Career in shipping? The soft skill no one talks about

Panos Patsadas on the importance of being genuine when going for a job in shipping.

I am known for being vocal when something gets to me, and the shipping press is no different. The last few months I have been reading survey after survey talking about the future of shipping and the skills that will be sought after by companies ten years from now. Guess what? Go to an interview for a job in shipping exhibiting soft skills, more than you exhibit enthusiasm, conviction, determination, and I guarantee you, you will be labelled as “too soft” for the job.

The same recruiters who will publish surveys talking about the skillsets managers in shipping will need in the next decade, i.e. transition from core skills to soft skills (empathy, cross-cultural communication, emotional intelligence etc.) are the same recruiters who will pass on your CV if it includes too much of the above and doesn’t smell of the good old “fake it till you make it” blah blah blah. The buzzwords, that will get your CV through the text mining software and hopefully on an employers desk. I’ve written in two previous articles, that in my humble experience, and I did not have it easy getting into shipping, connections” and on the job experience will beat academic qualifications and luck every single time.

Be yourself. Don’t let your CV be a copy-paste of another 100,000 candidates

And connections have all to do with soft skills. Yet what is the message we send to the young generation wishing to pursue a career in shipping? We tell them “play the part” and if you are lucky you get your foot though the door?

The very recruitment process in shipping that is followed today, and recruiters have a lot of responsibility here, will advise you to follow the prescribed approach, the traditional approach. “Make your CV stand out”, “highlight your achievements” i.e. use the standard recipe, but not a single one will advise you to try and highlight your soft skills, be it communication, cross cultural experience, empathy. The whole process is rigged to make you present yourself as the outdated “excellent candidate” who ticks all the boxes, but has very little to do with all the soft skills they are preaching about , which apparently will be in demand in shipping in the next 10 years.

Let me give you my five cents. The only thing the process doesn’t allow for is the most basic soft skill of all. Be yourself. Don’t let your CV be a copy-paste of another 100,000 candidates looking for their first job in shipping.

Don’t be afraid to showcase who you are. In shipping, we say “characters make shipping guys”, and there is a good reason for it. So many people got their first job in shipping for all the wrong reasons. Drunk Old Shipbroker in London sits at the bar in the pub and randomly starts talking to a young chap next to him. After a few pints too many at the end of the evening the broker invites the young chap to stop by their office the next day for an interview. I was working in Denmark a few years back, and it was time to select the next bunch of trainees who would be doing their practicum with the company. Chartering director, fitness freak. Scrolls through CVs and just observes one guy has Ironman listed on his extracurricular activities. “Hey this guy is doing Ironman, cool! Let’s invite him.” Famous last words. The young chap is now business development director in the US for a top five global forwarder.

Last but not least, and I know a few Greek folks might be reading this. It was during my Master’s year in London Metropolitan University. The lecturers would often invite people from the industry to give us talks and insights. One day, they invited Harry Vafias, who was also an ex-graduate of the university to talk to us. I don’t remember the whole talk, but I do remember him saying the following when closing his speech: “Keep focused, make contacts, and just be yourselves and you will find your way.” A classmate of mine did respond to him at the time, and said: “Yes, but if I go to Company X as Mr Nobody, they will not listen to me and will ignore me.” It was a fair point, and at the time I was on the one hand inspired by the words of Harry, a young Greek shipowner who made it big, but on the other hand I could totally identify with my classmate, as I too was looking for a job. Now, almost 16 years from that day, I understand exactly what Harry meant by saying “Just be yourself”.

In shipping, you will meet people from all walks of life. You will not connect with them because of your CV. You might connect because you both have tattoos, or connect because you like listening to 80s (well 2010s) music, because you both are fitness maniacs, because neither of you can go home without stopping at the pub for a pint prior to hopping on the train.

If recruiters preach in their surveys about soft skills being the future of shipping, they should then also encourage candidates to promote the most important soft skill of all which is being genuine; and not push young candidates towards what I call the photocopy syndrome. Don’t encourage 22-year-olds to write that they were someone big and important at school or that they were captain of their football team at university. Don’t encourage young candidates to exaggerate, so the end product (i.e. their CV) is presentable enough to fit a norm. Your unique life, hobbies, character is what will help you stand out, not a CV that looks identical to the next guy or girl’s. Just be yourself and have a little faith in the process. The universe works in mysterious ways, and it works wonders.


  1. Absolutely excellent article.

    I got into shipping, which I had wanted to do for as long as I can remember, by overhearing a shipping solicitor, the late Jim Horrocks, chatting to someone else at a sailing barbecue held on a sandbank at low tide, crashing into his conversation and saying “Do you want an articled clerk?” Jim was so taken aback that he said “Yes”. I don’t usually behave like that, but Ince & Co. had just turned me down…

    Later on I was gently head hunted by the Great and Ancient Hong and as soon as I saw where the conversation was going I said “You will be the sixth shipowner to make me an offer, you will offer me the least money, and I will say “Yes!””. I was right on all three points, and have never been happier.

  2. Bravo. Well said.
    I failed my orals first time, and passed second time. The cruise line I had my cadetship with lost interest in me. I just thought ‘stand by’ is shorter trips, let’s try that. I went on an ERRV website and just sent cold-call CVs to every single company listed there.

    I got my first job as 3rd mate in Qatar, because my CV accidentally went to a senior manager/MD who noticed my address was his former home town in Scotland. He called me up and said ‘why do you want to do this crap? You know what its like?’ I said yes, but I just love driving boats. He instructed his HR dept to find me a job, and within a week I was standing my first watch. 10 years later, life couldn’t be better.

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