Airline Pilot Interviews
By Jason Robinson
Globally, airline pilot recruitment this year is expected to be tight with large numbers of qualified pilots competing for the limited positions.
In the past pilot candidates with the highest qualifications were best placed for the job offer. This is no longer the case. With the introduction of behavioral based interviews, younger better prepared pilots are filling the right seat.
Behavioral interviewing is based on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. You will know you are being hit with a behavioral question when it begins with "Tell us about a time... "
Now, imagine your sitting in your airline interview, polished shoes and new suit, resume gleaming from your achievements and from out of nowhere comes:
"Tell me about a time when you got co-workers or classmates who disliked each other to work together. How did you accomplish this? What was the outcome?"
Beads of sweat start forming on your forehead as you struggle for an example, "What has this got to do with being an airline pilot!" you think to yourself.
The landscape of the modern airline pilot interview has changed, gone are the days of a friendly chat with the chief pilot and his deputy, nowadays the panel will consist of a representative from flight operations and at least one member of the Human Resources Department.
And it's this member of the HR department who is striking fear into the minds of the poor unprepared, would-be airline pilot. Nobody, no matter how experienced you may be will get the nod without this typically twenty something university grad's blessing.
So, how do we prepare ourselves for a behavioral based interview?
We recommend you put together a list of at least five separate scenarios that you can work through and expand on. Your examples should fall under the following;
An occasion when you have had to resolve a conflict in the workplace.
Worked effectively on a project as a member of a team.
Changed your communication style to suit a particular environment.
Had to think quickly and on your feet to changing circumstances.
Were required to operate outside of your SOP's.
Now having put together your list it is important to structure your answer correctly. We teach our clients to use the acronym S.A.O.
S. Situation- Explain the situation.
A. Action- Your Actions.
O. Outcome- The Outcome.
"Tell us about a time when you had to act quickly and on your feet?"
I was operating a charter flight from Bankstown to Moree in a Cessna 310 with four passengers on board. On reaching the circuit area and lowering the landing gear I received both visual and oral cues that the left gear was not fully extended.
The Action Taken.
I silenced the warning horn by retracting the flaps, which both calmed the passengers and allowed me to focus on the task at hand. I actioned the appropriate checklist, which included manually extending the landing gear. This gave me the required three green lights indicating the gear was down and locked. To further confirm the gear was down I requested a fly by with a local pilot on the ground. After confirmation by the pilot I extended the landing flaps to ensure there was no warning horn.
I completed my landing checklist and made a normal approach and landing. On disembarking the group leader commented on my calm demeanor and professionalism during a tense situation.
Using the acronym S.A.O. will give structure and balance to your answer, making it easy to both follow and more importantly to deliver.
The Most Important Question in Your Airline Pilot Interview
"So Mark, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?"
I'm going to let you on a little secret this week, be prepared because this is going to shock you! That representative from Human Resources sitting opposite you in your pilot interview doesn't care whether you can fly a plane or not! That's right, they are not interested whether your military trained, have thousands of hours flying turbo props or failed your last check ride, they are simply interested in the person.
"Be prepared or prepare to fail" With that in mind how do we prepare for that one question that is absolutely guaranteed to be asked?
"So Mark, why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself?"
By its very nature this question is usually first up and although usually considered an "Ice Breaker" nothing can be further from the truth.
Knowing that you are going to face this one first up how are you going to structure your answer so as to engage and interest your audience to the point that they like you and the jobs virtually in the bag?
Remember the old saying about first impressions? The interviewers will form an opinion of you in that vital first couple of minutes that will be virtually impossible to reverse. In our pilot coaching session we spend approximately 40% of our time on this one question alone, that's the level of importance we place on making sure our clients nail this answer.
Before we get started, a word of warning. Don't mention anything that might be considered even slightly controversial.
"In my spare time I help raise funds for the Republican Party" could be your final words before the executioner flicks the switch!
A few don'ts
Mention religion, even if you're the pope!
OK with that out of the way lets get on with putting together your answer. We encourage you to use what we call a closed loop response using the following guidelines.
1. Start off with a quick introduction of yourself, your interests and the current position you hold.
2. Then go all the way back to the beginning of your interest in aviation, leading into your first pilot job and subsequent career.
3. Try to balance your answer with a 50/50 split between your aviation career and your interests.
3. Bring your story to a close with a brief summary of your current employment. This is referred to as closing the "loop".
Here's an example
"My name is Jason Steven's, I am 28 years old, married and the father of two young girls. I am a keen fisherman and enjoy keeping fit by cycling and chasing around after my girls. I am currently employed as a Dash 8 First Officer with Central Plains Airlines. After graduating from the University of Nova Scotia in 2002 I completed my commercial pilots license at Proflite Flying School in California and was immediately employed as a flight instructor. In 2004 I relocated to Phoenix to take up a First Officer position on a Brasilia with Phoenix Air Charter. Unfortunately shortly after my initial line check the company went into liquidation. To support my family I undertook casual waiting jobs at night whilst pursuing flying jobs by day. In December 2006 I was offered and accepted a position with Central Plains Airlines in Arizona on the Metroliner and have worked my way up to the position of First Officer on the Dash 8-400"
Be articulate and deliver your answer with passion and enthusiasm. This will allow a positive environment to be set for the remainder of your interview.
"So Mark, why do you want to work for this company?" asks the chief pilot as he leans back, crosses his arms and looks at you with that hint of a smirk on his face.
There is nothing that the Human Resources Department loves more than being lavished with praise so that is what we are going to give them!
Your answer will give you the opportunity to display both your enthusiasm for working with this company as well as showcasing your research.
It is essential to do your homework on this one. Visit both the company's homepage and Wikipedia as well as speaking to current employees. Gather as much information as possible on the airlines ethos, culture, expansion plans and future directions.
Grab yourself some descriptive words to incorporate into your answer. Music to HR's ears include dynamic, dedicated, enthusiastic, passionate and so on.
When constructing your answer it is essential to wrap it up with how you see yourself fitting into their particular company.
Here's an example:
"Virgin America has an innovative approach to business with a very
dynamic and forward way of thinking. I am really impressed with how they think outside of the square with their advertising campaigns.
The company has a secure financial position with recent expansions Internationally into Canada and Mexico providing plenty of opportunity for future career advancement. They have a modern fleet of A320's that are highly efficient, flying to interesting and diverse destinations.
Everyone within the company seems to have an energy about them that is contagious, they are open, upbeat and friendly. On a personal note working for Virgin America would offer me a long-term stable career with boundless opportunities in an environment that is enjoyable, ever changing and one that I would be very proud to be a part of".
In our answer we have covered all bases. We have shown our enthusiasm, research, knowledge and desire to work for this company. Really, who wouldn't want to employ us!
Although the modern airline pilot interview is centered on behavioral based questions most airlines will still incorporate a technical component to the interview.
Over the years we have seen so many potential candidates outsmart and completely confuse themselves with basic technical questions. One thing I would like you to remember, the interviewers are looking more at how you answer the questions rather than the depth of your technical knowledge.
We encourage our clients to think more laterally and simplify their answers. For example, ask yourself what is the real reason the 747-400 carries 10000kg of fuel in its horizontal stabilizer
1. Some convoluted aerodynamic reason.
2. To carry less payload.
3. To increase the aeroplanes range by up to 700nm.
You would not believe some of the answer's I've heard to this simple question over the years, five minutes of babbling on about aerodynamic this and aerodynamic that, seriously the HR girl was asleep after the first thirty seconds!
Here's another example. What is the real reason for winglets on modern aeroplanes? But before you start scribbling on your note pad I want to let you in on a little secret, I know that you know the answer to this one! So why bother asking you may think to yourself? The answer, because both myself and the girl sitting next to me are only interested in HOW YOU ANSWER the question.
So is it?
1. To prevent a mixing of the upper and lower air flows thereby reducing induced drag thereby... Adios I'm off to sleep...
2. To allow operators space to advertise.
3. Decrease fuel burn by between 2-3%
Now of course the interviewers have always got in their back pocket the old "Can you tell us how?" or "Can you expand on that?" What we would like to hear is you logically build on your answer, not launch an aerodynamic assault on us.
OK, presuming you selected option C a simple build on your answer could be:
"Fuel burn is reduced due to a decrease in induced drag" and STOP!
Don't be tempted to keep going on, especially if there is silence from the other side of the table. The silence is nothing more than an established interview technique designed to encourage you to stumble on and dig yourself a hole. Hold your ground and wait for the next answer
Keep your answers simple and logical. Modern commercial aeroplanes don't require us to be technical geniuses but rather require us to possess both logical and lateral thinking capabilities. More to the point the team interviewing you have no desire to spend a four-day pattern with someone who thinks they know everything!
Just remember "Failure to prepare, prepare to fail!"
Best of luck,
Jason and The Team At Flightdeck
Flightdeck Consulting are the industry leaders in airline pilot interview preparation and coaching. Through their Book's, DVD's, Online Courses and One on One Interview Coaching sessions they have helped thousands of pilots around the world achieve their dream of becoming airline pilots.
Just get the distinct impression that HR is being mollycoddled in the garb of a meaningless interview with an Airline Pilot. Leave it to the professionals to gather what another professional is about. How I answer Qs and stories about myself are not what gets safe flying done. You can never figure how a pilot will behave in a given circumstance through armchair interviewing. Even if a cultural fit is being looked for, leave it to the professional. HR knows nothing about cockpit resource mgt...they never have and never will face situations where a wrong decision could take your life and those of your pax.