This is the landing page for career questions. If you have a question, click “Log In” on the sidebar (you will have to register and activate your account if you haven’t already). Once you do that, you’ll be able to modify this page to add or respond to a question. I’ll take over it from there. You can also add questions as comments down at the bottom of the page.
For more topics relevant to career development for low-time pilots, you can also view posts in the Career Development category. Also, Lyn Burks and I wrote a short eBook on resume-writing tips for helicopter pilots. You can download it for $15 from here.
Will a college degree help me as a helicopter pilot?
Any advanced level of education will most likely help you in your career. There are 2 primary reasons for getting a college education. First, you may not be able to fly right up until the day you retire. Aviation follows a boom-bust cycle, and during the busts a college degree/second career can keep you afloat. Your job as a pilot is also tied to your health, and a college degree can make you more employable (in or out of aviation) should you lose your medical. Second, a college education sets you apart from many other candidates. In the resumes I’ve looked at, about a third of them have an Associates or Bachelors degree, and fewer than 5% have a Masters degree or higher. Another third have some college, but didn’t complete a formal degree program. Part of how a degree sets you apart is the generalizations that people, employers included, make about college graduates–just like they would for somebody coming out of the military or who owned their own business. Companies look for goal-oriented, disciplined, self-starters, especially for positions where the employee will have a high degree of responsibility and a minimum amount of supervision. A good recruiter is also looking for employees who can grow in the company, and a college degree says that you are able to achieve beyond what many other applicants have. Smaller companies may be looking for somebody who can wear more than one hat. They may be looking at you to fly most of the time, but also to lend a hand re-designing a web site or launching a marketing campaign.
College will also help you in more subtle ways. In taking all those classes–even the ones not related to your major or aviation–you will gain knowledge and acquire skills that you will use later in life. Best class I ever took was typing. This was back in the day when electric typewriters were high technology, but now that computers are ubiquitous, being able to type is a very useful skill. Not only do I write for a living, but I can put together professional cover letters and resumes in a fraction of the time that a hunt-and-peck typist can.
One thing to remember: flight time and certificates still trump a college education. A Bachelor of Science isn’t going to get you into a HEMS job with 1200 hours, but it might put you ahead of another similarly-qualified candidate.
What about non helicopter job experience?
To keep my resume short, I’ve simply just listed the title, company I worked for, and the dates I worked there for my non-helicopter job experience. Should I add it, even if it does take 3 pages?
No. Include a relevant work history that shows employers what skills from previous jobs might be of benefit to them. For example, I worked as a CPR Instructor for the Red Cross and a K9 Dog Trainer for a volunteer search and rescue team. When I’m applying for flight instructor jobs, I list both of these under a section entitled Relevant Work Experience. I also include a short job description, since the Red Cross job involved working with diverse groups of students, and I developed training plans for the SAR team. I don’t list some of my more recent jobs, since these don’t add much to what a flight school would be looking for. Look into your work history to find job skills and responsibilities that will be valuable to the company you’re sending your application to. Focus on these so the employer doesn’t have to sort through all the jobs and skills he’s not interested in.
Last point: the unwritten rule in this industry is a 1-page resume. If you have extraordinary experience, or are applying for an upper-level job, consider a 2+ page resume. For most pilots though, one-page is enough.
What are your thoughts on the cover letter?
Absolutely essential for anything other than a face-to-face application. This is the get-to-know you part of your application (just keep it focused on your professional skills). And keep it to one page.
- First paragraph is who you are, what you are applying for, and your “hook”.
- Middle paragraphs goes more into detail about specific points. For example, I’d be a great instructor because I’ve taught before (CPR and K9 SAR), and my career has been in communications (most recently, developing educational programs for physicians). So I’d position those skills for their value to the company. This is also where you’d address any specific qualifications or skills specified in an advertisement. Highlight things that can’t be fully appreciated just from looking at your resume. Say an ad specifies applicants with R44 time…this should be clearly communicated immediately by your resume, so maybe it’s not worth drawing out at length on your cover letter. But if the employer is looking for somebody to do tours and you’ve flown tours, this is the place to talk about that.
- Last paragraph in most industries is the follow-up and closing. Make your final pitch, and say you’ll contact them or hope to hear from them.
With cover letters, you have quite a bit of flexibility, and no 2 should ever be the same. But they should all be concise, interesting, and relevant. Imagine this HR manager who gets 10 applications a day–would yours be easy to get the information he needs from?
What about putting your age on the resume?
This has long been a taboo for job seekers. Some companies have a blanket policy not to review resumes with any information on them that could lead to a discrimination lawsuit: age, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity come to mind. An HR recruiter probably won’t forward these resumes to the hiring authority for review.
The bigger question to ask yourself is why you would add any of this information. How is it relevant to the employer? In most cases, personal information of any kind isn’t appropriate. There may be a few exceptions: for example, including your interest in travel to Latin America and fluency in Spanish and Portuguese would be useful information if applying to a tour company that has a large Spanish-speaking customer base.
What should I wear to an interview?
Suit and tie. Or slacks, tie, and sport coat. Clean yourself up good. Right before you go in, take a quick look in the mirror and pay attention to details (like food in your teeth, tie sticking out of your jacket). Don’t let anything like bad breath or body odor become a distraction, but don’t use cologne or walk in chewing gum. This topic is covered in a bit more detail in this post.
What if the interview also has a flight portion? I don’t want to ruin a suit.
Bring a change of clothes, and leave them in the car. If you’re asked to go out and fly, a reasonable employer will let you go change. And planning for it shows you were thinking ahead about contingencies. You can also ask your Human Resources contact for guidance here, but realize that they’re not always thinking like a chief pilot. I still don’t think I’d show up in my flight suit or jeans, even if HR said it was okay. This topic is covered in a bit more detail in this post.
Should I find a headhunter/recruiter to help me find a job?
Sure, but…. Recruiters are good because they have a broad network in the industry they’re specializing in. But, they usually get paid on commission, so they’re going to put their effort wherever they think they’ll see a (quick, large) return. As a CFI applying for your first job, you probably won’t even get a recruiter to return your call, unless there is some serious deficit in the supply of CFIs. Once you get up to the mid-career level, where you have some unique experience, or maybe you’re transitioning from the cockpit to the office, then a recruiter will work for you. Even then, consider a recruiter as only one tool in your job hunting arsenal. Network, search job posting sites, and work with other recruiters. For a more extensive explanation, check back for this post.
Should I include references on my resume? What about “References available upon request”?
Neither. Checking references is something that happens later in the interviewing process. Your resume is, in part, there to help the employer decide whether he wants to talk to you on the phone, bring you out for an interview, and spend time talking to your references. Including your references on resumes that you might be sending out to dozens of employers is also inconsiderate of their time, and can be detrimental to you. Ideally, you will contact each reference and give them a heads-up…
“Hey, I had a phone interview with Acme for a tour position. Can I include you as a reference? Do you think you’d be able to recommend me for this job based on that work we did with AAA Flying Services? Great! The HR guy at Acme is Jack Smith. Is there a good time for him to call?”
This gives your reference a heads up, keeps you in contact with them, ensures that they will give you a coherent and positive recommendation, and that they won’t be out on a fire contract in the backcountry for the next 4 weeks.
“References available on request” is stating the obvious. Most employers are going to do a drug test, but you don’t put “Urine or other bodily fluid samples available upon request” on your resume, right? When they ask, you will provide. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ready to provide references. If a phone interview happens, you should be prepared to send references right away. For me, this means having your references lined up and organized on my letterhead with their current contact info.
Since most resumes are sent via e-mails these days, does the e-mail become the cover letter or do you send a short e-mail with the cover letter attached along with the resume?
Most of the time, I send an email that simply states what I’m applying for and refers the recipient to an attachment that includes my resume and cover letter. I’m assuming this is going to get intercepted by an admin, reviewed by HR, and then forwarded to the hiring manager. Email systems and especially automated application systems can render your original resume/cover letter unintelligible. Think about something that’s been forwarded once or twice, then printed, in a system that sticks a “>>” next to every line and indents each line over a few stops, and then converts your tabs into returns–you don’t want your resume and cover letter getting sent around like that.
The exception is a very small company that doesn’t have any administrative or HR staff. In this case you can make your email your cover letter. With companies this small though, consider mailing or hand-delivering your resume and cover letter, especially if it’s for an unadvertised position. For an advertised position, doesn’t hurt to follow-up with a hand-addressed letter with your resume and cover letter, regardless of how big or small the company is.