How to keep hirers happy when job hunting

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Q: Neil, Chief Steward, 30:

“I’ve just secured a great job, but in the process I had to turn down several others. I actually found it really difficult as I had to disappoint some Captains and owners who had expected I was going to work for them. One was even quite angry about it, and I feel like I’ve damaged that relationship. I had to play the game of keeping my options open as I know this is a hard industry and you have to look after yourself, but it really doesn’t sit right with my personality as someone who is a man of honesty and their word. The whole thing made me feel dishonest, as I was fairly sure I’d secured the right job early on, but kept interviewing while I was waiting for my final contract to come through. How do you suggest we navigate multiple job offers like this without feeling like you’re stringing people along or letting them down?”

A: The Crew Coach:

This is a really fascinating question, and one that I think a lot of yachties struggle with. As a professional career coach I always suggest crew continue their search until the moment the contract is signed, so while you may have felt uncomfortable interviewing with other yachts, you did the right thing from a professional standpoint. You are right that this is difficult and potentially dangerous to navigate however, so I’ll get to how you might manage the conversation better in a minute so you can avoid burning bridges.

We all know that in yachting, perhaps much more so than in other workplaces, jobs fall through, plans change, boats get sold and management companies and owners sometimes push for certain candidates. The plain fact is that until a contract is signed, you have no guarantees, and even after your contract is signed the job can still fall through! Unfortunately many candidates completely stall their job hunt after receiving a positive job offer, thinking the position was in the bag, only to have it all fall through in mid June when there are much fewer jobs going! Timing can be so tough too, sometimes they don’t make a final decision for 4-6 weeks, leaving you in limbo in the interim.

To help with your discomfort about playing the field, think about what it’s like applying for jobs on land. Most candidates on land don’t feel the same loyalty to a potential employer – they keep their options open, and apply for lots of jobs. Yacht crew don’t seem to cast their search so widely, and tend to seize on the first good opportunity rather than interviewing widely, and feeling guilty if they do. This may come from our early yachting experience of often struggling to find our first job: scarcity of opportunity at the start of our careers probably makes us feel so lucky to get any job offers at all, so we may jump on the first thing we’re offered, or feel we’re tempting fate or behaving badly by continuing our job hunt right up until the contract is signed.

I agree with you that it seems in yachting things are taken a little more personally, on both sides. Captains and candidates often form a bond during the interview process, and crew are often so hesitant to show any concerns about the job or disclose that they’re interviewing elsewhere that the Captain walks away thinking the deal is pretty much sealed and they can stop interviewing. So I have seen many Captains take it personally when their job offer is turned down if they expected it to be accepted – no matter how politely it’s done.

In many ways I respect that disappointment. Captains are busy and they often get their heart set on certain candidates. After all, it’s difficult to find candidates who are the right fit. You are not only an employee, but someone they will live and even cross oceans with. This means they can be genuinely disappointed and even frustrated when it falls through. Some Captains go so far as taking your refusal as a personal rejection – like a judgement on what kind of boat they run, or of their abilities as a Captain. This may be a perfectly human reaction (if somewhat emotionally undeveloped) but it’s really their problem, not yours. This over-personalisation is what might be driving the Captain’s angry reaction to you turning down the offer, so I wouldn’t get too caught up in it if I were you – and in fact it’s a good sign you might have dodged a bullet! Working with people who are low on emotional intelligence and self awareness can really take its toll on you.

Having said all of this, I would counsel a few things to help keep your reputation intact and prevent Captains from being upset when you turn their offer down. Good etiquette is to explain politely during the interview that you are interviewing with other yachts. If the Captain is truly keen on you joining the yacht, this will give them motivation to speed up their decision and get the contract in motion. Be careful how you say it – don’t make it seem like you are trying to force their hand or this can really backfire on you. Just openly mention it at an appropriate moment in the interview, say when they ask if you have anything further to ask or mention at the end of the interview.

When it comes to turning jobs down, to keep the relationship intact, you should always let the Captain you’re declining know that you really appreciated their time and enjoyed meeting with them. It can also smooth the waters if you give an inoffensive reason for going with a different yacht, such as an exciting opportunity for promotion, or a great training budget (choose something this yacht doesn’t offer, obviously). These are reasons that Captains can totally understand and won’t take personally – and it will give them something to feel better about – you weren’t rejecting them personally. It may also help them improve these things for their current crew as they could go back to management or the boss to say we need to offer XYZ as we are missing out on great candidates! Don’t forget if you’re declining just because you don’t get a good feel for the yacht, you really must keep that firmly to yourself. If in doubt, say nothing about this!

Another way to avoid misunderstandings is to avoid the temptation to speak with the Captain as if you’re already hired. Sometimes we do this unconsciously when an interview is going well- we start saying things like ‘My cabin looks great’, or ‘I’ll love driving that tender’, ‘When’s the yacht crossing, I’ll need to book in my B1B2 interview’. It’s really easy to get caught up in the moment, but if you’re already fairly sure you’ve got another job secured or just aren’t sure yet, this misleading language could easily cause the Captain to believe their hunt for a new crew member is over. Remember, they could be just as excited about finding the perfect new crew member as you are about finding the perfect job, so never underestimate the power of your words.

Everyone wants to make the right decision about which job to choose, and this can be tough with the timing of interviews and lack of publicly available information about different yachts. I personally believe you did the right thing in keeping your job hunt active, just make sure you’re not using misleading language or making Captains believe you’re definitely taking a job when this is not the case.

Some hurt feelings and disappointment is inevitable in this game, but play the game fairly and respectfully and you should avoid rocking too many boats.

Do you have any other advice to add on how to manage this situation? Please feel free to add your comments below!

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