How to land that pilot job

Published: 02 Aug 2012 By David Learmount


Whether you have just graduated from a commercial pilot licence (CPL) course, or have already worked as a professional pilot, you should scan recruitment sites like this one regularly. If you know which airlines you’d really like to work for, also check their websites frequently.

Airlines prefer to recruit in an organised way rather than to leaf through unsolicited applications sent by hopeful pilots.

According to Wendy Pursey, the British Airline Pilots Association head of membership and careers, “These days they’ll usually advertise vacancies through their website and they’ll want you to complete their own application form.”

For additional advice on job searching, have a look on this site at the section “How to conduct an effective job search”.

What pilot experience are employers looking for?

Most airlines, when recruiting in numbers, look for a mix of ab initio graduates and experienced pilots from other airlines or the military.

Among the experienced pilots, the ones with the highest chances are those with a good working portfolio who also happen to hold a current type rating on the aircraft for which the airline is recruiting.

If airlines are taking on ab initio pilots, their general preference is for graduates of consolidated CPL/airline transport pilot licence courses at flight training organisations, which are accustomed to dealing with the airlines, because they provide a disciplined learning progression through to the awarding of the licence and beyond it.

Airlines often work with preferred flight training operators (FTOs), so find out which ones work with your desired airlines. If an airline is considering to select candidates for an multicrew pilot licence course, it is these schools that they will work with. FTOs that provide pilots for specific airlines will make that clear in their marketing material.

Having said all that, the airlines will also consider a pilot with experience in the commercial general aviation sector, particularly those with formal experience as an instructor teaching pilots on CPL courses.

The interview

Emma O’Donnell, group marketing manager of the CAE Group’s Oxford Aviation Academy describes what airlines are looking for in an applicant: “It’s a combination of education, life experience, motivation and aptitude for the career.”

As for preparation, it may seem obvious but researching the company, its financial position, recent corporate developments and fleet plans is vital. More than that, the need to demonstrate “customer focus” and “business awareness” is something that many pilot applicants are blithely unaware of.

The airline wants evidence that you are aware that your job is more than just flying safely from point A to B. You should demonstrate that you want, through your job,  to contribute to a business in which success depends on providing a first class service to the customers – the passengers or the freight forwarders/shippers. You must show your awareness of the part that the entire crew plays in providing a good service and projecting the company’s image.

Pursey comments that it’s important to demonstrate a readiness to be flexible. “What we say to our members is they will need to demonstrate flexibility, resilience, people skills and decision-making skills.

“Flexibility is massively important, because you may have your base changed during your career and you may have to go overseas to retain your job.” Someone who stipulates that they only want to operate out of certain locations will reduce their chances of landing a post.

Voluntary work – particularly in an aviation context, such as helping out at a local flying club or school – shows a wish to become involved in things around you, and gives you a subject in which you can engage with your interviewer.


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