Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Landing the Job, Part I

Beginning the Hunt

There are many reasons that pilots start looking for a job. Some may have freshly minted commercial and CFI certificates in their pocket and are ready to start getting paid to fly rather than forking over their own money. Some may be concerned with lack of stability or lack of advancement at their current employer. For others, a new job might just fit into their career progression. Whichever situation you're in, the process of finding and getting a flying job is basically the same. Very few people have aviation jobs just fall into their laps - you usually have to go out and work for it.

What's Important to You?

The first step is to find all the available positions that meet your criteria. Every pilot's criteria will be somewhat different, and their emphasis on particular aspects will change over the course of their career. Here are some criteria many pilots might use:
  • Pay and benefits (including travel benefits)
  • Flexibility of scheduling
  • Potential for advancement
  • Stability of employment
  • Quality of flight time (IE multi-engine, turbine PIC, etc)
  • Feasibility of moving to base cities, or ease of commute.
A brand new CFI would probably value the ability to get multi-engine flight time above all other criteria, wheras an airline pilot looking to get on with a major these days would likely have stability at the forefront of his mind. Keep in mind that finding a job that meets all your criteria is pretty small, so it's important to decide which is the most important to you. Your best chance of landing a job lies in staying flexible on your criteria and applying to all acceptible potential employers rather than clinging to one "dream job."

Of course, there are two parties playing this game. You have your criteria, and so does your prospective employer. Most have minimum qualifications for pilot applicants. While these are important to know, don't consider them absolutely limiting. It's okay to apply for a job that you're short on qualifications for. If nothing else, they'll know your name by the time you meet their criteria. Be realistic, though. As a brand new CFI, there's no use in applying to Delta unless you're the chief pilot's daughter who did an internship and has a Ph.D.

Finding Open Positions

The method you use to find which employers are hiring depends on where you are in your career and which sector of aviation you're looking at. For a new CFI, it might be as easy as going down to your local airport and poking around the FBOs. Most regional, fractional, freight, and major airlines maintain public websites that publish minimum qualifications and procedures for applying. So do the major FAR 135 carriers. Outside the "mainstream" career path, finding potential employers can be a little trickier. Rather few corporate flying positions are ever publicly posted; you're most likely to hear about the job from a friend already at the company. The same goes for some of the smaller FAR 135 operations. Sometimes you'll find good job leads for obscure companies on message boards like A particularly good source of leads for contract and ex-pat pilots is In some cases, Google and the Yellow Pages might be a good source for finding aviation companies that are otherwise staying mum about open positions.

One potentially excellent source of leads is a job fair such as those hosted by Air, Inc. or Women in Aviation. Do keep in mind that you may come face-to-face with the chief pilot at these functions, so it's important to dress and act professionally and have a professional-grade resume at the ready (more about this in a later post).

Of course, you'll be filtering these potential employers through the criteria you established at the beginning on your search. This is where having friends at the company is useful; it can be otherwise difficult to establish whether a particular job meets your criteria. Again, message boards like flightinfo can be useful, although it's important to take the disgruntled posters with a grain of salt. At this point, I recommend the "scattergun approach": the more leads you pursue, the more interviews you'll get, which gives you a better chance at a job offer.

First Contact

Many times, you'll find that you need more information to apply than is publicly available. At a minimum, you should have the name, title, and mailing address of the person in charge of hiring pilots at each company. You'll also want to know minimum and competitive qualifications, when the company is planning to hire, and how many new pilots they're planning on hiring. You may need to contact somebody at the company to get this information before applying.

You might not know who to talk to, but you can usually find it out by calling the company's publicly listed number and asking to speak to the person in charge of pilot recruitment. You might speak with a functionary or you may find yourself on the line with the owner. Either way, your demeanor should be the same: utterly professional. Introduce yourself and stress that you'd like to fly for this company, but know your questions beforehand and keep it to the point. In most cases, you'll get everything you need and more. Again, even if you're not quite ready to apply to the company, just getting name recognition going is a good thing. A friend of mine first met our company's chief pilot as a newly rated instrument pilot working the ramp at Ameriflight. The chief pilot told my friend to call him when he hit 1000 hours total time, which he did - and the chief pilot recognized him and invited him to an interview.

Next post: Preparing to Apply