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Networking 101: A Very Necessary Class

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.

Biz CardsWhat 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 [email protected] with your questions.

 

6 Comments

  1. Another thing worth thinking about: within a decade or two, people who’ve grown up with social media will be sitting on BOTH sides of the equation. That’s going to add another level of complexity to what little human interaction remains in the job search process.

    • Robert Paul Mark

      August 30, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      And to me Ron … that is one of the scariest things about the future of aviation. Flying is such a personal thing to the people who have worked hard to earn their ratings. Flight Sim and X-Plane are fun, but it’s going to be tough to sustain – much less grow – aviation if all we do is talk to each other online.

      • Which is why I think aviation organization like the EAA are important to the aviation community, as a meeting place for like minded individuals to share their experiences IN THE REAL WORLD instead of online. Also, they are another good way of networking. I’m a member of our local EAA chapter (22), and attend the monthly meetings. My only gripe about them is they are made up of 90% older gentlemen, and younger people like myself feel a little bit out of place sometimes. There is plenty of younger pilots out there, but for whatever reason it seems they don’t get as involved with these organizations as older generations. Just my .02.

        • Good point Justin. The issue I have also felt around a bunch of older more experienced people gathered for a task, like your chapter, is those folks think the ONLY reason they’re gathering is to talk shop. They forget they also need to encourage new folks to join and participate which is of course a group leadership issue and pretty different from the point of the chapter itself.

  2. I’ve noticed how hard networking actually can be in my role as curator at the Cincinnati Aviation Heritage Society’s Museum at KLUK. As a community except for the Alphabet organizations like this one, the pilot community as a bit cliquish. I’d love to reach out to all the pilots in Southwest Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Southeast Indiana, but there’s no surefire way to do that because of all the different groups. Veterans (I’m one) and Military museums get all the press, but civil museums largely do not exist because of the difficulty building community around them.

    • Robert Paul Mark

      August 30, 2015 at 11:18 pm

      Is this about networking or marketing Charles? Sounds like it might actually be a bit of both.

      As far as reaching out to all the groups, that’s sometimes exactly the only thing you can do. It seems to me – from a distance of course – that if you could find some way to gather the interest of everyone. The Smithsonian tries an annual museum social meet up day and invites representatives from plenty of different groups to attend. Then they make sure the day is really special for those people and not just an average day at the museum … if there is such a thing of course.

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