No one can expect to make it very far in the aviation industry without attending a number of job interviews. Despite thorough preparation, no two interviews are the same; so job applicants must plan for and incorporate a fair amount of flexibility into their interview prep. One of the most challenging, and intimidating, parts of the evaluation process is dealing with intricate or controversial questions.
While unpleasant, awkward interview questions serve a number of purposes. For starters, they allow the recruiters a glimpse of your thought processes. Such questions also give clues as to your values, personality, professionalism, and honesty. Another big factor is they show your interviewers how you handle stressful situations, which is a major consideration as to your suitability for employment. As you might imagine, uncomfortable interrogations also present numerous opportunities for you to screw up, so it’s important to adequately prepare for this demanding portion of the process.
Short on Civility?
You might be wondering why a potential employer is giving you the third degree, especially if you’ve been nothing but courteous throughout the process. This good cop/bad cop routine is yet another way the airlines are able to weed out the field of applicants and make sure they select the best possible candidates.
Simulated Stressful Situations
Remember Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who launched into a tirade over his plane’s PA system before grabbing a few beers and popping the emergency evacuation slide? Commercial air travel is a stressing environment, and not just for the passengers. Every time an air traveler goes berserk, the story quickly winds up in the worldwide media. If the individual in question happens to be an airline employee, the event becomes even more embarrassing for the industry as a whole. By screening potential employees in a controlled environment, the commercial carriers are able to eliminate prospects who display a possible tendency to flip out under the pressures of the job.
How can you Prepare?
Fortunately, there are many steps you can take to avoid an all-out ambush by the company’s interrogators – er, interviewers. As with most aspects of life, your performance improves with practice; so get used to spending some time planning for the difficult questions. While it’s impossible to prepare for every possible blindside attack, going over a series of stressful topics in advance will help you adjust for new questions that might catch you off guard.
Personal Opinion-Seeking Questions
Be careful here. On the surface, opinion-type questions may appear to have no wrong answer. However, many such questions are actually chosen because they have no right answer. Whichever side of the fence you choose, you’ll be standing on the wrong ground. They do this on purpose. This is yet another method to test your performance under pressure and your ability to handle nearly any situation with grace.
Is it Possible to Win?
In a manner of speaking, it’s certainly possible to perform well with such questions. Otherwise, the airlines wouldn’t be able to hire anybody. The key here is, rather than obsessing about a right answer, you need to develop responses that are less wrong than what other applicants will be offering.
The Joe Friday School of Q & A
If you’re familiar with the old Dragnet TV series, it’s helpful to follow the lead of Sgt. Joe Friday. Friday’s most famous line from the show was, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” In your opinion-based responses, try to incorporate as much of a fact-based approach as possible.
Why is this important? As a professional pilot, you’re bound to encounter situations for which there is no cut-and-dried operating procedure. When this happens, you’ll often have to determine the best course of action based on the given circumstances. By evaluating the facts as part of your decision-making process, you demonstrate to employers that there is merit behind your thoughts, rather than just impulsive (A hazardous attitude, remember?), knee-jerk reaction. Do the same with your opinion-based responses and you show the interviewers you’re capable of assessing a delicate situation, even if your opinion might not match their thoughts.
Possible Opinion-Seeking Questions
1. What are your views on the role of unions in the airline industry?
2. What do you think about the government’s actions regarding the Sequester?
3. How do you feel about the upcoming 1,500 Hour Rule?
4. What is your take on the Age 65 Rule?
5. How do you feel about VLJs and UAVs operating in the National Airspace System?
While you might fervently believe your opinion is the right/only logical response, you’re almost guaranteed to have interviewers with completely different thoughts on the matter. Don’t give these people a chance to disqualify you from further consideration. If you can show that facts led you to your opinion, you’re more likely to survive this round of questioning.
Personal Background/Attack Questions
In addition to controversial topics, prepare to be grilled on your personal failures and shortcomings. Once again, most flaws in your background usually aren’t grounds for disqualification. Instead, the recruiters want to see you sweat. They want you to get angry, defensive, scared, or otherwise provoked. Don’t let them bait you. Instead, practice responding to these assaults. Learn to keep a cool head. If you’re able to remain professional and collected throughout the process, you’ll help convince the airline that you’re a good representative of its image.
Possible Background/Attack Questions
1. Tell us of a time you violated a regulation or company procedure?
2. We see you’ve had two speeding tickets in the last five years. Why do you expect us to risk hiring someone with such a flagrant disregard for the rules?
3. Your checkride record is indeed colorful. Why do you deserve to fly for us when so many other pilots have passed their rides with flying colors?
4. How many times have you violated the Sterile Cockpit Rule? Why did you feel this regulation didn’t apply to you?
Definitely not an easy ordeal. The more thought you can give these questions ahead of time and the more opportunities you can practice delivering a calm, composed response, the better you’ll fare throughout the interview process.
Resources at your Disposal
The higher up the aviation career ladder you climb, the tougher the interview process becomes. As you advance in your career, it’s imperative you take steps to outperform the ever-increasing competition. For the difficult questions, I strongly urge you to consider working with a pilot interview consultant. Such professionals are usually former interviewers who can offer invaluable insight on the interview process and its common pitfalls. Many pilots prefer to skimp in this area, but by spending the time and money, such preparation can easily prove to be a very wise investment.
Hitting the Books
In addition to professional coaches, you’ll need to spend significant time consulting books, websites, and other materials on pilot-specific interview questions. Consider pilot interview gouges during the process, but beware that such info isn’t guaranteed to predict the questions that’ll come up during your evaluation. Try to use a variety of sources for a broader range of insight and an array of advice. While you’re here, check out AirPloyment’s job hunting tools, which include an extensive list of interview questions and sample answers. Throughout the process, remember that good pilots make use of all available information to help ensure the most favorable outcome.
Job interviews, particularly airline pilot interviews, are highly competitive, stress-inducing events. With advance planning, you can significantly reduce the effects of external pressure on your performance; allowing your favorable attributes to shine through. By doing so, you give yourself yet another advantage over the pool of pilot hopefuls.