Ugh, this "getting ready to apply" stuff is a lot of work, considering I'm not really expecting any calls from the airlines I'm planning on applying to. Between that, flying, union stuff, and another development I'll tell you about after this series is over, there just isn't much time left over for blogging. Well, maybe less motivation than time. I somehow always find the time for skiing!
My last few posts told how to scrounge around for open flying positions. At the same time you're looking around, you should be preparing yourself to apply by sprucing up your qualifications and then putting together a good resume and cover letter. This post will cover the process of getting your qualifications in order for application.
Most jobs will have their minimum qualifications publicly posted. Like I mentioned before, you don't have to consider minimum qualifications absolutely limiting - many companies do waive them to hire people they like - but I'll assume that you're fairly close to minimums for the jobs you're looking at. Your task, before and after you apply, is to do everything you can to increase your desirability and give you a leg up on the next pilot. Here are a few ways you can do that.
Certificates & Ratings
If you're applying for a commercial aviation position, you already have your Commercial certificate. Many jobs require additional certificates and ratings. Any CFI position will require at least a Flight Instructor certificate; flying freight in a Navajo necessitates a multi-engine rating. Any job involving PIC time in a turbine aircraft is going to require an ATP certificate. You should consider these bare minimums, and ensure you have the appropriate certificate before applying.
You should also be looking at certificates and ratings that aren't necessarily required, but would help you get the job. Even if a CFI is all that's required for a flight instructing position, CFII and MEI ratings will be very attractive to any school that has a lot of instrument and multi-engine students. If you want to fly for an Alaskan operator, a single-engine sea rating is almost a must. An ATP certificate will help getting hired at any job.
The key is to look for ratings that would be fairly easy to get in a short time span. Most airplane class ratings (multi-engine land, single-engine sea) can be done in a week or less. The ATP, if you already have the experience required by FAR 61.159, is a very simple affair - it's essentially an instrument checkride with tighter tolerances.
Of course, by applying for a flying job you're looking to make money, not spend it. Prepare a cost/benefits analysis. Will it really help you get hired for the jobs you're looking it? If so, are the jobs worth spending the money for? If in doubt, you could try applying now and getting the additional training if you aren't having luck getting an interview.
Flight Time & Recency
There's not much you can do in the short term about your flight time other than padding your logbook (just kidding - that's a really bad idea that has cost pilots their careers). However, if you're lacking in any particular area of required flight time, make an extra effort to close the gap. Your first job flying multi-engine airplanes can be tough to get because most require 50 or 100 hours of multi-engine time, and many pilots have only around 20 hours upon finishing their multi-engine rating. A solution might be to get your MEI rating and move to a flight school that has multi-engine students, even if you get less total time.
If you've been out of flying for a while, getting a job can be quite hard. Most employers consider recency of experience even if they don't post a recency requirement, and many will take a less experienced candidate that's been flying a lot lately to a high time pilot who hasn't flown in six months. If it's been a while, get back in the game. You may spend some time at a lower-level job than you'd like, or you might have to rent an airplane. If that's the case, don't just bore holes in the sky; grab an instructor and work on an additional rating or certificate.
Any aviation job will require at least a second class medical, but there's no reason to not get a first class medical. If you're under age 40, it's no more complicated than a 2nd class and usually costs the same. If you have a first class medical but it's more than six months old (2nd class privileges), I'd suggest renewing it before beginning the job search.
Milski recently posted a question regarding medical standards for flying jobs. You'll find that in most cases, holding a medical certificate is the standard. Glasses used to be a bigger deal, but these days it's sufficient to have eyes correctable to 20/20. Other limitations or waivers may warrant scrutiny, but most are not a deal-breaker. If I recall correctly, Mesaba once even had a paraplegic Saab 340 captain. A more commonplace example is the color-blind captain I've flown with a few times.
Some major airlines do have their own, tougher medical standards, due to their higher investment in training. It's common practice to have a company doctor administer a physical exam during interviews at these airlines.
Here's a really easy, inexpensive way to improve your qualifications: take your ATP written exam. You don't need to have 1500 hours and you only need to be 21 years old. Already have your ATP? Take the Turbojet Flight Engineer written exam. Although flight engineers are almost a thing of the past, the written is still required at several airlines and can only help at the rest.
If you're already a CFI, I'm not sure that Ground Instructor certificates are worth the paper they're printed on. They can't hurt, though. On the other hand, a Gold Seal Instructor certificate is nice to have on a resume, and that requires an advanced or instrument ground instructor certificate. What the heck, it's a few hours of study time and $65 for a written test.
To get hired, you'll need proof of eligibility for employment. A US Passport will suffice. If you don't have one, get it now because you can no longer go to Mexico or Canada without one, many companies require it, and if you wait until the interview is scheduled you'll pay extra for fast service. Besides, $100 is a small price to pay for 10 years of international travel.
If you're a US Permanent Resident, you'll need to have your paperwork in order, including green card. Most companies will hire foreign pilots who have a right to work in the US, but precious few will sponsor you for permanent resident status.
If your targeted company flies internationally, you may also need a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's Certificate. Like the passport, this can take a while to get, so start now. Here's a link to the FCC's webpage on the subject.
Contacts, References, and Recommendations
You need to be working on these as soon as you start the job search, but it's an important enough topic to warrant its own post.