If you’ve spent any notable time preparing for a career as a professional pilot, you’re doubtlessly aware that industry job fairs and career expos are periodically held across the country. You’ve probably received mailings for upcoming events that feature impressive lists of companies that will be on hand. While such events are available, you’re not alone if you’ve questioned the value of attending these career fairs.
As with many things in life, the potential value of pilot job fairs depends on how you approach them. If you view these gatherings as an invaluable resource from which to further your career, it’s quite possible you’ll benefit from their offerings. However, if you think such conventions are a significant waste of time, your attitude will likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. With this in mind, let’s look at some of the ways career fairs can help you climb the aviation ladder.
A Potential Gold Mine
How many times have you dreamed of getting a phone call, just a phone call, from a single, reputable airline? What would you sacrifice for the chance to interview with the company of your choice? Now imagine reps from several airlines willing to meet with pilots, in the flesh, with no invitation necessary. Rather than needing to travel to one company’s far-off headquarters, over a dozen airlines are sending their people to a city near you! If you’re truly serious about realizing your pilot dreams, how could you even think about passing on such a golden opportunity?
At Face Value
Remember how the herd goes about courting a potential employer. They go online, fill out an application, perhaps submit a personalized résumé and cover letter. Guess what else? The majority of these applicants get lost in the sea of paperwork. No matter how well you can flaunt your credentials on a piece of paper, it’s hard to stand out when you’re the same black & white as everybody else.
Now imagine what five minutes of your life can do during an in-person meeting. Rather than mere words on a page, you become a face, a smile, and a personality to go with your data. This mere act is enough to propel you over so much of the competition who choose not to attend career gatherings. You’re also showing that you’re committed to your career as a pilot. Anybody can fill out an online application, but a much smaller percentage is willing to give up a Saturday, possibly travel to a distant city, and wear a suit all day. The fact that you show up at all shows you have a vested interest in your profession, which is sure to work in your favor.
Forging Your Chain
Some of you might argue that you’re well below competitive hiring minimums for the majors; thus making a job fair appearance irrelevant at the present time. Well, if that’s how you choose to view it, that’s just what the convention will become: irrelevant. However, if you’re willing to think long term and envision the expo as an incredible opportunity to meet new people, pick up valuable information directly from the source, get your name known by key personnel, and learn how to better prepare for future opportunities, then you can do wonders to set your career on a favorable track.
As small as our industry is, chances are very good that you’ll run into a few acquaintances. Such encounters present the perfect opportunity for you to catch up and strengthen your contact. You might also meet some new people who could prove to be valuable links in your career network. While they might not be able to help you out today, your industry contacts could do wonders for your career a little further down the road.
When it comes to the airlines’ reps, don’t think you have to close the deal today. Instead, view your introduction to them as the beginning of a long-term courtship. You might not meet their standards today, but in 2-3 years you could become the ideal candidate. Use the job fair’s meeting as a lead-in for future contacts. Send them a holiday greeting or birthday card in which you mention, “It was so nice to speak with you at the [-city-] job fair in [-month-]”. Doing so can help keep your name fresh and their opinions favorable. When you do meet their competitive standards, having maintained occasional contact can do wonders for getting your paperwork in the short stack.
Just Your Type
My favorite part of all the career fair mailers I’ve received over the years was the chance to win the prize drawings; specifically, the free 737 type rating that companies like Higher Power Aviation would donate. I could hardly imagine that, just for showing up at an event I would have attended anyway, I could potentially win free, top-notch training in the most popular jetliner ever produced. The mere notion of such a possibility was enough to leave me feeling giddy. Even if I shot blanks in every other aspect of the job fair, I could still come out a big winner.
Unfortunately, my name was never selected for a 737 type prize. However, the drawing was never my primary reason for attending. I had a blast being able to rub elbows with other members of the flying fraternity, and I truly believe I gained some priceless knowledge by being able to observe the application/interview/hiring process. Many forms of opportunity await you at job gatherings, provided you’re willing to make the effort to attend.
A Few Caveats
While pilot career expos offer numerous opportunities for you to further your flying career, they also present plenty of chances for you to screw up – on an epic scale. Though the details of these possible pitfalls are plentiful (to be covered in a future post), suffice to say that you shouldn’t do anything at a job fair that you wouldn’t also do at a formal job invitation.
Make it Happen
Although industry, economic, and government factors can conspire to derail your pro pilot career, you still have incredible power and influence over just how high you can climb. Pilot career conventions are one of many resources that can help propel your career to the next level – provided you’re willing to realize the opportunity. The secret is to avoid seeing the glass half empty because, with the right attitude, your cup runneth over.