Behind The Scenes: Meet the team: Della Parsons, Crew Recruitment Director

27 February 2020

Mark Twain said “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”. This is certainly true for everyone at the Clipper Race HQ, but none more so than for Della Parsons, Crew Recruitment Director. She says:“My role is awesome! I get paid to talk about what an amazing time I had on the race myself! It’s like getting paid to tell people about your own adventure!“ Della gets to inspire people every day with tales of how she herself has sailed around the world in the Clipper Race. She was a circumnavigator in the Clipper 2009-10 Race and then worked as an on-board reporter in the 2011-12 edition.

Both experiences created memories for Della that will last a lifetime. She describes the experience as ‘challenging, fun, wet, hot, cold, fun, tough, frustrating, thrilling, fun, a huge learning experience, exciting and massively rewarding’. Without doubt, sailing around the world is a completely immersive experience. She says:

“I learnt so much about sailing, life onboard, myself, human nature, mother nature. My horizons were expanded literally and figuratively and I made friends for life. It was so much more than I ever expected it to be and taught me and continues to teach how to deal with life on a daily basis.”

Her role as Crew Recruitment Director continues to expand her horizons. Every day, she is liaising with people from all over the world who are hoping to fulfill their dream of sailing around the world and advising them of what to expect - from the application process all the way through to what is it really like to be a crew member at sea. She says:

“For those who have already heard about the Clipper Race, it’s about making sure they understand the many levels of challenges around becoming a crew member, the process from application through to being on the boats on the race, so that by the time they apply they know exactly what they are applying for.

”Thousands apply to take part in the Clipper Race every year, but only 700 can take part. The selection process can be tough and it is the Recruitment Team's job to identify who is most suitable and if they are the right kind of person to take on the challenge. This is not a case of just ‘selling the dream’, it’s more about ensuring that the people who are most suitable have the opportunity to realise their dream. She says:“I know some people believe my job is all about trying to persuade people to take part. I don’t believe that’s the case. Once people know about it they either want to do it or they don’t. We merely make sure people have the right information to help them apply – or not. We then simply decide if they have the right people skills. and are suitable.”

During this process, Della and her team are on hand to answer the many questions that prospective crew members might have. These are wide-ranging, but typically they pertain to the time and financial commitments that are required when taking part in the race. Prospective sailors also want to know exactly what it’s like to race across the ocean on a stripped down 70ft racing yacht.In some jobs, it is easy to ‘fake it until you make it’ and this couldn’t be further from the truth for the Clipper Race Recruitment team. Every single member of the team has taken part in the race. So, why is this so important? Talking with complete authenticity about the race experience is imperative when recruiting new crew members. She reveals:

“I think this is crucial. We get asked so many questions not just about how the race is organised but around what life onboard is like, the physical and mental challenges, the highs and lows of taking part. You need to be authentic when you are giving those answers. This kind of adventure is something that evokes a huge sense of achievement – a sense of pride and passion. These are the kind of things you can’t talk about if you haven’t had the experience.”

With thousands of prospective applicants to choose from, how does Della and her team determine who could cut the mustard as a crew member. It’s all about asking the right questions. She says:

“I tend to want to find out more about them in general: who they are, a brief history of their life, things that they’ve done that hey are proud of (which has revealed some amazing things) why they want to do this, in what ways will this change them and what they’ll bring to the team.”

Does she find it hard to say no to someone who may not be suitable to be a crew member? Naturally, no one wants to disappoint someone who clearly has a passion and vested interest in the race. Della and the team want to make ocean racing as accessible to as a wide range of people as possible. The key is to be encouraging and open-minded, however if someone isn’t suitable, Della has to make that call. She says:

“The people skills are key, so if someone is openly single minded in wanting to do things their own way-because their way is best then this probably isn’t going to work out! I would rather turn down one person than risk losing 18 other crew members because one person makes life impossible for the others.”

A crew member with a strong teamwork ethic is key. Della reveals:“For me it’s all about teamwork. Crew need to be team players, be able to work and live with a bunch of people with a range of ages, backgrounds, nationalities. They need a reasonable sense of self-awareness (we’re not all perfect but being aware of your own good points and areas that need work is helpful). Being flexible, willing to give everything a go and keeping an open mind are all good character traits for this challenge.”

Being a team player is also helpful when working in the recruitment team. What are the most important qualities needed for someone to succeed in a role where you are recruiting for race crew members? It sounds cliched, but it is all about being a ‘people person’.

She says:

“You have to be a people person and like meeting people. The people I meet and the stories I get to hear are just one of the great things about this job. You also have to keep a very open mind and be mindful that at interview stage some people are nervous, often talking in their second or third language too. On top of that, they need to have a huge amount of energy – we deal with a very high volume of email and phone correspondence, accurate data processing and analysis, which is relentless as we start recruiting for the next race before we’ve finished recruiting for the current one! They need to be comfortable about presenting to people in a small intimate room or a space with several hundred people. Unlike many of the Race Crew, we often travel a lot on our own in our quest to find a new crew member, so having the initiative to work solo is key.”

Della is clearly passionate about the role, but what is the thing that she loves the most? She reveals:

“Meeting people from all over the world and being part of the company that offers them the opportunity to do something and be part of something truly remarkable. Watching them on Race Start day; capable, confident working as a team and ready for the adventure, makes my heart swell with pride. I’m like a proud mother hen!”

Since joining the recruitment team, Della has visited some amazing places around the world and has met some incredible people. She recalls:

“The standouts are the people you meet again. There are people on the current edition of the Clipper Race who are now just about half way round their circumnavigation and who I know are giving their all to the whole experience. It’s the journeys of the crew that I remember – especially those that I know had a real roller coaster through training mainly because of a lack of self-belief.”

Della and her team are always on hand to offer guidance, motivation and insight. The relationship with crew members certainly doesn’t stop when they sign on the dotted line. It is all about nurturing and cultivating a long-lasting relationship and being part of their journey. She says:

“Knowing that you’ve been a tiny part of something that’s made such a huge difference to people’s lives is hugely satisfying. We promote this race as a challenge that ordinary people can take part in, the reality of it is, that although the crew might cast themselves as ordinary at the start, in fact they are pretty extraordinary and awesome!”