The Commuter’s Survival Kit by George Nolly When I was first hired by United Airlines, …
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.” Since spot number eight is already taken, I will postulate my theory as it relates to finding a job in aviation, based on my own experiences as well as those of my friends: Networking is the ninth wonder of the world when it comes to getting a flying job.
In my interviews with exciting, interesting and famous aviators on the Ready For Takeoff podcast, I ask the guests what advice they have for someone just starting out in aviation. Virtually everyone who addresses the subject of finding a flying job says, roughly, “Develop a great network.”
Your network of other pilots will help you in several ways. First of all, they will inform you of job availability long before the jobs are publicly announced. In fact, they may never be announced, since many really choice jobs are filed through recommendations of other employees. When a chief pilot is planning to increase the crew force, it is only natural for him/her to ask current pilots if they have any recommendations.
Those recommendations really hold a lot of weight with prospective employers, since they want to hire employees who have great interpersonal skills and are a good fit for the company culture. The very last thing a chief pilot wants is to hire a pilots, send them to expensive training, and then find out they don’t work well in a team environment and are miserable to be around. That last part — miserable to be around — really makes life tough for the other pilots on an eleven-hour international flight.
The recommendation will also give the chief pilot a warm fuzzy feeling about your technical abilities, since it is unlikely anyone would recommend someone whom they knew to be a bad pilot. Obviously, technical excellence is a sine-quo-non for a flying position, but this will become immediately clear during type-rating training at SimuFlight, FlightSafety, or whatever other school the prospective employer sends the pilots to for their type rating training.
I’ll share my own experiences with networking as an example. When I was about to leave the Air Force to pursue an airline job, I asked former squadron-mates who had gotten hired by airlines for their advice. At the time (1978), most airlines required applicants to have Flight Engineer ratings. Everyone I spoke with recommended I attend Arnautical, a Flight Engineer training school that used the simulators at the United Airlines Flight Training Center.
When I left the Air Force, I went to Denver and enrolled at Arnautical. It was great training, and I was able to rub elbows with a lot of United new-hire pilots and elicit their job search advice. More important, I performed so well during training that, after receiving my rating, I was invited to stay on at Arnautical as an instructor. Fast-forward six months, when I finally got to the interview stage at United, using a lot of the tips the new-hires had provided. As I was finishing one of the phases of the Stanine Test and about to be called in for my interview, I noticed Bill Arnott (senior pilot at United, my mentor, and owner of Arnautical) walk into the interview office and provide them with a hand-written letter of recomendation for me! I got the job.
While I was at United, I produced a B727 home-study video course as part of my side business, Nolly Productions, Inc. Shortly after my United retirement, I pursued instructing for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) at their distance-learning campus in the Colorado area. I networked with a United friend, Dave, who taught for ERAU on a part-time basis, and he gave me the phone number of the ERAU Denver Center Manager, Jim. I called Jim.
“Hi, my name is George Nolly, and…”
“Of course you are,” he interrupted. “I recognize your voice from your 727 video. Great video. It got me through every 727 checkride oral I had at Eastern.”
When I told him I was interested in instructing for ERAU, he hired me on the spot!
Shortly after I started instructing for ERAU, I received a call from Harv, a friend who had retired from United several years before me. He was instructing in Citations for FlightSafety in Orlando.
“George,” he said, “you really need to come here to work at FlightSafety. It’s a great company and I will hand-carry your resume to the boss.” When my semester at ERAU came to an end, I discussed the offer with Jim, who said he’d hate to lose me, but the FlightSafety job would pay a lot more than ERAU, and he wanted whatever was best for me. I went to FlightSafety for an interview, gave an on-the-spot lesson presentation, and was immediately offered a job. Again, it was networking that got me to my interview.
One night when I was instructing in the simulator, my cell-phone rang. Obviously, I had neglected to turn it off. It was a recruiter in Canada.
“Captain Nolly, do you still want to be a B777 Captain in India?” she asked.
I had never applied for any such job, but someone from my past life had recommended me. I told her to email me the particulars, since I was in the middle of a simulator session and couldn’t talk. When I got home and checked my email, I saw an offer, contingent on passing a checkride and interview, for twice what I was making at FlightSafety. Three days later I was in Amsterdam taking a B777 checkride and talking to the Jet Airways Chief Pilot. I was hired on the spot and gave FlightSafety my two weeks notice. When I got to India, I discovered that virtually every expat pilot had learned about Jet Airways through networking.
Three years later, after my Jet Airways contract had ended, I found a position as an auditor for an International Air Transport Association Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) company through networking with another former United pilot, who put in a good word for me. A few years later, a former Jet Airways pilot called me and told me that Boeing was looking for simulator instructors, and he would be happy to hand-carry my resume to his boss. Networking, again, got me another job interview.
While I was at Boeing, I ran across another pilot who told me that Omni Air International was looking for contract B777 simulator instructors, and he put in a recommendation. After I had a telephone interview and simulator evaluation, Omni hired me.
I think we’re seeing a pattern here. True, it was up to me to perform in the simulator evaluations and interviews, but none of them would have happened when they did without networking.
One last point I’d like to make. Your interview doesn’t simply occur when you put on your blue suit and show up at an airline. It’s every day you’re at work, in the way you interact with your partners, both senior and junior to you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met pilots who were currently working for people who had, at one point in their careers, been junior to them. So keep in mind the expression, “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down”!