No matter the industry, job interviews likely rank as the single most stressful part of finding a new job or landing an entry-level position. For pilots, these job interviews have added weight: Often, pilots and other airline industry professionals must strike the right balance in order to show professionalism, proficiency, sufficient experience, academic prestige, and a commitment to both government safety regulations and specific airline procedures. This demands a great deal of pre-interview knowledge and research in order for candidates to successfully land a position with the airline of their choice. For those who are going through this process for the first time, or those who need to refresh their memory when it comes to excelling in an airline industry interview, a few key tips and routines can make the process far smoother from start to finish.
Before walking into an interview “cold,” without the proper knowledge required to succeed, those looking for long-term success in the aviation industry should consider the best ways to learn, research, prepare, and respond. Doing so will impress hiring managers and make it far easier to land a successful, long-term position at any level and within any area of the broader industry.
First, Start Researching the Airline’s History, Outlook, and Current Affairs
Every airline has a slightly different corporate culture that permeates virtually every position it offers to new and experienced candidates. For example, U.S. Airways has long been known as one of the more straight-laced, professional airlines behind the scenes. Carriers like JetBlue and Southwest Airlines, meanwhile, are newer entrants to the marketplace and have slightly different corporate cultures that emphasize fun, employee communication, and a laid-back atmosphere. Knowing these different approaches to corporate life and public relations will help pilots speak more highly of their potential employer. It will also help them seem a bit more knowledgeable about the company and a bit more deliberate in terms of where they filed their resume at the outset.
Research of potential employers like airlines should not stop merely at their corporate vision and the attitude that they encourage in the workplace. Indeed, the best candidates will go above and beyond this type of research as they look for things like recent company news, long-term employment figures for the company, and a thorough overview of how the airline came to be where it is today. All of these pieces of information will create an interview environment that favors small talk, and all of them will make candidates seem better informed and significantly more confident as they engage with the interviewer.
If airline professionals are applying to more than one airline, as is often the case, its recommended to make a file on each potential employer. This file should contain a basic history of the company, an overview of their current outlook and corporate culture, and a few recent news stories about their aircraft, quarterly numbers, or public relations efforts. Keep these files handy as the employment process proceeds, and review them if an interview is requested either in-person or over the phone.
Prepare to Know and Discuss Cultural Impacts Relating to Employment
The airline industry in the United States hasn’t had a very easy time in recent years. Widespread consolidation and tighter overall operating margins have led to job cuts, slower hiring, and trimming of employee benefits packages. This has forced many pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and airline captains to consider employment with airlines that are based overseas. In the Middle East and throughout Asia, airlines are actually growing at an exponential rate. They place a premium on American training an experience, and they’ll pay a premium for those who burnished their skills and resumes in the United States. This is a great opportunity, but it’s not without some challenges.
One of the first things pilots will need to understand and prepare for as they proceed to an interview with an overseas air carrier is that there will be significant operational and cultural differences. These international airlines are subject to different market factors, wildly variable government regulations, and a completely different history of domestic and international air travel. This allows for significant differences in how business is done. Pilots may have added responsibilities, or they may have to make changes to the way they fly planes and interact with airline staff in order to accommodate a country’s social norms.
Consider, for instance, that the fastest-growing Middle Eastern airlines are in countries like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In those countries, even swearing can be considered a crime. Pilots will need to understand things like this, and they’ll need to prepare themselves in advance to interact with their interviewer accordingly. By internalizing these cultural differences and paying deference to each country’s unique way of handling flights and business affairs, those considering international employment will stand a better chance at landing the job.
Gather Credentials and Create a Professional Portfolio
Job interviews are largely about the question-and-answer exchanges between the applicant and the interviewer, but they also require physical evidence that a candidate is qualified for the position itself. This requires the preparation of a portfolio that can showcase degrees earned, flight experience hours amassed, and professional certifications awarded. Though the portfolio does not have to include official, original copies of these documents, it should at least contain copies that give the interviewer insight into just how qualified the candidate is for a given position. This portfolio may well be the differentiating factor that advances a candidate to the next round of the hiring process.
For those who want to create an even more comprehensive portfolio, it might be a good idea to include professional letters of recommendation, copies of accolades earned while attending college, and even copies of employment reviews that were conducted in the past. Each of these things builds the credibility of the job applicant and, if the interviewer is permitted to view a paper copy of each credential, they’re more likely to keep a candidate in mind as they consider their options and narrow down the field. Among the things that should be included in this portfolio:
– Pilot’s license
– Copies of undergraduate or graduate-level diplomas
– Flight school certificate
– Medical certificate
– Any certificates relating to aircraft types, maintenance, etc.
– Recommendations and a list of references
– Personal statement
– Copies of the original application and cover letter
– Copies of logbook entries
– Copies of past flight plans
– Employment history
– Compensation history
– Employee review documents
With these items on hand, applicants will stand out from the crowd and make a name for themselves. Sometimes, that really is the difference between merely a great interview and productive, career-changing interview that leads directly to being hired.
Dressing for the Occasion: Professionalism is the Name of the Game
Since the earliest days of commercial flight, pilots and flight attendants have been among the best-dressed employees of any transit-oriented company. That should carry over into any job interview, where all professionals interviewing for an airline position should be dressed at least in business attire. That means dress pants, a button-down shirt, and a tie. For women, a skirt or suit will be appropriate for any interview at any level. This applies not only to pilots, but also to flight attendants, flight crews, engineers, mechanics, customer service and ticketing agents, and virtually everyone else who will be on the front lines at a major commercial enterprise.
Remember that a first impression is often visual, and an interviewer who considers a candidate to be dressed inappropriately will likely not give them the time of day when asking questions and recording answers. It’s always better to be dressed a bit too formally than to arrive at a job interview in casual dress that might undermine an otherwise sterling reputation and impressive list of qualifications.
Weaknesses: Don’t Let a Negative Word Produce a Negative Outcome
In what might be the single most intimidating and common “gotcha” question asked at modern job interviews, many airline hiring managers will ask candidates to admit their biggest overall weaknesses. This is often the kind of question that can decide the outcome of the interview for each candidate, making it a high-stakes answer across the board. Though interviewers are looking for weaknesses, candidates need to make sure that they craft their answer intelligently. The goal is to admit weakness and show humility without sacrificing perceived professionalism or skills. There are a number of ways to do this, but they can be distilled into three major approaches to the “weakness question:”
1. Talk About an Unrelated Weakness
Just because an airline’s hiring manager is asking about a candidate’s weaknesses doesn’t mean that the candidate has to admit a weakness related to flight. In fact, one of the best ways to answer the question and dodge its more negative consequences to tell the interviewer about a weakness completely unrelated to the job being interviewed for. Perhaps a flight attendant might name her biggest weakness as being slightly “addicted” to social media sites. A pilot might answer that he’s always had a weakness for a good book. These things don’t affect how either person would do their job on the airplane.
2. Turn a Weakness into a Strength
Consider admitting to a strong weakness, such as being a tough manager, a motivated customer service representative, or someone whose weakness is that they simply work too hard. Sure, being a workaholic is certainly a weakness according to some people. But it’s not the kind of weakness that will have a hiring manager reconsidering whether or not that person is capable of handling the stresses and demands of life in the skies.
3. Demonstrate a Learning Experience Instead
Instead of talking actively about a current weakness, talk about a weakness that existed in the past and how that weakness led to a real learning experience. This learning experience could actually boost a pilot’s skills and make them better at what they do. By approaching the question this way, interviewers will learn something a bit deeper about the job applicant without hearing something truly negative about their past experiences or their current approach to the job.
No matter how the question is answered, those who find themselves in the hot seat should remember that “weakness” is only a negative word if they allow it to be. The interviewer is looking for a positive spin on weakness. They’re looking for insight into how the job applicant handles themselves on a daily basis, overcomes difficulties, and continually improves the way they get things done. If the answer provides these details, it will be considered a victory for the candidate.
Be Succinct and Specific Throughout the Interview Procedure
When it comes to making a great impression on any interviewer, candidates who answer each question with short, specific answers and examples will place themselves ahead of the competition. Because those applying for airline jobs will have very specific training, very precise experiences, and very detailed roles within the company, it’s important to talk about specific examples and experiences that demonstrate leadership, proficiency, and a desire to lead. Specific examples will give interviewers a far better understanding of a potential new hire, whereas abstractions and vague answers will leave them guessing and wanting more.
Interviewers should never have to repeat the question, as for more specific answers, or be left without insight into the candidate’s personal experiences. If they aren’t entirely satisfied at the end of an interview, candidates will find themselves lacking advancement to the next stage of the hiring process.
Prepare Well and Answer Specifically, and the Interview Will Succeed
With excellent preparation in advance and very precise answers at the interview itself, those seeking a position within a commercial airline will find themselves effortlessly advancing through each stage of the hiring process. In the end, success in a job interview of any kind often comes down to the right combination of education, experience, confidence, and preparation for today’s successful job applicants and those who become today’s newest airline industry hires.