Being a Scuba Instructor – What Does Your Future Boss Want From You?

Go to a popular dive destination at the start of the season and throw a rock in the air, chances are that it will land on an out of work scuba instructor looking for a gig. They desperately traipse from dive centre to dive centre, knuckles bleeding from knocking on doors repeatedly. The army of jobless, starving instructors roam the streets, hungry for scuba work, like a scene from a zombie movie. Well, that is of course, my own over-dramatic spin on things. But the truth is that pretty much anywhere in the world you can dive, the competition for paid positions is fierce. Exactly what is it that makes a dive shop owner or manager pick someone out of the crowd and give them a job? Let’s hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.

The responses to my questions below come from successful, long standing dive industry professionals who are either dive centre owners or in managerial positions. These are the people who decide who to employ and the intention of the questions is to understand what it is that would make them offer somebody a job. Even though the responses are from people in different parts of the world, I find it interesting to note that there are some common themes that run through each.

No matter where it is you are looking for work, this information will help you understand what it is you should be aspiring to be. Many thanks to Lydia, David, Donna & Gary for giving your time and valuable responses.

From Lydia Jakubek – Director of Pro Dive Mexico

1)      Can you describe your perfect dive centre employee?

Enthusiastic, pro-active person with high quality customer service, always willing to help and address clients’ needs, patient, with high level of empathy. Safety goes first in our company, so we look for people with a high sense of responsibility under as well as out of the water. Passion for diving and environmental protection is a must for all our staff members – we give high emphasis to environmental education of our clients and protection of reefs and marine life. Sales motivation is also important as sales are crucial part of daily tasks of our people.

From other attributes I would mention flexibility, problem solving skills, ability to cope with new situations and team spirit.

2)      A good team is made up of people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. What characteristics would you want from individuals within your dream team?

See above – it is really difficult (but not impossible) to find an ideal employee with all the mentioned attributes, so we try to mix people with different personalities and strengths to create perfect teams in our dive centers.

3)    What do you think makes someone a bad dive professional?

In my personal opinion, it is lack of passion in diving (you can’t do well something you don’t enjoy) and lack of empathy.

4)      What helps make a CV stand out for you?

Professionalism with which the CV is prepared – providing detailed and structured information about person’s education and experience (both in diving as well as non-diving) and main skills, including language skills. It is a CV where I can see that the person really put some thoughts into preparing the CV and considered what our company, having dive centers in 5* all-inclusive hotel resorts, might be looking for in an instructor.

5)  If a diver you know personally told you they planned to become an instructor, what advice would you give them?

I would ask them what is their motivation behind this decision? Being a dive instructor is an amazing and rewarding job (I believe that people do not forget the person who introduced them to diving for the first time). But it is a demanding job and there are days which can be really tough. So instructors need to love diving and love sharing their love and passion for diving with other people.

6) Think of the last person you employed, what made you give them the job over their competition?

Language skills. Our clients come from all around the world and being able to communicate and teach in several languages gives a person very significant advantage over his/her peers.

From David Joyce – Owner of Evolution Diving Resort, Philippines

1)      Can you describe your perfect dive centre employee?

A dive centre employee has to be a perfect blend of enthusiasm and authority.  I joke to staff that we are in the business of making dreams come true but in essence it’s true.  People save up and come a long way with the goal to learn to dive and we need to deliver that to them with confidence, safety and fun at the forefront.  A jaded Instructor or bored DM is no good to anyone.  We infect our customers daily with our own joy for what we do.  We embody the lifestyle and our actions and interest in diving is a fruitful sales technique in itself.

2)      A good team is made up of people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. What characteristics would you want from individuals within your dream team?

Being a team player is critical but you still need leadership skills on a daily basis, and certainly in a crisis.  With so many variables at play on a daily basis from weather to diver levels, from water conditions to boats available, we need to pull together to find the best options for the largest number of our clients each day.  Again confidence and authority are required to make on the spot decisions based on the above factors and many more.  You don’t want to ignore the advice around you and send divers out into a storm and you don’t want to be a shrinking violet assigning divers to the House Reef for every dive.   Dive pros need to make the divers around them feel safe and at ease.  If you have never dived a particular site before a true pro should know how to wing and bluff it.  Get the necessary intelligence you can from other dive staff and make your customers think it’s your 1,000th time on that site.

Modern dive staff need to bring extra tools to the trade – namely additional languages, real world work experience, social media presence, sales ability and more.  Like it or not it’s a fact in diving that it is not a 9 to 5 job.  If you want the lifestyle you need to be willing to work long hours.  However the typical 12 to 14 hour day often includes 3 or 4 magical dives and a few beers with interesting customers so not something to complain about.

3)      What do you think makes someone a bad dive professional?

The same things that make any employee bad.  Tardiness is not tolerated.  Keeping your students waiting or not showing up shows them you are disorganised, inconsiderate and possibly hungover – why should they put their trust in you and put their life in your hands?  They shouldn’t.  Deportment on land and in sea – again just because we work on the beach doesn’t mean you have to smell like old fish.  And if your dive equipment looks like you it also doesn’t give your students confidence.  A true dive Instructor needs to manage the social side of the job with the professional side.  Yes we socialise and entertain our customers, no we don’t come in bleary eyed and still half cut and expect that to be OK.  A bad Pro is also impatient, especially with students or divers who they see as below them.  A bad Pro cuts corners and doesn’t stick to standards, something that is all too prevalent in the dive industry.

 

4)      What helps make a CV stand out for you?

It is very simple – present it as if you were going for a ‘real’ job offering 100k per year.  Make sure formatting and spelling are perfect.  Get to the point and keep it concise.   Most employers will glance at a CV and decide whether to dig deeper in a nano second. Most CVs fail this test.  Telling me your passion for diving will not get you the job.  Don’t tell me you’re fluent in English when I can’t understand the rest of your CV.  Highlight your non diving achievements and link them to what you can offer, whether it’s experience with computers, a former life as an electrician or an ability to write well.  If you are a newly minted Instructor highlight your willingness to learn and adapt. If you are a salty old sea dog, highlight your willingness to learn and adapt.

5)      If a diver you know personally told you they planned to become an instructor, what advice would you give them?

Only do the IDC if you are 100% sure you plan to work and teach.  Some people see it as a natural stepping stone in dive training.  Wrong.  Being an Instructor doesn’t teach you how to be a better diver or deepen your dive knowledge, you can do that in others ways such as tech training.  It simply gives you the keys to a lifestyle.  It’s up to you to unlock the door.

6)      Think of the last person you employed, what made you give them the job over their competition?

The last instructor we hired was a person with real world management experience and maturity.  She switched to becoming an Instructor because she had enough of the rate race and was looking for something more personally fulfilling even if less lucrative.  People like this appreciate the lifestyle the most and are great to work with and their decision to switch out of the rate race and into the dive world is exactly the dream we sell and embody on a daily basis.

From Donna Dornbos – Owner of JND Scuba Center/Dixie Divers of Palm Bay, FL

1)      Can you describe your perfect dive centre employee?

Someone who wants to work, reliable, trustworthy, who is going to be a good role model, someone who has work ethic, is polite and does not use fowl language, a good listener, who does not become weary of doing the right thing, creative, can multitask, able to make wise decisions, asks a lot of questions (this is the way I know they care), always looking for efficient ways of doing things, people person, can sell, sell sell, does not get tired of diving, wants to keep learning, patience, articulates well, handles stress well, enthusiastic all the time

2)      A good team is made up of people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. What characteristics would you want from individuals within your dream team?

A sense of humor, trustworthy, mature, reliable.

3)      What do you think makes someone a bad dive professional?

Not professional (in words and actions), not dressing appropriately, gossips, is not safe, does the opposite of what they say, tries to act cool.

4)      What helps make a CV stand out for you?

 

5)      If a diver you know personally told you they planned to become an instructor, what advice would you give them?  

Make sure you are not doing it for the money.  You must love to dive, love to teach, be patient and it is a lot of responsibility.  Do not stop learning….about gear, about techniques….

Always be humble….your students can always teach you something.  There is not just one way of doing things.

6)      Think of the last person you employed, what made you give them the job over their competition?

Let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of people standing in line to be employed by JND Scuba in Palm Bay!!  I can only think of one person whom we have as an instructor that I work well with.  I have had maybe only one or two instructors who have been reliable in all of our 16 years in owning the business.

 

From Gary Hawkes, Business Development, Cairns Dive Centre, Australia

1)      Can you describe your perfect dive centre employee?

Engaging, professional, passionate about diving and environment, understand you can never know it all, holds a good work life balance, shows up insured, with excellent quality dive equipment

2)      A good team is made up of people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. What characteristics would you want from individuals within your dream team?

Attention to detail, know the balance between actively teaching and over teaching, always learning for personal development, Useful skill set from pre diving experience, Able to apply risk assessment as second nature, Customer satisfaction experience and safety main priorities, Confident to stand behind unpopular decisions such as: calling of a dive due to conditions, saying no due to medical issues or lack of experience

3)      What do you think makes someone a bad dive professional?

Tardiness, know it all ego, unprofessional paperwork, not questioning decisions they are uncomfortable with, all about them not the dive crew as a team

4)      What helps make a CV stand out for you?

Relevant information, bold contact details, short personal introduction ( 2 lines is fine) professional photo, references supplied, availability

5)      If a diver you know personally told you they planned to become an instructor, what advice would you give them?

Get experience as a dive master first, plus get the extra skill sets that will make you stand out eg: compressor maintenance, service technician, gas blender, tender licence, coxwain. Also your equipment should be complete, professional and at a high standard, Choose agency based on area you wish to work, get insurance

6)      Think of the last person you employed, what made you give them the job over their competition?

Attitude, experience, good references

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.