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Going For A Job

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  • Going For A Job

    Something I wrote some time ago that may still be of interest.....

    Inexperienced pilots have a similar problem to people in many other walks of life - they cannot get a job because they don't have the experience, and they cannot get the experience without a job (try being a junior lawyer!). When looking for work with hardly any hours and a licence which is barely dry, you are in a similar position to asking your father for the keys to his new Mercedes so you can go to a party. You have to ask yourself what characteristics you might have that would make your father do such a stupid thing. Or that might make passengers get into a machine with you at the controls, for that matter.

    What would your father want to know? That he will get his car back, of course, undamaged, and with no after effects, like traffic tickets. Similarly, a Chief Pilot will need reassurance that you are capable of flying one of the company machines without crashing it, upsetting the customers and being the cause of a subsequent visit from your local friendly Operations Inspector. In this respect your flying ability counts for only a small part of the qualities required - it's the remainder that need to be emphasised when doing the rounds at such a disadvantage (even failing your exams proves persistence if you finally pass them!)

    OK, so now you're a Chief Pilot - what would you like to see in someone who walks into the office with a resume in one hand and no doughnuts in the other?
    I would suggest a selection from the following would be appropriate:
    • A smile on your face
    • A firm handshake
    • Confidence
    • Presentable appearance, including clothing and hairstyle - no shaven heads or curly locks, and especially no earrings.
    • Clean vehicle
    It's a fact that jobs have been offered just on appearance. I know, because it happened to me, and no-one even asked to look at my logbook or licences (actually, the reason was because my resume was printed, in the days when it was a major achievement to get one typed, but more about those shortly). However, in the normal course of events, for low-timers, visiting as many companies as possible is about the only way to get yourself known.

    Just sending a resume is not good enough when they haven't seen you before.

    Believe it or not, someone with relatively low experience and who gets on with customers is actually in a better position than somebody the other way round, other things being equal, as experience and flying techniques can be taught - personality can't. Also, get to know lots of people at the bottom levels, because Chief Pilots very often ask the guys on the shop floor if they know anyone when there's a vacancy and, if you are recommended, there's less chance of personality conflicts later (Chief Pilots don't like hassle, but they do like people who are not going to drop them in it, as they carry a lot of responsibility). At least one company I know of gets its pilots in the crew room whenever someone is about to be offered a job, and they take a vote.

    Employers like people who have clearly made an effort to know their (potential) jobs, and who clearly absorb information and knowledge about their aircraft and other crew members. In other words, the sort of people who give every impression of being commanders in their own right and can be relied upon in flight and otherwise. Although much of this comes from experience, the potential is often very obvious at an early stage.

    Remember also that loyalty goes both ways. Some companies deserve all they get when their pilots disappear in a shortage - with no staff, they can't trade, and they go out of business. It's happened before and will happen again (they forget that companies need good people, but good people don’t need companies). On that basis, if you're doing the traditional two years as a hangar rat before you get your hands on a machine, be prepared to move on if it seems like the company are more interested in your cheap labour than training you. In my opinion, in with your normal windscreen-washing, you should be doing the air tests and non-revenue flying, which will not only give you an incentive, but make your subsequent training cheaper by keeping you current. It is entirely possible to get well upwards of 400 free hours a year in a busy company, if you're prepared to end up in strange places for days at a time.

    You will have to do a bit of research about every company you target - you will certainly need the name of whoever does the hiring, and the head of the department you want, if they are different (in most cases, it will be the Chief Pilot or Base Manager, or, in other words, someone with local knowledge). Only go to the personnel department as a last resort, and even then just to ask for the right name(s). You need to know the sort of work they do, the type of customers they have, where they operate, and tailor your initial conversation around it, emphasising the benefits you can bring which cause them the least amount of work. For example, in Canada, one of the first questions you will be asked is if your PPC (Proficiency Check) is current, because it can be transferable between companies if they operate the same machinery, and they won't have to spend money sorting you out. It's almost guaranteed that the next question will concern either a mountain course or long-lining experience, so be prepared. The point is that their requirement for a pilot is to solve a problem, and you need to be the one with the solution, so get their attention, then create the desire to employ you and, more importantly, do something about it. In fact, the sort of telephone conversation a busy Chief Pilot up to the ears in paperwork would like to hear is something like:

    "Hi, I'm an Astar pilot with 1500 hours, mountain and longline time, available now."

    Music to the ears. Just adjust it for your own situation, but only get detailed after you start fishing for what they want. If you get asked any question at all, you've got what is known as a "buying signal", but the question will likely come after a short period of silence, which you shouldn't break. Answering apparent brushoffs with further questions should keep the conversation going. If you can introduce the name of somebody already known to them, so much the better.

    The Advert
    If there is one, it's usually the last resort for companies who need staff - apart from being outdated anyway, the best jobs are almost always filled by word of mouth, and the ad is placed to satisfy legal requirements, or to wind up the opposition. In fact, the way an advert is worded can tell you much about the company you may be working for.

    Read what it actually says. If it states definitely something like "must have 500 hours slinging", it means your application will go straight into File 13 (the waste bin) if you don't. On the other hand, another might say that such experience "is desirable" or "is an advantage"; if you score 6 out of 8 on the requirements, then go ahead. In this case, circumstances will determine what happens to your application, for instance whether there is a pilot shortage or not, or whether the Chief Pilot or the Personnel Department actually wrote the advert (Personnel won't haven't a clue as to what's really required and may have just copied it from somewhere else). Just bear in mind that words like "preferable" also become criteria for weeding out applicants if there are a lot of them.

    However, your face may fit better than higher-qualified people, and it's a favourite hobby of some pilots to keep applying for jobs anyway, so to help you get on where you may be at some sort of disadvantage (whether you're one of many applicants or you haven't quite got the qualifications required), you may need to employ a few tactics, including your resume.

    Tip: One tactic that works more often than not is to apply relatively late, say a week after the ad appears, ensuring that the bulk of applications are out of the way and whoever has become cross-eyed looking at them will get yours when he's back to normal, possibly all by itself so you're noticed more. You also (theoretically) go to the top of the pile. However, do not miss the deadline as, even if the Chief Pilot wants you, Personnel will bounce you out anyway. Another is to always make a follow-up call, including after an interview - in some companies, the process is very long and you can easily get forgotten.

    Tip: If the ad runs again in a very short time, it means they haven't found anybody - if you didn't have the qualifications the first time round, you may do now!

    Your Resume
    Applying for a job involves selling yourself, by which I mean that you are the product to be marketed, and the process starts even with the envelope in which you send your details (a full-sized stiff-backed one ensures they don't get creased). It's surprising how many people fail to use the resume and covering letter (they are, after all, a first introduction) as properly as they should be. I have seen very badly handwritten resumes with no idea of spacing on ragged paper that would disgrace a fish and chip shop. This type of introduction says little for your self-image and is likely to go straight into the bin - if it doesn't, it will be a reminder of what you were like long after the interview. Your resume is your sales brochure.

    Having said all that, in a lot of aviation companies the atmosphere is relatively informal, and, although you need a resume, hardly anyone ever reads it, at least not until you make them do so by turning up on their doorstep, so take the following remarks with as large a pinch of salt as you feel able. You may only be required to fill in an application form (see below), which will also involve a breakdown of hours - usually First Pilot and Grand Totals. The initial contact could well be a faxed one-page letter, with everything relevant on it, and full details when asked.

    Tip: Keep a running breakdown of your hours, separate from your logbook and updated monthly, say, in a spreadsheet, which will help you extract these figures when required (it will also be a back-up should the original get lost, but a logbook must fulfil certain legal requirements). Keep columns for specialised stuff.
    However, a large company with a personnel department (which therefore deals with several other professions) will expect to get the full treatment. Like flying, the more preparation that goes into your resume, the better the results you will get. Remember, you're trying to beat the opposition, in an environment where the best person for the job frequently gets eliminated early on, and the person who plays the application/interview game best wins. Unfair? Yes, but life's like that, so here's a couple of points to note before we go any further - the resume is not meant to get you a job, but an interview. Secondly, it actually consists of two parts - the resume itself, which contains the usual stuff, and a covering letter, which, being a business document, should be neatly typed or wordprocessed on white letter-sized paper, unless you are specifically told to do otherwise (you might be asked to fill in a form) - it looks more professional anyway.

    The letter is actually a focussing device, that should include information that might not belong in the resume, or to highlight anything that might be particularly relevant (from the ad, maybe) and to get it in front of the right person. Ring up to make sure you spell their name right, as "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam" will often mean consignment to the waste bin immediately. You may also include reasons for wanting to join the company, or, more to the point (salesmanship again), how useful you will be to them, because that's what they're bothered about. You could, for example, cover points mentioned in the advert, or you know that they're concerned about. This is your sales pitch.

    Use the word "I" as little as possible, include any reference numbers in the advert, and get the person's job title right. Don't "wish" or "hope" for an interview (salesmen are taught to ask for a sale, so - ask for an interview!). Remember that most resumes look the same, especially if you use a Microsoft Word template!
    If you are not replying to an ad, remember that Personnel often do not know about vacancies until actually asked to do something about one, so you need to get hold of the person in charge of the department or base you are interested in. One tactic might be to write to the Big Boss, whereupon it might filter down to the relevant person from above, giving them more of an incentive to do something about it. Don't be shy about this - speculative letters show initiative, which is one quality required when operating in remote places. It also saves them money, if they are actually looking, as recruitment costs money (when talking about yourself, and therefore saying nice things, when you begin to feel slightly embarrassed is the time to stop).

    Although it is often said that a resume should fit on one page (and this is good advice), life is never so convenient, and you should always be aware from the start that you might need 2 or even 3, if you include a breakdown of your flying hours. On the one hand, trying to cut everything down when it won't get any smaller is stressful, and on the other, many resume readers (myself included) find it frustrating that more information isn't forthcoming when I want to read it. The trick is to put the information you think might be needed on the first page, and expand it on the following pages, even if you repeat yourself (you could also put it in the covering letter). As a guide, my own procedure is to go through any list of resumes with the requirements of the job in mind, and either highlight any that are already mentioned, or write down any that are not, on the front page as an aid to later sorting. What is relevant depends on the job, but it's a fair bet that licences, types flown, total hours on each and availablility would be a good start - you could probably think of more, but especially include contact details. Don’t bother with referees, as these are usually taken up after the interview anyway.

    Having said all that, you should still try to get the information in as short a space as you can without leaving anything out - if you're only going for a flying job, the tendency to include irrelevant information should be avoided, and everyone knows what a pilot does, so your resume will be on the technical side, that is, short, competent and to the point. Management qualifications (if you have them) are not important to somebody who just wants a line pilot (all the advice here should be read in this light - you don't have to include everything). As with all salesmanship, you're trying to make it as easy as possible for the customer, in this case your potential employer, or at least the poor clerk in the personnel office who has to go through all the paperwork before the interviews (it's worth mentioning at this point that the clerk's job is to screen you out, or to discover who not to interview). If you feel the need to be more specific, use the covering letter to get your details in front of the right person. The screening out can take place in as little as 8 seconds - the irony is that they use the resume for the process. What do they see in that time? Well, the type of paper, its condition and layout, to mention but a few items (your subconscious can pick up a lot without you knowing). In short, whether you've spent time on it.

    You need to use quality paper, A4-sized and white, and therefore inoffensive, but this requirement is really for scanning. Use one side of the paper only with the script centralised, with no underlining or strange typefaces. Leave at least a one-inch border at the top and bottom of the page with a good sized margin on either side. It will cost a minimal amount to get a two-page resume wordprocessed properly and not much more to get a reasonable number photocopied, preferably on to the same paper. Use a spellchecker. Twice.

    It should include your career history, commencing with your present position and working back about 5 years in detail, the remainder in brief. The name and town is enough to identify employers with a brief description of their activities, if needed, as aviation is a small world. You may include reasons for leaving your current position but, as said above, when people read a resume they almost always do it with a highlighter in one hand to mark relevant passages for later, and you can almost guarantee that this will be a prime target, so prepare it very carefully.

    In summary, the layout must be neat, as short as possible, well spaced and easy to read, with a positive attitude conveyed throughout. If you don't have much experience, include outside interests that have transferable skills. All other personal stuff (date of birth, etc.) should be at the end, as it bores most readers. Here’s a suggestion from someone who reads a lot of resumes:
    • Name
    • Address
    • phone, email
    • Personal Information
    • 1 line with nationality and date of birth
    • 1 line with education (highest schooling certificate)
    • 1 line languages spoken (fluent/basic)
    • 1 line with marital status/children
    • Flight Crew Licences (country)
    • 1 line stating CPL, IR, ME...
    • Other qualifications/licences (Flight Instructor)
    • 1 line Medical Class/Date expires
    • Flight Experience
    • Total hours XXXX
    • Multiengine (less than 5700 kg)* - XXX hours PIC
    • Single Engine* - XXX hours PIC
    • Instrument - XXX hours
    • Turbojet (and type aircraft) - XXX hours PIC/SIC
    • Current Passport
    • Availability: Immediate
    *no need to list types if applying for an airline.

    The licence level will tell people a lot about your qualifications as pilots go through certain stages in their career. It shouldn’t matter where you got your licence.

    Application Forms
    Practice on a photocopy first, and always use the same pen throughout (that is, make sure you're not likely to run out of ink halfway through and have to change colours).

    Don't leave blank boxes - use N/A (Not Applicable) if one doesn't apply, and never refer someone to an attached resume (that is, attach one if you like, but don't ask them to look somewhere else for information they want now).

    The "other information" box is the same as a covering letter, so don't miss it out.

    The Interview
    Let us first of all establish what the interview is not. It has nothing to do with your competence as a professional, except for the simulator ride (if one is required). The mere fact that you've been put on any list at all, let alone shortlisted, indicates that your flying abilities are recognised.

    On their side, the interview is really to see if your face will fit. They are about to let your personality loose on their customers and they want to see if you will help solve the problem or become part of it. In other words, they are looking for people who know the rules, have common sense, and the personality and tact to apply them. In other words, they are interviewing future Captains.

    You, as an employee, must create value beyond the cost of employing you. As far as you are concerned, it's a chance to see if you will like the Company, in which case you may find it useful to write down what you want from them.

    Note: With reference to value, mentioned above, the cost of employing you is not just your wages - you may have training or health insurance thrown in, plus other benefits, not to mention the staff employed to look after you, or any office you might have. In the first year, you may well cost much more than your salary. Even the interview process can cost thousands!

    Interviewing techniques can be very sophisticated. You may be lucky and get away with a quick half-hour with someone who is just as nervous as you are, but the full-blown two day affair with Personality and Psychometric testing is becoming increasingly common. Certainly, it is used by one Electricity Board in the UK, and almost every airline worldwide. The full nine yards might include written maths, intelligence and psychological tests (with over 600 questions), a simulator ride, an interview and a medical (nine yards, by the way, or 27 inches, was the length of an ammunition belt in a B-17, so I'm told). Most questions are relatively simple, but the average time for each is about one minute. Examples are figuring out the next number or symbol in a logical series, identifying how a shape or object would look if rotated, finding words amongst a group of mixed letters, etc. The psychological part is not timed and presents situations and statements to be ranked from 1 to 4 according to which is the most or least like you. Do not try to read into questions or guess what they are trying to achieve, just answer them (don’t add your own selection, like I did!). There may also be a team exercise, perhaps an evacuation plan for a village about to be flooded, in which you are given priorities and resources. There won’t be a right answer - they will be looking for group interactions, such as who takes charge, who sits back and contributes quality input at the right moment, etc.

    Anyhow, whatever shape it takes, you must regard the interview as having started whenever you walk through the main door of the building or meet any Company person. You are definitely under observation at lunch (why do you think so many people join you?), and the receptionist has been on the team more than once.

    Tip: The problem with lunch (for you, anyway) is that it's an opportunity for many questions that cannot be asked elsewhere, so be even more on your guard.

    The interview is therefore even more part of your sales technique. Naturally, you will be smartly dressed and presentable, and you must convince them that they are not so much buying a pilot as peace of mind. Unfortunately, most interviewers make their decisions about you in a very short time, based on what they see, feel and hear, well before the dreaded interview questions even start!

    Although unlikely in a pure Aviation company, there may be questions or situations designed to put you on the spot by trying to destroy your composure. To combat this, there are ways of behaving that will give you the most confidence. Don't talk too much, don't be pushy or negative and don't break silences. Awkward questions are mostly to establish the pecking order should you actually join the company later; the answers, to them, are not that important. They may even be there to see how you handle stress and whether you can be intimidated (by passengers, maybe), and the only weapon you have is to practice beforehand, though it's best to pre-handle certain types of question rather than specific ones. You might, for example, be asked how your life will change if you are successful, or even whether you would be happier elsewhere. The majority of questions don't have a right answer - the interviewers are looking at your ability to reason, and justify your answers. Here are some possibilities, based on my own experience and that of others:
    • Technical questions on the aircraft flown or from the pilot’s exams, such as What is Dutch Roll?, or What are swept wings for?
    • What if you smelt alcohol on your Captain's breath? Here, they are looking to see if you recognise a dangerous situation, know your responsibilities and have the tact to face up to a Captain. In the real world, in large organisations at least, much of your life will involve covering your backside against other peoples' mistakes or problems. As a first officer, it's your job to challenge the Captain if there is something wrong, but you don't want to give the impression that you're going to cause your own problems later. Reporting someone is almost always the wrong answer, at least for a first response, if only because it’s bad CRM! Start with determining whether the aircraft is likely to be damaged (people don’t usually deliberately screw up) and from that whether to terminate the sortie or not. In this situation, I would discuss it directly with the person concerned (making sure my facts were right) and leave it up to them to remove themselves from the flight (known as "passing the buck"). I would probably only take it higher if the Captain didn't take the opportunity to fall on his own sword or started intimidating me (escalating the problem is not only for your sake, but the people coming after you who might not have so much courage). In any case, I would ensure the discussion was in the cockpit (where the CVR would be running) or at least in front of credible witnesses.
    • What would you do if you left your licence behind? You shouldn't take off without it - an insurance company could use it as an excuse not to pay up if an accident happened. Not only that, the company's operating certificate would be at risk. However, in the US, you could get an official copy faxed to you, which would be legal for 60 days.
    • Why do you want to be a pilot? The view’s good!
    • What are your strong or weak points?
    • How would you handle a grumpy captain? Gently!
    • Why do you want to work for us?
    • What is the biggest economic threat to this company?
    • What does this company fly and to where?
    • What is the Boss's name?
    • What is the share price?
    • Who did you train with?
    • Tell us something that taught you about flying.
    • Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years' time?
    • Have you ever scared yourself?
    • Tell us about you.
    • Once the gear is up, what conversation will you have with the Captain? None that does not directly concern the operation of the aircraft.
    • Put these in order of preference: Small boys, Guns or Flowers. Flowers (cargo makes more money), small boys do not weigh as much as adults, and guns require too much paperwork.
    • How would you deal with a personality clash with an arrogant Captain?
    • You have the Board in the back, and they insist on getting to a meeting on time. 30 miles out, the destination is under a Level 6 cell with very little movement. What would you do?
    • Besides good pay (yeah, right - author) why do you want to be a pilot? Say something funny
    • What are the goals of the Company? Safety, Cost, Efficiency, Customer Care (in whatever order is relevant)
    • How are they measured? Number of accidents,% spend, Utilisation, Complaints (for example)
    • What do you do about sexual harassment? Ask them not to complain (joke)
    • You're in the restaurant on a stopover and in walks the Captain with a skirt on....what do you say? It depends on whether its colour clashed with his/her accessories (joke)
    • Your career, though progressing nicely, is slow. How do you feel about it? Trick question - same as the one that asks if you would actually be happier in another company. You need to show confidence in yourself here.
    • How would you rate yourself in relation to communication skills, dependability, and integrity on a scale of 1-10?
    • If you attain all your goals as a pilot what do you intend to give back to aviation?
    • What is important when managing pressure? Prioritisation, Ability to say No, Delegation, Asking for help
    Don't forget you are new to the game, so you want standard answers with some common sense thrown in - if your responses don't seem to be what they want, back them up with good reasons why they should be - your training doesn't give you all the answers, but it does qualify you to think for yourself. Although an interview isn't meant to be funny, a couple of good, humorous remarks won't do any harm, but lay off the sarcasm - it doesn't go down well when you're supposed to be dealing with other people. The thing to remember is that all the above questions are based on fear (that you might screw up and make them look foolish, at the very least), so they are at a disadvantage, too. In large organisations, those who make mistakes don't get promoted - it follows, therefore, that people who don't make mistakes increase their chances markedly (you could also take the cynical view that those who do the least work make the least mistakes to its logical conclusion, but we'll ignore that for now).

    Talking of which, if you were going for a management job, you might also want to consider:
    • The work program is behind, the budget is overspent, and you are given some more work - how would you deal with it?
      How would you deal with someone who continually takes a sick day after returning from holiday or books dental appointments for late morning so they don’t come back to work for the day?
      How would you deal with people who won’t help colleagues who are returning from a hard day, saying “It’s not my job”, or “It’s not my turn?”
    It's certainly not on to slate other companies or be too eager to leave your present one without a very good reason - if you can do either, you can do it to the one you're going for. Do not sit until invited, and if you are not, at least wait until the interviewer sits down. Do not smoke without permission, don't swear, interrupt or "interview" the interviewer, even if he is inept. Nor is it a good idea to argue, be familiar or apologise for yourself. The best tactic is to avoid extremes and place you and your opinions firmly in the middle - be the ideal "Company Person", in fact. By the way, the interviewers to watch out for are the surly or the quiet ones.

    Don't even think of mentioning personality clashes or "philosophical differences" as they are more politely known (unless you want to be a trial lawyer!), and DO NOT TELL LIES.

    Finally, when asked to do an evaluation ride, don't push off afterwards without helping to put the machine away, or at least offering to help.