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.


IWishIWasFlying said...


Would you recommend that a Instrument Student, such as myself, attend an event like the one mentioned in this post? I'd be kinda embarrassed when asked about my current time and experience flying. I understand that everyone was a low time pilot at one point or another, but wouldn't it be wasting the time of the personnel there who are looking for qualified people?

Anonymous said...

I do not work in the aviation industry, so take this with a grain of salt:

I think going to the job fairs would be a great thing, so long as you have an idea of what you want from it and what you are likely to get from it. Surely you would not expect to land a job given your still-in-development qualifications. However, you can take that opportunity to ask the people there what kinds of things they expect or look for in candidates once they have reached the required minimum qualification.

The other obvious benefit from attending is that it is an opportunity to make some contacts, which you can then develop as you work on your flight training. Then, when you are qualified and ready to go look for a job, you can draw on an already-established circle of contacts to help you out.

Although not a pilot, I did a similar thing recently when I went to a career fair. I was not looking for a job, but wanted to talk to some company representatives about what kinds of things they looked for in their Ph.D.-holding job candidates (because I am going to attend graduate school in the fall). I told the reps this up front so they did not waste time trying to sell their company to me, and we could talk about other things.

I was able to get some advice from the reps, some better than others. Yes there were people there who didn't have much interest in talking with me if I was not looking for a position, but I found that many people were willing to chat. The funny thing was that there were a few reps who I was able to get into really good conversations with, because I was different than all the other people they talked to in that I was not there to hound them for a job. This probably put both myself and the reps more at ease, opening the possibility for a more relaxed, informal conversation. I ended up getting some pretty good insider info that way.


Sam said...

IWishIWasFlying, I was going to answer your comment but Norman did so quite well. By all means, attend job fairs now - just tell recruiters straight away that you're going through flight training now and want to get an idea of what they're looking for so you can better prepare yourself. They won't be annoyed, and it's a great way to make contacts early on.

Air, Inc job fairs are kinda high intensity, I think... might be more relaxing (and less expensive!) to do it at a regional aviation conference or the WAI/OBAP gettogethers if you belong to either of those organizations (and FYI, you don't have to be a woman to belong to WAI). For example, the friend I referenced in the post met our chief pilot at the Northwest Aviation Conference & Trade Show in Puyallup WA.

Flygirl said...

Just a little something to add...I just wrote a rec. letter for a friend of mine applying for a mainline airline. They called me back for more info and made a comment stating how impressed they were that this pilot (my friend) asked for a rec. from one of his flight attendants. They are huge on 'team' and were greatful to have a reference from someone who works with him in the back. flight attendants are good for something! ;)