If you truly want to succeed as a professional pilot, one of your primary goals should be to ace the job interview with any company you pursue. This is your biggest chance to let your qualifications shine through, but it also presents numerous opportunities for you to slip up. The key here is to seize every opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition.
An Abundance of Planning
If you’re serious about landing the position of your dreams, you’ll need to be prepared to invest numerous hours prepping for the interview process. There is no bigger secret to succeeding in this industry. If you’re hoping that, due to your incredible aeronautical aptitude, you can just sort of wing it (pun partially intended) and come out okay; odds are good you’ll be sorely disappointed. At this stage in the game, everyone else has finely honed their skills as well, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll stand out on talent alone. Instead, devote your time to the preparatory tasks that much of the competition will ignore.
A Detailed Strategy
What follows is a brief overview of some basic steps you can take to get an edge on the competition. For more detailed guidance, check out our eBook, How to Get a Pilot Job in a Turbulent Economy, available at no charge. The best pilot doesn’t always get the job, but as the most prepared pilot, you can significantly increase your chances of success.
Dressed to the Nines
Do not underestimate the power of your personal appearance. This gives the interviewers their first impression of you, which will likely set the tone as to how they’ll perceive you throughout the interview process. Make a positive impression here and you’ll likely have a head start on some of the other applicants. Leave a lot to be desired and you’ll have an extremely difficult time recovering from your fashion faux pas.
In simple terms, aim for military attention to detail. This means impeccably shined shoes, a flawless suit, and an overall appearance that screams professionalism. Imagine your ideal airline pilot. What do their clothes, hair, posture, and overall appearance look like to you? If the word immaculate comes to mind, you’re on the right track. That’s exactly the impression you want to give the recruiters. Aim for perfection, and then improve on it.
OCD with your DOCs
Just as you can score points with your appearance, your paperwork presentation is an easy, albeit time-consuming way to stand out from the crowd – in a good way. If you know anything about airline paperwork, you’re aware it involves an incredible array of forms, applications, résumés, releases, and other paper-heavy procedures. Most applicants will aim to fill out the forms correctly, but some seem to slack off in the neatness department. Here again, you can grab the advantage and run with it.
In this regard, a moderate dose of OCD can work in your favor. Make several copies of the requisite forms from which to practice perfection. Make sure your numbers add up, your spelling is 100%, and all additional information is completely accurate. Once the content is flawless, you can transfer the info to the original document. Take your time. Avoid the need for white out or scratch marks. Follow all instructions to a T. Your efforts show the airline staff you have outstanding attention to detail, which will definitely help you look good.
Hit the Books
Even if your paperwork and personal appearance project perfection, no pretty picture can compensate for a lack of appropriate knowledge. Again, many a pilot fails to devote sufficient time to studying the essentials, so you can use this portion of the interview to further gain ground.
Know thy Company: Too many pilots seem to believe that critical mass is necessary to land an airline job. Rather than prepare a lot for a specific airline, they try to learn the basics that can be recycled repeatedly at several different companies. Such applicants seem to believe that if they attend enough interviews, the Law of Averages will eventually get them a position. Instead of mimicking this technique, devote your energy to preparing for one interview – and then nail it!
To succeed here, be capable of discussing any and all public information about the company in question. Current info is usually most helpful; such as key personnel, financials, hubs & routes, equipment, mergers & acquisitions, and impending changes at the airline. You can potentially score brownie points if you’re able to intelligently discuss the carrier’s past. Decades-old history and pre-consolidation figures might be info even your interviewers don’t know, which can leave them impressed with your evident interest in their organization.
ATP on Steroids: Having a strong repertoire of ATP-level knowledge is the bare minimum you’ll want to bring to an airline interview. Why? Nearly all other applicants will possess a similar degree of expertise, which makes it harder for you to stand out. Your goal here should be to expand your skill set into areas the competition might lack, but which could appeal to the company’s recruiters.
An invaluable resource in this regard is an employee of the interviewing company – particularly if (s)he works in a supervisory or training position. Such individuals can often cue you in on areas where new hires tend to struggle, allowing you to hone your abilities prior to the interview. Imagine how you’d appear if you could demonstrate a solid understanding of a concept or material that gives already-employed pilots fits. Think the interviewers wouldn’t love to have you in a training class? If possible, tap your network of contacts for access to the inside info that will help you shine.
Stick and Rudder Savvy
The sim ride is the killer for many pilot hopefuls, so do whatever it takes to avoid becoming a victim of the box. Suffice to say that, at this point, your multi-engine and IFR skills should be second nature. If they’re not, don’t even think about attending an interview until you’ve had a chance to knock off any rust.
Perhaps the most helpful areas you can practice are those that relate to the aircraft model(s) used by the interviewing company. In this regard, devote some time to learning the systems, calls, flows, and profiles used by the airline. Usually any current pilot at that company can provide you with copies of the basic info from which to practice. Likewise, you can probably find a fair amount of useful info on the web. Get it, study it, and let your familiarity propel you above the other applicants.
If feasible, try to obtain a little sim time for the model for which you’re interviewing. If this isn’t economically possible, at least make it a point to get in a few hours in a Frasca FTD or Redbird Flight Simulator. At the very least, there’s likely an aftermarket expansion you can use on Microsoft Flight Simulator. By the way, just because you’ve never flown the type of aircraft/avionics in question is no reason to expect the interviewers to go easy on you. If you haven’t flown a glass or steam gauge cockpit in a while (or ever), it’s your responsibility to become familiar with the setup. Losers will whine that the systems are new to them, whereas winners prepare ahead of time and go home with a job offer.
The Most Important Advice to Remember
If you do nothing else, remain truthful 100% of the time. Even if you slip in a seemingly minor fib, there’s a very good chance the company will eventually discover the truth. If that happens, it can easily derail an otherwise fabulous impression. Leave nothing to chance. Honestly is always the only policy, even if the truth might leave a less-than-stellar impression.
Tip of the Iceberg
As you can see, success as a pro pilot requires an incredible amount of interview preparation. While it’s entirely possible you can secure a job offer with less preparation, remember that your first interview with a given airline could very well be the only shot you’ll ever have. With this in mind, do everything possible to ensure you leave the best overall impression of your skill and dedication. By going the extra distance, you stand a better chance of winding up with a job offer in hand.