Who Are Your References?

12 August 2009 By Joanne MacKenzie

“Why did you leave the last yacht you worked on and what would your last captain say about you?”

These are often the first questions crew agents and captains will ask you during an interview. When it comes to landing your next position, the references you provide can help you greatly – or potentially cost you the job. How do you make sure you’re using the right ones?

The chef on a 73-metre boat says, “If you have any doubt about a reference, don’t use [it] in your CV. If it’s mediocre or there’s a chance [s/he] might say something dodgy about you, don’t bother. It’ll just make you look mediocre.”

A crew agent agrees. “You should know what [your references] are saying about you,” she says. “A bad reference from a captain cost one chief stew the chance to be considered for three jobs. Her other references were excellent, so I finally advised her to take him off her list.” The stew told the agent that she and the captain had had personal clashes, but she had included him on her CV to show that she had previous charter yacht experience as a chief stew.

“References should be reliable, reachable and detailed,” the crew agent adds.

What if your references are glowing, but you get badmouthed by a third party who isn’t even on your reference list? That was the case for a chef who had accepted a seasonal position on a yacht. Before she even started the job, a broker suggested to the captain that she’d had issues on another boat. The captain double-checked her references. He went back to the chef and said her references came back positive once again, and he was confident in her for the job.

“I told him to forget it,” she says. “My references were glowing the first time they were checked and they should’ve stood. Not only did he second guess me, but he wasted my references’ time, and forced me to dignify gossip from someone who doesn’t even know me or my work.”

What about the boats you left because it was a bad situation – should you bite your tongue, or tell your prospective employer the real reason you left?

In Italy, there’s an expression “Accontentia moci” or “Don’t pretend too much.” One stew says when she is asked why she left a previous position, she is honest about it. “I don’t pretend I left for the wrong reasons. If they don’t want to hire me because I’m too honest, then it’s not for me.”

Most people’s lives are an open book these days, anyway – particularly if they have a Facebook page. (If your profile isn’t private, keep this in mind when posting photos, adding comments, etc. A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn’t want your mother to see it, you shouldn't put it online.)

“You can always check online and for ten dollars, you can do a Google search on anyone to at least find out if their background check shows up anything illegal,” one captain says.

The captains you use as references are in a position to affect your chances of getting a job, but when they’re in the hiring seat, who checks their references?

One chief stew says she does. “It’s too late to check after you are already on the boat. I ask the agent for the captain’s CV. I want to have some idea what his background is before I get on board.”