5 killer questions to ask in an interview

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Q: Joe, Deckhand 24:

“I’ve just had an interview for a job I really wanted, but I got so nervous I completely messed it up! At the end when they asked me if I had any questions, I just sat there opening and shutting my mouth like a goldfish, as I tried to think of something to say. The thing was, I know there are some questions you should never ask and there are some you should, but when I was put on the spot I couldn’t remember which were which and I was suddenly really unsure whether any of the questions in my head were OK to ask or not. I don’t ever want to feel like that again it was definitely the worst interview of my life, can you help me figure out what to say if this happens again?!”

A: The Crew Coach:

So you bombed your interview. I know you probably don’t expect to hear this, but well done! Unlike the majority of people who interviewed for that role but don’t really know where they went wrong, you do — AND you are actually reaching out to someone to help you not make the same mistakes next time. To me that says you are a really strong potential candidate who is willing to learn from their mistakes and who wants to grow and improve. So big pats on the back for you there!

You’ve now got two clear things to improve on: your nerves, and your questions. The thing is you don’t need to worry too much about the nerves – they will go away by themselves when you feel more prepared and when you have had more experience with interviews. Learning how to deal with nerves is very important but I’ve written before about how to conquer interview nerves, (click here to read that article) so in this article I’m going to focus more on good questions to ask.

Here are 5 great questions to ask during an interview:

What are you looking for in the person you hire? This is an opportunity to find out a bit more than the hard skills on your CV. This is where you’ll learn more about the ‘soft-skills’ they’re after, like attitude, work ethic, teamwork and sense of humour. You can then of course demonstrate that you have these qualities during the interview.

I want to stay in yachting a long time, and would like to join a yacht where I can stay for a long time – will I be able to do courses while I am working with you? Boats vary a lot on how much emphasis they put on training and development. Some have training budgets, or give paid time off for courses, while many others will give you unpaid time off, and others will get you to do courses in your normal vacation time. Some yachts have good onboard training programs, or a really keen head of department that loves mentoring. This question will give you a good idea of what their attitude is to training and development without sounding like you are asking them to pay for all your courses.

I really want to find a crew where I will fit in. What’s the culture of the boat like? If answered honestly, this is one of the most important bits of information you can ever get in an interview. Yachts can be run extraordinarily differently depending on their onboard culture, from the jokey captain who wants everyone to enjoy themselves, to the very strict captain whose focus is very much safety and everyone toeing the line. Both captains, by the way, have their pros and cons, but your personality needs to fit in with, or at least adjust to different leadership and cultural styles.

What sorts of things do the crew do together outside of work? Young crews tend to do a lot together across all departments, where older crews sometimes tend to keep to themselves a bit more, particularly if there are couples in the team who have different priorities than going out every night. It’s OK to ask what the average age of the crew is as well, to get a feel for the age dynamics onboard. Ideally you would be hoping that the answer is the crew do get together outside of work, but not just to go drinking: the best crew I know also have organised activities like sports, or setting up charity events and other things that bond the team and center them around healthy and positive aims.

What kind of program does the boat have? Because it is terrible form to ask who the owner is in an interview, I think many crew get very nervous about asking details in general. But this question helps you get around that. It’s where you find out where the boat might go, whether it’s heavily used, whether it’s at anchor a lot or in port, whether there are lots of charters booked or if it’s a private family boat. Don’t be too pushy on the details, but this general question should open the floor to the person to describe a bit more what might be ahead of you if you get the job.
I’ve also written before on interview questions you should never ask, so be sure to read those to get an idea of the no-go zones that will have your CV paper-plane into the bin the second you walk out the door. Remember, you don’t need to ask ALL of these questions or it might seem a bit over the top, just pick one or two to lead with, and gauge how open the person is to answering them.

Remember, pretty much everyone has bombed an interview at some point in time – I’ve even done it myself! But that is how we learn and grow. I’m sure if you ask around you’ll get some funny stories about interview disasters, but they don’t have to mean the end of your career. Good luck and keep me posted, let me know how these questions serve you next time around!

Do you have any other great questions to add to the above, or funny stories about interviews you have bombed yourself?

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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