Interview Preparation

Not even an engine-out circling approach at night in freezing rain can compare to the terror some pilots experience when going to a prospective employer for a job interview. Just as with the circling approach, however, there's a right way and a wrong way to proceed. Cheryl Cage of Cage Consulting presents her perspective on preparing for that airline interview and - more important - how much faith to put into the so-called "advice" with which applicants often get themselves in trouble.


When I first started my business in 1988, I vividly remember spending several sleepless nights because I had to purchase a laser printer with a price tag of $2,000! A year or so after that I agonized over whether to buy a fax machine. After the fax machine arrived the floodgates opened. The next purchase was a copier, then a new computer to go with my high-tech printer. Of course, I then had to have a plain-paper copier. All of this stuff was crammed into my home office.

One day I realized my home office just wasn’t big enough any more (that fact hit home when I realized that I hadn’t left my house for four days, even though I’d worked with six clients.) It was time to move to a ‘real’ office.

While I was going through all these changes, so was the rest of the world. In regard to pilot interview information the biggest changes were to come.

In 1994, airline hiring was gearing up after being dormant for over 18 months. After opening our new office we were receiving over 150 calls per week. Pilots wanted to catch this wave of hiring and were hungry for information. And, even as late as 1994, the information pilots needed was still available primarily through magazines and word-of-mouth.

Then the Internet and email started to become an everyday part of life. It was obvious, even to a computer novice such as myself, that the Internet was going to offer a wealth of information. It also became apparent that it would be an especially good venue for gathering airline pilot interview information.

This has certainly turned out to be the case. However, as with any new source of mass information you need to know how to process the information. There is a great deal of good information out there, but there is a lot of misinformation, as well as just plain bad (and sometimes mean) information online as well. You must learn to sift through the mountain of information for the gems of useable advice.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

The Good…

The great thing about the Internet is that it enables pilots who just completed an interview to provide fresh, firsthand accounts to those following behind them. For pilots pursuing commercial airline jobs, there is a great deal of information on the Internet to learn about the culture of an airline and the format of its interviewing process. By reading previous messages and asking questions within threaded discussion groups, an individual can learn a lot about the most common mistakes that plague pilots during the interviewing process.

Additionally, aspiring pilots can learn the different ways to gain flight time, learn about flight schools and do lots of "hangar flying" even if they live in an isolated corner of the world. (I receive 5-10 email messages a week from remote parts of the world. In these areas becoming a pilot takes a level of dedication and motivation that even the most ardent airman in the U.S. would have difficulty comprehending.)

In a perfect world, this advice and information would be provided through clear, unbiased eyes. The majority of pilots share their experiences because of a desire to see the pilot profession grow and thrive as the fulfilling career it is. However, you must be aware that although there is a great deal of good information that is helpful to aspiring pilots, there is also a downside that is becoming more and more prevalent.

…The Bad…

In my new book, Reporting Clear?, I talk about how in many areas of my life I am extremely competent. However, there are areas of my life where my confidence overflows into subjects I know nothing about. For example, navigation. I am responsible for more of my friends getting lost than anyone else on earth.

Me: No, turn here. Yes, left! Turn here I’m positive!

Friend glares at me because "left" wasn’t "right."

Me: Oh, hmmm. I guess it was the second left.

In the role of navigator I am what I have termed a "confident incompetent."

Pilots are a confident breed. The downside is when this confidence flows over into an area where they are not knowledgeable, much less an expert. In these types of situations pilots become "confident incompetents." Nowhere is this more apparent than when pilots discuss the pilot interviewing process.

There are many areas where the conventional wisdom is wrong. However, one of the most damaging areas involves how to present problem areas in an interview. Specifically, I have seen an outlook that implies it is acceptable to be "less than honest" about certain areas in your background.

I worked with one client who had a fairly serious problem in his background. He came to me to learn how to professionally present his problem in an interview. We worked on verbal presentation and gathered the appropriate documentation to present to the interviewer. We ended our work on a Friday. He had two interviews: one on Monday and one Tuesday.

To make an extremely long story short, over the weekend he read several pieces of advice on various aviation Web sites. Much of the threaded discussion happened to be on whether to disclose damaging information about oneself in an interview. There were many people who suggested that discussing certain situations was the "kiss of death" in a pilot interview. The train of thought was: "It will be so difficult for the airline to discover, why not play the odds and keep quiet?"

After reading these pieces of advice all weekend my client folded at the last minute and did not disclose his problem to his first choice airline at his Monday interview. He was uncomfortable during the whole interview. Because of his discomfort he made the decision to disclose the problem at his interview the following day. This next interview was with his second-choice airline. He received a job offer from both airlines.

By this time, however, he was so concerned that his problem would be discovered during the background check, he had no choice but to accept the job offer with the carrier that knew the truth. This carrier was his second choice. You can bet he will be thinking about his decision the rest of his life.

If anyone — an airline pilot, a past airline interviewer, perhaps someone who lists themselves as an interview consultant — suggests that you choose to be less-than-honest in an interview, do this: Stick your fingers in your ears and start humming while walking quickly away!

…And The Ugly

The ugliest part of the forum discussions are the comments and information that are delivered laced with the writer’s baggage of missed opportunities and failures.

Pilots are looked up to by a great majority of the public. The venting of personal feelings on aviation forums demeans the profession and the person. When visiting aviation forums I encourage you to skip over any comments that hint of venting of frustrations (a signal to stay away is when someone uses &!*^$ in their message). If you do read them, be highly suspicious of any information or advice included in the message.

Although normally not regular visitors, you can bet that airline interviewers know what is said on these Web sites. Interestingly, if I regularly visit a forum I can quickly begin to recognize certain individuals by their use of language and the "tone" of their message.

On the flip side, if you give advice to others, be extremely careful what comments you chose to make (either privately or in public). Be helpful, be honest, but be careful about giving "helpful suggestions" that could be misconstrued as "knowledgeable advice."

The majority of individuals giving advice do so in the spirit of helpfulness. However, this doesn’t mean the advice is correct! In the end it is up to you to make sure that the career decisions you make are based on information and advice from experts in the field, and on your own moral and professional outlook.