Top Ten Ways to Blow an Airline Interview (So You Don’t)

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Pilots handle stress as part of our profession. Every pilot remembers the stress of their first FAA check ride, their first low approach, or the first serious mechanical issue in flight. But nothing compares with the anxiety, stress, apprehension, and dare I say trauma, of facing the hiring board at a major airline. Most have dreamed and worked toward this goal. Countless hours have been spent at the controls, attending classes, studying, and learning the trade. When that interview comes (and it will come), be ready. Following are suggestions. I have no magic formula. I don’t know the inside secrets of any specific airline’s hiring methodology, but I have several decades of watching and participating in the process. So, following is a list of the things I am confident will be a hinderance to being hired at your dream airline.

  1. The Big Ds. Driving While Intoxicated (DWI), Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Every pilot knows that the airline will conduct a thorough background check. Of course, this will include any convictions for any crimes. DWI, DUI, or driving under the influence of any substances that impairs will not be looked upon favorably. Do yourself a favor, download the Uber and/or LYFT app to your phone and use it. I conducted a rating ride for a young man who had a minor drug conviction on his record. I asked if that conviction, although expunged, had caused him trouble. He was very clear that it had followed him, though he was eventually successful in his career. Let me stress; I’m not an attorney, I do not know the ins and outs of these issues. My advice is to avoid the issue altogether.
  1. Be clueless at the interview. There are myriad sources an applicant can access to learn about the airline where he/she is interviewing. Know details about the airline, like airline history, number and location of domiciles, fleet type and number, aircraft orders, stock price, routes and destinations.
  1. Be loud and outspoken. I will guarantee that it is never received well when an applicant launches into stories about their previous employer. Complaining about equipment, working conditions, or salary is detrimental to your chances of being hired. And an applicant who shows more interest in their first-year salary than being a team member is not usually successful. 
  1. Ask too many (critical) questions. At one of my previous airlines, when we brought in prospective pilots, we assigned them a mentor – a tour guide at our training facility. This was usually one of our line captains who took the pilot and showed him all the training devices and simulators, and basically guided them through the day. What most applicants did not realize was that the line pilot was an integral part of the interview. In many cases, the applicant would take the opportunity not to ask pertinent questions, but to look for inside information or ask those two big questions; ”When will I get hired?” and “How long will it take for me to upgrade?” These demonstrate truly bad form.
  1. Arrive late. Everyone has a phone and they all have alarms, and I see a lot of big watches. This is a simple rule: Do not be late. Oh, and after you are hired, don’t be late for pickup. My standard briefings state, “The free bus leaves the motel at 08:00.”
  1. Come empty handed. Granted, the interviewer will probably have copies of your application and résumé, but have another copy just in case one of the captains on the interview board asks for it. 
  1. Be unenthusiastic. This should be easy. Like the Air Wing Commander told Maverick in the movie Top Gun, “I’m giving you your dream shot.” The same is true for your interview. The airlines are hiring, and more importantly, retiring pilots at record rates. A new hire today will spend decades as a captain in a wide-body aircraft flying international routes. That’s something about which you should be very enthusiastic.
  1. Talk too much. Most airlines use a target selection or some similar program where they’ll ask: “Tell me about a time that …” Be prepared, but don’t let your stories go long. If an interviewer has to cut you off to move on, do not let that happen again. When I interviewed, I loved hearing the stories, but make sure they are positive, straight forward and to the point. And a long story that ends where you failed miserably in the task, does not help your case.

I’ve left the tough ones for #9 and #10.

  1. Pay attention to your phone. Understandably, pilots live, breath, and exist with their phones. But, TURN YOUR PHONE OFF when you walk into the interview. Not just silenced (where that irritating vibration can be detected), but OFF.
  1. Show your ink and talk like a frat boy. Probably most controversial are tattoos and profanity. If you have body art, cover it for the interview. While culturally acceptable, most airlines have a no-see policy, so wear a long-sleeved shirt, collar or whatever it takes to cover up your ink. And whatever you do, don’t even think about dropping the f-bomb! There is absolutely no scenario in which colorizing a story with an f-bomb would be appropriate, yet all interviewers can recount tales where a great candidate’s chances went south after one of those slipped from their lips. I’ve seen applicants who are so comfortable with profanity, they simply cannot discontinue its use during the most important interview of their lives. Do not ever use profanity – the mild or the wild.

You’ve worked tirelessly for years to get to this interview. You wouldn’t have the interview without the proper preparation. Now, be mindfull of these pitfalls and you’ll do great!

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