The reference request conundrum
Reference checking is perhaps one of the most important parts of the hiring process across all aspects of recruitment…
While savvy crewmembers will leave a boat with a reference in hand, it is not yet considered a necessary standard practice. A time-pressured Captain might suggest that a reference will follow, but as the weeks go by, and as it slips further down the to-do list, the departing crewmember is often left with nothing to vouch for their employment and skills. When a written reference has been provided, the first hurdle has been overcome, but for Sara Duncan, Director of Crew & Concierge, the process of obtaining a proper reference can be rather frustrating, to say the least.
“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 off by the Captain or a head of the department,” explains Duncan. Whilst that may save time onboard, it complicates matters when a recruitment agent phones to check whether what’s been provided is actually accurate - with Captains having no saved document to refer to and no memory of what they did (or didn’t) say.
The verbal check or verification is also quite problematic from a Captain's perspective. “Put yourself in their shoes - the Captain has written a reference for a departing crewmember and three months down the line, when that crewmember has registered with every agency and is looking for work, the Captain is inundated by recruiters trying to verify their credentials,” Duncan explains, “I get it. But my team and I can’t place someone in a position whose reference we haven’t personally checked and verified. 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 phone call that comes through.”
Duncan clearly recognises that the 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, and often we get no reply. We’ll send chasers, but if we’ve still no luck and no one is responding to our reference check emails, then what more can we do?
"The result is that excellent crewmembers are not being placed in positions they deserve."
Another facet to this complicated problem is Captains communicating from Captain to Captain. “This simply adds to the issue,” Duncan reveals, “Not only have we (or another recruitment company) called a Captain to verify a reference for a crewmember but when we place that candidate there’s often another call from the hiring Captain to the referring one, with them wanting to check for themselves or seek out a more personal, off-record comment.”
For Crew and Concierge, professionalism is considered 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 Duncan.
With that being said, it is the lack of response that is the sticking point. Out of 60 potential candidates, Duncan 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 suddenly becomes rather shallow.
“We have had a number of issues in the past resulting from references that weren’t true. They are so easily forged,” explains Duncan. Moreover, on a superyacht, there is also the added risk to your privacy, your safety, the well-being 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 the past crew are stored in a central database - easily accessed and verified when requested. However, for vast swathes of the superyacht fleet, motor yachts of 30 to 40 metres and often, when it comes to sailing yachts operating with a smaller team, this is simply 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 the 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 the crew are perceived is riding on it. If someone’s done a good job, they deserve to be in this industry. They deserve a place in this industry and they deserve a reference. How a Captain provides a reference or handles the reference verification, speaks volumes for their professionalism (or lack of).
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