As airlines begin to finally catch up with hiring, pilots need to start thinking of what they can do to get ready for the interview. The internet is loaded with information about what airlines do for interviews. While some airlines have not hired in a while, a few haven’t really stopped. But even those that did not interview for a while will likely stick to a preferred process.
There are five major areas to consider as you get ready: written tests/assessments; sim rides; your application packet (to include your logbooks); your appearance; and the actual interview itself. Written tests usually consist of a series of questions from one of the various pilot certificates, with the ATP and instrument being the most common. Some entry-level carriers may include some questions from the commercial test bank as well. These you can study for. You can’t study for psychiatric evaluations or personality tests. You are either normal or crazy, and the test will figure it out. (It might even tip you from normal to crazy.) A few airlines will test for mechanical aptitude or math skills. Again, research both on the internet and from actually talking to people in the know will help. But—and this is key—be prepared for a surprise or a curve ball, if not a total change in philosophy.
Sim rides are getting rare, due to the cost. But, a few carriers still have them. They are more common with foreign airlines. The airline will likely provide you with at least some information on the profile to expect. It usually consists of a takeoff, basic air work, VOR tracking, an ILS to a missed approach and a hold (or at least demonstration of the correct entry). It will all be hand-flown and raw data. You may or may not have a non-flying pilot available. The key to doing well on the sim is to bite the bullet and pay for some time in the same type of sim you will be using. If you will be flying a 737 sim, get some time in one. It won’t be cheap, but if you make the most of it and have the instructor really push you, it will more than pay for itself. The second point to remember is that if you are paired with a non-flying pilot, use him!
You should arrive to the interview totally familiar with everything in your application packet. You should have reviewed it enough times to ensure that there are no mistakes or typos. To do otherwise is inexcusable. Expect questions about your basic background, and especially if there are any gaps in employment or schooling. This is the first step in your background check, and it also allows the airline to ensure that you simply didn’t disappear for a period of time by spending that time in jail. A long gap could be caused by a family medical emergency, or in recovery from a car accident. Be honest. They will find out anyway, and openness and candor on your part go a long way. Likewise, know where all the major landmarks are in your logbook; some carriers ask you to mark certain pages. Be prepared to discuss checkride failures, training hiccups, et cetera. Again, own up to any mistakes, and be candid.
It should go without saying that your appearance needs to be impeccable, but it never fails to amaze me when recruiters or interviewers tell me about pilot applicants who show up with little thought given to their appearance. Don’t have a suit? Buy one, and make sure it fits. If your shoes are scuffed, get new ones or get them polished. Wear an undershirt. Knot your tie properly. Get your hair cut. This should be the easiest part of the process, but somehow people manage to mess this up routinely.
Last, the interview itself. Much will depend on what kind of carrier you are applying to. You should always know as much as possible about the history of the company and its current management leadership, fleet, bases, et cetera. Entry-level jobs focus more on assessing your knowledge and making as accurate a determination as possible about what kind of crew member you might be. Does the chief pilot who is interviewing you envision spending four days with you in a room smaller than a phone booth? Do you sound confident without sounding cocky? Are you mature? As you move up the chain of airlines, you will get a lot more “tell me about a time…” questions. The challenge here is not to sound like the answer is canned or far-fetched. One of the best investments you can make, especially if you are not a confident public speaker, is to attend an interview prep session with someone who specializes in airline interviews. You will not only get real questions, but the “interviewer” will try to rattle you. When you are finished, you will watch a video of your performance, and you will get tips on improvements.
As airlines begin to hire, it will be a free-for-all for the best jobs. After such a long wait, you owe it to yourself to use every opportunity to get the job you want. It may cost you some money, but not getting the job will cost you so much more.–Chip Wright