How to Pass an Airline Pilot Interview
A detailed look into what to expect and how to prepare for your airline selection process
How to Pass an Airline Pilot Interview
If you’ve got to the interview, half the job is done. Now you need to confirm to the recruiters that you are the right person for the job. Airline interviews usually consists of two parts, a competency assessment and a technical assessment. The technical part of the interview is self-explanatory, you could be asked a range of subjects across the theoretical ATPL spectrum ranging from performance of flight to meteorology.
The section that people most commonly struggle with is the competency based interview. Part of this is through a lack of understanding as to why this part of the interview is conducted. Many airline interviews are now a “tick box” exercise. This basically means that the assessor has a number of boxes to tick to show you have demonstrated the required competencies – if you tick all the boxes you get the job and if you fail to show you have the required attributes the assessor can’t progress your application. Your job is to make sure that every box gets ticked.
So what are the recruiters looking for? The airline industry has developed considerably over the last few decades, as has the role of the pilots. It’s a given that the pilots can fly an ILS approach, instead much of the emphasis is now placed on the flight crew’s soft skills. On a daily basis the pilots are required to manage a multitude of situations that can be influenced by a vast range of factors ranging from, technical issues, weather, passengers, air traffic control, language barriers, other crew members. All of this of course whilst operating and managing a highly complex multi-million pound aircraft with potentially hundreds of people on board. When managing such situations, you are expected to do so in a commercially expeditious manner, i.e. you put the interest of the customers and company first.
They’re looking for you to demonstrate that you have all the non-technical (soft skills) required to be successful in the role (regardless for how long you’ve been a pilot). Here are the top fifteen attributes that you need to demonstrate:
- Situational Awareness
- Team Work
- Business Orientated
- Customer Minded
- Adverse to risk
- Motivated / Passionate
The way an assessor will usually try to get you to demonstrate you have the above competencies is through example based questions such as “Give an example of when you have shown initiative?”. You should ensure you are thoroughly prepared for the interview by already having examples of such questions to hand. See our “Airline Pilot Interview Questions” section for a comprehensive list of over 350 typical interview questions with suggested answers.
Naturally, the more flying experience you have, the more aviation based examples you can give, but this doesn’t have to be the case. The most important thing is you demonstrate the competency.
First impressions count. People will form an opinion of you within the first few seconds of meeting you. You want your impression to be a good one as this can have a real impact on how the remainder of the interview goes. You want the recruiter to be thinking that you “look the part” before the interview even begins. To ensure you start on the right foot, ensure you are well-dressed in a plain suit, neutral tie and polished shoes. You should carry your documents in a smart briefcase. Ensure your nails are trimmed, hair freshly cut, and you’re cleanly shaved. Greet everyone you meet throughout the day with a polite welcome, such as “good morning” and with a warm smile. Offer a firm (but not overly strong) handshake if appropriate. It doesn’t matter if it’s the receptionist or the CEO, you should greet everyone in the same curious manner. Anyone and everyone might have some input into the recruitment process.
Body Language at your pilot interview
Top tip: Think about your body language. You need to come across as open and receptive. Don’t sit with your arms crossed or behind your back – this can come across as defensive or too relaxed. When invited to take a seat, sit upright with your hands on your lap. Ensure you make eye contact with whoever you are addressing.
Top tip: If the assessor keeps asking very similar questions (or the same question differently) it’s because they are trying to help! They’re trying to get you to demonstrate a competency that you need to pass the interview. If they’re asking it in a different way, try thinking about which of the above competencies they are trying extract and adjust your answer appropriately.
If you can’t think of an answer…
There will almost always be an occasion when you get a question you weren’t expecting or hadn’t thought about. If you can’t think of a specific example ask if you can come back to that question at the end of the interview. Remember – if you don’t answer the question, the assessor can’t say that you demonstrated the required competencies, and therefore you won’t get the job. If at the end of the interview you still can’t think of an appropriate example, say what you would do. For example, if the question is “Given an example of when you’ve resolved conflict between team members at work…” and you can’t think of an example, you could say something along the lines of; “I’d listen to how the conflict came about, taking into consideration the views of the parties involved. I’d try to provide mediation between the two parties in order to resolve the conflict using my verbal communication skills if appropriate. If I felt someone was being unreasonable, I would point this out to them, whilst explaining why I believe this to be the case and the standards that are expected of the team. If the conflict couldn’t be resolved this way, I would follow the company’s internal procedures.
Top tip: Be confident. The role of a pilot requires a certain level of confidence due to the nature of the job. Demonstrate your confidence through your first interactions with people as described above.
Practice, Practice, Practice…
Rehearse your answers to the common interview questions. It doesn’t need to be a rigid script, but have a good idea of the points you want to get across and the examples you can use to demonstrate you have all the above competencies.
Top tip: Remember, whilst you may be attending an interview for a position as a First Officer, you are really being interviewed for the role of future Captain. You should consider this when answering questions. Airline’s want to employ future Captains, not career First Officers.
Know the airline…
Know the airline you are applying or. For example, you should be able to tell the recruiter the following:
- Aircraft types (engines, passenger configuration, MTOW, VMO, Max Ceiling)
- Fleet size
- Product (Configuration First / Business / Economy)
- History (when was the airline formed)
- Key people (CEO, CFO, Director of Flight Operations, Chief Pilot)
- Financial and Performance Overview (Profit, revenue, passengers carried, year-on-year growth)
- Recent company news (e.g. opening a new route or ordering a new aircraft)
- The airline’s biggest competitors
- The industry threats (oil price, competition, market saturation, global epidemics (Ebola/SARs).
Top tip: Be up-to-date with world events. If you don’t do so already, watch the news or read the newspaper every day before going to the interview. It will help to ensure you are up to date with current affairs, some of which may be relevant to the airline industry.
Top tip: If they ask a technical question which you don’t know the answer for, be honest and say “I don’t know”. There is nothing worse than listening to someone “blag” their way through a question which they don’t actually know the answer to. It’s better to be honest and say something like “i’m sorry, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I would know where to find it”. If you think you roughly know the answer but are not 100% sure, you could add a disclaimer at the start of the answer. For example, saying something like “I’m not 100% sure, but my best educated guess is…”. This way you’ve covered yourself if the answer is wrong, but you’ve shown that you can think logically to derive the correct answer when given the opportunity.
What should I wear?
At the interview, you should to make sure you do not stand out in a negative by differing from what is perceived as “normal”. As potential flight deck crew, the recruiters are looking for candidates who are well-balanced individuals who do not have extreme or unusual traits. It is important to project this in your attire. The industry standard dress code for an interview is a suit and tie. We would recommend the following:
- A smart black suit (or similar shades) with the trousers matching the jacket
- Ironed white shirt
- Conservative tie with a Windsor knot (potentially tactfully matching the airlines colour(s)
- Highly polished black shoes
- A black belt to match the colour of the suit
- Cleanly shaved or very neatly trimmed facial hair
- A smart conservative watch
- A conservative hair cut, trimmed within the last few days
- A smart case or folder to carry your documents and licences
What should I not wear or have on display?
- A suit which is not black or a dark shade of blue/grey
- A brightly coloured or outlandish tie
- Messy facial and neck hair / stubble
- Cover any visible tattoos
- Males should remove any piercings
When should I arrive?
If possible, we would recommend locating the venue for the interview the day before, so you are clear on the route and parking facilities available. This will help reduce the stress levels on the day of the interview. If you are travelling a long way to attend the selection, it is a good idea to stay in a hotel the night before to ensure you are well rested.
Take into account traffic congestion when planning your journey, particularly if you are travelling to a major airport or city centre. Whilst we would suggest arriving to the local area well ahead of the selection start time to ensure you are not late, arriving at the actual venue around 10 minutes early demonstrates good time management. If you arrive to the area well ahead of the scheduled start time, use the time to relax with a coffee or review your notes in a suitable nearby venue.
How should I prepare for the interview?
- Prior preparation is key to a successful selection day. Find out what the day consists of and plan accordingly. Create a revision time-table to cover all aspects of the selection, focusing on areas you have identified as weak.
- The airline will expect you to be fully knowledgeable about the airlines current affairs, history, key personnel, fleet, routes, finances and future plans. This information is usually freely available on the company’s website. Knowing all this information will show you have done a great deal of research, showing the interviewers that you serious about the position.
- Keep up to date with the latest industry news and technological developments.
- Study the question bank available on this website. Have good answers to anticipated interview questions, well rehearsed, relevant and thought out examples for the common “give an example of when…” questions.
- Ask a friend to conduct some practice interviews with you. This will give you an opportunity to become comfortable rehearsing answers and thinking about practical examples on the spot.
- Practice for the various tests which may be used on the day. For example, technical, maths, verbal reasoning and aptitude testing. Some airlines may use all or none of the above. Whilst most airlines will inform you of what to expect on the day, flightdeckfriend.com can provide such information for a significant number if airlines if requested.
How should I conduct myself at the selection venue?
Whilst there are myths about you being under constant surveillance when you enter the venue, this is very unlikely to be the case. It is however good practice to assume everyone you meet is part of the team of people who will decide whether you are suitable for the job. Therefore, conduct yourself with a professional and courteous manner at all times, right from introducing yourself to the receptionist to meeting the interview panel.
How should I greet the selection panel?
You should introduce yourself using your first name, with a firm handshake and ensure you make eye contact with the person you are speaking to. Greet them with a smile and enthusiastic tone.
Should I ever lie in an answer to a question?
The simple answer is no. If you lie or make up an example to a question, you can very easily get caught out. You may end up contradicting yourself in later questions, or if they bring you back to that example, as you may not remember how you answered a previous question. Although subtle, your body language and eye movement will probably change, indicating to the trained interviewer that you are not telling the truth. If you can not think of an answer to a question, apologize and request that you come back to that question later in the interview.
What should I take to the interview?
Airlines will tell you what you need to bring with you on the day. In case of a lack of guidance, as a minimum, we recommend you take the following even if they are not asked for.
- Flying Licence
- Class One Medical Certificate
- Confirmation of the interview (print the email or take the letter)
- Pens and paper pad
- Academic qualification certificates
- Airside ID (if applicable)
- Flight school final report (if applicable)
- Personal, academic and employment references
- Application summary, including answers to online questions (usually available if you have made an online application)