Airline interviews can be incredibly stressful. Having been through four of them, I speak from experience. But, just as there are ways to perform poorly, there are also ways to mitigate the anxiety. In this day and age, start with the Internet.
Generally speaking, it’s easy to lump certain companies together: regionals, majors, fractional, and so on. There are a host of websites available that offer all kinds of gouge on the interview experience at various companies: aviationinterviews.com, willfly4food.com, airlinepilotcentral.com, pprune.com, and others have so much information it will make your head spin. There are two ways to use such sites. First, just read the experiences of the interviews proper, and get as much information as you can on the types of questions that will be asked. Will they be technical? Scenario based? Will you need to brief an approach? Do you need to know the various forms of runway approach lights? What about an international requirements? How exactly is the interview conducted? Is it one on one or you against the world? Check too the dates of the posts. Companies that have not hired in a while may very well have put together an entirely new process, so be prepared for a curveball. Second, try and determine if this is a company that you really want to work for. It may be hard to get an objective answer, but do the best you can. Combine this info with whatever you can pick up from the company’s “About Us” link on its website.
When I was looking for my first job, the main source was the Future Airline Pilots Association (FAPA). When they went bankrupt, Kit Darby bought the remains and reorganized the company into AIR, Inc. In time, he had centralized a wealth of information, most of it very useful. But in the pre-Internet age, his team at AIR, Inc. quickly put together a substantial database of interview information that included everything from the minute you walked in the door to the minute you walked away, including every question in between. In some cases, airlines even began to profile his clients based on the way they dressed and the answers they gave, and some were rejected. But the fact remained that AIR, Inc. was the go to place for information. In time, he became a victim of his own success. The same information was eventually online (though not nearly as well organized), and it was free. AIR, Inc. was,to put it mildly, not cheap. The downturn after September 11 eventually took its toll, and AIR, Inc. closed its doors.
Besides information, though, AIR, Inc. offered two services that were sought after and often worth the price. The first was resume review and prep, which is critical for the first-time applicant. The second was interview prep.
Interview prep is in some ways an extension of the speech class you probably took in college. A good counselor will film you so you can see your reaction to certain provocative questions. This is important if there is anything on your resume or application you need to be concerned about, such as a DUI, checkride failures, terminations or even just the fact that your previous employer is out of business. The person prepping you should be well versed in the interview you are interested in or getting ready for, and should ask you questions accordingly. The major airlines tend to ask a lot of tell-me-about-a-time experiences, while fractionals might ask you how you’ll handle the passenger with luggage that won’t fit. The only thing that may be difficult to roleplay is the company that opts for a single pilot facing a group of interviewers that will feed off of each other.
While prepping, you will work on everything from body language to verbal language. A lot of “uh’s,” “um’s,” and “like” expressions will not help you. Instead of memorizing specific answers, you will learn how to focus on a few key words and memories so that when you give an answer it does not sound rehearsed or canned, yet also sounds believable.
To make the interview process go more smoothly, get into town plenty early, like at least 24 hours early. Give yourself time to work with in case something goes wrong with your travel. If necessary, buy a ticket; skip buddy passes. Iron your clothes early, make sure your required paperwork and logbooks are in order. Get some sleep, spring for and eat a solid breakfast, and most important, be early. Not on time, but 15 minutes early.
As the industry makes its turns, I suspect the next generation of interview prep firms specific to aviation will crop up. Take the time to study them online, and make an informed decision. If you are even considering a prep, you should get one, just for your confidence if nothing else—especially if you are looking for either your first job, or your first move up the chain.