Scott Anderson’s job is more unique than most: he recruits deep-sea divers. For many, this may evoke images of crystal clear water, Caribbean vacations, snorkeling with colorful sea creatures…but the reality is much less glamorous — and much more dangerous.

Anderson is the President of Logan Diving and Salvage in Jacksonville, Florida, and his story is featured in our Hard Shoes to Fill documentary series, which shines a spotlight on recruiters who are faced with the task of finding talent for hard-to-fill jobs. His team responds to issues ranging from hurricane relief to underwater construction, and the work can often be unsafe, with one wrong move meaning the difference between life and death.

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The high-stakes nature of this job means making the right choice when bringing on a new team member is extremely important. Here, Anderson shares what he’s learned from recruiting for these hard-to-fill jobs and gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the process and challenges of filling this position.

Important traits for a dangerous job

Logan Diving and Salvage is one of the most established commercial diving companies on the East Coast. The deep-sea diving that Anderson and his crew do is mainly in industrial settings, and a good portion of their business is in emergency response. Often, they work closely with the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers. Due to the nature of their jobs, these deep-sea divers must always be alert.

“Someone calls and you have to go. That’s what we do,” says Anderson.“We don’t dictate when a hurricane hits the Florida Keys, but we do respond immediately.”

Underwater welding and commercial diving are comparable to construction—only underwater. If you can drill a hole in something above water, you can drill a hole in something underwater;  likewise, if you can pour concrete for a building, underwater welders can do the same beneath the ocean.

“The difference is, for a diver, when things go wrong, the environment you are in will kill you,” explains Chris Davis, the diving supervisor at Logan Diving and Salvage.

The job is not only high stakes, but tough — so persistence and follow-through are key traits workers should have.

“A lot of times you’ll look at [the water] and go, hoo, boy I don’t want to get into that stuff today,” says Davis. “The big thing is getting in and getting it done.”

When hiring for hard-to-fill jobs, always look for transferable skills

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You might guess the most valuable skill Anderson looks for when recruiting divers, is, well, diving knowledge. But, as is the case with many hard-to-fill jobs, Anderson directs his focus more toward people with transferable skills that’ll help them succeed at the job.

“It’s really not so much diving, as diving is just a tool to get to the work,” Anderson says.

The key skills Anderson looks for when hiring are honesty, genuineness and punctuality, as well as a desire to grow in the job and be successful. In terms of experience, Anderson looks for candidates who are mechanically inclined first — teaching these candidates how to dive can come later. 

People that are mechanically inclined or that have some experience in any facets of the different trades are very valuable to us,” Anderson says. “Any skills you have in building, mechanics, engineering, design, construction, that type of thing, all lend itself to what we’re doing as well.”

The takeaway for recruiters hiring for hard-to-fill jobs? It may be helpful to first gather a list of all the skills and qualifications needed for the job. Then, determine which essential skills the job candidate should have from the outset versus which skills can be taught once they’re hired. This will provide more focus and accuracy as you narrow the candidate pool and select your new hire. 

Train and onboard new hires to get them acclimated and assess their potential

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With commercial diving being such a dangerous job, what does the hiring and onboarding process look like for new hires? After making a selection, Anderson brings the new hire in and assigns them to a dive team in a “tender” role. A tender role includes tasks like setting up and maintaining the dive gear and dressing the diver. As soon as the team is confident the new hire understands their expectations and exactly what is going on, they’ll be put in the water and encouraged to accomplish the task.

“We don’t put anybody in over their head before they’re ready,” Anderson says. “But we also do put the new divers in as soon as we can because we want to know—and they want to know—you know, is this for them and is this for us?”

The training and onboarding process also helps Anderson learn whether he’s made the right hire: “I can take someone [who is] mechanically inclined that doesn't know anything and do just fine, as opposed to someone [who’s] obstinate and hard to work with [but] great at what they do,” he explains. 

Though the role you’re trying to fill may not be a dangerous job, its training and onboarding process is still important. These processes can help you assess how detail-oriented your candidate is and gauge when they are ready to take on the core work you hired them to do, thus setting them up for success.

Set expectations by being transparent about the job you’re hiring for

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The perception of what a diver does is often romanticized; in reality, commercial divers are diving in spots that most scuba divers won’t even get close to. For example, you could be diving in February in a river in Illinois, with low visibility and surrounded by ice. 

“It’s the environmental conditions that are hard to overcome,” Anderson says. “It’s cold and I can’t see what’s happening here. The current is relentless and won’t stop. So you have to be able to tuck all that away and find a way.”

These challenges are reflected in the numbers as well. Of the typical graduating commercial deep-sea diving class, 20% of its members are still in the industry at one year; at two years, this number drops below 5%.

For Anderson and his team, this means full transparency about what the job entails and conveying the realities and challenges of pursuing a career in commercial diving is very important. Likewise, recruiters hiring for unusual jobs should strike the perfect balance between generating excitement about the role and being realistic about the responsibilities that come with the job. 

To sum it up...

Due to the job’s niche nature and unique skills, hiring for commercial diving roles is challenging. Anderson is able to successfully make and keep new hires for Logan Diving and Salvage by looking out for candidates with transferable skills, training and onboarding divers as soon as they’re comfortable and making sure candidates are fully aware of the job’s highs and lows.

“The people that are here actually enjoy this,” Anderson says. “They enjoy the challenge. They enjoy the unknown.”

Recruiters hiring for hard-to-fill jobs can draw inspiration from Anderson’s lessons. By following these tips, you too can get closer to successfully hiring engaged, passionate candidates with the skills needed to succeed on the job.