The Reference Request Conundrum


Reference checking is an important part of the hiring process across all aspects of recruitment. Whilst savvy crew members will leave a boat with a reference in hand – many do not. A time-pressured Captain may advise that a reference will follow, but weeks can go by as it slips further down the to-do list. Departing crew are then left with nothing to vouch for their employment and skills.

Being provided with a written reference is the first hurdle overcome, but for Sara Duncan, Director of Crew & Concierge, it’s the reference check that then poses the biggest challenge. “We have clients who will insist on a verbal clarification of the written reference provided, and understandably so, given that we frequently find references have in fact been written by the candidates themselves, and simply signed by the Captain or a head of department,” explains Sara. Whilst that may save time on board, it complicates matters when a recruitment agent phones to check whether the information provided is accurate. If a Captain has no saved document to refer to, they may not remember what they did (or didn’t) say.

The verbal check or verification is also problematic for a Captain. “Put yourself in their shoes – the Captain has written a reference for a departing crew member and three months later, when that crew member has registered with every agency and is looking for work, the Captain is inundated by recruiters trying to verify their credentials”, explains Sara. And she can understand their frustrations. “I get it. But my team and I cannot place someone, whose reference we haven’t personally checked and verified, in a position. However, if you’re a Captain getting 10 phone calls a day about the same crew member who left the boat a year ago, you’re going to get more and more fed up with every call that comes through.”

Sara recognises this topic is controversial, but the need for Captains to do more to assist, or for the industry to find an alternative way to manage this aspect, is essential. “We’ll call the Captain and if we get no answer, then we’ll try Whatsapp, and then we’ll send an email asking if the Captain could call us at a convenient time. We often get no reply”, says Sara. “We send chasers, but if we’ve still had no luck and no one is responding, then what more can we do?” The result is that excellent crew members are not being placed in the positions they deserve.

Another facet to this complicated problem is Captains communicating Captain to Captain. “This simply adds to the issue”, says Sara. “Not only have we (or another recruitment company) called a Captain to verify a reference for a crew member, but when we place that candidate, there’s often another call from the hiring Captain to the referring one; they want to check for themselves or seek out a more personal, off-record comment.”

For Crew and Concierge, professionalism is paramount. “You can decline to give a reference for someone, but you can’t give a bad one. If someone’s taken the middle ground with a reference, it’s our job to get to the bottom of that. The candidate may not be a bad candidate; they may simply have not been a good fit with that particular crew dynamic or owner. We can’t afford to lose good crew from the industry simply because someone took a dislike to them”, says Sara.

But the lack of response is the sticking point. Out of 60 potential candidates, Sara explains that perhaps 40 will be interviewed by her team before a shortlist is presented for consideration. Of that 40, when only five references are presented, the prospective pool quickly gets shallow.

“We have had a number of issues in the past resulting from references that weren’t true. They are so easily forged”, explains Sara. And on a superyacht, that’s a risk to your privacy, your safety, the wellbeing of your other crew, and your asset.”

It’s possible that on a larger yacht, where you may have a purser or crew manager, references for past crew are stored in a central database – easily accessed and verified when requested. But for vast swathes of the superyacht fleet, motor yachts of 30 to 40 metres, and often sailing yachts operating with a smaller team, that’s just not possible.

There’s potential for using one of the identity verification apps to store a crew member’s references, making it part of the background-check process, and this is something Sara’s keen to explore. “We store references for crew we’re working with on our database, and it’s noted when these have been verbally confirmed. That could be put on a centralised database, with a trusted pool of recruitment agents adding to it and collaborating.”

It’s a delicate subject, and no one wants to point the finger of blame, but the reputation of the industry and how crew are perceived is dependent upon it. If someone’s done a good job, they deserve to be in this industry, and they deserve a reference. How a Captain provides a reference -or handles the reference verification- speaks volumes (or not) for their professionalism.

By Roxanne Hughes

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