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 turns...do 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.

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