Networking vs The Resume

Dave Smith, the Chief Pilot for Helicopter Academy, recently posted this comment in the Careers section of wikiRFM:

It is my firm belief that we should avoid the widespread fixation on resumes and concentrate instead on effective broad-spectrum career-development methods. My model for this is the book What Color is Your Parachute; the key notion is that resumes are a waste of time, networking and job research are far more important and effective.

I mostly agree with this. I’m biased toward the resume (which should always be accompanied by a cover letter) because it’s been productive for me, and because a good resume can easily be created with enough time and attention. Dave is definitely right that the resume has it’s limitations, and in reality, a resume is the lowest common denominator when it comes to job searches.

For a resume to work, at least 3 conditions have to be met:

  1. Your resume has to reach the right person;
  2. Your resume has to fit you into a need or job they have;
  3. Your resume has to say the right things to get their attention.

Now, even if your resume meets those 3 criteria, resumes often go to complete strangers. Before they’re going to offer you a job, they’ll want to know a lot more about you and your skills. Sending just a resume isn’t much different than cold-calling prospective employers, whether it’s for an advertised position or not.

There are also some specific limitations for each of those conditions. Getting your resume to the right person isn’t easy. A large employer will have a human resources (HR) department screening all the resumes, while a small employer may have only a single individual (who’s inundated with resumes). For these reasons, your resume has to get in front of the right person at the right time, or it’s likely to go ignored. This is especially true for entry-level jobs.

What are the right things for your resume to say? This isn’t a very deep field and most of us are going to have very similar qualifications. So a resume that says the right things (1700 hrs PIC, 500 hrs turbine, etc…) is going to look just about the same as many other resumes. You may be lucky to have some extraordinary experience, but the vast majority of us aren’t so fortunate.

While there might be some exceptions, most resumes you send are going to lead to nothing. You cast a wide net of resumes and hope for the best. (This isn’t an excuse to send out the same resume/cover letter to 100 companies, as this strategy is very often unproductive.) Or you can invest a lot of effort in a few resumes and hope for the best.

Networking and research to get into the right job/company are more effective approaches, but they take time to work. Your network is everybody you know—former colleagues, other students, your instructors, friends, head hunters, people you meet hanging around the airport. You keep in touch with them, see what they’re up to, and tell them what you’re up to. Expand your network to include people in their network whenever you have the opportunity. Here’s how it works…

In my pharmaceutical industry job, I had to turn down a project somebody offered me. Just didn’t have the time for it. Right away though, I recommended 2 former colleagues, briefly summarized why they would fit the employer’s needs, and provided them with my friends’ contact information. One of my friends—who had been sending resumes all over for over 18 months—was able to accept the project that I turned down. Why’d I do it? Next time he has work that he can’t take on, I expect he’ll reciprocate.

That’s why networking is so effective. In this case, I helped my contacts get to the right person, at the right time, with an intro got the employer’s attention. I also provided a personal recommendation that let the employer know more than they would have gleaned from any resume, and since I’m a pretty good guy, they’re trusting that I wouldn’t recommend somebody who I didn’t respect. Here’s another example:

While I was flying with a CFI (Mike, from BoatPix) during a photo flight, we were on the CTAF and he recognized the call sign for a company that he’d been interested in getting a job with. They switched over to the air-to-air frequency, and he introduced himself. Turned out, the other pilot was the chief pilot, who Mike had met through his neighbor. The CP remembered Mike, told him they were looking to replace another pilot, and that he’d be in touch. Several days later, the CP emailed this CFI with his company’s requirements.

I like this second case because it illustrates the indirect way that networking can sometimes go, and that the personal connection can mean more than experience. Not only was this the product of a couple of chance encounters, but turns out that Mike didn’t meet all the hiring minimums—which the CP directly told him they “can waive for the right candidate.” No, Mike didn’t get a job offer, and one might not materialize out of this contact right now; the point is that Mike now has a lead to follow. If it works out, he’s going to fill a job that was never advertised.

Networking is the slow and steady approach. Although it might take longer, it’s usually less painful. Like a resume, the point of networking isn’t to get you a job today; it’s to make an impression so the right person thinks of you when they need to fill a job. Ideally, the jobs come to you rather than the other way around. Because of the personal relationship, your qualifications aren’t always what the employer remembers. It might simply be that your shared connection has been a good employee, or just having a face to put to your name. Either way, sometimes you can network your way past better-qualified candidates, to the top of a stack of resumes, or into a job custom-made for you. Unless you keep a long view though, all that small talk and hand shaking can seem like a waste of time.

Why bother with resumes then when networking is so great? Networking, resumes, and research (something I didn’t even touch) are all part of your tool kit when it comes to looking for a job. For those of us just getting a start, your network is probably pretty small and consists of a lot of folks in the same situation as you. This isn’t always the case, but if it is, your network isn’t terribly valuable right now. In addition, the odds are so stacked against a 200-hr pilot that discounting any job-hunting strategy will probably hurt you. I got my first job in the pharmaceutical industry by answering an ad in a newspaper. But early in your career is the time to be hanging out at the FBO, meeting all the pilots you can, and keeping in touch with other low-time pilots. At the same time, you should be contacting every prospective employer you can (either in person or using a cover letter). This sets the foundation for building an extensive network.

The other reason I wouldn’t blow off your resume is that it’s often the first thing a contact asks for when they’re considering you for a job. This is especially true when your contact is recommending you to her hiring manager. As you progress through your career, you should keep a ready a draft copy of your resume that you can spiff up and send of whenever somebody asks for one.

All that said, in a few weeks I’ll be adding a link to my Linked-In profile. You can learn about Linked-in here, and join my network by clicking the link to the right. You might have to register with them first, and it helps to fill in your profile. Also, consider going to the Heli-Success Networking Event in Las Vegas.

Helicopter Ground Handling Signals

I got busy. The first few weeks of this month I was in San Diego for work, and had the chance to fly with BoatPix again. I had the video camera with me again, and have about 10 hours of video that I’m sorting through. In the meantime though, I thought I’d post a short clip of our departure from KMYF. After we fueled up, the FBO attendant parked his truck, grabbed his batons, and took up station in front of us. Hand signals for directing traffic on the ground wasn’t something I’d ever studied, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. In this case, it was pretty straightforward–when he saw that we were ready to pick up, he “cleared” us to alight, then directed us to the right away from the parked traffic. I say “cleared” because we were at a towered airport and communicating with the tower. For the most part, it was nice to have another set of eyes since we were parked in the middle of the transient area, with an active movement area behind us.

Of the 5 airports that we worked out of, 4 of them had personnel on the ramp to direct traffic into parking spaces (the exception was KTOA, which didn’t have much traffic at all, and no jet traffic that we saw). The BoatPix CFI that I was flying with had visited most of these airports before and already had an out-of-the-way parking spot for our little Mariner. But the FBO’s ground handlers directed the jets and larger helicopters where they wanted them. The AIM (section 4-3-25) has a couple of pages on the hand signals, but–given that the first 2 figures show positioning of a signalman relative to an airliner–this isn’t something that garnered much attention during ground school. In addition, none of the signals covered in the AIM seem particularly important for helicopter operations. That said, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group has a guide to hand signals for helicopter ground operations.

This short video is just a prop for this post–the signalman basically tells us to lift up and not fly over anything that we wouldn’t have flown over anyway. I let the video run for another 30 seconds so you can see the Skycrane parked on the ramp. Check back over the next couple of weeks…now that I’m getting to fly some, I’ll have some video of the me learning some aerial photography techniques and transitioning from “flight school flying” to commercial flying.

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