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What working on a super yacht taught me about navigating a new career

In late 2009 my husband Brett and I made a big decision: we wanted a sea change. Literally, we were going to live and work on a yacht. I was a well-established Senior Consultant at Slade Group and Brett was running a successful commercial photography business. Back in those relatively carefree pre-covid times when world travel was a tantalising possibility, taking an extended working holiday abroad seemed entirely reasonable. So, we packed in our jobs, packed up our lives and headed over to Europe to join the luxury Super Yacht industry.

Prior to our departure, we embarked on a journey of intense short-courses, obtaining the necessary ‘tickets’ to permit entrée into this elusive and poorly understood (pre Below-Deck TV,) industry. We downsized dramatically, selling nearly all of our possessions including our cars, rented out our home and re-homed our pets… What could possibly go wrong?

Brett had been a life-long yachtie, so his sailing skills would be invaluable in helping secure our first, breakthrough roles. Plus, I felt my solid recruitment experience, having worked over 10 years collectively with Slade Group, would be a significant advantage navigating the hiring journey. Finally, with some savvy packaging, I thought we could market ourselves as a ‘professional couple’ to the numerous Crew agencies as a winning formula.

This was the first time in a decade that I had found myself on the candidate-side of the recruitment process. Donning the latest nautical attire, with our business cards freshly printed and CVs that we’d worked and re-worked, we marched into Antibes, the mega-yacht parking lot in the South of France, full of confidence.

Attempting a career change into a completely new industry, in a foreign country and one that is well known for its love of anyone who doesn’t speak French (not) was a bold move.

We strode into our first face-to-face interview with one of yachting’s most respected recruiters.

“Are you two serious?…. Firstly, you’re married. Secondly, you’re too old. Thirdly, you’re overqualified, but under-experienced. And lastly, we are in the deep-end of the global financial crisis… Go home!”

Clearly this agent didn’t realise how far we had travelled for the interview.

All jokes aside, sadly this was every bit the sentiment we experienced from most ‘professional’ recruiters in Antibes.  Their not-so-subtle rejection of our qualifications, experience, substantial investment in our goals and passion to achieve them, was confronting. It would be an untruth if I said I hadn’t wondered whether we had made a giant mistake. This blanket response was providing every bit of motivation to hop back on a plane and return home, however we simply had not factored failure into the equation, and giving up was never on our radar.

Looking for an upside and some welcome rehydration, we targeted a select few bars where the yacht crews drink and mingle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these bars are full of Aussies and Kiwis. Expats make-up the large majority of all crew across the world, due to our strong work ethic, reputation for being easy going and the lack of red tape our passports afford.

Whilst bar-networking and sharing our experiences, I came to the sharp realisation that the industry at the time was highly unregulated. Those attributes deemed undesirable by recruitment agencies, were seen in a very different light when we spoke to captains and owners’ representatives. Amongst the right audience, we were seen as committed, mature and reliable. A huge shift in attitude towards us, which was refreshing.

Inset image: Super yacht

On good advice, we relocated to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, the sailing-yacht capital of the world. Within weeks a yacht owner offered us a seasonal contract with an immediate start. Our life-aboard-yachts had finally begun.

What transpired beyond our initial foray into yachting was not always smooth sailing. For long-term success in this industry, you must be open-minded and a team player. Consider the reality of living constantly within 100ft of each other, often in a confined space. Then add the challenge of multi-national crew, physically demanding work and long hours. Being away from friends and family year-round is hard, not to mention the hazards that only mother nature can conjure.

Working on super-yachts was one of the most incredible journeys of my life. We spent six amazing years working for a wonderful Belgian family, sailing the oceans of the globe, taking in the highlights of the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Pacific.

Reflecting on my experience as a candidate highlights the importance of researching your target market, establishing an industry network, having the courage to follow your dreams and the ambition and perseverance to make it happen. I am grateful to have been welcomed back into an industry I love and to work alongside management with a team that recognises the transferability of my skills, values both my formal and informal education and allows me the opportunity to apply the many meaningful life-lessons I have learnt over the last 20+ years.

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Posted in Business Support, The world @work

3 non-business books that will improve your confidence at work

The other day I was having a conversation with someone about confidence in the workplace. I mentioned a book that I read a number of years ago on the subject which really changed the way I think about confidence, and gave me an armful of useful tools that I found incredibly helpful. This got me thinking about other books I recommend people read, so I’ve put together my top three work-and business-related books. These are not your run-of-the-mill, dry, ‘serious’ reads. They are not even books you would find in the business section of a bookshop. But they are books that are worth reading because they provide wonderful insights into the world @work, and how we can perform as our best selves at work.

The Confidence GapThe Confidence Gap, Russ Harris
Written by psychologist Russ Harris, The Confidence Gap is the perfect book for anyone who feels they are being held back by a lack of confidence.  Harris has written an approachable, easy-to-read book that explores how a lack of confidence can affect many areas of a person’s life, and looks at real, clear suggestions to work through it. It’s not an easy book to read in the sense that if you really want to make changes in this area you will have to have some tough, honest conversations with yourself. But it is easy in the sense that it is written in clear language, and breaks down complex concepts into easily understandable stories and ideas.

QuietQuiet, Susan Cain
This book explains what introverts are, how they tick, and what the pitfalls of introvert/extrovert interactions can be. I would recommend this books for introverts, extroverts and anyone who isn’t sure where they fall on the spectrum (but would like to figure this out). Cain looks at how the business world, especially in America, has for almost a century, celebrated extroverts and build a system that favours their personalities and mode of working. Cain argues that because this system is not designed for introverts, it is difficult and often tiring for them to navigate. However, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible for an introvert to not merely navigate, but to thrive in a world of extroverts. Cain provides tools and techniques for introverts negotiating the extroverted world of business, and for introverts and extroverts to figure out how best they can work together.

Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter
This book is (in my opinion) a sort of unofficial sequel to Lean In, the blockbuster work memoir written by Facebook CEO Cheryl Sandberg in 2013. It’s a look at how work-life balance is something worth striving for, but that the make-up of that balance may change over time. Slaughter says that it’s important to ‘lean in’ at times, but that it is just as important and necessary to be able to lean out at times too. She advocates for a world where we can accept a promotion and work like the devil for a couple of years, then dial things back for another couple of years, perhaps  to care for family members, or pursue study. Slaughter writes passionately and persuasively for her vision of a flexible and changing attitude to work over our lifetimes.

What are your top reads for personal and professional development?

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Posted in Interchange Bench, The world @work