Friday, March 30, 2007

Where Are Sam & Dawn Now?

Next week is Spring Break at Dawn's school, and the kids aren't the only ones who get to have fun. We're leaving on a trip tonight and won't be coming back until April 8th. In the spirit of my last "Where Is Sam Now?" contest, I'm going to let you guess where we are going. The grand prize is dinner & brews at Rock Bottom Brewery with Dawn & I next time you're in Portland or Seattle. Speaking of which, LoadmasterC141 still has to collect on his prize from last time.

Here's how it goes: I'll post written and/or pictoral clues whenever I can get online. You have to figure out our final destination - city/town/village, not just country. Some of the clues I post may refer to places along the way to our final destination. Moreover, the clues might abruptly change if heavy flight loads force us to an alternate destination.

OK, on with the clues.

1. We will be using several modes of transportation. In all, it will take us 38 hours to get to our destination from the time we embark.

2. Although I rather doubt that Aviatrix has ever flown a Weedwhacker full of pop and chips to where we're going, its name is a form of "Animalname Waterbody."




7. The animal referenced in "Animalname Waterbody" is a turtle. That'll only help you if you know what the translation for turtle is where we are :-).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Landing the Job, Part VII

Interview Prep

The good news about interviewing is that if you get this far, you're more than halfway there. It wouldn't make much sense for an employer to go to the trouble of interviewing you if they didn't want to hire you, would it? The bad news is that a good many people interview without getting job offers, so it's obviously possible to blow your big chance. No pressure, eh?

Having spent so much time and energy to get this far, you want your interview to be perfect, or at least perfect enough to get the job. Therefore you're going to put time and energy into preparing for it. Here are a few tips for making sure you're ready for the big day.

To Gouge or Not To Gouge?

A few companies give applicants extensive information about the interview process, but most will not. This doesn't mean you have to go into your interview completely blind. There is likely information available to you, either from contacts within the company, posters on aviation message boards, or websites specifically devoted to interview gouge like Will Fly For Food or Aviation Interviews.

There's a saying: "You live by the gouge, you die by the gouge." In other words, preparing yourself for your interview solely by other people's information is a double-edged sword. You may show up ultra-prepared, with a perfectly worded and rehearsed answer to every question. Recruiters can easily recognize a candidate who's a gouge junkie. They may adjust their tactics accordingly. Or, knowing that gouge is ready available, employers may peremptorily change their interview once in a while.

I'm not going to say you shouldn't use the gouge. I always have. Just don't rely on it. Be ready for a wide range of questions. Don't over practice your responses - for HR questions, try giving a different response every time you answer a particular question.

What To Practice

From the gouge, you should have a general idea of what elements the company likes to include in their interviews. Your interview will likely include at least a few of the following elements:
  • Personal Interview ("Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?")
  • HR Interview ("Tell me about a time you helped a coworker with a personal problem.")
  • Technical Interview: aircraft systems & procedures, aerodynamics, regulations, IFR procedures, etc.
  • Board Interview - can combine personal, HR, & technical, given before a board that may include HR people, chief pilot, check airmen, or simply senior captains.
  • Written Exam - often based on ATP written.
  • Simulator ride - usually includes a few approaches, holding, perhaps an engine failure.
  • Medical Exam - more common for major airlines.
  • Cognitive Test
  • Psychological Exam and/or tests (MMPI is common)
What your potential employer uses, and what weight they assign each item, will likely determine what you choose to study. I would suggest making a study outline to help yourself organize what needs to be studies and stick to it. Here's what mine would look like for a run of the mill regional airline interview:
  1. Get gouge for HR questions, plus write some of your own. Practice answers and stories for "tell me about a time" questions. Don't overthink wording - just an outline.
  2. Study Gleim ATP written test book.
  3. Study "Airline Pilot Technical Interviews."
  4. Study Jepp Introduction section, including approach & enroute chart legends.
  5. Review systems & limitations for aircraft most recently flown.
  6. Get practice time in type of sim company uses (Frasca 142, ATC-810, etc).
There are some things you can't really practice or study for. Cognitive, psychological, & medical tests are things that disqualify few people; so long as you're relatively smart, fit, and not crazy as a moonbat, you shouldn't stress over them. With personal and HR interviews, also, you want to be thinking of questions they might ask and how you'd answer them, but you want to be yourself and not seem "over-prepared." So don't over-prepare.

Bring In Outside Help

You don't have to do this yourself. At the very minimum, have friends think up HR questions & find a knowledgeable colleague to give you a mock technical interview. For this job, I had several people give me complete mock interviews. You might also consider spending some time with an interview coach. Not to keep lining Kit Darby's pockets, but Air, Inc offers workshops on interviewing and their job fairs usually offer the chance to be mock interviewed by a coach. I've never done this, so I can't say whether it's helpful or not.

If your company conducts a sim ride, you should definitely prepare for this, particularly if you don't have much simulator/FTD time. Sims - FTDs in particular - don't fly much like real airplanes. For that matter, Frascas don't fly much like ATC sims, and vice-versa. Find out what sim the company uses, and get in some practice in something similar. Fly approaches - yes, including NDB - practice holding, crank out some steep what it takes to get within ATP standards. It is possible even on those twitchy Frascas.

Ask around...there are often training outfits near company headquarters that offer sim and/or technical interview prep for the specific company you're interviewing with. It seems like just about everyone at my current airline did prep with Aviation Training Center in Seattle.

Get Your Paperwork in Order

Shortly after you get invited to an interview, you'll probably get a package containing reams of paperwork to complete and bring with you to the interview. Make sure it is impeccable. Check and double-check that you have what they want. This will generally include original copies and photocopies of your certificates, medical, passport, driver's license, logbooks, detailed information on prior employers, etc. Make sure this is all well organized - I would suggest tabbing it for easy reference. Make sure your information on prior employers is up to date...even if they're out of business, you need a current contact number for somebody who can verify you were there.

Even if you've filled out an online application, you may have to fill out another before or during the interview. If it's part of the paperwork you bring to the interview, make it as neat as possible. Find an old typewriter to fill it in or scan it into the computer, fill it in electronically, and print it out in as close to the format of the original as you can do. Printing by hand should be a last resort. If you have to do so, ask your sister with the freakishly neat handwriting to do it for you.

Don't come to the interview bearing armloads of loose papers. Put it in a professional looking briefcase or binder.

Dress for Success

Unless you know your interview is going to be ultra-casual, don't show up in anything less than a three-piece suit. I know, urban legends abound about SWA recruiters telling interviewees to take off their suits and get a SWA teeshirt from the gift store. I don't think it's happened recently, and in any case I'd rather have a recruiter chide me for dressing up than silently noting that I'm inappopriately casual.

Airline interviews are particularly known for attracting identically dressed candidates, to the point that it's almost a joke. Airlines hire lemmings, or at least people who present themselves as lemmings, and dressing at all out of the ordinary is thought to attract unfavorable attention. The uniform de rigeur is: black or dark blue jacket & trousers or skirt, white shirt, muted solid-color tie, & polished black shoes. You'll seldom see anything else. That said, I don't think anyone cares how fashionable your suit is so long as it's clean and presentable, or whether your coat is single or double breasted, or whether it has two or three buttons. So don't feel pressured to go out and buy a new $1000 suit for your interview.

Getting There

Most airlines will provide tickets to get to the interview; everyone else is usually on their own. Even the airline types only get standby tickets, which can be rather useless these days with such high load factors. In any case, make sure you have plenty of time to get there. If this means taking an extra day off work, do it. You don't want to set yourself up for a bad interview by booking a redeye flight that leaves right after you get off work and arrives a few hours before your interview.

Most companies can refer you to a nearby hotel that gives interviewees a good rate. If you stay there, be aware that lots of other company personnel probably stay there, too - maybe even somebody interviewing you tomorrow! Conduct yourself accordingly. A few years ago a group of UND instructors who were in Minneapolis to interview with Mesaba got drunk and trashed a hotel room the night before their interviews. They weren't hired, and neither was anybody else from UND for a while.

If your interview is in the morning, give yourself plenty of time to dress, have a good breakfast, and get to the interview a few minutes early. Don't study until the last minute - it will only serve to further stress you out.

I'll be gone on vacation all of next week; once I get back I'll finish up this series with a few last interviewing tips. In the meantime, I think I'll do another "Where Is Sam Now?" contest. The last one was fun, for me if not for my readers. I'll post it tomorrow or Friday.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Landing the Job, Part VI

Landing the Interview

Usually in aviation, you will have to interview for any job position you seek. The formality and intensity of the interview can vary greatly of course, but very rarely will you have somebody walk up to you and say "Need a King Air pilot. Pay's $50 per hour. Want the job?" A necessary - and most important - step to getting hired, then, is getting invited to an interview. Everything we've discussed so far in this series is really preparation for this step.

Just how you get yourself an interview depends much on the size and corporate culture of the company, how tight the hiring market is, and how many friends you have "on the inside." I've compiled a list of possible ways to get yourself noticed and hopefully on the "call list." You'll use at least one of these in each case, although often you'll have to employ several methods before you get that call.

Send Out Resumes, Willy-Nilly

There's a reason we've been working to perfect your resume and cover letter: you'll be sending them to each of your target companies. There are a few ways you can get them into the hands of the people who matter. You could have a contact at the company walk in your resume and cover letter, or you could show up, introduce yourself, and hand them over. I think either of these methods is superior to sending a resume "cold." But, alas, not all of us have friends in high places or the means/moxie to march into an unfamiliar HR department. So you'll inevitably send some resumes into the void, not knowing whether they end up under the eyes of someone important or relegated to the recycling bin.

For a competitive job, you're unlikely to get an interview with nothing more than an anonymous resume. In some sectors of aviation, though, there are companies so desperate for warm bodies that you'd probably get called if you sent them a business card. Right now, that would be the lower paying regional airlines. Operators like Mesa and Pinnacle have been having such trouble filling their new-hire classes that they've dropped their requirements to nothing more than a fresh commercial-multi certificate and are even offering signing bonuses. Predictably, this is making it harder for flight schools to retain instructors, making for a tight labor market among CFIs as well. In these sectors, you may well get called for an interview simply by sending a resume attesting to the fact that you have a pulse as well as a commercial ticket. If that doesn't work, though, use another method discussed below.

In any event, it's important to make sure your stuff is going to the right place and person. Call the company and verify where and to whom to send pilot resumes. Check websites. Many companies prefer that you email your paperwork. Just make sure it's in plain text or Word format (*.doc).

Get Online, Fill Out Apps

It's increasingly common for regional and major airlines to do part or all of their pilot recruitment via online application. They can get a whole lot more information out of you that way and easily search for applicants that meet any specification. Some companies host applications on their own website, like Alaska & Horizon, jetBlue, and Southwest. Many others use separate websites like AirlineApps, which at last glance served airlines from Continental, Delta, and Frontier through TSA and Mesa. In every case, though, be sure you fill out the application accurately and thoroughly the first time. Little mistakes can hurt you in a big way.

So does filling out an online application negate the need to send in a resume & cover letter? In most cases I would say no. Send them in anyways. It may be useful to reference your online application in the cover letter. Different companies weigh applications vs resumes differently. Delta, for example, appears to rely exclusively on their application system to select candidates, while anecdotal evidence suggests that one cannot get an interview at Continental without one's resume passing over the chief pilot's desk at least once.

Get Some Face Time

When you send in a resume or fill out an online application, you're pretty anonymous - just another face in the crowd. Sometimes that's ok, if the company needs a lot of pilots and you have strong qualifications. For many jobs, though, the company wants to know the people they bring in to interview, either directly or through a current employee. This is particularly true of corporate gigs.

You don't need to have friends in high places - you can always make contact yourself. The key is finding out who's really in charge of hiring and seek them out. Here's one place that aviation message boards can really help you...while somebody you meet on a message board probably won't vouch for you to their boss, they'll likely be happy to point you in the right direction. They can also warn you if their company looks down on calls from applicants...some do.

Depending on the situation, you might talk to the contact via phone or in person. The important thing is to stress how interested you are in this job and that you'd like to know how you can make yourself a more attractive candidate.

Job fairs are excellent for making this sort of contact. A friend of mine met our airline's chief pilot at a job fair while he was still a PPL. The chief pilot told him to give him a call when he hit 1000 hours total time. My friend did so, three years later. The chief pilot remembered him and invited him to an interview shortly thereafter. Air, Inc holds popular job fairs periodically, but you have to pay $175-200 to get in. Hey, somebody has to support Kit Darby since UA terminated his pension. Women in Aviation and Organization of Black Airline Pilots both hold job fairs that are heavily attended by airlines. Many general aviation conferences have recruiters from smaller airlines and flight schools attend, as well.

If you go to a job fair, make sure you look sharp and bring sheaves of resumes. I'd suggest bringing a personalized resume for every company you think you might talk to and some generic resumes for everyone else.

Send Your Contacts to Bat for You

The sad truth today is that it's just as much about who you know as how qualified you are. It's probably a lot less sad if you're close personal friends with the chief pilot at FedEx. There are a number of ways your contacts can help you out.

Letters of recommendation can be very helpful, particularly if you've known your contact for a while and/or flown with them. If you don't have any contacts at your target company, a good LOR can still help if it's from a chief pilot or check airman at a previous company. You can enclose a LOR with your resume when you send it in, or your contact can walk it in.

You don't need to mail in your resume and cover letter. You can have your contact walk it in to the chief pilot, HR, or whoever else does the hiring. This generally gets it put in the "priority pile," especially when accompanied by a good LOR.

Remember that some companies have a formalized recommendation process, or a "silver bullet." Ask your contact if their company has such a thing. Even if it doesn't, internal recommendations almost always carry significant weight. Besides writing a LOR, your contact may be willing to go talk to the chief pilot or otherwise throw their weight around.

Be Persistent

When aviation companies first hire you, they're often making a significant investment in training costs. They're desperately hoping you stick around long enough for them to recoup their investment. Therefore, persistence is an attribute all aviation companies look for in potential candidates. Once you've made contact, don't let up. Send updated resumes frequently. Update your online resume often. Keep calling the important people. Have your contacts follow up with their people. Don't get discouraged. It can take months to pester someone into giving you an interview, even when you're well qualified for the job and less qualified people seem to be getting the call. I tried getting into my current company for nine months before I get an interview. In that time I sent monthly updated resumes, had friends walk in LORs, and regularly called a contact in HR. Finally I had a friend introduce me to an assistant chief pilot, who referred me another assistant chief. That turned out to be the trick & I was invited to interview a few days later.

When you get an invitation to interview, accept it. Try to schedule it for a convenient day but if there are none to be found, schedule it anyways and do whatever you need to do to get there. Turning down an interview often means you won't get another chance.

In the next post, we'll cover preparing for the interview.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

MegaWhacker Emergency Landing

Interesting MegaWhacker news from Japan: an All Nippon Airways megawhacker made the news this morning with a nosewheelless emergency landing in Kochi, Japan. Video can be seen here. The forward bottom fuselage held up pretty well and the pilots didn't seem to have any problem with directional control. The Megawhacker has been plagued with landing gear problems since pretty much day one, although as far as I know none of ours have landed without all three down and locked. The Flightinfo rumor is that ANA has grounded their MegaWhacker fleet for now, although I can't find anything to support that.

Landing the Job, Part V

The Cover Letter

There seems to be an awful lot of apprehension surrounding cover letters. I think it has to do with the fact that we don't send many actual letters here in the third millennium, and most of us are a little out of practice on our letter writing. Also, while we're all aware that we should have a cover letter to accompany our resume, many have only a vague notion of what it's for or what's supposed to go into it.

Simply put, the purpose of a cover letter is to introduce yourself to your prospective employer. If you're not meeting them in person, this is going to be their first impression of you. It needs to be a good one for them to call you in for an interview. Your goal is to introduce yourself, summarize your qualifications, stress why the company would benefit from hiring you, and ask for an interview.

What I just described is actually just one type of cover letter, albeit the most common: the introductory letter. You would write it to accompany any resume you were sending out "blind" or having a friend walk in. If you were meeting in person with the chief pilot or HR person, your cover letter would be somewhat different in tone and content. The same goes for subsequent updated resumes that you send the company. In each case, though, you should be writing a cover letter to go with your resume.

Now I don't mean to say that every time you hand out your resume, you should have a cover letter attached. To tell you the truth, I think a poorly tailored, overly generic cover letter is more useless than no cover letter at all, so you shouldn't be carrying around a one-size-fits-all cover letter just in case someone asks for your resume. However, anytime you are planning on submitting your resume for a company's consideration, you should write a cover letter to go with it.

This infers that every cover letter should be custom written for the company you are submitting it to. This is absolutely necessary, to an even greater extent than with your resume. This customization starts with your heading and opening. You should know the exact name, title, and address of the person you are submitting your cover letter and resume to. If you don't know it, call somebody who does. When you recap your qualifications, keep in mind what sort of pilot the company is looking for and stress your high points accordingly. Show that you have knowledge of the company's background and operational environment.

Keep in mind that a cover letter is a business letter and should be written accordingly. If you've never been taught how to write a proper business letter, there are some good pointers here and here. It's normal practice to use block formatting when writing cover letters. Proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar are critical. Get several sets of eyes to proofread your cover letter before sending it.

In your opening, reference any prior contact you've had with the person you're addressing. If you talked with them at a job fair a few years ago, mention that. It shows that you have a long-standing interest in this job. If they gave you some pointers by phone recently, express your thanks for their time.

In the opening, you should also specify which job you are applying for. This should match the objective section of your resume. Here's where it's more permissible to tap into the creativity you left off of your resume.

When summarizing your qualifications, reference your enclosed resume and just hit the high points. Example: "As you can see from my enclosed resume, I have been flying multi engine aircraft under Part 135 for the last two years. I have over 1500 hours of multi engine time, much of it at night and under instrument conditions." Try to make it relevant to the job you're applying for: "My experience is in conditions very similar to those that FlyByNight pilots operate in every day, making someone of my background a natural fit for FlyByNight Inc."

Another possible tactic when summarizing qualifications is to use bullets, as follows:
As you can see from the resume I have attached for your consideration, my qualifications and experience mesh very well with FlyByNight's operation:
  • ATP certificate with SA227 type rating
  • Two years full-time Part 135 freight experience
  • Over 3200 hours total time
  • Over 1500 hours in complex multi engine aircraft, including 500 turbine
  • Nearly 1000 hours at night and over 300 in IMC
Naturally, the cover letter is going to be about you. Your challenge is to make it sound like it's about the company and why they would benefit by hiring you. Avoid excessive usage of the word "I." Instead of saying "I think that I would be a valuable addition to FlyByNight," say "FlyByNight Inc, as the nation's leading transporter of time-critical widgets, would benefit greatly from my training, experience, and work ethic."

In your closing, don't be afraid to ask for an interview. Re stress your interest in the job and give several ways the addressee might contact you to invite you to an interview. Thank the addressee for their time and consideration.

Don't forget to put "Enclosure" after the signature block, assuming that you're indeed enclosing a resume.

Print the cover letter on the same nice paper that you're using for your resume. Don't fold it.


OK - so you've been researching jobs, spiffing up your qualifications, working your contacts, and putting together a killer resume and cover letter. It's time to get you an interview - by applying online, sending your resume & CL to the appropriate people, having your contacts go to bat for you, and maybe doing a little in-person groveling. That's the subject for the next post.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Landing the Job, Part IV Postscript

Thanks to all who commented on my last post. It was rather personal but getting all that off my chest definitely helped.

Before I dive back into the Flying Careers series with Part V, I wanted to post a final note in response to a comment on Part IV. Norman wrote that he's always had trouble with the "Objective" section of the resume, and noted that "in the [modern] age of computers where electronically submitted resumes are linked to specific job postings, mating a particular resume to a particular job position in the objective seems unnecessary." He also mentioned that the most often given advice on objectives - keep it to one sentence or less - "severely throttles the ability of the writer to distinguish him/herself from the rest of the applicants." After all, doesn't the HR person know what job you're applying for? Why not use the objective section to show you have a firm grasp on what the job involves and are prepared to meet the challenge?

Norman, you have a point. Including an objective line reading "To obtain a position as a crewmember with XYZ airlines" is dull, unimaginative, redundant...and most likely the best thing to do, at least for most aviation jobs. Here's my reasoning:

If I were king of the world, I would banish the objective line to a lonely and indefinite exile. It really has no purpose in the modern world. Most resumes would be very complete without one, in my opinion. That said, most HR people cite the lack of an objective line as a major reason for throwing your resume in the recycling bin - something about showing lack of focus or some such poppycock. So out of tradition or whatever, continue to slavishly include an objective line.

But why not have some fun with it? If it's required, why not be creative and put something there that's actually useful and sets you apart from the rest? In the case of a non-aviation resume, it might not be a bad idea. Some of Norman's objective ideas would be great were I applying for a managerial position. For most aviation jobs, though, you wouldn't want to use them. Most aviation companies - particularly airlines - want conservative, disciplined, almost drone-like pilots, and your resume and cover letter should do nothing to destroy their depressingly boring image of you. This is why I stick to the tried-and-true chronological resume and shy away from such attention-getting innovations such as the functional resume. It's also why you should refrain from sending a resume on pink, perfumed paper, no matter how pretty you feel inside.

There's one possible exception. If you're shooting for a job that you're generally underqualified for - a long shot - it just might be worth it to get yourself noticed with an innovative objective line or resume format. Personally, I like to send tins of cookies to the HR people.