Meeting and staying in touch with the people who can help us personally and professionally – networking – is much like discussing the weather; everyone talks about it, but hardly anyone does anything about it, or more succinctly, most people have no idea how to network successfully.
Aviation’s no different from any other profession though. The best opportunities go to the people who seek out people who are connected to the kinds of jobs they’d like to have. Then you just, well … connect with them and ask the right questions to help you land the job you want.
OK, so maybe it’s not all quite that simple, but as I mentioned in last month’s story about mentoring, industry newbies need to start somewhere and the best way to be successful is to met people who are further up your ladder. Like a kid peering through the window of a candy store clearly knows what they want when they see it, a future aviator, technician, airport manager, or any of another dozen other jobs, needs to begin by hanging out at the airport, or at least at the place where airport people hang out like conventions or organization meetings.
What stops people these days of electronic communications is that many young people have no clue how to break the ice with the people they don’t know. Here are a few tips. First realize that like you, everyone started out as a new kid somewhere along the line. Of course, while most professionals are willing to help someone searching for answers, not everyone will. That’s human nature. The point is not to take a rebuff personally. Approaching a pilot at an FBO or a maintenance technician in a shop and being told they don’t have time to talk might mean simply that. You’ve caught them on a bad day or just as they’re walking out the door. It happens. Move on to someone else.
But since I’m a pilot and a writer, let’s assume you want to focus on a pilot career and are wondering how to start the conversation. Assuming you’re at an airport and you notice a crewmember in uniform standing around, the key is to take a deep breath, walk up to them and say, “Excuse me. I really want to fly professionally and I wondered if I can ask you a couple of questions?” You just broke the ice. If they say yes, introduce yourself and ask away. But be respectful of the person’s time. Ten minutes is plenty unless the pilot offers more. And remember, it’s a conversation. That involves listening, not simply talking.
Ending the conversation can seem a bit tricky, but it doesn’t need to be if you’re prepared. Long before your approach your first pilot, or mechanic or air traffic controller, go spend $20 and print some business cards with your contact info and maybe a snappy marketing phrase like “airline pilot wannabe,” or “future aviation maintenance technician.” Then when you say thanks for this first conversation, offer a card and ask for theirs in return. A week or so later, send a nice e-mail that says, “Thanks again for the career advice in the FBO lobby at PDK. I’m always on the lookout for that next job, so if you hear of anyone looking for someone like me with 800 hours and 125 multi, I’d appreciate you letting me know. Thanks, Rob.”
These days, I’ve found an easy way to maintain my contact database is to carry it with me all the time, hence the value of a good smart phone since it’s always in my pocket. I use an app called “Sam Card,” to scan in people’s business cards as soon as I receive them too. The app allow me to add in comments such as, “This is the NetJets pilot I met in Aug., 2015 at PDK,” so I have some context when it’s time again to reach out.
Finally, I have always found that ending that first conversation well is critical to that long-term value. I’d try to end with a good question like, “If you had it to do all over again, would you still pick flying as a career?” If they say no, ask why. Another session ender could be, “What do you think is the best thing/worst mistake you made in your career?” Sometimes I Make people rally think and they offer some incredible advice. Then there are those who are pressed for time and might say something like, “I really need to think on that one. Why don’t you follow up with me next week and I’ll have a better answer.”
And so ends your first day of practical networking 101, a skill everyone needs but few pull off successfully in their career search. Good luck. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions.