thought this captain had some special, magic hiring skill that would make him immune from the troubles so many captains say they have with crew today.

But the reality, of course, is that no one is immune. Many captains seem to hire younger, less experienced crew that just don’t work out. And while there are many reasons for that, the one thing all crew have in common is their resume. Can that piece of paper hold the secrets of who will do well and who will disappoint?

Turns out it does, according to the 103 captains who completed our survey this month.

We wanted to know — and we wanted crew to know — just what captains want in a resume and how they use that information to make hiring decisions.

When hiring crew, many conditions determine how a captain makes a choice. It depends what position is being filled (entry level versus senior); it depends how much time they have (weeks during the off season or hours during a trip); and it depends where they are in the world (and whether they want the added expense of flying crew to the boat).

We asked our respondents to forget all those caveats and consider the broader situation when we asked, In general, what is your preferred way to receive a CV?

Nearly three-quarters said they wanted it by e-mail, with the remainder wanting it the old fashioned way, on paper.

When we asked How much detail do you want on it?, more than 80 percent of captains said they wanted everything: boat names with dates and jobs held, skills learned, courses and education attained, and references.

“Permanent boat jobs first, with the exact dates,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Temporary boat jobs in the next section. Non-yachting jobs, then relevant skills.”

“I also want a sense of what they have done or do that is not boating related,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Do they volunteer to serve others? Do they do things that expand them as a person?”

Click to read comments on Triton Survey on CVs.

“Some crew fluff their CVs with the job description,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “I’m looking for experience and life skills, not a recap of daily tasks performed.”

The rest of responding captains were happy with just the basics such as boats worked on and dates, noting that they would obtain more details if interested.

“Somewhere in between the two, ie. maximum of two pages, very short bio,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “I really don’t care what you want from our industry, only what you offer to our program. (I’m so tired of hearing that you want to work your way up to chief this or chief that while traveling the world on an exciting program. We all want that.) List all relevant boats, but leave out any that you can’t include a direct contact for checking references. All relevant credentials and passport/visa status.”

All this level of detail, however, didn’t really mesh with a conciseness that captains said they wanted.

“Ratings and STCW qualification codes, languages, boats, ancillary skills/trades, hobbies, three references,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “If you’re printing it, put it all on one piece of paper.”

“Hobbies and interests, with decent elaboration, is very useful,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

Should it include a photo?

Ninety-eight percent said it should.

“I hate to judge a book by its cover, but I personally look at the candidate’s picture first,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “For some reason, I feel that I can tell if that candidate has a good personality or not. I know it’s not the best way to pick someone, but I think the yachting industry has made it that way.”

What makes one candidate’s CV shine over others?

The answer to this open-ended question surprised us. While experience and being career minded will certainly play a big part in getting a job, it was good grammar and a clean layout that most captains said help a CV get noticed. More than 60 percent of captains who answered this question noted the layout, format and conciseness of a resume drew their attention.

“Be clear, concise and honest,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “Have it properly formatted and checked for spelling and grammar.”

“Organized font, paragraph spacing, and layout are very important,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “It tells me you are detailed. If it’s all different, it tells me you’re slipshod.”

“I look at all of the detail, including the quality of the paper, the grammar and spelling,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “This is not to under-appreciate the content, but to judge how much effort was applied.”

“Details, details, details,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “It shows how they will look at their job.”

“Good layout that makes it evident that time and thought went into their CV,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “This should serve as an overall outline to additional information online.”

“One page; concise,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “I want to know who you are, what your nationality is, valid passport, contact info, a photo, qualifications, college degree?, experience relevant to yachting, and three relevant references. A CV is just a means to get a follow up phone call or interview. It doesn’t get you hired. Make it as easy for the captain to get your essential information and highlight any of your responsibilities outside of the normal, understood duties of your positions.”

The next most common response — mentioned by a third as many captains, about 20 percent of those who answered this question — was experience, following closely by longevity.

“Experience in more than one role,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 in yachting more than 15 years.

“Longevity in recent boat jobs (over a year is good), relevant skills, some indication that the candidate knows how to get along with other members of a team (team sports is a good example),” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

Interestingly, tied with longevity was appearance.

“The smile, I can’t teach that,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

Rounding out the top five items that make a resume shine is references.

“References from the captain or owner, not fellow crew members,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

Knowing what makes a resume shine helps, of course. But perhaps more valuable would be to know What makes you toss a CV in the trash?

No surprise, then, that bad formatting and grammar were the No. 1 reason a CV is pitched. Forty-two percent of the captains who answered this question said they didn’t have time for a job applicant who didn’t have time to get their CV right.

“More than one error (grammar, spelling, punctuation, dates),” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “If you can’t take the time to present yourself as perfectly as possible in a job search, you will not make it on my boat.”

“Sloppy work, bad format, bad photo,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “All three show a lack of dedication to marketing themselves. Don’t expect me to invest time and effort in you if you won’t do it for yourself.”

“Anything more than two pages,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

“Poor spelling and poor grammar,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “No references or irrelevant references.”

“Misspelled words and repetitive adjectives,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

“If you have a plain, unstylized CV, that’s a candidate for trash since it shows a lack of the style and extra effort to make sure things look good that the industry expects,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Then, as well, we have the opposite side of that coin, the Circus Poster CV.”

Those over-the-top CVs caused other captains to set them aside, too.

“Artsty-fartsy, over-produced,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

“ ‘Mission statements’, ‘professional goals’ and other forms of self-aggrandisement,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “Basically, anything that looks like it has been produced by a CV specialist.”

The next most common reason captains tossed CVs was if the applicant didn’t have the required experience for the job, if they lacked the qualifications required, or if they had no longevity.

“If the candidate does not fit the parameters of my search,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “For example, if I am looking for a chief stew, one month as a laundry girl is not sufficient experience.”

“Lack of experience, and too many short-term jobs,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

“When there are a lot of boats over short periods of time without explanation,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

“First, no illustration of the ability to perform the open position unless I’m willing to train, then complete sloppiness of the CV,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

“Lots of short-term jobs, spelling and format mistakes, and incorrect certificate names,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “STCW is not a qualification.”

“A complete lack of experience related to the position I’m hiring for,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

Captains also had low tolerance for resumes with missing information or those with too much frilly information.

“When it’s full of the cliche statements about being easy going, hard working and attention to detail, etc,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “So is everybody else.”

“Gaps in the timeline,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

Bad or missing photos caused a CV to be immediately tossing in the bin by about 14 percent of captains.

“No photo or basic info, they go straight to the bin,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 10 years

“Crap photo, drunken Facebook posts, and anything that makes me think they are not after a career,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

“Bad photo (grooming, visible tattoos, etc.),” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years

“A candidate who uses a glamour shot, head kicked back, turned sideways, pouty lips,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “And males with no shirt.”

Bad or lacking references rounded out the top five reasons a captain will disregard a CV.

“References from stews, deckhands, etc.,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “In other words, references from their drinking buddies.”

One captain noted that he’ll disregard a resume with any sense that the applicant is just in it for the job instead of as a career.

“Hotels, restaurants you worked in, what your life goals are, etc.,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “Any language that makes it feel like you’re more concerned with what you will get from us rather than what you will give to our program.”

As subjective as resumes can be, we wanted some facts about how captains use them, so we asked When you aren’t making an emergency hire and have time, do you check references?

More than 87 percent either always check every reference (39.2 percent) or usually check at least one or two (48 percent).

“I’ve been burned in the past by not checking references and always do so now,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “I will also request contact info for the job history where there’s no reference provided. In addition I will call people that I know from the boat referenced even though they are not offered as a reference.”

“I do it even in an emergency,” said another captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

“I contact and communicate with as many as possible,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “I will also contact other captains that I know of boats that may be on the CV but haven’t been listed as references.”

“Always contact relevant references,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “Many times, you will get valuable information, captain to captain, which you would not receive otherwise. Laziness on the potential employer’s part allows bad crew to hop freely from boat to boat with impunity.”

“I did not check on one hire and was burnt,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting less than 10 years. “Never, never again. I don’t care how anxious the owner is, I’m checking every reference.”

“But it still doesn’t matter,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “I get great references 80 percent of the time, yet it is only one in 10 hires that really are great. People definitely don’t live up to the references they get.”

“I especially reach out to captains that I know ran a boat on their CV that are not listed as a reference,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “Those are usually more important to hear than the obvious, positive ones. Although, you would be surprised to know that it is not uncommon for a listed reference to be negative.”

Not all references are equal, however.

“I must talk to their immediate (or higher) supervisor,” said the captain of a yacht 200-220 feet in yachting more than 25 years.

“I only speak to captains and employers; friends and workmates are generally biased,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet in yachting more than 35 feet.

About 6 percent don’t usually contact references unless it’s someone they know.

“The thing about references is, if you don’t know the reference, then you can’t really qualify their ability to generate the information you need,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “If I know the reference, I’ll typically call. This business is full of kooks and incompetents, and a reference generated by a kook or incompetent may be worse quality for me to decide from than no reference.”

About 7 percent said they rarely check references.

With references such a key part of the hiring process, we wondered <<BOLD>>Do you prefer to have letters from references accompanying the CV?

We know “it depends” here, so we asked captains what they prefer when hiring for senior positions where references are more important. In that situation, slightly more than half said yes, having the written reference helps.

“I like to have the written reference, but I always call,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 30 years. “The slight differences may well be telling.”

“Personal letters carry a lot of weight,” said the captain of a yacht larger than 220 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “If someone has the time to write something nice about you, then you are not all bad.”

“It’s nice, but it does not eliminate the need for direct contact with a reference,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “Letters let many lazy captains off the hook when it comes to doing due diligence.”

“If someone has taken the time to assemble a list of references and letters of recommendation, it shows me they’re organized and not a seat-of-the-pants kind of a person,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting less than 10 years.

“I only write written references to crew that I believe will reflect well upon me for their entire careers,” said the captain of a yacht 80-100 feet in yachting more than 10 years. “If I have any doubts to someone’s character, even if they do a good job for me, I don’t provide a written reference. I’d rather provide a conversation over the phone.”

That left just fewer than half saying they don’t bother with reference letters and would rather just contact references directly.

“Reference letters are nice, but it’s the people you did not get one from that I want to talk to,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years.

“As a practice, I do not offer letters of reference unless you’ve been with us over one year,” said another captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “If you were long term with one captain, I would value his letter of reference.”

“I have never received a bad letter of reference from any job candidates, but I have had my share of less-than-satisfactory crew who provided references,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

This business of reference checking actually checks out. We asked captains <<BOLD>>Has anyone ever called you as a reference for someone who has worked for you?. And almost all of our respondents said yes.

We were curious what other sorts of pre-employment checks captains did, so we asked<<BOLD>>Do you do background checks?

Most — 57.4 percent — do not.

“I tell them I will be doing a complete background check and ask if there is anything I will find out,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “You would be surprised what some of them tell you.”

Do you do a credit check?

Again, most — 85.3 percent — do not.

“I should be doing background and credit checks especially for more senior positions,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “Crew sign a random drug screen consent when they sign on to our vessel.”

Do you do a pre-hire drug test?

About two-thirds do not, but that leaves a third of our respondents who said they do.

Do you scan social media sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or YouTube? Most do.

“Always,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 25 years. “Photos with negative content are a dead giveaway not to hire, as are drunken posts. Posts about guests or crew are immediate drop-in-the-bin decisions.”

“Many Ft. Lauderdale-based Facebook pages concerning yacht crew are available,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “They allows me to go directly to their FB page and check out their photos, etc.”

“It’s easy to see photos, and also see who they are friends with,” said the captain of a yacht 180-200 feet in yachting more than 15 years. “If we have any mutual friends, I can surreptitiously contact them and a get a backdoor reference.”

“Many a slip between Facebook and lip; what they say does not always coincide with what they post,” said the captain of a yacht more than 220 feet in yachting more than 35 years. “The best thing a potential crew member can do is invite you to look at their social media pages. There are no secrets there.”

Some captains pointed out that in their search of social media, they don’t scan to judge, but to find relevant yacht etiquette violations.

“I look for instances of posts concerning ship movements and complaints about a job, guest, crew or yacht in general,” said the captain of a yacht 100-120 feet in yachting more than 10 years.

“I have had CVs for ‘non-drinker, non-smoker’, and photos on Facebook with a beer and a cigarette in their hand ‘assist’ my hiring process,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

“Just to make sure they haven’t won a local pub drinking contest,” said the captain of a yacht 140-160 feet in yachting more than 35 years.

Even though some captains who do not do these checks themselves, they still get done.

“My crew often do it for me,” said the captain of a yacht 160-180 feet in yachting more than 30 years.

“I personally do not do background or credit checks on candidates, but the owner has the final say on who is hired full time, after my recommendation,” said the captain of a yacht 120-140 feet in yachting more than 20 years. “If he says yes, then he personally does all those checks, due to who he is. In four years, we have only had to replace two crew.”

Taken as a whole, several captains noted that they either should or will do these checks going forward.

“Based on recent experience, I will do most of above in future,” said the captain of a yacht less than 80 feet in yachting more than 20 years.

Lucy Chabot Reed is editor emeritus of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at lucy@the-triton.com. We conduct monthly surveys online. All captains and crew members are welcome to participate. If you haven’t received an e-mail to take our surveys, e-mail lucy@the-triton.com to be included.

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One thought on “Triton survey: Yacht captains prefer e-mailed CV, attention to detail, photo

  1. Cynthia Sopata

    Very thorough and practical advice; particularly regarding social media. ,Thank you for the survey.

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