Hiring a Pilot in Today's Job Market

Business Jet Traveler » April 2009
“How do they spend their time when they’re waiting for a flight? Do they play
Wednesday, April 1, 2009 - 5:00am

You might think that the recession and resultant glut of pilots would be a good thing if you're in hiring mode, and in a sense it is because it means you'll have plenty of applicants. But that can be bad news, too, because a large field of candidates can be tough to sift through. If a pilot comes from a recently closed flight department, you may have found a winner, but study long and hard the individual who was part of a reduction. A chief pilot faced with the need to cut personnel isn't likely to lay off his best people.

"The evaluation of candidates starts even before they arrive for an interview," said Doug Mykol, president of AirCare Solutions Group, which supplies pilots and other crew to flight departments. "Their e-mail address can tell you a lot about how they think. How can anyone expect to be taken seriously if their e-mail address is sleepy
pilot@xyz.com or pilotstud@xyz.com? I've actually received résumés from people with addresses like those."

Mykol also took issue with the photos included with some résumés. "Photos are nice to put a face with a résumé," he said, "but I've received a résumé with a photo of a woman on a beach in a thong and one from a pilot standing at a bar holding a beer. If their judgment is that bad for something like a résumé, do you really want them working with your executives, important clients and family?

"Watch candidates closely when they walk into your office," Mykol added. "I take a good look at what they're wearing and how they carry themselves. Dress codes today are far more relaxed than they were 30 years ago, but this is a job interview. It's an important business meeting. What you see is going to be what you get. If they don't respect you, don't expect them to respect anyone else, either.

Candidates should be mature enough to understand that people are judged by our choices, actions, dress, manner of speech and a myriad of other factors, Mykol continued. "If a candidate doesn't get it, do you really want him or her representing your company?"

Jodie Brown, president of the aviation recruiting firm Summit Solutions, agreed with Mykol and cautioned interviewers to dig deep. "Pilots love airplanes and love to fly," she said. "The real question is how well they play with others, such as a captain, second-in-command or cabin attendant."

Brown said being a competent pilot is just the starting point. "How does the candidate feel about trading seats with younger pilots to train them to be captain?" she asked. "How big is his or her ego? Will the candidate be competitive with other crew members or will they fit together like pieces of a puzzle? You don't want to hire someone who doesn't fit into your corporate culture."

Another issue Brown suggested exploring is how a candidate sees the relationship of the flight department to the rest of the company. "Do they understand that they are an extension of the corporation and not an independent department-that they're there to serve the company?"

Interviews Are Complicated
Brown said interviewing a candidate properly can be more complicated than many people realize. "We look beyond basic qualifications and try to see how committed they are," she explained. "How do they spend their time when they're waiting at FBOs? Do they play pool and watch TV or do they read the latest NOTAMS [hazard alerts from aviation authorities] and improve their skills? Are they self-reflective, meaning do they strive for self-improvement or do they have a difficult time receiving feedback? All of these things will come out with a professional interviewer."

The major advantages of using a specialized recruiting firm, according to Brown, include the fact that such firms know the network well enough to do an in-depth reference check. Also, they understand the industry enough to delve into technical and interpersonal aspects of the position and can provide a guarantee to go along with the chosen candidate.

Look Broadly at Capabilities
Brown also noted the value of observing candidates' behavior before, during and after the interview. "Do they have an ability to observe and respond to nuances in the people they encounter?" she asked. "How do they treat the receptionist? If you go to lunch, how do they treat the wait staff? How do they respond to being bombarded with questions? And be sure to feel them out about their flexibility. How do they feel about using older equipment? How are they with doing reports and extra assigned duties?"

Lars Turnquist, the retired director of aviation for a corporate flight department, also emphasized the need to look broadly at capabilities. "I didn't hire pilots--I hired [future] directors of operations," he said. "I only hired people who had the potential to be promoted.

"When the word gets out you're looking for a pilot, you're flooded with applications," he said. "It really isn't about money. We made it clear we paid our personnel according to the NBAA [National Business Aviation Association] salary survey. They came to us knowing roughly what to expect.

"In the interview," Turnquist continued, "applicants would tell me how they met the qualifications for the job in terms of ratings, experience and hours. I would tell them all that was a given. Everyone I interviewed met those criteria, but I didn't want someone who was just looking for a job; I wanted someone looking for a career. That caused more than a few to get a quizzical look. It was clear they didn't have a clue as to the difference.

"I once interviewed a young man who was fresh out of college and applying for an entry-level pilot position," Turnquist added. "During the interview, I asked him what he liked most about flying and his response was, 'I'll get to go to some cool places.' I thought perhaps he hadn't quite gotten the gist of what I was asking so I continued. 'But what attracted you to a career as a pilot?' He said it was because his father was an airline pilot and would pay for his education only if he went into aviation. I'd be surprised if anyone ever gave that young man a job."  

Turnquist said he wanted to know how a job applicant distinguished himself. "I'd ask candidates to name three things they'd done in the previous year to make them better, more well-rounded professionals," he recalled. "Do they go to the NBAA convention? Have they taken NBAA's Certified Aviation Manager's test or were they in NBAA's Professional Development Program? Did they read professional publications or take college courses in appropriate fields? Do they really see this as a career or just a job? The individual you want to hire is the one who goes the extra mile without being asked."

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