Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Loss of Hope

I haven't posted in almost two weeks. It hasn't been for lack of time: I've been home since my last post, having called in sick for my last trip. I've had a lot going on, which I'll relate below, and even now I can't work up the motivation to post about flying while I'm still thinking about the events of last week. So that means this post or no post at all.

I wasn't certain whether to blog about this subject at all. It's intensely personal, and I could've easily kept it to myself. That said, one of the things I've appreciated over the last week was hearing from other people who've gone through the same thing. The idea that this post could help somebody in my situation is comforting. Plus, maybe writing will be cathartic enough to spare me a few hours on a therapist's couch in the future.

Some of you may have noticed a change in my behavior since New Year's Day: the sudden career angst, the flurry of travel, the veiled references to major life changes. That's because on January 1st I found out that I was going to be a father. It was unexpected, earth-shattering, unsettling, and quite wonderful. Since then, Dawn and I have been adjusting to the idea of being parents, planning for the attendant lifestyle changes, and dreaming - until last week, when we lost the baby.

We knew the statistics on miscarriage, particularly for first pregnancies, but tried not to think about them much. Dawn had fears, which I duly played down: "I'm sure we'll be fine, you don't need to worry." In all the planning and dreaming about how our lives would change, we never planned for the possibility that they wouldn't. Now we're left with nothing but a half-empty bottle of prenatal pills, a shelved copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, a strip of ultrasound pictures, and a "I (Heart) NY" onesie we bought on our NYC trip. The next seven months are suddenly a blank.

In our excitement, we'd told our families and most of our friends that we were expecting. Telling them that we aren't anymore was heart wrenching. I still haven't told a few. They were all so excited for us before - but what can you say to this? I wouldn't have known how to comfort someone in my situation outside of well-worn platitudes. Our house smells of the many flower bouquets that were sent to us, and the pile of cards on the counter contain so much sympathy that it's starting to grate on me. The truth is, a week's outpouring of condolences has me numbed to the point that I don't feel nearly as bad as people think I do, or perhaps think I should.

Before I found out Dawn was pregnant, I was ambivalent about kids. I knew I wanted them, but mostly in the abstract: "I'd like to have kids, someday." I didn't feel the need to immediately start a family and disrupt my well-ordered, comfortable lifestyle. After the initial shock of impending parenthood wore off, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself eager and excited about having children. The things that I'd be losing that I'd previously held dear - leisure time, carefree travel, a peaceful house - I scarcely gave a second thought to. I had no idea the reordering of priorities would come so quickly or naturally. The talk about how drastically having kids changes your life...I had always taken it to be a natural consequence of having your life overrun by messy, needy little invaders. I realize now it's the other way around. I very much wanted to have my life overrun by a messy, needy little invader of my own. And then the rug was pulled out from under me. I once again have my leisure time and carefree travel and peaceful house, and I don't particularly want them. It all seems like a rather cruel joke.

The baby was still very young - around nine weeks when it died in early February. It had a beating heart, but only rudimentary cardiopulmonary and nervous systems. If its brain was functioning yet, it certainly couldn't register pain, much less any sort of self-awareness. I take some comfort in that. A late term miscarriage would be harder. The loss is still real and goes beyond the loss of the fetus itself - it's moreso a loss of the hope that the tiny developing person represented. Dawn and I talked about what we thought it'd be and what we'd name him or her, and which room would be the nursery, and how we'd handle childcare, and how we'd take our kid to Switzerland once they were old enough to get a kick out of running around the Alps. On January 3rd I wrote my child a letter for them to read on their 18th birthday. There was an entire lifetime of possibilities in our minds that died, and that hurt as much or more than the actual death.

I know we're not the only ones who've gone through this, which helps prevent endless wallowing in pity and belief that God harbors a unique and deepseated personal hatred for me. Plenty of other couples have dealt with miscarriage - to say nothing of worse forms of loss - and we'll be alright. There will likely be other children in our future, and I finally know how I really feel about that. That's one silver lining, if I must search one out; the other is that Dawn is fine. I absolutely could not handle something happening to her. I'd come apart.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Landing the Job, Part IV

Writing a Strong Resume

Up to this point, you've come up with a list of jobs you're interested in, got your qualifications up to snuff, and started working your contacts. Now it's time to put together a strong resume.

Now, if you're like me, you slapped together a resume the same day you passed your Commercial checkride and updated it every week for the first thousand hours. A resume can almost always be improved, though, and it never hurts to go back and review the basics. I kept the same resume format from my first CFI gig through my current airline job, and only recently gave it a complete overhaul. The result is a cleaner, more readable resume that will (hopefully) contribute toward me getting an interview.

The Fundamentals

A resume is simply a brief summary of your qualifications and experience. From your standpoint, its purpose is to get you an interview. It is not a job application, it is not a recap of your life story. Your goal should be brevity, clarity, and good organization. Your purpose is to make it as easy as possible for a recruiter or chief pilot to pick out the important information about you at a glance. It should never be longer than one page.

The key to putting together a good resume is thinking like a recruiter. If you were going to hire somebody for this position, what things would you want to know before calling them in for an interview? That's what you should put on your resume - and no more. Most large companies have stacks of resumes and the last thing the HR person wants to do is work their way through your bloated resume when they have another 50 to scan before coffee break.

Your resume should always be tailored to each specific company. The most obvious place to do this is in the Objective section, but it should be reflected in other elements as well. If your targeted company requires 500 hours of night time, make sure you include night time in your flight experience section. The work experience section should be appropriate for the type of job you're applying to. A job fueling planes at the local FBO may be relevant when applying for a CFI job but not for a major airline.

Unless the recruiter or chief pilot personally knows you, your resume is all they have to judge you by. Appearance counts. The organization should be logical and the layout uncluttered. Use the same format throughout. Proper spelling and punctuation is critical - most recruiters could rant for hours about how many resumes they receive with glaring misspellings. Finally, don't put together a beautifully arranged resume only to print it on cheap paper with your home ink jet printer. Go to a stationary store and pick out some high-quality medium weight paper (white or off-white) and have a print shop laser-print your resume onto it.

The Elements

Again, you should be tailoring your resume to each prospective employer. That means that you may choose to include certain elements on some resumes but not on others. You might also mix up the order of elements depending on each one's importance to your targeted job. Here are all the elements you might find on a pilot's resume:
  • Name. This should be in a prominent font at or near the top of the page.
  • Contact information. I put address, phone number, and email address. This can be before or after your name at the top of the page, or even at the bottom. It's okay to use a fairly small font for this, but make sure it's readable.
  • Objective. Specify which job you're applying for. Use the lingo in the job posting! If the company is hiring "Flight Officers," say you wish to obtain a "Flight Officer" position.
  • Education. If you don't have any education after high school, you could probably delete this element for any job beyond CFI. Otherwise put the name and location of institutions attended, dates attended, and coursework/degree. You might include a GPA if it's decent.
  • Certificates. List your pilot certificates, medicals, knowledge exams, etc. Include instructor certificates - make sure to mention if you're a Gold Seal Instructor. You could also list your FCC radiotelephone operator's permit, passports held, etc, but that is generally unnecessary. Security clearances could be listed here if relevant.
  • Flight Time. This section can get easily cluttered, so be careful in arranging the information, and generally list only what is important for the job you're applying to. If you're applying for a job in the Alaskan bush, tailwheel time is very relevant, but it's not if you're applying for a B767 position. Don't use the word "hours," it's pretty much implied.
  • Military experience. If you have it, list it! Most aviation employers value it highly enough that I'd put it in a separate section from "Work Experience," even if your military job didn't involve flying.
  • Work experience. You could really go overboard on this section if you actually put all your work experience. I've always used "Aviation Work Experience." Now I use "Air Carrier Experience" and list only FAR 135/121 jobs. Someday I'll probably make it "Airline Experience." The point is, you don't need to list every job you've ever held - that's what an application is for. List what is important to the person who decides whether to interview you. Whatever jobs you list, put the company name, location, job title, and dates. Then, give a brief description of what you did at each job. Use active case whenever possible.
  • Awards, Scholarships, Recognition. You can usually skip this section unless you have something that's really impressive. Early in your career, though, it may help flesh out an otherwise skimpy resume.
  • Hobbies & Leisure. Amazingly enough, some people still list these on resumes. Don't be one of them. You can wait for the interview to tell the chief pilot you like long walks on the beach at sunset.
  • References. I've never put references on my resume: if the company wants them, they'll ask for them on the application. Still, I used to have a "References: Available Upon Request" line in my resume. It really wasn't necessary, and in retrospect it contributed to resume clutter.
  • Availability. This is another one you see on many resumes, and is also pretty unnecessary. In aviation there is only one correct answer to the availability question: "Immediately."
Get a Second Opinion (and 3rd, and 4th, etc)

You are the least qualified person to critique your resume. Once you're done with the first draft, get other people to proofread it! Keep in mind that your resume is but one in a giant stack of immaculate, mistake-free resumes from other qualified aviators. You don't want to give HR an excuse to toss it in the recycling bin.

Besides checking your spelling, punctuation, and grammar, have your proofreaders evaluate the formatting and readability of your resume. I have a friend who works in an HR department (non-aviation) and she's been extremely helpful in this regard. If you can find someone similar, you'll be ahead of the game.

It's a Work in Progress!

Don't commit yourself to a static resume. Print out several versions and compare them, show them to friends, take notes on them. When you get "final" versions made at a print shop, do it in small quantities (one or two copies apeice) since each company should have its own version and you'll need to have updates made for each company. This lessens your committment to any particular resume and allows you greater freedom to make changes as you see areas that can be improved.

One last note. I'll be covering sending your resume in another post, but until then, make sure the nice copies stay protected in a folder - your resume should never be folded.

An Example

Here's a copy of one of my recent resumes, with personal information redacted. This is targeted at a major airline.

Next post: Writing Cover Letters.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Landing the Job, Part III

Contacts, References, and Recommendations

A common misconception among newcomers to aviation is that airlines and other potential employers hire the most qualified, most experienced pilots. The reality is that while most employers have minimum qualifications to apply, those pilots chosen to interview are often picked based on who they know rather than how many hours they have. In this career, networking is everything - especially when the job market is tight.

I didn't come to this realization until I'd been flying commercially for a while. One of my biggest career regrets is that I didn't put more energy into networking early on. I've met many pilots who'd be in a position to help me if I'd made the effort to stay in touch. At the time, they might say "give me a call if you're interested in flying for UPS" and I'd think Suuure, with all of my 150 hours! It was very shortsighted of me. It's never too early to start networking.

In my last post I described how to start preparing for application at the same time you begin the job hunt. Simultaneously, you'll want to begin organizing and working the contacts you've made over the years.

Organizing Your Contacts

It's not a bad idea to keep a list or file of contacts from Day One of your aviation career. If you haven't yet, now's a fine time to start. The first step is to make a list of every single person you know who works in aviation, whether they appear to be in a position to help you or not. Consider who you know in each of the following categories:
  • Personal friends
  • Family and family friends
  • Current and former coworkers
  • Former supervisors
  • Former flight instructors
  • Old college or military buddies
  • Random acquaintances (ride in a friendly Delta pilot's jumpseat lately?)
After you've written down the names of all your potential contacts, make a file using 4 x 6 cards. Alternatively, create a computer database. On each 4 x 6 card, write your contact's name, last known address and phone number, email address, employer, and position. Make a note of how you know the person, when you met them, and how well you know them. Have they flown with you? As you write this information down, consider how each contact might be best suited to help you. Some possible roles your contacts might play:
  • Telling you about job openings
  • Giving you specific advice for applying to a particular company
  • Serving as a reference
  • Writing a letter of recommendation
  • Walking in your resume to HR or the Chief Pilot
  • Facilitating a meeting with the person in charge of hiring
  • Sponsoring you, at companies with "silver bullet" programs
The role each contact plays will be a function of their proximity to the people in charge of hiring as well as how well they know you. That Delta pilot whose jumpseat you rode in last week would probably be happy to tell you more about how their hiring process works, but it'd be rather rash to ask him to write a letter of recommendation.

Working Your Contacts

At the same time that you start looking for job openings, you should work through your contact list, giving each person a call, letter, or email. If it's been a while since you've talked to some of your contacts, you may have to do some digging for updated phone numbers or addresses. I've found the FAA certificated airman database a useful tool, although it only gives you addresses. Use this initial call to catch up with your contact. Let them know you're looking for a job and ask if they've heard of any openings (at their company or elsewhere). If you know the person well, ask them if they'd be willing to serve as a reference or write a letter of recommendation once you know where you're applying. If you don't know them well or if you haven't talked to them in a long time, you're probably better off just having a friendly conversation, and if they feel like helping you, they'll likely volunteer.

After this initial contact, stay in touch with your contacts - particularly those who appear to be potentially useful. Every time you talk with a contact, make a note of it on their card.

Lining Up References

Many employers with a formal application process require that you list three or more references on your application. You can decide who to list well ahead of time. In general, you should have at least one personal and two professional references. It's best if your professional references are in a position of authority - former supervisors, chief pilots, and check airmen are excellent - and they should be people you've known for some time. Many companies require that you've known one reference for at least 10 years. You might use different references for different applications, particularly if you can list somebody who works at your target company.

You should have your references' foreknowledge and approval before you list them on any application. Nobody likes getting blindsided with a call from your potential employer. This should go without saying, but make sure your references actually like you and know enough about you to be able to convincingly say good things about you.

You'll usually need to list your references' names, addresses, phone/fax numbers, email addresses, and how long you've known them.

Letters of Recommendation

A good letter of recommendation can make all the difference between your application getting noticed or languishing in the "cold cases" file. Here are a few guidelines for letters of recommendation:
  • Letters from current employees of your target company are the most valuable. The longer they've been there, the better. Best of all are letters from check airmen or other management pilots. Granted, not all of us are close friends with check airmen at Southwest... if the only person you know there is a ramper, a letter still can't hurt!
  • Retirees can also have significant pull at many companies.
  • Letters from former bosses are good. Every time I've left a job, I've asked my boss for a letter of recommendation. They can attest to your work ethic and job performance.
  • You should try to have at least one letter from somebody you've flown with. A few companies even require multiple letters attesting to your flying skills. Again, a letter from an ex-coworker who is now a line pilot at your target company is best. If you don't know any well enough to ask them for a LOR, ask any pilot you've flown with a lot, or better yet, a check airman you've taken checkrides with.
  • A letter specific to your target company is better than a generic letter. Give your letter-writer the name and address of the person in charge of hiring, assuming you know who this is (see Part 1).
  • It's not uncommon for potential letter-writers to say, "Just write the letter yourself and then I'll sign it." If you ghost-write your own LOR, go easy on the exuberance and don't gush about yourself. Keep it honest and low-key.
  • LORs should be written in business style and have a professional appearance. Be prepared to show your writer how to do this if they've never written business letters (you'd be surprised).
  • Proofread the letter thoroughly. If there are mistakes in spelling, grammar, or formatting, tactfully point them out to your letter-writer and ask them to correct it. You may get a letter beyond saving. I once got a letter from an ex-boss that was almost incomprehensible due to a tragic combination of misspellings, run-on sentances, non-sequiters, and colloquialisms. It was also in all caps. I thanked the writer gracefully and promptly trashed the letter. Using it would have been a very bad reflection on myself.
The "Silver Bullet"

The surest way to get an interview is personal effort by an employee at your target company. A Letter of Recommendation is only one way they act on your behalf. If you know the employee well enough, here are some other ways they might help you out.

Several airlines have a formal program known as the "Silver Bullet" (Alaska, Frontier) or sponsorship (FedEx, CAL) through which a current line pilot can move your resume to the top of the stack. Each pilot normally has a single bullet or sponser slot to use each year, so it's a big deal for them to use it on you.

Even at companies lacking a formal silver bullet program, an employee walking in your resume often has the same effect of sending you to the top of the list. This is particularly true at corporate flight departments...many don't even look at resumes unless they're walked in by current pilots.

After walking in your resume, the employee may be able to continue to bring attention to it by delivering updates or simply talking to the chief pilot or HR person every few weeks. Sometimes a simple reminder from an employee makes the difference.

If all else fails, the employee may be able to facilitate a meeting with somebody who has hiring "pull." This is how I got the interview at my current company. A buddy gave me a tour of our Ops Center, we ran into an assistant chief pilot, my buddy introduced us, and the assistant chief gave my information to the guy in charge of interviews. I got called a few days later. Five minutes of face-to-face accomplished what nine months of updated resumes, phone calls with HR, and several employee letters of recommendation did not.

In Closing...

Networking really is often the most important aspect of getting a flying job. At some companies, it's the way to get a job. Treat the process of building contacts as importantly as the process of earning certificates and building hours. Then, when you're hunting for a job, use those contacts to your advantage. Finally, be willing to help others in their job hunts any way you can. Karma is strong in aviation.

Next Post: Putting together a strong resume.

PS - I'm not at all adverse to using this blog as a way to gain contacts! I'd love email, you can find my address in my profile.

Monday, February 05, 2007

36 Hours in NYC

It was Dawn's birthday on Sunday, so we went to New York for the weekend to celebrate. We hopped on a jetBlue redeye on Friday night, arrived early Saturday morning, and came back on Sunday night. Here's a short photographic rundown of our time in the Big Apple.

Did I say "short?" Just kidding.

I love the subway. If I lived in a city that had a system as extensive as New York's, I'd ditch my car immediately. Incidently, 75% of Manhattanites agree. I do have one gripe: $2 to go anywhere on the subway, but $5 for the five minute connection from JFK to the subway on AirTrain. Grr.

This is exactly how much hotel room $148 buys you in midtown Manhattan. I'm not complaining - we didn't spend much time in the room, and it was a great location (50th & Broadway). It's the Amsterdam Court Hotel, if you're interested.

Dawn and I started our morning by taking the train to Brooklyn and walking back across the Brooklyn Bridge promenade. The bridge was quite a feat of engineering in 1883 and is still impressive today. If you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you...

This was incidently the point at which we realized we picked a really cold weekend to visit New York. Saturday had a high of 30 and Sunday perhaps 25, which wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for a 20 mph gusty wind. Winters in SoCal and the PNW have made me go soft. New York would dewussify me quickly.

Lower Manhattan from the bridge. The twin towers used to dominate this scene, as none of these buildings are more than 952 feet tall.

God and Mammon. Heh. Trinity Church's steeple was the tallest structure in Manhattan from 1846 until 1890.

Contrary to popular belief, the charging bull statue isn't by the NYSE building. It's several blocks away on the southern edge of the financial district. It's generally overrun by tourists giggling at its bronze bullocks. I successfully resisted the urge to photograph its posterior.

Fritz Koenig's sculpture, "The Sphere." It originally stood in the WTC plaza and was damaged; it's now a temporary memorial in Battery Park.

Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan. This was all originally part of the harbour; dirt from the original WTC excavation in the 1970s provided the landfill to build the park.

Manhattan from the ferry to Liberty Island. You can see part of Brooklyn Bridge at far right and the Empire State Building in the distance on the left.

Yes, this entire post contains photos of iconic landmarks you've seen hundreds of times in film and print and could imagine quite well with your eyes closed. Well, except for the last four pictures. Skip there if you're bored.

The Registry Room at Ellis Island. Both Dawn and I have ancestors that passed through this room.

OK, so Radio City Music Hall is iconic and all, and I'm sure it'd be quite lovely to see a performance there. But a tour for $17? There can't be anything that interesting to see on a tour...is there? If anybody's done it, let me know.

Dawn and I ate at Afghan Kebab House #1 on 9th Ave between 51st and 52nd streets, and highly recommend it. No pics, though.

Every show and movie set in New York (IE the half that aren't set in LA) has featured the central concourse of Grand Central Station. It is pretty cool.

View of midtown from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building; the Chrysler Building can be seen at right. Want to hear something really sick? When the WTC was around, the Empire State Building charged $6 admission to the observatory. With that competition gone, prices have skyrocketed to $18. All the more reason to get Freedom Tower built.

Midtown West. The bright spot at lower left is Times Square.

Looking south towards downtown. To coax my cheap digicam into taking a clear shot, I had to hold it still in winds gusting up to about 40 kt on this side of the building.

Looking up at the spire and radio mast. The 102nd floor observatory of An Affair to Remember fame is up there. That'll be an extra $15, please! Notice how many of my gripes have to do with money? If there is a cheap bone in your body, being a pilot will bring it to the forefront.

Looking down Broadway at Times Square. By 11pm we were more than ready to call it a day.

Refreshed with bagels & coffee, we were ready to go again on Sunday. Well, not "go" quite as much as take it easy and see a Broadway show, "Momma Mia!" First we set out to see just how cold it'd be walking through Times Square in a skirt...for Dawn, not me. She reported it as being "continuous severe to extreme cold." She's a good candidate for aviation dork, I think!

Here's the "Times Square Shuffle" - 7th Ave and Broadway join up.

Fresh from the show (it was good but sorry, no pics), we say goodbye to New York before taking the E train back to JFK.

Okay, as promised I have four pictures of a great landmark you may have not seen before. The only recent movie it's been featured in is Catch Me if You Can. Vacant for now but soon to reopen as part of jetBlue's new terminal, this is the Eero Saarinen designed TWA Flight Center, otherwise known as Terminal 5.

I love this building - not just because it's an airline terminal or associated with TWA, although those factors do play into it. I remember the first time I saw it. It was while I was an intern for TWA, and I was jumpseating to Cairo. We'd just landed in JFK at night, and from the cockpit I spied this great glowing winged insect cum spaceship. I was about to ask what it was when I saw the neon TWA on the roof. I couldn't believe something that beautiful and strange and graceful and impractical could ever be an airline terminal. These days the bean counters would never allow it. There were a lot of questions about Terminal 5's future after American bought TWA; I'm really excited that jetBlue is going to put the proper effort into restoration and then put it back into use. It's such a fitting place to begin an adventure.

The NYC pictures that are conspicuously absent, of course, are those of Ground Zero. It wasn't really a question of propriety, at least not after seeing all the street vendors hawking 9/11 merch all around the site. It's moreso because there's nothing to see. It's a big hole in the ground and an increasingly busy construction site for Freedom Tower. I felt almost nothing looking at it. It'd compare it to when I take off from Runway 24L at LAX. Although I know that's where a Skywest Metroliner and USAir 737 collided in 1991, I never feel any of the sorrow or angst I associate with fatal plane crashes. Any artifact of the carnage has long been cleared away and it's now simply a point in space where something happened. My eyes stayed dry at WTC.

Until I started looking at the photo exhibit, at least. The temporary memorial at the site consists of several dozen enlarged photographs on posterboard mounted to the construction fence. For better or worse, they're very effective at conjuring up the essence of that hellish scene. Many don't show the WTC at all, but rather capture reactions from New Yorkers like the ones I'd spend the day around. The look on their faces as they watched the towers fall or as they fled down debris-choked streets was far more poignant than the pit beyond the fence.

Anyways, it was a great weekend together. Next stop: Wenatchee, WA. Weekend after that: Marquette, MI. I could get used to having weekends off! But I promise - I'll post the next installment of Landing the Job soon!