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I have screwed up a pilot interview previously. I remember in one case going completely bank, panicking and making up a scenario for a competency-based interview. The interviewer could see straight through my weak answer, and the more I was probed, the more my answer fell apart.
I was lucky to have Flight Deck Wingman on my kcthepilot YouTube channel this week discussing: Pilot Interviews.
Flight Deck Wingman through his experience initially as a Harrier jump jet pilot in the military and amassing over 10,000 hours commercially, has helped hundreds of pilots with pilot interviews and pilot assessments. You need not struggle!
I share Flight Deck Wingman’s ten huge mistakes to avoid during a pilot interview!
1. You don’t ensure that your appearance is aligned with the standards required during your pilot interview
Make sure your appearance is lined up with the standards expected. Flight Deck Wingman during his pilot interview preparation course asks candidates to arrive in smart business attire, to get you into the interview fame of mind.
He continues to be surprised by the number of people that turn up dressed casually!
First impressions count, so make sure you turn up to your airline interview looking sharp! It is better to arrive overly smart and then relax in accordance with the company ethos once you are there.
Some companies encourage not wearing ties, for example. Don’t forget the basis – shoes polished, good general grooming etc. Although expensive, as a low hour pilot, get smart business attire so that you appear as professional as you can!
2. Making inaccurate assumptions about the interview team and their experience
Be aware of unconscious bias. Anyone could interview you: man, woman, experienced, inexperienced, HR, Cabin crew, anybody! Don’t make any assumptions about the interview team. You may find yourself caught off guard or coming across the wrong way.
Flight Deck Wingman often notices that people refer to the captain as ‘he or him’ during interview coaching. They also assume that the cabin crew will be female and not male! These are poor assumptions to make.
Be on guard for unconscious bias and try to become conscious of it!
During one of my airline assessments, one of the people interviewing me as part of the airline competency-based interview process was a cabin crew member.
Looking back, that cabin crew member was probably one of the best and most professional interviewers I have ever encountered in my 15 years of working both in aviation and the oil and gas industry!
Treat every moment you are in an assessment process as an opportunity for your future employer to assess you.
When I used to conduct interviews in my old job as a chartered engineer in the oil and gas industry after a candidate had left, I would often ask the person in reception what they thought of the candidate.
Be polite and professional to everyone. Some companies outsource HR interviews, so don’t make assumptions about the knowledge and understanding of who is interviewing.
3. Lack of preparation for your pilot assessment
There is no excuse for lack of preparation and good pilot interview research. COVID 19 has torn apart the aviation industry and unfortunately, as things stand, the recruitment situation for pilot jobs looks pretty dire.
It is good to see some pilot job starting to be advertised again but opportunities are few and far between.
For aspiring pilots who have just come out of flying school, those who have unfortunately lost their jobs, this quiet period is a fantastic time to get prepared. Don’t expect other people to do your preparation for you.
Think really hard about the company you are going to work for. It is important to research the company you wish to work for thoroughly.
Flight Deck Wingman is a big advocate of preparation, rather than ‘rehearsing’ airline HR interview questions (which he does not recommend).
Regarding how far in advance to start preparing for a pilot interview – the absolute minimum to start preparing in advance is two weeks.
Interview technique is a perishable skill just like flying, and if you don’t practice it, you will get rusty. In reality, Flight Deck Wingman shies away from coaching someone who has not given themselves a few weeks at the very least in advance of their pilot interview.
For help available from Flight Deck wingman. Check out the Interview and Group exercise ebook – 77 page document!
The guide includes:
- Includes items like planning and making an excellent first impression
- Evidencing competencies
- The ebook is simple and colour coded to make it easy to use
The industry is really tough right now – there is still a lot of hardship in aviation and it is essential to recognise that in this post.
If you are going through your pilot training and wondering how you could save money and time via the modular route, check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon.
4. Rehearsing pilot interview questions
Try not to rehearse pilot interview questions. The danger of rehearsing pilot interview questions i.e. asking your friend what they got asked and trying to deliver a rehearsed answer: has several pitfalls.
You may not get asked the same question. If you try and use your rehearsed answer, there is the danger that you will not be able to make the answer fit the new problem or you may not answer the pilot interview question at all.
Interviewers want to get to know the real you. Be yourself. You may also sound like a robot if you have rehearsed your answers.
Flight Deck Wingman is all about “Techniques, not tip-offs!”
It is far more effective to be prepared through thorough preparation and having good techniques to answer any question than going into an interview having “rehearsed” potential questions.
You will be relaxed and confident, no matter what they ask you – you will have the techniques to answer the question. You don’t want to go into an interview nervous and hoping they ask you the questions you rehearsed.
The only caveat is for pilot interview competency-based questions where you are being asked to deliver a real-life example you have been in i.e.:
- Can you give us an example of…..
- Can you tell us of a time when you….
I myself (kcthepilot) has struggled with those types of questions because I questioned myself thinking that I sounded like an idiot! A lot of people feel uncomfortable about selling themselves, but as Flight Deck Wingman says, that is exactly what you have to do!
All the interviewers want to see is that:
- You are a good fit for their company and,
- You have the skills, qualities and competencies that are going to make you an asset in the role of a pilot.
Sell yourself. For competency-based questions, you do need to think of examples before you go into your pilot interview. Thinking about your examples beforehand would be excellent pilot interview prep.
If you have not thought of examples and packed them full of competencies before you go in, then it is very difficult to think of those examples on your feet as real-life ones. This is the only time Andrew from Flight Deck Wingman recommends preparing examples.
For the younger people that may not have as much life experience:
Your age does not matter. Think about your time for example at school, in the air cadets or sailing club etc and try to pick competencies from there. There will be some examples in your life that you can use.
5. You haven’t researched the airline you are applying to (ethos etc)
It is really important to research the ethos of the company you are applying to. There is advice on understanding the company ethos is the Flight Deck Wingman’s guide. The interviewers will want to know that you are a good fit for their company.
Airlines differentiate themselves from each other by the ‘language’ of the airline i.e. full service, low cost, focus on customers etc. Try and evidence the airline core values to your own during the interview.
If you have researched the company thoroughly, that also shows your motivation to work for the company to the interview team.
A the moment, with so many pilots out of work it is normal that you would take any job. It is worth bearing in mind that whilst you want a job, you also want to make sure that you like your employer.
Times are very hard right now and what I liked about Flight Deck Wingman is that a lot of the techniques he uses are transferable if looking for work outside of aviation as may of us will have to do right now.
Flight Deck Wingman has discounted career transition services for those out of work or looking to transition to other sectors whilst they wait for the market to recover.
6. Delivering answers that are too long/rambling during your pilot interview
I am guilty of rambling during interviews. A good way of preventing rambling from happening is preparing well for your interview. Sometimes people ramble because of a lack of awareness of how to structure answers during an interview.
Delivering a rambling answer has two dangers. You may not answer the pilot interview question or your answer may get lost. Most interviews last around 30-40minutes. If you ramble on, you are wasting time in the interview to score well in the competency areas.
Interviewers are human and you do not want to bore the interviewer. Interview answers need to be relevant and concise. If you ramble on it will look like you have not prepared well which won’t help to show your professionalism or motivation.
7. You deliver an overly embellished “Situation” during a competency-based answer for your pilot assessment
Make sure you evidence competencies. Rather than just say I am a really good communicator, you want to show evidence of how you have been a communicator.
People often get bogged down using the STAR technique. They explain the situation well, but they do not detail the competencies. The situation needs to be clear, but don’t forget to mention the competencies.
Although not just for the airline environment, one of the books that really helped me was: Why You?: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again. I read this book in preparation for my airline assessments and never had a problem.
In Flight Deck Wingman’s e-book all the competencies are colour coded in example questions and example answers.
8. You go to pieces when you think you’ve messed up an answer and give up on your pilot interview
It is very unlikely that one poor interview answer or you stumbling over your words is going to mean that you have failed the interview.
In my case, during a pilot interview sim ride, I started the sim really badly. I couldn’t maintain my height and was just all over the place. My 45 degree banked turn was a disaster. I eventually pulled myself together and managed to complete the sim well.
I got a call the following day offering me the job.
I learnt my lesson not to give up and keep going even if things do not get off to a good start.
As Flight Deck Wingman says, when things go wrong in the flight deck, your workload increases, your situational awareness narrows – that is not the time to give up. Don’t lose your cool!
Smiling will make you relax and bring the interviewers on side. Interview techniques have improved and in the majority of cases, the interviewer wants you to get the job.
If you get to the point where you can not remember what to say to a particular question there is no harm in asking to return to that question later.
9. You don’t think of anything to ask the interviewers at the end of your interview
It is good to show interest in the interview panel and the company. Do they have any guidance for you in future? It is important not to switch off towards the end of the interview. Remain positive and keep going.
I often ask any questions I have about the interview process i.e. timeline, contract situation, base allocation etc.
10. You just aren’t “yourself”
Try to be yourself. Embrace the nervousness and be yourself. The interviewers want to get to know the real you. Confidence happens from the preparation that will allow you to go into the interview relaxed and knowing you will be successful. It is really difficult to put on an act.
Try and be relaxed, conversational and have a good open discussion being professional.
Pilot interview Questions
Any tips for pilot aptitude testing?
What is the best way of dealing with pilot interview questions when you do not know what will be asked?
The best way to deal with the fear of the unknown is to prepare as well as possible for your pilot interview.
As Flight Deck Wingman says, thorough preparation in the techniques of knowing how to answer the questions will make you feel so much more relaxed as you will know HOW to answer any question rather than hoping the question you memorised appears!
How to deal with pilot interview technical questions you may not be able to answer?
Most of it is good preparation. As a professional pilot, you should know the answers to certain questions that will be asked. If you do not know basic technical detail for example about your previous aircraft, then there is an issue and are you really suitable?
For the new pilots coming into the industry, if you do not know what an obscure ATPL term is, fine. But equally, you should have the basics nailed, i.e. what is the zero fuel weight, what is a two-stage de-icing process etc.
If you really do not know the answer, do not lie or pretend. Just own up and share with the interviewer where you would go to find the information.
If you are type rated, then be wary of interviewers asking about your previous type even if they do not fly it. Stay on top of your knowledge.
How to address pilot interviews about the real reason you want to fly for a particular company?
Be honest. If you do not want to work for a particular company, then not getting the job may be the best job for you. Interviewers will know very quickly if you are not serious about working for a particular company. Do your research.
Many pilots are out of a job right now, and there is no harm in being honest that you need a job. But on top of that, go into detail about why you want to work for a particular company based on your completed research.
If they ask, have you applied to another airline? Be honest. Everyone knows pilot training is expensive and most have pilot training loans that need to be paid, so it would be foolish to only apply for one job.
But don’t forget to tell them the reasons why you really want to work for them.
What do you do if you don’t have enough experience?
It is unlikely that you will be asked a question that is not aligned to the experience level of the job you are applying for. If you do thorough preparation, then you have nothing to worry about.
One of the other books that helped me with technical interviews was Ace The Technical Pilot Interview.
Would an airline be put off by someone over 40 applying for their job?
Absolutely not. Airlines are interested in whether you will be an asset to the company in the role. The older you are, the more experience you will bring which is hugely valuable.
what is your best advice for people wanting to apply but can’t afford pilot training?
Take advantage of all the opportunities to learn to fly for free.
- The air cadets: the Air Cadets have many gilding and flying scholarships if you are young enough to participate
- Have a look at the Air League and Honorable Company of Air Pilots. They have powered flying scholarships and flying instructor scholarships.
I had my first flight in the air cadets at 14 years old and did not fly the B737 for the first time until just before my 34th birthday 20 years later!
Slow down, get a job a build skills as a fall back plan if aviation does not work and progress your pilot training via the modular route in line with what you can afford.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment in the section below. We would love to hear from you!
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 captain with over 3,000 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.