Greetings, Class of 2019 and early career job seekers! As you scour LinkedIn and today’s ultra-competitive marketplace with that pit in your stomach, fear not, you can always close your browser and head out to sea. Seriously. It could be the best decision you ever make.
I’m not saying to board The Love Boat and forget about life for a while. This is your time to get ahead. But it’s worth thinking broadly about the skills that can propel you in the long run. Consider the path I stumbled upon when I didn’t know what else to do: US-flagged small cruise ships or expedition ships with fewer than 300 passengers. You didn’t go to college to become a deckhand, steward or excursion manager? Only 27% of college graduates take a first job related to their major anyway. However, aboard these ships, you gain skills to excel in any career while also getting up close with the world’s most inspiring places.
1. Become a Customer Service Master
Active listening, empathy, conflict resolution—the skills learned through working in customer service are valuable in every corner of the business world (and beyond). On small ships, there’s no press-send-and-pray way of dealing with your passengers. You live with these people, interact with them multiple times a day, every day. You’ll see the benefit of working to surpass their expectations. And you’ll feel the pain of dismissing even the smallest complaints (always a tell for greater needs). Learn customer service aboard a small ship and your newfound interpersonal skills will take you far.
2. Adapt to Changing Environments
Small ships typically operate on flexible schedules. Destinations may vary week to week. While this makes life more interesting, it also invites complexity. Depending on your function, you may have to adjust your schedule and tasks depending on the port, the region, the weather—everything. The more change you adapt to, the more muscle you build for such situations when you return to land. Managers reward employees who adapt to fit the business’s needs.
3. Understand Group Dynamics
Great work is almost always the result of a team effort. When you live with, work with and socialize with your shipmates, you learn how people can come together to achieve great things (and what may push them apart). Add to it pressure situations, changing environments and you are living in a group dynamics masterclass. Those who thrive learn to let petty grievances go. They lift others up, empathize with different personality types, and lead by example. A side benefit—the bonds formed by sharing such a unique experience are stronger than any where people go home at the end of the day. Coworkers may come and go, but shipmates are forever.
4. Power Through the 9-to-5
When I look back at the 12- to 14-hour days for weeks and months at a time, I wonder how I ever did it. But those days at sea have made me so grateful for the time that I have now. 9 to 5, 8 to 6? And my office doesn’t rock with the waves? Bring it on! Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Successful people learn how to maximize each one—even if it’s time let loose. Time put in aboard a ship will reward you in ways unmatched in any other profession.
5. A Penny Saved
Now for a bit of practicality. The pay isn’t great. I never made less than I did while working aboard a small ship. But I still saved money when my friends ashore were barely breaking even. Room and food are covered! Besides the odd meal in port and any souvenirs you might want to pick up, you’re crushing costs. When I eventually decided to return to land, my savings helped me get established in a new city with a cushion I otherwise never would have had (and turns out, desperately needed). Before you go for the gig with the higher salary, weigh the costs of living as well.
Actually, there are hundreds of bonuses—seeing the world from the deck of a small ship, making friends for life, and meeting thousands of incredible people--but let's focus: it’s a job! The small ship cruise industry (and cruise industry in general) is growing at an unprecedented rate. Eighteen new 60- to 350-passenger ships are slated to be in service by 2020 in the expedition/small ship market alone. Companies are hiring. Listen to the call of the wild(ish). Start your career at sea. You’ll be glad you did.
Marc Cappelletti is a former cruise director, expedition developer, and currently a travel industry marketing and product development consultant living in Philadelphia.
Note: Companies have varying employee citizenship and work visa requirements.