Career Advice

Acing the Video Job Interview

10 June 2021By Sara Ventiera
iStock/sorbetto

Written by

Sara Ventiera

Sara Ventiera is a contributing writer and former stewardess who covers food, travel, and other topics. Her work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the New York Times, Food & Wine, NPR, Eating Well, and BBC Travel.

Set yourself up for interview success in COVID times with these tips.

In anticipation of this year’s Mediterranean season, Stewardess Julia Viiala actively began her job search in February. Had 2021 started off like a normal year, she probably would have traveled to Antibes to hit the docks and network in person. But with the pandemic still raging around the globe, she chose to get her name out there virtually by posting a pithy CV along with a smiling, professional photo to some of the yachting Facebook groups.

“What made me decide to market myself on Facebook for jobs was just me wanting to throw myself out there and spread my name since I was applying for jobs from back home in Sweden at the time, which made it hard for me to dock walk,” says Viiala. “So I figured that this was a way for people to see me and also see that I really am putting effort into my job search.”

Digital Tools

Just as COVID-19 has thrown almost every other aspect of life for a loop, it has certainly upended the process of landing a job on a yacht. Technology has taken over. In the first financial quarter of 2020 alone — January through March — Zoom video communications reported a 354 percent increase in new customers. In four months, during the early days of the pandemic, the video-conferencing platform saw a 30 times growth in daily participants, starting with 10 million from December 2019, skyrocketing to 300 million in April 2020.

That was when much of the world still believed (or hoped) that COVID-19 would be quickly contained by physical distancing measures and things would go back to normal by summer.

Just as COVID-19 has thrown almost every other aspect of life for a loop, it has certainly upended the process of  landing a job on a yacht.

As of March 1, 2021, Zoom was valued by stock market investors at a staggering $120 billion — compared to just $31 billion a year earlier. The technology that had been growing as a corporate tool for years before the pandemic roiled the world, quickly transformed into a global lifeline to some semblance of normalcy. Yoga classes, happy hours, birthday “get-togethers,” in some cases weddings and even job interviews, transitioned from the physical world to the virtual space overnight.

To find a position on board these days, crew have been increasingly turning toward digital tools. Although 20-year-old Viiala admits she would have advertised herself on social media, COVID or not, the pandemic did force her to attempt to break into the industry from afar. “COVID has impacted my job search by first having to apply from home (Sweden) for quite a while before I could travel to South of France because of the travel restrictions,” she says.

Once she finally was able to head south, those posts helped Viiala make some helpful contacts and find day work to get her foot in the industry door. As of mid-March, because of overall uncertainty and many yachting professionals predicting the season may be postponed, Viiala still had not found a long-term position. However, she remains positive and encourages others trying to enter yachting in these strange times to keep trying, as well.

“My tip would be to hang in there and not give up,” says Viiala. “Although I am green myself, I have learned that at this moment it is all about luck. I would say join every group on Facebook, register at as many agencies as possible, and even give them a call or send an email.”

iStock/sorbetto

Interviewing in Person

Pre-pandemic, many crew agents suggested popping by the office to say hello. Those face-to-face interactions were more likely to create an impression than an online resumé and application. With physical distancing still in place in many yachting destinations, that is not the case this year.

“We are not accepting walk-ins like we used to and our foot traffic has diminished,” says Terry Haas of bluewater in Fort Lauderdale. “We interview crew by appointment only and it’s a case-by-case situation.”

Pre-pandemic, many crew agents suggested popping by the office to say hello. Those face-to-face interactions were more likely to create an impression than an online resumé and application. With physical distancing still in place in many yachting destinations, that is not the case this year.

If there are no current job opportunities, Haas and her team will often wait until something becomes available until setting up an in-person meeting. If the crewmembers have just flown in from abroad, she asks them to wait the two weeks before coming in and offers to do a call or Zoom in the meantime. “I handle all the senior roles, so if I am urgently looking for a captain that I have not met, then I do invite him in to the office for a face-to-face interview,” says Haas. “We obviously wear our masks and ask them to sanitize before stepping into our office.”

Other agents and crew have been even more cautious about getting together with clients, though many believe that as things start to reopen in more destinations and more people get vaccinated, that will change.

“I have had requests for face-to-face meetings whilst everything’s been closed so the answer has been easy for me — ‘Due to the current restrictions, I’m not holding face-to-face meetings,’” says Erica Lay of EL CREW CO in Mallorca, Spain. “Now the restrictions are easing off and cafés have reopened their terraces, I will be meeting people again but it very much depends on the circumstances.”

Although most meeting requests these days are relatively safe — held outside in open spaces with a good amount of distance between people -—- if an in-person meetup is not essential, Lay says she will opt out. She doesn’t want to potentially expose the people in her circle who are shielding to be at risk of contracting the virus. But the issue of exposure goes well beyond personal and pod safety, it can risk the operation of an entire vessel. A while back when Lay was asked by a manager in New Zealand if she could visit a yacht in the yard at STP to introduce herself, she declined on the grounds that if she happened to be carrying COVID and was unaware, she could accidentally shut down their entire operation for two weeks — which, at this point especially, could drastically impact the entire industry.

iStock/Guzaliia Filimonova

Even now, with the drop in cases and the vaccine rolling out, Lay is still somewhat skeptical of in-person meetings. And so are many of the captains and heads of department seeking her staffing services. Even crew that may be joining for a trial are often asked to do a COVID test before stepping foot on board.

“Yachts are also very much aware that if they meet lots of crew and one ends up being positive, they will have to isolate, test, etc., which at this time of year, is not a good thing!” she says. “Owners are tired of not using their yachts and nobody wants to make the phone call that the season is delayed whilst the crew is locked down due to a COVID scare.”

Prepping for an Interview

Most captains and department heads are still conducting interviews by phone or video conferencing after reviewing CVs, then either meeting with the short list or just hiring from the virtual interviews. So, how do you show your best side without meeting face-to-face?

“My tips for any video interviews for crew are very similar to real-life interactions,” says Lay. “In fact, my first point would be to treat it as one — so be on time (or early).”

With Zoom, that means doing a sound and signal check five minutes before the call to avoid any awkward tech mishaps that may occur. You don’t want to be forced to explain that you are not, in fact, a cat (as a Texas attorney recently had to tell a judge) or some other strange Zoom filter.

While the current job market has been forcing crew to more fully embrace technology, the rest of the interview process has remained much the same.

If this is your first time using virtual conferencing — hopefully not at this stage in the pandemic — practice beforehand.

Train yourself to look in the camera, rather than at yourself. If you just can’t bring yourself to look away from your own video, consider clicking “Hide Myself” on the menu. The feature enables your camera to continue streaming so others in the meeting can see you but hides your face from your screen.

Learning those sorts of features can really help give you an edge in your interview. One that Haas has been suggesting to crew is mastering the screen-share feature. “This is a fabulous way to ‘walk through’ your resumé with them,” she says. Although much of virtual-interview success relates to learning the technology, setting up the scene is just as important.

It all starts with picking the right space. Pick a room that has good lighting and factor in where the natural light is coming from, so it’s not behind you. And whatever backdrop is showing up on the screen should be clear and tidy, says Haas. “Remember, you are applying for a job cleaning a yacht and your area.”

iStock/sorbetto

While many of those Zoom fail videos are funny, when interviewing for a job, you want to make sure your cell phone isn’t going to ring, you have privacy, and no one will be walking through the room or watching TV right next to you. “Make sure you have a nice quiet area with good Internet signal and no distractions,” says Lay. “We’ve all seen the clips of live interviews on the TV where kids have come tearing in, dogs have licked the camera, etc., so lock yourself away. Even if that means going outside or sitting in a car.”

Just as physical appearance is important in a face-to-face interview, it’s also important in a virtual meeting room. Looking smart is important. Wear a nice shirt and do your hair — even if it’s the first time you’ve done it in ages. It’s good practice to smile every now and then and sit up straight. While you want to avoid bright lips and bold colors, a little makeup goes a long way in terms of getting washed out by the camera.

“My tips for any video interviews for crew are very similar to real-life interactions,” says Erica Lay. “In fact, my first point would be to treat it as one — so be on time (or early).”

And even though there’s a good chance no one will see the bottom half of your outfit, crew agents advise wearing pants. “You may have to get up for something,” says Haas. “They may ask you to stand up to see your full length.” It would be pretty embarrassing to show up in ratty old pajamas or sweats.

While the current job market has been forcing crew to more fully embrace technology, the rest of the interview process has remained much the same. Finding the right lighting or a quiet space may be new; however, the preparation hasn’t changed.

Google the yacht and ask industry colleagues to find out what you can, so you can demonstrate to the interviewer that you’ve done your research and can have an educated conversation about the gig. Lay offers an example of a great response: “Let’s say the interviewer asks you a standard question ‘How do you cope working under pressure?’ you could reply with ‘I hear you had a full-on charter season last summer in the Mediterranean; I have experienced 24-hour turnarounds on my last yacht and I enjoy the buzz. It taught me to be more organized and to plan ahead, so as soon as we dropped off we had a plan. By the end of the season, we had a great system in place.’”

She and other crew agents have always suggested making notes before an interview, but one of the few benefits of physical distancing is that it’s now possible to have them handy without anyone noticing.

This article originally ran in the May 2021 issue of Dockwalk.

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