Wow Them At Your Interview

October 5, 2016

Wow Them At Your Interview


George E. Nolly

You’ve heard it many times: getting a job is a full-time job. If all you’re doing is sending out resumes and waiting for the phone to ring, you’re falling further behind every day. And time is critical: the sooner you’re hired, the lower your seniority number will be. And, in the airline pilot world, seniority is everything!

Let’s not forget that you only have one chance to make a great first impression. Your experience, as reflected in your resume, will get you the interview. Your performance in the interview will determine if you get the job. At the interview, the airline is trying to determine if you will make a great Captain, and if you are a person they can live with for the next 40 years.

So I’m going to suggest some activities you undertake, starting right now, to be your most impressive self. Consider yourself a salesman, and your goal is to close the deal.

Lose weight

I’m generalizing here, but since 66 percent of Americans are either obese or overweight, I’m probably not too far off base. Starting a weight loss/fitness program is one of the first things you need to do, because getting fit and shedding fat takes time. There are lots of programs you can try, and anything that gets you moving is better than whatever you’ve probably been doing up until now.

There’s a good reason I’m harping on getting yourself in shape. If you are fit, you will appear more self-assured and vibrant. And, let’s face it – you’ll look more attractive. Back in the old days, when I was in the job market (1978), airlines would administer comprehensive physical exams. The rationale was to make sure they hired people who could make it to retirement age without major medical issues.

Things have changed now. Due to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), airlines can no longer screen you out based on a physical examination. If you’ve qualified for a First Class medical, you’re physically qualified. So, instead, there’s a good chance the interviewers will give you a visual physical – they’ll look at you and subconsciously evaluate you compared to the other candidates.

A quick story: during my interview with United Airlines, the subject of my age (33) came up. Back then airlines considered a candidate over the hill if he/she was over 28. One the interviewers pointedly asked me, “Why should we choose you instead of a similarly-qualified applicant who’s younger and can work for us longer?”

I replied, “Those twenty-somethings in the waiting room are an unknown quantity when it comes to health. All young people seem healthy. I’m older, and I already demonstrated my dedication to health by completing the Schlitz Light half-marathon two weeks ago, in Colorado, at an elevation of 6000 feet. I’m much more likely to make it to age 60 than one of those unknowns.”

I got the job.

Sanitize Yourself

Take inventory of yourself, your qualifications, and your appearance, and start working on fixing anything that isn’t as close to perfect as it can be. Get some 3 by 5 index cards and list your good and bad attributes, one per card. Perhaps you had not such stellar grades in college. Okay, on one card you write “college grades”. On the back of the card write down the reason. It could be “I was immature and in love, and all I could thing about was marrying my sweetheart.” (Good luck with that one!) Better yet: “I was working as a CFI to put myself through college, and, frankly, sometimes I just couldn’t spend as much time studying as the other students. I’ve learned how to manage my time better in the intervening years.”

Don’t forget to list your good points on individual cards. At an interview for a job after my airline retirement, I was asked to describe my best quality. “Discipline,” I answered. “I quit a pack-a day smoking habit cold turkey 40 years ago and haven’t touched a cigarette, or any tobacco, since.”

Ask your close friends, significant other, anyone who really knows you well, to tell you your good and bad points, and get that stack of cards growing. There’s a good chance you’ll be asked about some of them. You may be asked to list your best and worst attributes, and give examples. I would suggest that the “worst” category be something that is actually a positive. For example, you might say, “I have very little patience with pilots who aren’t passionate about safety”, and then be prepared to give an example.

I have to stress the importance of honesty at the interview. Don’t even think about lying! It is incredibly easy to verify information today, and any falsehoods will eventually be discovered, perhaps after you are hired. Whatever you are trying to cover up is much less harmful to your career than being terminated for fraud! I know pilots who were hired after having pilot-factor accidents. The important thing is to not be defensive or make excuses for whatever black mark you have. Acknowledge reality, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

If you have visible tattoos, I suggest you spend the time and money (and pain) it takes to get them removed. The major airlines are generally conservative, and tattoos don’t fall into that stereotype. I’ve worked for a major airline and for a supplemental, and I did notice some tattoos at the supplemental, but only once did I see a visible tattoo at United, and it had been inked long after the pilot had gotten off probation. An alternative is to find some concealer makeup that’s identical to your skin tone and cover the tattoos for your interview.

Take a good look at your drivers license photo. You’ll need to show it at some point to verify your identity, and if you look like a Charles Manson clone because the picture was taken during your wild period, now is the time to fix it.

And, above all, sanitize your social media. Any interviewer who doesn’t perform at least a cursory internet search on you is not doing his job. If your Facebook photo shows you acting like an idiot, or – worse – posing with drug paraphernalia, you need to do whatever it takes to fix it, now.

Do Your Homework

When you’re in the market for an airline job, you need to become an airline expert. Read everything you can to get your fingers on the pulse of the industry. Get a subscription (or convince your library to get a subscription) to Air Line Pilot Magazine. Set up Google Alerts for every airline you’ve applied to. Whenever there’s a news item about that airline, you’ll get an email alert.

Your goal is to walk into that interview knowing more about the airline than the interviewer. Sounds tough, but it’s not impossible. Most people, interviewers included, get so engrossed in their jobs that they might miss the fact that XYZ Airlines just acquired a new route. Or traded their B777s for B787s. Or whatever. You should know, cold, the number of employees, the stock ticker and current price and trend (including dividend information), the route structure, number of airplanes and type (and, from this point forward, it’s referred to as equipment), the domiciles, the union representation and amendable date of the pilot contract, the aircraft livery, everything. Think of the airline like it was a person you were considering for marriage.

And it is marriage. When you get hired by an airline, you start at the bottom of the seniority list. If you jump ship after ten years to go to another airline, you again start at the bottom of the seniority list. When you get on with an airline, consider it a lifetime deal.

Look The Part

I would say that the perfect appearance for the interview is the one where the interviewer says to himself, “Doesn’t this guy already fly for us?”.

If you’ve done the airline research I suggested, you know what the pilot uniforms look like. I suggest getting a suit that closely resembles that uniform in appearance, or at least in mood. All other things being equal, you will probably want a navy blue suit.

But all other things are not always equal, and it might be a good idea to have several interview suits, so you can emulate the look-and-feel of one of their pilots. Expensive, yes. But “It takes money to make money” (Gordon Gekko).

Above all, read John Molloy’s New Dress For Success. Molloy talks about selecting your suit, your tie, your shoes, pretty much everything about your wardrobe. And he talks about what materials to avoid. Here’s a hint: polyester is great for cleaning the dipstick of your car, not so great for your tie!

I suggest holding off on the purchase of your interview suits until you’re at your target weight. If you bought the suit before you lost ten pounds, it won’t fit properly. The pants will bunch up under your belt, you’ll probably stick your stomach out, and you’ll slouch. Get a suit that fits, perfectly, and your posture will improve.

Molloy published another book that, in my opinion, is even better that his first Dress For Success. It’s out of print now, but you can probably still find it in your library or online, Molloy’s Live For Success. In this sequel to Dress For Success, Molloy talks about all the nonverbal cues that differentiate the various social positions. And he talks about what you can do to project a successful image. While all of your competition has read Dress For Success, practically no one have read this book.

Get a haircut every three weeks. Ideally, you will go to the interview with a two-week old haircut, but that’s tough to plan on when you may get a short-notice interview invitation. Naturally, no weird styles! Think conservative.

Master the Details of the Flight to Your Interview

When you are invited to your interview, the airline will provide your transportation on one of their flights. This is not the time to simply sit back and take a nap. This is your chance to learn more about the airline, and, in particular, about this flight. Read the Safety Information Card, and pay attention to the safety demonstration. The interviewer will undoubtedly know what flight you were on, and a simple “How was your flight?” can easily morph into an evaluation of your attentiveness. The follow-up seemingly-innocent question might be “What equipment were you on?” It would be nice if you could answer “It was a brand-new B737-800. I really like the way the overwing exits are hinged at the top, rather than removable plug-type doors like on the -500.”

Become An Aviation Expert

You need to become an expert at a lot of aviation subjects, and I’m not talking about the things you memorized for your ATP written exam. In my opinion, you should be on a lifetime learning program on the things that will really matter to you for the rest of your career. Take a college-level (or graduate level) course in Aviation Weather. If all you know is the rudimentary information in the FAA publication AC-006A (Aviation Weather For Pilots) you need to hit the books. Learn about albedo. Learn about upper-altitude weather. Become an expert in decoding the high-altitude prognostic chart and the Winds Aloft Forecast.

Read everything you can get your hands on about aerodynamics. Start with Stick and Rudder, by Langewiesche, and then go to Aerodynamics For Naval Aviators, one of the best books out there on the subject.

Speaking of author Langewiesche, his son William wrote Fly By Wire, an outstanding book that delves into some of the most famous air carrier accidents of the past 40 years, with great lessons to learn. Being a diehard Boeing guy, I take issue with his passion for the Airbus, but he makes a compelling case for the Airbus marque.

Learn everything you can about effective CRM, and then get a job in a crew environment so you can start honing your CRM skills.

Practice Your Nonverbal Skills

Experts tell us that 70 percent of all communications is nonverbal, so you need to refine your ability to communicate with your body language, facial expressions, and gestures. Set up your video camera or smart phone, and have your significant other throw interview questions at you. Have him/her include some totally off-the wall unexpected, tough questions. Then watch the footage, twice. Listen to how you handled the questions on the first viewing, and then watch it with the sound turned off. Be brutally honest with yourself.

Your handshake is something you can really improve with practice. Shake hands with everyone you know, and then ask them for feedback. You want the handshake to be firm, but not bone-crushing. And certainly not limp!

Believe it or not, you can also improve your voice with a little practice. Morton Cooper gives some excellent instruction and advice in Winning With Your Voice. Again, that video practice will pay real dividends in improving that ever-important first impression.

Fall In Love – With Yourself

Before you leave your hotel for your interview, take a long look at yourself in the mirror and mentally review all the (hopefully) many good points about yourself you put in that stack of index cards. Perform some meditations, affirmations, whatever works for you. You’re the salesperson. Sell yourself on you.

Above all, now is not the time for self-doubt. Face it, no one is perfect. I know some rather famous aviators – war heroes, astronauts, airline pilots whose names you would instantly recognize – and they all have stories about mistakes they’ve made, things that could have derailed their careers if they hadn’t been plain lucky.

So, whatever skeletons you have in your closet, leave them there and don’t dwell on them. Whatever happened in the past is in the past. Your career is in the future.

Now go out and face that future with enthusiasm!