Interview tips for captains and senior crew

There are lots of sources on line offering helpful hints and advice for how to prepare and act in a job interview, but not much consideration has been given on the other side of the table; i.e. how do you interview a potential crew member?  How do you know what to ask, and how to get a good idea of who that person really is and how they could make your team, quite simply, better?


Firstly let’s look at the point of interviewing.  Presumably you’ve already read the CV and can see what qualifications they hold, and should have an idea of what they want to do next, and what they’ve already done.  You want to know if they can do the job you require of them, and if they’ll fit in with the current team onboard.  An interview should give you a good indication of both.

Depending on the position you’re interviewing for, you’ll have different questions to ask. You might find it helpful to highlight anything on the CV that has caught your interest. Make a few notes, write down a few questions.  Winging it, although sometimes unavoidable, usually leaves you kicking yourself afterwards when you think of all the questions you forgot to ask…  The interview is also your opportunity to give that crew member a first impression of you, the potential employer, and the yacht so if you go in unprepared you might miss out on hiring the perfect person for the job.

We’ll start with the obvious stuff.  What do you want to find out about this person?  A good ice breaker is to start with the usual “So how did you get into yachting?” type questions.  From there you can talk through their previous experience and ask questions as the opportunities pop up.  What are their long term goals and aspirations?  Where do they see themselves in the future?  Standard stuff you’ve probably been asked yourself over the years.

Encourage them to ask questions about the role; an interview should be an interactive experience, not just a grilling from one side to see if they fit the job profile.  Encourage discussion with open ended questions.  Try to avoid questions that can be answered with a yes or no – and if you do ask a few of those, ask for examples. Such as “do you like working under pressure?  Yes? Ok, can you give me an example on your last yacht of how you dealt with a tough situation?”  Do they have any other skills from jobs pre-yachting you could use? Some people don’t even list their previous, life before yachting positions on their CVs so it’s good to ask.  And hobbies and interests; you might discover you have someone with more skills than you realized.

Bear in mind when you start the interview that a lot of people get a bit nervous, if you’re feeling nervous about interviewing this will create for a stiff atmosphere and neither side will come away feeling particularly good.  Relax and be yourself, this might encourage the candidate to relax too so you can get a glimpse of the “real” person. 

A company director once told me he only hired people who are more qualified or have more knowledge about a particular field than he does.  That way he can rely on his team to deliver more and keep improving.  And it keeps him on his toes too.

If you’re a captain interviewing a deckhand, or a stewardess, then make sure the heads of departments get involved too.  Ideally get them to vet them first so you only have to interview the select few. Let the team heads make their own decisions if you can, as they’re the ones who will be interacting, training, leading and working alongside them daily.

A good question I enjoy asking, and usually it’s a good way to see if people can think on their feet, is to ask for their strengths and weaknesses.  Strengths?  Easy, everyone comes to an interview ready to sell themselves, but weaknesses?  That’s a tricky one to answer!  

Body language is another thing to look out for; I know I’m not impressed when I interview someone who slops about on a chair looking a bit too relaxed. Look for someone who’s paying attention to you, listening, and asking the right questions.  They don’t have to be sitting up ram rod straight but they should be giving off a professional and serious vibe. 

Some captains, after formally interviewing, like to invite the potential new crew to a night out with the current team to see how they interact.  And how they are after a few beers too.  It’s a good way to see how the crew get on under pressure – inhibitions drop when you’re out so although unorthodox, some find this a good indication of how the season will pan out.

There’s no interview technique set in stone for yachting, often the best way is to approach it in a flexible manner and see how it goes!  Once you have the information you need, then turn the interview situation into more of a chat and see what sort of person you have in front of you.   

If you’d like further advice, question ideas, or a few tips on interviewing specifics, feel free to drop me a line:

Erica’s been in international yacht crew recruitment since 2007, setting up and running her own boutique agency in 2013. Her unique and individual approach continues to make EL CREW CO a highly regarded and successful local business.

Erica Lay – EL CREW CO







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