Many pro pilots agree that a furlough will be a “when” event rather than an “if” event for airline aviators. For some airline pilots, furloughs will occur multiple times over the span of their careers. Fortunately, such unpleasant experiences don’t have to doom your flying career. Taking a few simple precautions can help you weather the storm and discover life after the layoff.
Build Your Network Early
For maximum effectiveness, you’ll want to develop a network of references and contacts at other aviation companies. While most pilots try to do just that, many go about it the wrong way. Do things a bit differently and you’ll position yourself at a significant advantage over the masses.
Take Advantage of Good Times: Don’t wait until a furlough is imminent to develop your aviation connections. Many pilots wait until they have a layoff notice to start asking for favors from industry acquaintances. At this point, it’s easy to appear pushy and desperate; definitely not qualities you want to portray. Instead, maintain regular contact with your pilot friends while times are good. Be a friend without seeking anything in return. Better yet, offer to help them out if their job ever hits a rough spot. By being helpful when you don’t need their assistance, most friends will remember you when times get tough. Besides developing a friendship, you’ll be ahead of the game when a downsizing does take place.
The Power of Three: Lots of professional flyers make the mistake of thinking more is better. When suddenly furloughed, they embrace the power of volume and mass-mail applications to anyone and everyone. Though this might seem effective, it is often counterproductive. Airline interviewers can tell when you’re just copying and pasting a one-size-fits-all résumé. It’s a highly unimpressive technique and one that’s unlikely to help with your chances of an offer.
For maximum insurance, aim to have three companies on your “Furlough List”. Work to develop references/contacts at these airlines that can be used to secure a job interview. Learn everything you can about these companies: their history, financials, routes & equipment, aircraft orders, changes among key personnel, etc. With this knowledge, you’ll be much more impressive during an interview and your genuine desire to work for them will show.
Why three companies? Any fewer and you risk putting all your eggs in the same basket. More than three is just unrealistic to manage. Take some time to consider your goals and opportunities before selecting the airlines for your Furlough List. With your big three in place, you’ll have options to help you get back to the flight deck.
Do Keep Flying
Even if you wind up delivering pizzas to make ends meet, it’s imperative you keep flying while furloughed. If you want to get another flying job, make it a priority to keep your instrument (and preferably, multiengine) skills sharp. The last thing you want is to secure an interview only to bust the sim ride because of rusty skills. Even if you just rent a 172 a few times a month, you’ll be doing yourself a tremendous favor.
Go Backward to Go Forward
In some cases, you’ll be able to find work with a previous aviation employer. For this reason, do whatever you can to leave each job on good terms. If the company knows you’re hardworking and reliable, it’ll probably welcome you back rather than risk hiring an unknown. Besides keeping your piloting skills sharp (on the company’s nickel), you’ll be able to show recent flight experience when you’re able to land an interview. This flight currency will give you a sizable advantage over other furloughed pilots who’ve flown only sporadically.
Being furloughed is never a pleasant experience. However, if you work in aviation for any length of time, the odds are good that you’ll eventually be a victim of downsizing. By following the strategies outlined above, you can likely minimize the length of a layoff. In a future post, we’ll explore additional options for surviving a furlough. Until then, work on developing your Furlough List and strengthening your industry contacts.
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