Don't Be That Pilot!
This disdain sometimes presents itself in discussions about a company's hiring practices. "They're hiring a bunch of 600 hour wonders," goes the common complaint. This term - 600 hour wonder - has a whole range of connotations that extend well beyond how many hours the newhires have. A newer, tongue-in-cheek term for the same thing is "Shiny Jet Syndrome." The "SJS sufferer," like the "600-hour wonder," is a stereotype, but one that is useful to examine to reveal how many experienced pilots perceive newbies.
Those "afflicted" with SJS are usually young, without much life experience. In fact, they may never have held a job outside aviation. They are ever dissatisfied with the entry-level jobs available and would rather jump ahead to a "real job," ie the Shiny Jet. They are thus seen as unwilling to pay their dues, the implication being that they think they're better than all the pilots who did work long and hard to earn their current jobs. These youngsters seem willing to fly for any wage (so long as it will propel them to that coveted major airline job) and thus are seen as a threat to the profession.
This stereotype persists even as many young pilots have become more involved in their unions and the fight to better the profession. I don't think that it's really threat to career that makes experienced pilots see new pilots this way. Rather, the perceived attitudes simply offend their sensibilities and values, and are seen as an almost personal insult.
Want to get a major airline pilot steamed? Tell him: "You have the best job! I'd do anything to do what you do!" Why does that upset him? It's not that he hates his job - in another context, many would admit that they enjoy it and indeed would rather do nothing else. No - by openly coveting his job and proclaiming in the rosiest terms how great it is, he feels you are discounting how long and hard he worked to get there, you're completely ignoring the sacrifices he makes in being away from his family, you're forgetting the 9 hour overnights and 15 hour duty days and broken airplanes and flow delays and irritable flight attendants. You're glossing over the unease he feels as paycuts loom and furloughs creep ever closer to his seniority number. You're essentially denying that this fellow works for a living, a charge that airline pilots have always been sensitive to.
Coming from someone outside aviation, such ignorance is perfectly forgivable. Coming from someone within the industry - even at the bottom levels - it is insulting and vaguely threatening.
Why is this important to you in the lower echelons of aviation? Recall that most experienced pilots are very helpful to individuals, and this is a very important key to your career advancement and education as a pilot. But it is important to be mindful of the newbie stereotype because you can really hurt your prospects by pushing senior pilots' "this person is a tool" buttons. Here are a few tips for presenting yourself as the enlightened newbie rather than an overeager superachiever who'd stab his own mother for an airline job:
- Don't make aviation all-consuming. Present yourself as a well rounded individual. A wise old pilot once told me "Your best interview will be the one where you talk fly-fishing with the chief pilot." On my last interview I discussed the 1915-17 Armenian Genocide with the chief pilot. Go figure.
- Be positive about your current job. "Instructing sucks" is a big red "SJS" warning light. A better statement: "I enjoy instructing, and I've really learned a ton. Unfortunately it just doesn't pay enough, so I'm looking at moving on."
- Ask about the negatives, what the senior pilot doesn't like about the job. While they'll tell you about the hassles, they'll often emphasize that the good things overshadow them. It's eerily opposite to the reaction if you tell them what a great job they have.
- Express a willingness to pay your dues. "I can't wait to have your job!" is a little annoying. "I'd really like to do what you do someday, but right now I'm having fun and learning a lot while building experience" shows humility and respect for the time-worn traditions of aviation.
I think that unless you're a complete social dufus, it's pretty easy to avoid painting yourself as the newbie stereotype. Amazingly, I have met pilots who came across as that exact stereotype and were quite clueless about it. But I think my readers are smarter than that :-).