When it comes to securing a pilot job with an airline, think of the 5 P’s: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance (as pilots we love our acronyms). With this article I hope to give you some guidance in how to prepare for a pilot interview at any airline. I prepared for and passed two airline interviews myself. At my first interview I had only 220 hours flight experience, no jet time and a frozen ATPL license, and at the second interview I had 3000 hours jet experience and an unfrozen ATPL. With this background, I don’t claim to be an expert at all, but I feel I can at least provide you with some insights and advice. What to study, what to wear, do’s and don’ts. Find it all in this article, so you feel a bit more secure for the day that can make the difference between spotting airplanes on the ground, and operating them.
How to get invited for an interview?
Before you can start to prepare for a specific interview/assessment/selection process, first you have to get invited for an interview. Let’s start at the beginning of the process: you have to apply for a specific job. How do you find out if a specific airline is hiring? Research!
- Check the website of the airline where you want to apply. At the career page you can find the vacancies, and the details of how to apply for this specific position. Read carefully! Check the requirements (do you meet them?), check the deadline, and make sure you understand all the information they need for your application. Usually you have to upload several documents: your CV, a Cover Letter, and scans of for example your passport, license, medical. I kept a folder on my desktop with all my scanned documents. Make sure the scans are clear, and give the files a proper name (not scan001, but for example ‘medical + your last name’).
- Regarding your CV: less is more! No flight crew recruiter wants to see 4 pages full of information, how quick you can type, and all about your first job at the local bakery. Keep it relevant here! Try to fit your full CV on one page only. Focus on skills and experience relevant for the position you apply to. For each pilot job I applied to, I would check and adjust my CV, even if just a little.
- Cover letter: I feel that one of the biggest mistakes you can make, is to add a general cover letter to your application. Don’t be lazy here, research the position and the airline you apply to thoroughly. Know what this airline stands for, and write a cover letter completely focused on this specific postion and this specific airline. What makes that you want to work for them, and why should they pick you…?
- To know where could be your chance at a job, you can also browse networking websites such as LinkedIn, visit Pilot Career Days, and network with people in the aviation industry. Then after you applied: follow up if you can! Keep updating your profile in the career databank. Every time your flight hours or experience changes: time to update.
The different aspects of an airline pilot interview – and how to prepare for them
Let’s fast forward to the moment you get invited for an interview at the airline you applied to. Usually this invitation comes in via E-mail, and the time you have available to prepare can vary from very little (‘can you make it the day after tomorrow?’) to several months. So ideally you should be prepared for an assessment anytime. General advise is to keep current, both your skills and knowledge, and don’t ever let your license or medical expire!
Every airline uses their own selection process, and usually the selections for the various positions (Second Officer, First Officer, Captain) differ as well. What you can expect at every selection, are a face to face interview where you need to answer both personal and technical questions, and a simulator assessment. Things that vary per airline, would be for example an initial Skype interview, a group exercise, an English language assessment, ATPL knowledge tests, and all kind of other tests like IQ, maths or psychometric/aptitude testing. How can you find out what your assessment will be like? Again, do your research. Try to get in touch with people in the airline you applied to. Also online you can find lots of information. On websites like the PPRuNe Forums you can find information and ask questions. And then there is Latest Pilot Jobs, where you can get interview preparation packages for several airlines for a fee. I invested in a preparation package for my last assessment, and in my opinion it was worth it.
What to study?
- ATPL knowledge. At every assessment you will get questions on ATPL knowledge. Some recruiters will really go in depth, while others only ask some general questions. It is best to be prepared as good as you can. I made my own summaries of the ATPL theory, and used them in my preparation. I would say that the subjects to focus mostly on, are: Principles of Flight, Performance and Meteorology, although in my last assessment there was also some focus on Engines and General Navigation. In my last assessment I had to complete a multiple choice ATPL knowledge test. I will give you a few hints regarding those questions: questions on induced and parasite drag, take off segments, the effect of blocked instruments (pitot and static), and questions on TAS/IAS/MACH. No tricks, it’s all in your ATPL books 😉 Last but not least: invest in the book ‘Ace The Technical Pilot Interview’. Trust me, it’s the study bible of every pilot.
- Simulator assessment. My advise: find a way to get regular simulator practice, especially if it has been some time since graduating and your assessment. You want to be current, and have a quick instrument scan. At least invest in one session before your interview, preferably on the type you will be assessed on. The simulator assessment is normally a raw data profile, with a take-off, level off, some maneuvers, speed acceleration and deceleration, several approaches, landings and go-arounds, and usually an engine failure and/or another situation for you to deal with. The airline might send you the flight profile before your assessment, for you to study at home. Study this! Make sure you know the calls, the numbers, the thrust settings for different flight phases. Know them by heart! If you can, practice this specific profile in the simulator. You can practice things like NDB/VOR intercepts outside of the simulator, with an online trainer , or simply with a piece of paper.
- Personal questions. Expect questions about your personality, and on how you see yourself. Example questions: ‘What would the last few Captains you flew with say about you?’, ‘Why do you want to work for us?’, ‘Why did you choose for aviation?’, ‘Tell us something you would like to improve about yourself?’, ‘What will you do if you don’t get hired?’ Practice the interview with a friend, preferably a friend who is already working as an airline pilot. He or she can play the recruiter, and you will be surprised how difficult it is initially! What you have in mind to say, might sound totally wrong when spoken out loud, or you suddenly block when you get a difficult question. I highly recommend practicing lots of interview questions face to face. Keep in mind that if you state that you are responsible (for example), that you have to back-up this statement with examples that show your responsibility.
- Knowledge of the airline and the aviation industry in general. Use the website of the airline you apply to as a study book: find out the airlines history, the development of the fleet, the airplanes on order, the destinations, future plans, etcetera. Recruiters will check your knowledge on the airline you try to get into. Also make sure that you know who are the competitors, and what is happening in the industry.
What to wear?
You can not ‘overdress’ for a job interview, but you can definitely underdress. You are doing it right if you wear a nicely fitted suit, polished shoes and dark socks (white socks are a no-no). Don’t wear your student pilot uniform; wear a suit. If you have a tattoo, don’t have it visible. I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but I know of someone who showed up at an interview, with a tattoo on the forearm showing. This person could leave before the interview even started. You can have a tattoo as a professional pilot, but you need to cover them at work, so be prepared to wear long sleeved shirts if your tattoo is on your forearm. Same for eyebrow/nose/etc piercings: you would not wear them at work, so neither for your interview. Bring one bag to your interview with all your documents. I recommend a briefcase or a dark coloured handbag; definitely not a backpack.
What to wear – female candidates?
I often get questions from ladies what they should wear to their pilot interview, and if it would be ok to wear a skirt. For both my interviews I wore a suit. At the first interview I wore a black suit, a white shirt and black high heels. For the simulator session I changed into a pair of flat shoes. At the second interview I wore a checked grey suit, and a dark blue shirt. I changed again from high heels into flats for the simulator session. If high heels give you that bit of extra confidence, go for it! I saw other female candidates, sometimes in high heels and sometimes with flat shoes. It is simply your personal preference. I would recommend to have your hair up if it’s longer than shoulder length, as you would then normally wear it up at work as well. You also can’t go wrong with neutral make-up. To answer the skirt question: I guess you can wear a skirt to the interview if you really want to, but it might be a bit awkward buckling up in the five-point harness for your simulator session…
Tips for the day(s) of your interview
- Be on time! Most likely you stay overnight in a hotel close to the interview location. So besides setting your iPhone alarm, schedule a wake-up call to your room as a back-up.
- Try to be as rested as possible. Enough sleep for such a demanding day is highly essential. When you are tired, your ability to perform goes down. So don’t book that flight to your interview location that lands late at night; build in some time to be optimally rested.
- You will need to bring a bunch of documents: double check if you have indeed everything printed out, copied etcetera. Bring a pen and notepad, and your original logbook, passport, license and medical.
- At the face to face interview, the recruiters try to get a full picture of the person in front of them. Is this someone they can train? Is this someone they would like to work with? They form their opinion from the moment you meet, until the last handshake and you closing the door. Try to be yourself, but also make sure that you make an impression: show your passion for the job, get across what makes that they should hire you. It’s better to talk a bit too much, than to be an oyster they have a hard time getting information out of. It’s also totally fine to not know the answer to a question: it’s better to admit that you don’t know something, than to start making something up or pretending that you know. Be honest.
- Remember that the recruiters look for trainability in the simulator session. It does not have to be perfect, you probably never flew this type before, and you are nervous. They do want to see progress, and ability to not dwell on a mistake. As one of my sim instructors said ‘your assessment is in front of you, never behind you.’
I hope these tips are helpful to guide you in the right direction, and I wish you the best of luck in your preparations!