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.


SloppyPilot said...

Good resume tips. It's intesting to me to see an non-technical resume.

In my experience, once you have 5 years or so past your degree, forget the GPA, no one cares about it At that point their intersted in the experince only.

One note on the email address; Hotmail doesn't have a great rep(in my universe), I'd recommend a gmail account.

Good luck on your personal search.

Anonymous said...

Another place where you can find useful information on how to write a perfect resume:

Anonymous said...

I have always had trouble with the "Objective" portion of the resume. To me it has seemed like a waste of precious space more than anything. Especially in the mdoern 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 uneccesary.

Adding to the dilemma, I have always received very strict advice as to how the objective should be worded. Many people will tell you even that more than one sentence is too wordy- and yet others have told me that even one complete sentence is too much. This restriction may help reduce lifeling-story sized objectives, but it severely throttles the ability of the writer to distinguish him/herself from the rest of the applicants. There are only so many combinations of [position title], [company name], "obtain", and "I" that you can put together, making everybody's "objective phrase" ending up all sounding similar and unproductive. If more wording were allowed in the objecive- say "I would like to obtain the position of manager at company X with the aim of improving productivity/profits by implementing [list one or two specific cost-cutting and efficiency-increasing measures]..." you might be able to distinguish yourself and show them that you have a real interest in the job other than "just obtaining this position"

The objective is nearly always stated in some very simple terms like "To obtain a position as [insert position title here] with..." and to me that has always been a major DUH. If I didn't want to obtain Position X in Company Y, why would I even be applying in the first place?

This may not be the most relavent discussion in an aviation-related resume, but just thought I would share my opinion. I am by no means an expert on resumes, having only landed my first (non-aviation) job after graduating college a year ago.