Getting Started In Shipbroking – How To Get A Foot In The Door

Every year a new generation of aspiring young professionals join trainee and graduate programs as the first step in building their careers in the field of commercial shipbroking. What does it take to get started?

Do I need relevant work experience to get hired as a trainee broker?

When it comes to getting a start in shipbroking, hands-on work experience isn’t a requirement, or even an expectation. There is no structured path into the industry, and shipbroking firms will hire bright, enthusiastic candidates from a range of backgrounds, provided they show the right mindset and core skills.

With that said, candidates who have taken the additional step of securing themselves some kind of relevant work experience definitely have a head start.

Successful shipbroking is about being pro-active – identifying and seizing opportunity in a competitive commercial environment.

Consequently, candidates who have shown the initiative to make some connections in the shipping world and gain some basic exposure to the field are not just preparing themselves in terms of experience, they’re also showing prospective employers that they have the drive to make things happen for themselves – a quality that will be key to their future success.

How can I make my CV stand out?

The art of CV-writing deserves a post of its own, but for a few high-level tips, focus on these two important factors:

Include a great summary

Recruitment and hiring managers are often buried in applications for high-demand trainee programmes, so help yourself stand out with a concise profile summary at the top of your CV. 
Potential employers will want to quickly see: 

- who you are
- what your skills and experiences are
- what you’re applying for
- why you’re interested

Making someone wade through your profile to try and find relevant information and piece together an answer to these questions is a sure route to the bottom of the CV pile

Make it genuine

It’s a tough challenge to create a professional profile when you’re just starting out in the world of work, but resist the temptation to pad your CV with empty jargon.

Not only does generic-sounding “business speak” make it hard to understand who you really are, it also causes hiring managers’ eyes to glaze over as they read the same copy-pasted phrase for the hundredth time.

“Self starter”, “team player”, “results-oriented” – have a think about what really sets you apart from your peers, and work to find some alternative phrasing that provides a more accurate communication of what you offer.

A touch of originality in the way you describe yourself will help you stand out.

Should I include a cover letter?

Here’s my honest view on cover letters – when reviewing 2,000+ graduate scheme applications, there’s a fair chance they will not be read or get the full attention they deserve.

However, that’s not always the case.

For some hiring managers, it’s the first thing they read, and candidates who’ve taken the trouble to write a personal note supporting their CV will jump straight to the front of the queue.

Cover letters can be a great additional space for you to add context to your application – in some ways, it’s a free ‘pre-interview’, and chance to impress that other candidates don’t get. They can help an application gain priority, or turn a ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes’.

So, my advice?

If you’re committed to a career in shipbroking, you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by expressing that ambition as fully and compellingly as possible.

What should I expect at interview?

Interviews in shipbroking vary a lot.

Sometimes they’ll take place in a corporate meeting room, following a clear and structured discussion path and evaluation process.

On other occasions (perhaps more often), they’ll start with a tour around the office, some informal conversation… then drive straight into why you’re interested in broking and what makes you think you’ll succeed.

Instead of technical questions and quizzing your maritime knowledge, most hiring managers are keen to get a gauge on your personality and motivators – will you ‘fit’ with the broking community, expectations and lifestyle?

A few pointers that can really help at interview time:

Be ready to think on your feet

Even though you’re interviewing with a middle manager, the MD of the department may arrive unexpectedly and strike up a conversation with you – and not necessarily about shipping. It could be sport, or the weather… Be prepared for spontaneous discussion and do your best to relax and open up in conversation.

Don’t expect a formula

Interview processes can be different depending on division, timing or the individual hiring manager. Some may involve three rounds of screening, whereas others may involve an informal lunch and move quickly to an offer.

Just like broking itself, the interview process focuses on ability to quickly build rapport and credibility in a social setting, so if you ace it first time around, there may not be any more hoops to jump through!

Is getting hired all about “who you know”?

It’s often said about shipbroking that you have to ‘broker’ your way into the job.

This means showing some initiative and taking active steps to connect with the broking community and demonstrate your enthusiasm for starting a career.

Do you need friends and family contacts to get started?

No.

It’s definitely of value, and if you have any connections to the industry it’s always useful to make the most of them, but plenty of trainee brokers launch their careers each year without a helping hand from an existing network. The key is knowing how best to leverage any contacts.

Instead, the most committed candidates will attend industry seminars, networking sessions, drinks events etc., and introduce themselves to current brokers to learn more about the space.

As someone who has recruited in-house for a large shipping firm, it’s common for senior brokers to get in touch with their internal recruiters, letting them know about a candidate they’ve met at an industry event and requesting to bring them in for formal interview.

Follow that further down the line, and it’s often these candidates who’ve made some early attempt to connect with brokers who are eventually hired.

In an industry sector built on taking the initiative and creating opportunity, your efforts to secure yourself a jump-start for your career is early evidence you can do the job itself.