Director of Talent Acquisition, Carnival Cruise Line
In the maritime industry, there is probably no other oceangoing sector that has the need for such a diverse set of skill sets, multicultural input and customer driven employees than that required by today’s passenger cruise vessel industry. That’s where Tamara Ellis, Carnival Cruise Line’s Director of Talent Acquisition, comes in. In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of shoreside talent acquisition for Carnival Cruise Lines and Carnival Corporation & plc. Specifically, she serves as a strategic partner to the organization, its leaders and the HR team, overseeing recruiting and onboarding, external agencies/vendors, contract labor, careers site and related systems and policies.
Coordinating all of that – as well as collaborating to ensure that strategies are aligned with overall organizational objectives – is no small task. Carnival Cruise Line is a British-American owned cruise line, based in Doral, Fla. Originally an independent company founded in 1972 by Ted Arison, the company is now one of 10 cruise ship brands owned and operated by Carnival Corporation & plc. The company has the largest fleet in the group, with 24 vessels currently in operation that account for 21.1 percent of the worldwide market share. And with that reality, the need for quality talent, and plenty of it, comes, as well.
Previously the Managing Director, Americas for Faststream Recruitment Group, Ellis brings a diverse skill set and an eye for matching the right individual to the right assignment. With other human resources and recruiting experiences along the way, she brings 20 years of experience – much of that spent in recruitment and talent acquisition – to Carnival. A Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a proficiency in conversational Spanish augment those work experiences, combining to give Carnival the edge in identifying and attracting the right candidates.
Ellis told MarPro in February, “We are always looking for top talent for all the areas of the business. That having been said; we also seek future leaders. The business is changing and evolving and so that lends itself to a wide scope of searches, both in the operations of the business and emerging talent areas and so it is exciting to be a part of this direction.” She added, “We look for people who will bring value, are passionate in what they do, who challenge themselves and seek continuous improvement. We are unique in that what we do is hugely dynamic. We operate ships, but not just any ships, the FUN ships. So there is the element of fun in what we do.”
The Carnival recruiting strategy is aligned with corporate goals. Ellis is therefore tasked with regularly assessing deliveries against those goals, and realigning strategy as needed. She explained, “Carnival’s brand is widely recognized and so attracting talented people is not difficult. Further, the company has a history and is supportive of promoting from within, as well as interbrand, shipboard transfers and ‘home growing’ talent.” She points to a competitive advantage for Carnival that takes its roots in an attractive corporate culture that provides exciting career opportunities. All of that, she says, adds up to a robust EVP (employee value proposition). Hiring practices at Carnival take on many forms, including but not limited to participation in industry events, specialized trade shows, social media, job fairs; working with universities, veterans groups, and other relevant organizations as part of the overall strategy.
Carnival’s talent acquisition strategy, according to Ellis, involves four basic principles that call for her to align, understand, differentiate and deliver. She explains, “Talent acquisition is about proactively building a candidate pipeline regardless of need, it is about strengthening the organization’s ability to identify and attract talent which will be most successful in helping the company achieve its goals.”
Ellis defines those four pillars by saying, “We align through ensuring our talent strategies are designed in conjunction with short and long term objectives. We understand by analyzing needs, having a fact based understanding of the talent market and the supply and demand of that talent, both externally and within the organization. We differentiate ourselves by designing solutions that drive the talent strategy toward those company objectives.” Lastly, she says, Carnival ‘delivers’ by using all available methods to bring top talent to the organization.
For Tamara Ellis, recruitment wasn’t necessarily a career goal from the outset. She says, “My degree was in psychology. I have worked mostly in sales, or service related roles. After several entrepreneurial ventures, I fell into recruitment, per se, and found it to be a very natural fit. I consider my background to be a sales/leadership background. Recruiting is about listening and understanding both business drivers, but also a candidate’s driver. It is about “selling” opportunities and potential, with integrity, of course. Combining the sales background with my entrepreneurial spirit I gravitated towards leadership and do enjoy leading and managing a team.”
Ellis currently leads a team of 12 that consists of a recruiting manager, recruiters, recruiting coordinators, a recruiting operations supervisor, and a vendor and contractor specialist. Divided between Carnival’s Corporate Miami location and Miramar, Fla. office, Carnival recruiters rarely sit still. Recently, they visited Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill and many other top flight southeast schools, looking for just the right talent. Those efforts are part of recruiting efforts for a two-year Rotational Program, designed to attract future high performers, new graduates from top schools with an interest in analysis. Ellis explained, “The program allows the students to work in three verticals of the business over a period of two years. They have an opportunity to work in finance, marine operations, hotel operations, revenue management and/or commercial planning. We are thrilled to be offering such an exciting opportunity.”
Ellis reports that Carnival sees an ongoing need for analysts in all areas including finance, IT and guest operations. And, she says, finding top talent in the emerging technology space can be challenging in today’s market. She continues, “Naturally, as a ship operator, there are ongoing needs in technical operations around particular initiatives, which might be green technology, fuel efficiency as well as any roles tied to health, environment, safety and security.”
We asked Ellis if there were big differences between her past role as Managing Director, Americas at Faststream Recruitment Group and her current position. She replied, “There are some similarities. The business, like clients, expects us to deliver the best matched talent. I view the hiring managers as internal clients and treat our roles as consultative and service oriented. But, corporate recruiting tends to be more strategic. I am regularly involved in recruitment strategy meetings. Because my role here oversees all shoreside recruiting, it is not focused on the marine sector only (as it was in Faststream), so the methods and resources used are much more are widely varied.”
In the cruise business, perhaps more so than any other, the multicultural aspect of team building is a critical aspect of human resources. A global business naturally attracts global talent. Ellis adds, “We often transfer people from our ships, from sister brands, and so on. Therefore, we have a diverse workforce. I do believe that attracting a talented and diverse workforce is a key to any company’s success. We certainly strive to ensure our practices align with that.”
Beyond this, Tamara’s responsibilities at Carnival are now much broader. These include the university recruiting program, a global relocation program, immigration management, a careers website, and training programs for her team. “I am much more involved in the operations. As part of a larger HR department, I work collaboratively and am mindful that we are part of a greater group and delivering success is a team effort. Naturally, that is very different than the agency side, where it is really laser focused on one task.”
That’s not to say the Faststream experience wasn’t valuable – it was. Ellis says, “The main ‘take away’ was the understanding and knowledge of marine operations. Having come to Carnival with that understanding, and knowing how to work with the population certainly has been helpful, particularly because ship operations and marine technical operations is a large part of the business, as we are a ship operator.” Nevertheless, the marine side of the business is just one aspect of what Ellis deals with on a daily basis. And, she had to hit the ground running.
When Ellis first came to Carnival, central HR was a fairly new function. That was just one of many challenges, however. She explains, “The recruitment team had mostly left, and so my initial obligation was to hire right, build a team, and help shape the work flow, while at the same time earn and build trust from the business. This is not dissimilar to how I had to regain clients trust and rebuild relationship when I first arrived at Faststream, following a major reorganization in the Americas. Today, I am extremely proud of my teams measured success.”
Earning the Business
Sounding much more like an entrepreneur than perhaps a corporate recruiting leader, Ellis isn’t one to sit back on her laurels. “I have become accustomed to feeling wholly accountable for mine and my team’s success. For example, I have concern for the way we present candidates to hiring managers, treating our communications with internal hiring managers as if we have to ‘earn’ their business. In corporate recruiting, my sense is that this is not always the case. Therefore, my team pre-screens, pre-qualifies, asks agency type questions and sends summaries of why the candidate is a good fit for the position, for the department, for the manager, for the company and the culture, she says, adding quickly, “I always say the devil is in the details, and I attribute that to my background.”
For Ellis, the job is a natural fit. “I enjoy people, I enjoy hearing their stories, understanding why they are where they are, how they got there and where they are headed. It was a satisfying to be placing someone in a role, getting someone their dream job, changing lives. It feels good.” And that does sound like fun.
(As published in the 1Q 2015 edition of Maritime Professional - www.maritimeprofessional.com)