Ditch Interview Advice from JH

I’m still kicking around, just don’t have the time to post much. Been talking to a few potential employers, but (and this gets in the way of many prospective flight instructors) my options have been limited by my ability to pick up and take a job anywhere. Thanks to those of you who’ve helped out though.

Here’s the redux from a couple of posts in response to advice for interviews with the Grand Canyon tour operators. The first response deals with the questions that this poster has run into on interviews.

Most interviews for any job will start off with 4 questions (or variations on these):

1. Who are you? (education, where did you grow up, related experiences)

2. Why do you want the job?

3. What have you done to qualify yourself for this job?

4. Why do you think that you are more qualified for this job than others?

Once you have spent some time writing answers down on paper and becoming knowledgeable with those answers, you should be able to go into any interview and do well.

What is an interview anyway? It’s a chance for you to introduce yourself to whoever is interviewing you (the Chief Pilot, the Training Captain, the Check Airmen) and sell yourself to them. You should be able to do that in some detail by preparing to answer the questions above. Don’t be afraid of silences – not too different than a check ride. Answer all questions with as much factual detail as you can; after that, there may be a moment of silence. They may ask additional questions for clarification; they may move on – just don’t run on and on.

The first question (“Who are you/tell me about yourself”) can be a stumbling block if you haven’t thought about it in advance. I’d focus on answering the question “Who are you as a professional/tell me about your career as a pilot?”, and focus on education, training, professional interests, unique qualifications, and career aspirations. Keep it brief, and avoid minutiae, negativity/bitterness about a job you lost, and personal interests/information/details.

The “Why” sounds like it’s about you, but the best response twists in what the employer is going to get from you as well. For the tour companies, you might bring up that you love working with people and being sociable, for example.

The last 2 questions you should expect to hear. Don’t use a canned response, but be prepared for it. Your answer should be based, in part, on what you know are the employer’s needs.

As for silence…immediate, snappy answers are something we associate with intelligence and professionalism. Not true. Silence is also uncomfortable for us as humans, so fighting the urge to constantly be talking takes practice. A friend of mine (who always grills me when we get together) has gotten to where he finishes his questions with “and think about it first.” Good advice. An organized, well-thought out answer, even if it takes 5-10 seconds to formulate, is better than a ramble, fluff, or backpedaling to amend an incorrect answer.

The second (useful) post deals a lot with appearance and attitude. Individualism is great, but remember that you are selling yourself to your employer (and often their clients). That being the case, they are hiring/buying preconceived notions of what a pilot should look like. And the image society has of pilots is one of the strongest stereotypes we have of any profession. The only thing I disagree on is the suit and tie…wear them. You do not want to be underdressed, and for a large company, you may spend most of your time in front of casually-dressed pilots, and then sit down with an executive in suit and tie. There may be some exceptions–and you think this might be the case, you will clarify it with the person who’s interviewing you. Even in these situations, you want to be the best-dressed in the room. At the least, that probably means slacks and a dress shirt. For the logbooks, I’d add to double check that everything that should be signed is signed and organized. Not doing this demonstrates that you are incapable of planning ahead.

Keep everything as conservative as possible – color & style

Cover all tattoos

Lose any piercings

Don’t show up in a suit

Dress shoes – polished

Tie not necessary but can’t hurt.

Your hair should be neatly trimmed

No jewelry other than a ring (one) and a watch

Good luck – remember, you are selling yourself here.

1) Bring ALL of your logbooks from hour 1, not just your current logbook.

2) Bring your medical, pilot certificates, sunglasses and your headset.

3) DO NOT have any decaorative decals, logo’s, or NO FEAR stickers on your logbook.

4) Wear a suit or sport coat, forget what the other guy said, WEAR A SUIT.

5) Have your best personality tuned-up and ready to impress, its a Tour Pilot job, not logging.

Why You Should Join Linked-In

During the resume review at Heli-Success, I probably talked to over 100 pilots looking for work, and pointed most of you to my Linked-In profile. I didn’t get much time to explain how it can help you (and the Facebook analogy is pretty bad). So, here’s why you should: Linked-In will help you stay in touch with your network. Here’s an example:

I want to work for XYZ Helicopters and I’ve sent many applications with no response. I go through my Linked-In profile, view my connections, and find somebody that I went to school with years ago that currently works there. Now I have an inside way of getting my resume into the CP’s hands.

Or, say I don’t know who to address my cover letter to. I look through my Linked-In connections and find somebody that I went to Heli-Success with who works (or worked) at XYZ Helicopters. Couple of clicks and I can get an email to him, ask him who the CP is. As a bonus, when your connection replies, he gives you a little first-hand knowledge of what the CP likes and how the working conditions are at XYZ Helicopters.

Investing the time in registering, updating, and maintaining your profile is something that’s going to help you vastly more than it’s going to help me! It’s an easy way to network, doesn’t require any hand-shaking or small-talk, and gives you up-to-date access to many more people than you’d be able to stay in touch with in-person.

All you have to do is click the link to the right. That takes you to my profile, where you ask to join my network as a colleague from Heli-Success. You’ll have to register (free), and fill in some info about your job history. That’s it. As a bonus, Linked-In will automatically scan it’s database to find other registered users who you might have worked with previously, giving you an easy way to re-connect with them. Easy and free.

A Rather Elegant Statement of Fact

From Lyn Burks on Just Helicopters, talking about how the market for low-time helicopter pilots has changed post-Silver State:

A record number of helicopter pilots were produced from 2005 to 2008. At the exact same time, the collapse in the economy in 2008 brought the traditional pilot pipelines to a screeching halt. More pilots with less upward mobility = fierce competition.

It’s absolutely true: with the booming economy several years ago, you could get hired as a CFI outside of the school you trained at, you could build 100 hrs a month as an instructor, and you could get hired off to your first job flying a turbine helicopter at 1200 hrs and 2 years from when you started. I personally witnessed it happen, and was optimistic that things were going to be the same for me. Weren’t we all?  These days, I’ve had school owners ask me why they’d hire me when I’d be taking away a job from one of their CFIs, the school I went to has cut back on their instructor staff, and 1200 hr pilots are getting laid off from their CFI positions rather than getting hired away. Sorry, I too want to be irrationally exuberant again.

Putting TFA's Lessons to Practice

I thought this would just be a 1-off topic, but as I’ve thought about it, there’s a lot you should be considering when looking for an instructor. In the first part, I said that your instructor is going to be the most important variable in the quality of your helicopter training. In the second part, I pointed out how challenging it is to separate the good instructors from the bad, since most have big aspirations and little teaching experience. That post talks about the qualities and attributes that predict who will make a good CFI. The purpose of this post is to give you some pointers on how to apply the lessons from the first 2 posts to the real world.

First, find out if the school has a selective process for hiring their flight instructors. Ask the school’s owner what their selection criteria are. Take this example of 2 schools up in the Northwest: the first posts job ads, requests resumes, and has a review and interview process. I haven’t been through it–and it might all be bullshit–but at least it’s a formal process for validating what the chief pilot might already know about a prospective CFI (and maybe learning some things he didn’t know). At the other school, instructors are just hired. The owner doesn’t ask for resumes and there are no interviews. Who gets through is based more on the school’s immediate needs, when they graduated, and who the current CFIs recommend (and what are their criteria…?). There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with that system, but does the owner really know what they’re getting? Sooo….

Ask the owner what their flight instructors’ individual qualifications are. If you get a generic answer and nothing deeper (“Well, we look for professionalism, good skills in the helicopter, good attitude, and they have to be good teachers…”), but the owner can’t say, “Well, Bob did XYZ before flying helicopters, and during her CFI training, Sally stood out from the other candidates by…”, then you’re dealing with a flight school that isn’t hiring instructors based on the ability to be good instructors. Does the owner (or chief pilot) relate examples to you that illustrate the attributes that predict who will be a good flight instructor?

Get to know your instructor too, before you sign up. Ask her if she has any prior teaching experience, what she did before flying, what her greatest non-aviation accomplishments are. By the time you complete your training, you’ll probably get to know all these things through the course of friendly conversation, but it doesn’t help you then.

When you do your demo ride, see if the instructor is using the “I do, we do, you do” method, or if he just hands over the helicopter after briefly demonstrating a control’s effect. If that’s what he does (and most will, because a demo ride is really about getting you excited about flying a helicopter), ask him if he uses the “Telling-and-Doing” technique of flight instruction. Every CFI has to know about this method, and the good ones will have learned to put that info into practice (as opposed to just memorizing it for the check ride). You might be impressed if the instructor says he actually prefers the Demonstration and Performance method, but the Telling-and-Doing technique is an extension of the D&P method. They aren’t the same, and the most important distinction is that the “student tells, instructor does” transition. There’s a whole freaking chapter on this in the Aviation Instructor’s Handbook, aka The Fundamentals of Instruction or FAA-H-8083-9, so it’s gotta be pretty important! If you don’t believe me, drop me an email and I’ll send you a copy of the FOI with the key paragraph highlighted.

Most students won’t do any of this–they’re too excited about the dream of being a helicopter pilot, and aren’t going to start thinking about their career until some time down the road. Big mistake. Be rational about your demo ride. Almost everybody is too excited or too nervous to make a demo ride meaningful. Consider doing a no-pressure demo ride just for the hell of it, then doing a one-off, honest-to-god lesson that includes a complete ground and flight portion (and the 2 ought to relate to each other…but that’s another topic).

Finding a Good Flight Instructor

Second installment in a two-part stream of consciousness. Here’s the first part if you didn’t read it already, but if you want the short-attention span version, basically I was talking about some of the attributes good instructors have. This part is more relevant to the wannabe helicopter pilot: How can I tell if I’m getting a good instructor?

“I’m confused…isn’t this the same thing you were talking about in the first part?” Nope. Here’s why.

Helicopter flight instructors usually don’t teach for too long–CFI is usually considered a stepping stone to a “real job”. If you get a seasoned instructor in the helicopter industry, you’re probably only his 4th or 5th student. That’s not a lot of time to figure out how to be an effective instructor, even for the most motivated CFI. So when you’re on that demo ride with a bright and smiling 200-hr CFI, how can you sort out if he’s going to bumble through his next 1000 hrs of dual, leaving a wake of confused students, or whether he’s going to figure out how to teach you what you need to know to be a proficient pilot? This part, also based on research done by Teach for America, might be some help. And, maybe, flight schools can take TFA’s findings to heart when they are making hiring decisions.

Attitude is everything in the helicopter industry. Even if you haven’t even learned how to hover, you’ve probably already heard this pearl of wisdom. This part is true: a good attitude will open doors for you and get you through the tough times. But good instructors have more than a good attitude: they have a track-record for perseverance. Effective instructors have demonstrated that they can pursue and follow-through on long-term goals. Simply saying “all I ever wanted to be was a helicopter pilot” and keeping a positive attitude about attaining that goal through the hard times isn’t good enough. An instructor that has successfully completed college or built a business has demonstrated perseverance. An instructor that spent years getting his ratings might be a better choice than the good stick who was in the right place at the right time.

Reevaluation and continuous improvement is another predictor of a good instructor. Again, given the short tenure for helicopter flight instructors, it might be hard to evaluate whether your instructor can constantly reassess his effectiveness and improve his teaching method since even the most experienced ones won’t have been at it too long. One way you can judge this attribute is by asking about their past academic performance or work experience. In this case, the better instructor is the one who might have started off as average but improved over time–not the brainiac who always got straight As or the slacker who never moved from the sales floor to a management position. The instructors that had to work and improve in other endeavors are more likely to apply the same process of reevaluation and improvement as helicopter flight instructors.

Not all helicopter flight instructors have a college degree to point at, but don’t think that means you don’t have other ways of looking at their ability to reevaluate and improve. Try looking at leadership performance. This is more for flight schools than students, but have your instructors taken charge of a project, seen it through to the end, and had some tangible results to show for it all in the end? For example, when I’m reviewing resumes from low-time pilots, I always ask the older guys if they’ve had a business or management experience—that’s leadership performance. Employers want to know this because it tells them about the applicant’s capacity for self-improvement, and this is something every student and flight school should be looking for from their instructors.

Good instructors also apply the “I do, we do, you do” model. This is covered in the FOI, but you really need to put it in practice as an instructor because it works. Every instructor I’ve flown with has skipped the “we do” part (and students are complicit in this–they want to get on the controls rather than sitting and watching). This takes some creativity, and there’s no resource that provides any guidance for a motivated instructor trying to figure out the “we do” part for individual maneuvers. But here are a couple of examples I thought of:

  • Hovering: “Tell me when you see the helicopter starting to drift, and tell me what to do…left cyclic, right cyclic, forward, backward…”
  • Approaches: “Am I high or low, fast or slow? What’s the corrective action?”
  • “Quick” stops: “You tell me how to do the maneuver.” (“Level, lower, pedal, aft…flare, flare, flare…level, power”, for example.)
  • Autorotations: “Tell me how to correct any deviations from our glide configuration”, “Tell me when to initiate the flare and add power.”

This method keeps students from learning bad habits because they don’t understand the underlying concepts or steps. Primacy also plays into this–the first time a student does something makes an impression, and if that first time included incorrect inputs, they now have to unlearn them before they can learn the correct ones.

Good instructors also recognize that students aren’t very good at evaluating their understanding. This tears at the method of assessing students’ understanding by ending every lesson by asking “Do you have any questions?” According to TFA, students may think they understand, but if actually challenged to demonstrate their understanding, they can’t do it. An instructor who merely relies on student self-assessment to judge teaching efficacy isn’t collecting the info he needs to really evaluate whether his teaching methods are effective. (And recall questions like “What maintenance can a private pilot perform on his helicopter?” don’t test understanding–they only test memorization.) Even if students are saying they understand the lesson, or they’re getting recall questions correct, they probably aren’t making the deeper connections that will allow them to apply that information in the helicopter.

In the first part, I also said some of TFA’s findings also apply beyond the flight school environment and into your career as a helicopter pilot. Many of the qualities that make a good instructor are also the same things employers like to see on a resume. When I talked about how a college degree can give you an edge, it’s not about the knowledge you’ve gained, but it’s demonstrating your good attitude backed by a track record for perseverance. Recurrent training: additional education beyond the minimums might demonstrate that you are willing to make the effort to improve your skills above the minimum requirements. And the reason you list accomplishments under your job title on your resume is to show that you can take charge, follow a project through, and walk away at the end with some sort of tangible result.

One last thing TFA might be able to teach you. There are some things that we think make somebody a good helicopter flight instructor, but ultimately they don’t matter. Charisma. Ambition, whether they know where they want to be and have the drive to get there, or whether they have grand plans for where they want their students to be. Extroversion. In the end, a smile and a good attitude is useless without knowledge, perseverance, practice, and improvement. This is important, because when we go shopping–whether it’s for dinner, a new car, or a flight instructor–most of us are going to go with the person who sells himself rather than the person who can actually deliver on their promises.

When the Other Shoe Drops

Several friends and I got some bad news last week. The school that we went to contacted the 8 of us that finished our CFIs over a year ago to tell us that they would not be hiring any of us, and would only be considering more recent CFI graduates. The news hit us pretty hard, but I knew this was coming. The market is flooded with CFIs and schools are still training new ones up. At the same time, Sallie Mae has pretty much stopped lending to flight students. This has been a 1-2 punch to the CFI market. As the supply of CFIs has increased, the supply of students with financing–and therefore the demand for CFIs–has collapsed. This isn’t even considering the trouble 1000-hr CFIs are having finding jobs. Some schools have resorted to firing 1000-hr CFIs to artificially inflate the demand for their low-time CFIs. Other schools are keeping their CFIs on longer. Somebody loses in either scenario.

Even though the school I went to routinely hired guys who had been out for >6 months, I think they’ve reach the point where they have so many CFIs looking for work that they had to start cutting some of us off. They laid off two 1000-hr instructors and didn’t replace them, and the school is still having trouble filling their schedule. There just aren’t enough students out there who can get the money to start training. This is an industry-wide problem, and contraction in the flight instruction market is going to continue for a while.

For those of us who didn’t get a job right out of school, this is probably where our aviation careers will end. Even though I’ve spent the time furthering my education in other ways (like taking HAI courses), our cockpit skills have been slowly degrading. A good student and pilot who hasn’t flown much in the last year stands no chance against even a marginal student who just got his certificate and whose skills are sharp. That’s what it means when an old timer tells you that timing is everything in this industry.The tragedy for 2 of my friends is that both had 6-month breaks in their training (one for an instructor he wasn’t progressing with, and the other to take a job to save up for her Commercial and CFI tickets). In all probability, they’d at least be at 1000 hrs now.

This is also a harbinger for the future. Everybody that I’ve talked to in the industry has been saying that Sallie Mae is very reluctant to start lending again. As long as that’s the case, the flight instruction industry is going to be reliant on money from the VA and GI Bill, and from foreign students or students who have saved up enough on their own. This is a small slice of the student pie compared to what flight schools were getting from Sallie Mae and other lenders several years ago. Schools that can’t tap those other student pools are going to fail, and they’ll be dumping their medium-time CFIs onto the market. When schools start hiring again, their CFIs that just recently finished will be first in line, and those medium-time CFIs from failed schools are going to be the next most attractive candidates. You can see this in the few advertised CFI jobs–the ones that are out there are asking for a minimum of 500 hrs TT.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do. At the Vegas career seminar 2 years ago, I talked to BoatPix but didn’t follow up on it thinking that I’d make the cut and get hired at my school. My timing couldn’t be worse: Silverstate had just failed, and I graduated right after 6 other students; 2 of them had just gotten hired. It was months before any of the other instructors got jobs and left, and 2 that left weren’t replaced. Especially in this economy, getting hired by another school is an improbable event, and last year at HAI half the schools I talked to wouldn’t even take a resume from me (I’m sure the others pitched my resumes before they left the building). BoatPix is now also swamped with CFIs who got on before the economy crashed. That leaves me with approximately zero options for now.

Can a Headhunter Help Me Find a Job?

On the most basic level, a headhunter, or job recruiter, is somebody that works with companies and/or individuals to fill vacant positions. The reality is a bit more complicated than that, at least in most industries. There are different types of recruiters–most work on a freelance basis, but sometimes a company will hire a recruiter to fill a specific position or for a short period while they are trying to fill multiple positions, or a large company will have one on staff. This affects what you might get from a recruiter. The freelancers are paid based on the starting salary of the applicant, whereas the others may be paid a flat fee or regular salary, and this affects who they’ll work with and what they’ll do for you.

My experience has been that the freelancers will talk to everybody and keep every resume. They may call you back out of the blue (ie, when business is slow). But what they really want is to fill a vice president position every week, since this will make them very rich. In fact, the lure of large salaries led to a flood of these recruiters in some industries back when the economy was booming. In science, my wife and I would get calls every week from “executive recruiters” looking to build their resume bank or quickly place us, but many times you could tell the recruiter had no clue about the industry or hiring practices, or they would lose interest if you asked them to do any real work for you. Not every freelancer is a noob looking to make a quick buck though, and finding a good one can get you a job you’d never have found on your own. However, they will usually only work with mid- to upper-level candidates who have unique skills or training. If you’re a CFI, forget it.  But if a company is looking for a bilingual JAA/FAA CFI with an advanced degree and 2500 hours to train cattle musterers for a multinational ranching conglomerate, and you have those qualifications, you might be getting a phone call. More than likely, freelancers are going to work with pilots who have unique training/skills (significant Skycrane, IFR, or military time, for example), or for pilots who are getting out of the cockpit and into management positions. If that’s you, then yes, a headhunter is going to be very helpful. You can also develop long-term relationships with these recruiters (again, if they think you’re somebody that will pay off for them down the road). When you’re looking for a job, you should call or email them early in the process. And expect them to check in with you occasionally to see if you’re still happy where you are.

The contract recruiter is uncommon. A company that’s new or rapidly expanding will hire them, and they’ll usually find you through a posted resume or mutual contact. They know exactly what they’re looking for, and know that they need to fill the position(s) and will move on when their contract ends. Expect these recruiters to work intensely with you if you have the qualifications, but once they figure out that you aren’t what they’re looking for, they’ll forget you pretty quickly.

I’ve seen some HEMS companies hire an HR person that also serves as an on-staff recruiter. In this case, there’s the balance between high demand and a shortage of qualified pilots to fill HEMS jobs that justifies hiring somebody into this role. This is a good person to network with, since they can help guide you into the position if you don’t yet meet their minimum qualifications. For a national company, they may also work with you a bit to find a position and location that works for both of you.

Those are the types of recruiters that are out there, but can they help you find a job? If you are mid-career, have some specialized training or unique skill, or are looking at management-level positions, you should include contacting recruiters as part of your ongoing job search strategy. Let’s look at that statement more closely. First, recruiters, plural. Having several recruiters on your side expands your network and increases the chances that one will hit on an open position that will fit your needs. Also, many recruiters will tell you they’re working 24-7 for you, but take that with all the credibility you’d give anything a car salesman tells you. Second, part of. Recruiters are one tool. If you’re actively looking or unemployed, having even the greatest recruiter doesn’t exempt you from continuing your networking and job searching. Remember that recruiters have their own motivations, and feeding your family or paying your loans isn’t one of them. Third part, ongoing. Even if you are happy and content, touching base occasionally with your recruiter, or returning their calls, isn’t a bad idea. You don’t know what else is out there that might improve your pay or lot in life. Management, business model, or operational changes with your current employer can also happen quickly, sending you from fat and happy at work, to fat and unemployed on the couch. Passively seeing what other jobs are available is a defensive strategy. Whatever headhunting a recruiter does should be anonymous, but you should always remind them of this when you are currently employed.

One other situation a recruiter can help you with is a career fork. Say you’re currently a pilot, but are unemployed or need to get out of your current job. You are interested in a management position, if you could find the right one, but you’d be just as happy to keep flying. Dealing directly with a company in this situation can be difficult, since applying for both positions makes you look confused and/or desperate. A good recruiter will be able to run interference for you here, since they’ll screen jobs and optimally pitch your qualifications for a position to employers, then they’ll leave it to you to decide which opportunities to pursue.

Can a recruiter help you if you are looking for entry level positions? No. A 200 to 300-hour CFII or 1000-hour pilot is easy to find, and these are employer’s markets. Companies won’t pay for recruiters, and without that incentive, no recruiter is likely to do anything for you beyond dispensing a bit of career advice. It’s unfortunate, because an entry-level pilot is probably most in need of help finding a job, but that’s the economic reality. You can make the contact, and keep in touch with the recruiter over the years, but it probably isn’t worthwhile for either of you. Getting your first job is going to be your sole responsibility.

Guidance Counseling for Student Pilots

This bit of advice is often kicked around on the forums:

There is nothing that requires you to do all your training at one school or in one type of helicopter. Having at least 50 hours in each of the two most popular trainers H300 & R22) will be beneficial to you when you go looking for your first flying job.

In theory, this is a great idea, and if this was any other industry, this breadth of experience would be viewed as a bonus by any employer. However, in helicopters, the companies (ie, flight schools) that are providing training are also gateway employers: you have to go through them to make it to a more normal career environment (one where experience and qualifications dominate hiring decisions).

Any single flight school can’t hire all of the CFIs it trains. It just isn’t mathematically possible. This is a bit of a problem for the industry, and it affects who a flight school will hire. As an external candidate–a CFI trained at another school–you have significant disadvantages compared to a student coming from within. Probably the greatest disadvantage is that the school doesn’t know you as well, and you aren’t familiar with the school’s procedures or the local training environment. You are also taking a job away from one of the students that was loyal to the school, and unemployed flight instructors can’t help a school’s image. Overcoming these barriers with previous experience–whether it’s experience in several different aircraft or transferable skills that you acquired outside of aviation–is very difficult.

Another reason having time in both Robinson and Schweizer/Hughes models doesn’t matter is that they are very different aircraft. An instructor that has 200 hours in an R22 is still learning to fly it, and I don’t see how reducing his experience in that aircraft by 25% is going to make him a better instructor or pilot. With so little experience, it’s better to build one skill rather than acquiring a portfolio of skills that you are unable to do with proficiency or consistency. With 50 hours of R22 time, you’re also sitting at the SFAR-73 minimums for instructing, and the Schweizer school’s that I’ve talked to believe the required minimums specified in 61.195(f)–5 hours PIC in the specific make and model–are insufficient.

Finally, there are very few schools who fly both Robinsons and Schweizers. You might be a good candidate for one of those schools, if they didn’t have a large pool of internally-trained candidates. But you wouldn’t be a good candidate for a school flying R22s if you were coming in with 150 hours of Schweizer time, or vice versa.

Maybe this broader experience will help you when you finish your CFI and start applying for turbine jobs. Not so. One operator I talked to basically said that R22, R44, 269/300, Hiller, Brantley, Enstrom, or whatever other piston time you have is just that: other piston time. For an applicant with significant turbine time, listing your time in all those piston aircraft isn’t even necessary.

So I’m going to call Bullshit! on the advice that you should get time in both Robinson and Schweizer airframes, and that it’s okay to switch schools mid-training. I’d advise that a student stick with a single school and single manufacturer. Doing anything else won’t improve your chances of getting hired on as a CFI, and may actually hurt them.

Interview Attire From the JustHelicopters Original Forum

Excluding our first few jobs, most of us will only see one type of interview in our life. All of mine have been for office-type positions where I can expect to spend the day in a conference room, talking to everybody from mid-level, non-managers to senior-level VP’s and directors. Depending on the company, I’ve seen everything–sometimes on the same day–from business casual, jeans and T-shirts, suit and tie, and Hawaiian shirt, but the expectation for what I should be wearing is the same: suit, tie, and jacket.

Aviation is a bit different. Not only will your potential employers and colleagues dress vary depending on the company and season, but you may also be asked to demonstrate your flight proficiency. Last week on JustHelicopters, somebody asked what they should wear to an EMS interview. They got 2 types of answers–well, 3 if you count the typical smart-ass answer you get to any question posed on the Original Forum. Several pilots felt that pilots are basically treated like blue-collar employees, and therefore should arrive at an interview dressed as such. According to this opinion, ties would definitely be out. Maybe this viewpoint has a shred of merit, but not for the reason that pilots aren’t viewed as professionals. Part of the purpose of an interview is to determine your “fit” with the company, and a suit and tie doesn’t fit when your potential colleagues are in shorts and T-shirts. I’ve been to at least a couple of interviews where I was way overdressed, and it is uncomfortable. In those cases, especially when the interview included going off-site for lunch, I’ve at least left my jacket behind, and, depending on the circumstances, maybe I’ll roll up my sleeves.

The flip side of this, however, is what happens if you show up under-dressed. I’m of the mentality that suits are for weddings and interviews, and dockers/golf shirts are just ridiculous. But there have been a few events that I’ve gone to where jeans were too casual, and a suit was too much (these are also the parties where you can’t get liquored up enough to not care what anybody else thinks). So in the case of an interview, remember that you might be interviewing with people at all levels of the company, and many of them will at least be business casual.

Most importantly, you do want to portray yourself as a professional (and I think this applies to any job you apply for), and this was the opinion put forth by several hiring managers that responded to the question. Suit or slacks with a sport coat are expected, as is a tie.

Showing up in a suit/jacket and tie shows you think of yourself as a professional and expect others to do the same, not that you’re the “dork in the room”. It shows you’ve thought more than ten seconds about the interview…

Pilots are also professionals. Think of the typical first-turbine type job: half your job is customer service if you’re flying tours or in the GOM. Ditto for flight instructors. In every case, your customers want a safe, professional pilot at the controls. Your image is the first cue a customer is going to use to form this (and primacy goes a long way).

Likewise, by the time you’ve said “Hi, I’m here for an interview with…” you’ve already made an impression. What you’re wearing and your hygiene either is or is not consistent with the interviewer’s impression of a pilot. If you’re worried about getting grease on your $500 suit during the flight portion, realize that your interviewer will understand if you ask if you can change first–I have a friend who did this for an instructor job. This also shows you are thinking ahead and planning–good qualities for a pilot. I know the gulf does things a bit differently, so maybe your interview and flight aren’t on the same days (but I’m not sure about this). If you’re ever in doubt about what to wear, you can always ask your HR contact–that’s what they’re there for.

The last thing that I thought was important was the question of tattoos and piercings. Generally, you want tattoos covered up. For piercings, one HEMS pilot suggested removing them, since they can be an infection risk. Otherwise, earrings are probably fine. Eyebrow, nose, and lip, although they’re becoming more acceptable generally, might not be appropriate.

Vegas Recap

vegas sign

Just back from the Vegas Career Seminar. Overall, I think Lyn said there were about 120 attendees, down from about 200 last year. Almost all of them were at least CFIs (there were less than 10 ATPs), but I didn’t get to see a tally for how many were <1000 hours and unemployed. Since I was reviewing resumes during the sessions, I missed all but about 3 of the talks. Between the resumes that I looked at and the talks that I did get to go to, here’s what I took away from the seminar:

Supply, not insurance, is driving hiring minimums

With the downturn in the economy, the supply of pilots has ballooned. For those of us with less than 1000 hours, that has meant CFI jobs just aren’t out there. But the situation isn’t any better for 1000 hour pilots. Last year, 1000 hours was your golden ticket. Now, GOM, Ditch, and Alaska operators can ask for 1200-1500 hours as their minimum, since there are plenty of pilots at this level of experience that are looking for work. In addition, corporate, logging, and fire/utility operations have scaled back. These pilots, which were sitting on >2000 hours of experience, are now competing for jobs that were usually open to 1000-hour pilots. The result: getting a job at 1000 hours is no longer a given, and it’s actually very competitive.

There are jobs, just not many (and none are being advertised)

Lyn said there were a few pilots that backed out of the seminar last-minute on account of getting hired someplace, although he didn’t say where and what level of experience. The HEMS operators were hiring, and based on some of the applicants that I talked to while reviewing resumes, I’m guessing several of those guys have interviews or offers. AirLog was there, but they aren’t hiring anytime soon. Papillion might be looking for pilots next season, and the guys that were in Vegas should have a leg up.

Objective statements

Generic objectives statements were the most common problem I saw. This is my opinion: for the guy applying for just a pilot position, an objectives statement isn’t going to help you much, and a generic one might hurt you. When employers are looking at resumes, they look first at certificates, then at experience, and then at safety record. My feeling (supported by discussions with some employers) is that an objective statement gets in the way.

The main thing about an objective statement is that it needs to be specific for the job, and the really effective ones I’ve seen (not in aviation) have used the applicant’s skills (eg, as a manager) to specify an objective in the job. For 95% of the resumes I saw, the objective for the job (pilot) is to be safe. Lyn, however, likes to see an objective statement along the lines of, “To obtain a tour pilot position at Papillion,” since this lets the employer know that you wrote that resume specifically for them.

Leaving out significant work experience

For low-time pilots, you’re expected to have a short work history section, but that doesn’t mean everybody should have just a few lines there. Several applicants had started businesses or had other significant work achievements, but only listed the dates, job titles, and the names of the companies where they work. My advice is to think hard about your job history and find titles or achievements that are going to set you apart from other applicants, even if they are relatively small. Something like that will get you farther than just given a laundry list of your last 5 jobs.

Cover letters

Don’t need them for a job fair. Recruiters are going to look closely at your certs and flight time, then skim the rest of the page. Mostly though, you want to be ready to speak to them about the bottom half of your resume (and that is what a cover letter is for when you can’t be standing in front of the recruiter). Also, the cover letters I did see were too generic to make a good impression. First of all, you should find a name to go at the top of the page–do some research and figure out the name of somebody who might be looking at the resume–chief pilot, recruiter, director of operations, doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t start off “To whom it may concern…” The rest of the cover letter should very specifically say why your experience makes you perfect for this job.

Little things

Typos, spelling mistakes, inconsistencies in the date format. Sometimes they get noticed, and if they are off, it suggests a lack of attention to detail. The other thing I saw was flight times not being aligned in a column. Try setting up tabs so that the ones are all right aligned and “hours” is left aligned. Think about how you’d want it lined up if you were going to try to add them up.


Those were the things that I remember most, but intermittently I’ll try and post other hints. If you haven’t already, you can provide feedback for me or ask questions by clicking on the Career tab. I’m also adding my hypoxia lesson plan…inspired by several days hiking in the Spring Mountains at 7000-11,000 feet. Hell of a change coming from sea level.