Being an Instructor – Getting the First Gig

So you passed the exam and got your instructor ticket? Welcome to the party! From here on in life will be all about cocktails on the beach and getting paid to float around in the ocean…. or something like that. So all you need to do now is find somewhere to work and that’s got to be the easy part right? Wrong! Getting your first job as a scuba instructor is hard. As a rookie instructor, it’s going to require more than being in the right place at the right time, with a big smile and a passion for diving. You need to stack the odds in your favour. In order to help you I have put together the following guide.

Are You Experienced?

The age old catch 22, you need experience to get the job but how do you get one without the other? There are attributes that employers will look favourably upon in lieu of teaching experience. For a dive operation to be successful it needs to have dedicated, solid, reliable people working within it, there aren’t many jobs out there for people who just want to hang out and look cool.

When you move from one industry to another, even though the two fields of employment may be completely different, there will be some skills applicable to both. Common transferable skills are:

IT/web skills – It’s the digital age, having a strong online presence is critical for a modern business and dive outfits are no exception. Dive centres always appreciate having staff who, when out of the water, can help improve their online presence. Web design or optimisation skills will definitely boost your chances of getting work

Mechanic – What happens to the dive centre when the compressor breaks or boat engine dies? Calling in technicians to fix broken machinery, even cars, takes time and money, having someone on the team who can help with basic mechanics is a huge asset. Also showing you are mechanically minded will mean that you are more likely to catch on to things like regulator and BCD repairs.

Sales – A dive centre is a business, it needs to make money and it does that by selling its product to its customers. As an instructor working closely with the student (customer) you are in a perfect position to advise them on further diving, training or equipment. Dive centre owners and managers like to employ people with sales and marketing backgrounds as they are likely to be more able to recognise revenue generating opportunities.

Customer service – Having experience in managing customer expectations and generally keeping people happy is an asset. Many dive businesses rely on repeat business from their customers and they all should be concerned with online reviews that their customers leave. For these reasons they need to employ people who are able to ensure the customer leaves happy even when things don’t necessarily go as smoothly as you would like.

Ability to work with children – Not everybody (myself included) can work well with kids. Nowadays there are so many programs for younger divers, being able to accommodate them means more business for the dive centre.

Leadership – As a dive professional you will need leadership skills, people need to feel confidence in doing what you ask of them. Beyond this, larger dive centres like to employ people that they feel can work up to managerial roles. If you can demonstrate that you have been successful in people management then this will help you.

First Things First….

Before you go looking for a job, there are some things that you absolutely need to get squared away, these include:

  • Your own skills. If you have trouble with basic concepts like buoyancy, navigation or deploying an SMB then it will be noticed. Be the best you can be – if you know you have weaknesses in fundamental skills that you are supposed to teach to other people then practice the hell out of them and improve yourself.
  • Starting out your dive career with no money, or even worse, in debt is a bad plan. Your income for the first year probably won’t be very much so plan on saving enough to pay for your instructor training as well as having a bit of a cushion to keep you afloat.
  • Having your own gear is not something that will put you head and shoulders above the competition, it is a basic requirement. This includes ancillaries like an SMB, computer, compass etc. Tough, practical, hard wearing gear is best and if you know where you want to go to work it is worth looking at how easy it is to get your brand of gear serviced and maintained in that area.
  • When the brown stuff hits the fan things get very expensive very quickly, trust me, you need insurance. As a professional (depending on where you work), it may make sense to think about liability insurance as well.
  • Make sure your instructor certification is valid and that you have paid up all your membership fees.

Building a CV/Resume

Like any job, you are going to need to get a CV or resume together. I am deliberately not going to offer a template because your CV should be personal. You can research ideas but I would suggest keeping it short and sweet. Dive centres get sent sackloads of emails from people wanting work, yours needs to stand out and should not include pointless blurb.

It should include:

  • Your contact details
  • Web presence details e.g. Flikr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blog addresses and forum user IDs
  • Personal profile
  • Education history
  • Previous employment history
  • Dive training, certifications and experience
  • Languages & other relevant skills

It should not include:

  • Paragraphs about your love of scuba, this should go without saying
  • Statements like “I don’t care where I work, I just want to get a dive job”

Make it yours, keep it neat and if you feel the need to add graphics of any description then be sure they maintain a professional image.

Making contact

My advice is not to wait until an opening is advertised. When a dive centre advertises that they have a position available, they get absolutely bombarded with emails from people with all kinds of experience. Watch the wording of an advert “would suit a new instructor” often translates in to “come and work for free.” Of course there is no harm in responding to adds if you see one you want. Leading agencies have jobs boards and there are other places you can look for example facebook sites, dive job websites and sections on forums like scubaboard. Keeping an eye on these sites can help you build an overall picture of the employment market. It shows you what region is hiring at a particular time and can also point out places to avoid like somewhere that constantly has to repost the same job advert over and over again because they can’t hold on to their staff.

The best way to get started is to go in to the dive centre in person, meet the boss and talk to them about getting a job. Unfortunately though, this is not always possible. If you want to work in your home country then this may not be an issue as you may even know the staff already. If you want to leave your home country and work overseas then this becomes a lot more difficult depending on your available time and money.

The alternative is to email the company. When sending an email I would suggest a template is a good idea but a blanket email is not so. The email itself can have your cover letter in the body text and attached should be your CV, a clear photo of you out of the water and some references if you have them. Avoid anything that makes your email too large as that’s a good way to get deleted immediately and be sure to run a spell check on everything!

However you make contact with the dive centre you want to work in, it really helps to create a good impression if you tailor your approach to them. For example:

Approach 1

Dear Dive Centre

I am coming to Thailand and really want a dive job, do you have any openings in June?

Approach 2

Dear Mr Smith

I note with interest that your dive centre is an eco-operator. As a diver with a passion for environmental sustainability I would like to enquire about forthcoming employment opportunities within your organisation.

Approach 1 is of course the easiest and can be sent out blindly to hundreds of dive centres at a time by putting their email addresses in the BCC field. Even though you can reach more people in less time, it is likely any reputable organisation will trash the email.

Approach 2 shows that you have an interest in the dive centre, it appeals to their ego a little and shows them that your personal interests are in line with the company goals. Little things like this help you appear to be interested in working for that specific company as opposed to just getting any old job that you don’t really care about.

Although the above example is based on a written approach, you can do the same in person. If you are able to walk into a dive centre to talk about job opportunities then at least take 10 minutes first to look them up on the internet. Try to find their identity, what do they do, what sets them apart from other dive centres? If you get talking to the manager about what it is you really like about his/her centre then he/she will be more likely to remember you over anyone else that has called by recently.

Special Skills

There are skills that may not be a particular requirement for a job but can help you get work over others if you have them, these include:

  • Photography skills. Having an underwater camera and knowing how to use it is advantageous. A good photographer with a camera enables the dive centre to offer so much more to its guests. In addition to this, it is good for the centres own marketing to have someone on the team creating and posting good quality pictures.
  • Tech skills. Being a tech diver shows an extended knowledge of dive theory and practice. Just having a basic tech course will really help you stand out.
  • Every language that you can speak opens up a new customer group for the dive centre you are working for. The importance of language skills varies depending on where in the world you want to work as does the languages you speak. In some parts of the world, being able to speak a few popular languages is the most important asset a dive instructor can have.
  • Having a background in sports can help in general as that shows you are more suited to an active lifestyle. Most dive centres prefer nonsmokers so if you do smoke then maybe now is a good time to think about stopping. If you are good enough to offer classes in anything else like swimming or yoga then it is always worth approaching the dive centre with your pitch.
  • Social media. Dive centres have to utilise social media in order to promote their business so it helps if they have staff who understand how to use it effectively. Having your own online presence is a good idea, this could include blogs, facebook, twitter, Instagram, tripadvisor and scubadviser, as well as being active on forums like scubaboard. Think about what you post and what is posted about you for example a cover photo of you lying in a pool of your own vomit after your DM snorkel test does not create a very good image of a reliable dive professional. Keep it clean and avoid posting offensive beliefs or strong comments on subjects like politics or religion.

Getting Out What You Put In

There are so many opportunities out there it is impossible to imagine. You don’t even need to limit yourself to working for other people, there is nothing to stop you setting up as an independent instructor. When chasing a dive job, you need to be wary, some could offer the best job for you in the world, others could end up being an expensive disaster. Never rush in to anything and always do your homework. Research the location, company, hours, work etc etc etc. Don’t just go out there and desperately grab the first place you are offered because it is critical for your success that you find the right place. Ask yourself genuinely what do you want and then try to find it. Getting your first job is tough but there are thousands upon thousands of dive professionals out there working who all managed it, myself included.

Good luck & safe diving.

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7 thoughts on “Being an Instructor – Getting the First Gig

  1. Agree with pretty much everything written above.

    One thing i would add is in large chunks of the world now (south east asia, red sea, even the med) language ability trumps all other. A newly qualified OWSI that can teach in 2 or 3 languages is far more likely to get a job than a mono-lingual IDCS with 10 years experience.
    In the last few years i’d say its unlikely you’ll land a legal full time job in these areas unless you speak at least 2, ideally 3 languages. A quick browse of the PADI jobs forum and the SSI equivalent show 90%+ of job posts require 2 or more languages for example.

    We used to get 100-200 emails a month with CVs and as you mention the majority were worthless, cliched garbage.
    “I have my own equipment” comes up commonly – well good. That’s expected and demanded for an instructor. It isn’t a selling point.

    “Innovative”, “Imaginative”, “Good at problem solving” etc. All those are meaningless soundbites.

    “Hard worker”again, that’s not a selling point. Nobody is going to put “i don’t like hard work” on a CV are they?

    Stick to the core things as above, bullet point format of what you can teach what else you can do and brief personal bio is more like to get that first email or CV noticed. A huge bloated one containing standard cliches is far more likely to get deleted immediately.

    Also, personalise your emails to dive centres. An email to a centre with every other one within a 50 mile radius clearly visible on a CC or TO field doesn’t exactly adhere to that personal approach.

    Ultimately though you’re FAR more likely to get a job in a specific area by actually being in that area and talking to dive centre managers and staff than you are online. In most diving areas there is a massive over supply of instructors so most places can and do recruit from what is available immediately in front of them who they can personally talk to rather than an unknown in a flood of emails. Unless requirements are very specific then its very likely an instructor with the required skillset will already be present in the area without requiring the gamble of getting one in via the internet.

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    • Many thanks for the additional comments. Yes, it is painful to see the amount of CVs that get sent out which end up straight in the trash. Languages are key and the thing I find interesting when looking at the jobs boards is that over the last 10 years there has been a shift. The “golden” languages used to be German, Italian and French but now (granted, mainly in Asia) they seem to be German, Polish, Mandarin and Russian. I can teach courses in Spanish but that didn’t really help me so much.

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  2. Hello Drew, my girlfriend and I are aiming the same goal : be dive instructors. We still need a few steps to reach it, but our motivation is great for 2 years, and we are training hard, and enjoy it.Your blog is great, thank you very much for your advices, sharing your experiences. We hope you will carry on

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    • Matt

      Hi there, thanks for your comments. Firstly good luck with your goal, you probably got the gist of the article which was to do your research. If you ever have any questions you thin I can help with then feel free to drop me a line, you can reach me through this blog.

      All the best to you both
      Drew

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  3. How about the salaries in Asian Country, including Maldives ?!
    For OWSI beginners with 4 language, sales and management skills … any inputs ?!
    Thanks to everyone.
    Rig

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    • Rig
      Hey there, many thanks for the reply.

      In honesty, I am not well placed to advise on salaries in Asian countries. When I worked in the Philippines, on season I did pretty good but the trade off is that although you earn enough money for a good (by divers standards) quality of life in country, as soon as you leave that part of the world your money is worth very little. In the Philippines at best I was earning about 1,000USD per month and had food and accommodation included. I know there are some good deals in the Maldives especially for people who speak languages. Many islands have little to spend money on so its easy to save there and I believe it is easy to find deals which include food and accommodation.

      I will at some point run an in depth study on various pay scales in different countries then publish the results, till then I am sorry but you’ll have to look elsewhere for accurate information.

      Good luck

      Drew

      Like

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