Why Do Some Pilots Get Hired?

By: Jason DuVernay

Why do pilots get hired? If you’ve prepped with me, you know I start my sessions with this simple question. Often the answers I hear are professionalism, qualifications, experience, capabilities, etc. I agree these are metrics that are looked at, but these are often gauged by the application and resume, these logical reasons get you to the interview, but they don’t necessarily get you the job.

Humans are by nature emotional beings. Our brains are hard-wired to place emotional responses above logical decision making. Rational thought is processed in the frontal lobe, right behind your forehead. The path to the frontal lobe is filtered by your limbic system, the part of your brain that feels all your emotion. There is nothing you can do to avoid “feelings” prior to rational and logical decision making. So why is this important?

Humans react to emotion, first, always. The other most common answer I receive to the question “why do pilots get hired?” is you can fly a 4-day trip with them. Emotion, you simply like the person. Pilots are largely hired based on an emotional response to their interview, and that process is backed up with logic on your resume and application. Emotional intelligence is a bit of a buzzword. Quite simply emotional intelligence is an understanding of the relationship between the limbic system and frontal lobe. Emotions before logic.

This isn’t a one-sided process. While you need to be liked by your interviewers to get the job, you must also have the confidence to communicate those things in your past that elicit emotional responses from you.

The interview assassins: Shame and Guilt - Most often when people come to us for interview prep, they are concerned about something they already know, something that haunts them, something they hope doesn’t come up, red flags: terminations, check ride failures, unsats, letters in their files, criminal and civil charges to cite a few. Will they ask about my background? How do I talk about my failures? Will my past torpedo my future?

This fear leaves people feeling inadequate, inferior and most commonly anxious about their level of preparedness. The battle begins and ends in your own mind. Fear needs to be attacked head-on. Fear needs to be understood and confidence needs to be built around these situations. You had a V1 cut end in a red screen? You screwed up your single engine approach to landing? You got caught off course and were slapped with a pilot deviation? I bet you go out of your way now to ensure things like that don’t ever happen again. You’ve likely created habits and procedures to guarantee those errors don’t reoccur in the future. Let’s figure out exactly what went wrong and how it changed you. Let’s change those regretful events into appreciative learning experiences. Let’s understand the error chain and highlight the protections you’ve developed. Our line of questioning focuses on making you feel uncomfortable, exposing pain and making you understand the criticism you may encounter. We focus on the result of understanding to eliminate the difficulty you feel (in your limbic system) around the situation.

The career you want belongs to the recruiters you meet; it is your job to win it from them. Recruiters have zero loyalty to you. Let’s look at interviewing a little differently than normal. Interviewing is dating. Attraction may have gotten you the date, but what does it take to get the second? To make a date successful you will need: chemistry, trust, intrigue, and confidence. Too much confidence = arrogance, but too little = guilt/shame will often lead to doom.

To overcome guilt and shame we as pilots need to develop the courage to state what we have learned and the clarity to recall the memories of what we’ve experienced. Pilots are used to telling very simple stories. Think about it, who are you most often telling your flight stories to? Most often,I would guess other pilots, they can fill the voids, understand the lingo, and largely have a common shared experience that allows us to speak with vagueness and still get the point across. The other person we tell stories to is the same person that asks you “what’s your route?” They don’t know a 737 from a King Air, so you must keep it simple. During the interview you are speaking to an experienced pilot, but you are also sharing your stories with someone who has zero flight experience. You need to speak to both but show your level of competence and confidence in the process. STAR is the most common thing we hear when constructing an interview story.

But what does this all mean?

When we were kids, we learned very simply that a good story has a beginning, middle and end. What really makes a good story? Conflict, authenticity and confidence.

Conflict. Perhaps the one thing you feel you need to avoid, but conflict is exactly what you need to embrace. Conflict brings out truth, creativity, and resolution. Conflict allows the recruitment team to feel what you felt, understand your thought process, and understand your ability to use tools (CRM) to make decisions. Conflict allows the recruiters to see true resolution, how this event effected your careers, why it changed your perception and how it made you a better, safer, more competent, and prepared pilot.

Authenticity. You must own the story. Many recruiters are trained or have developed the ability to listen for STAR format. But this can be a double-edged sword. Which airline are you interviewing at?

How do they view interview prep? How are you being taught to tell the stories? We all have natural speech patterns, we have unique slang, and we speak at our own pace. When interviewers hear stories that are overly structured authenticity is lost. When candidates turn into robots, the stories begin to be untrustworthy. You certainly don’t want a recruiter wondering, “Did you really live this?”

Confidence. Confidence takes on special meaning when everything is on the line. Confident people don’t live in the past; they remember what happened, but they don’t let it affect their ability to move forward. They understand that failure happens, but they recover and learn becoming better prepared and developing awareness. True confidence often develops through understanding the learning experiences given to you through failure. The purpose of memory is to learn from the past, so you don’t repeat it.  Memory also exists to remember things that you did that worked and do them again.

Unfortunately, the memories of failures, mishaps, and events that we are shameful of can’t be recovered from until we revisit them, understand them, and put the time in to learn from them. 

Until these memories have been addressed, until we become vulnerable to the feelings we have around these memories, we will continue to feel inadequate in the face of an interview. When we understand the learning opportunity the situation provided, when we realize we have learned how to not repeat mistakes, we develop confidence.

Plenty of recruiters have told me they hate it whentheir pilots tell repetitive stories and over structure their answers. They simply want to know who you really are. Focus on building courage and clarity in your story, show authentic confidence in who you are, and your path to your dream job becomes far more attainable. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react. If you think the cost is too high, wait until you get the bill for doing nothing.

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RTAG is a Veteran run 501(c)(3) non profit organization designed to help all veterans, regardless of experience, jumpstart their post military career in the world of aviation.

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