How to handle a 'curve ball' question during an aviation interview?

Freelance - Pilot Simulator

Interviews are becoming more demanding, as recruiters search for the right balance of both technical and interpersonal skills. Such pressures have led to the rise of the obscure, or “curveball”, question, which is thrown at applicants to test their resilience.

 “I was once asked how I would find a matching pair of socks in a mixed-up drawer in the dark,” says workplace psychology expert Lucy Standing, “and on another occasion I was shown to a chair in the middle of the room, to make me feel exposed, while interviewers sat at a distance and deliberately displayed no empathy.”

These tactics are almost impossible to prepare for, says Standing, who is vice-chair of the Association of Business Psychologists, and a recruitment specialist. “But forewarned is forearmed”, she admits, pointing out that while there are no correct answers to most curveball questions, it is important to say something relevant.

With this advice in mind we have asked expert recruiters from the aerospace industry to offer their top tips on meeting the curveball.

1 Show resilience

A prospective employer wants to see how an individual might react to an unexpected situation, and how they manage under pressure, says Sam Sprules, director of AeroProfessional.

“It is easy to prepare for questions like ‘why should we hire you?’, or ‘what can you offer our company?’ ” he says. “When answers are pre-prepared they can feel scripted and not show the true personality of the individual.”  A curveball question isn’t designed to make candidates fail, but just see how resilient they are. “Can they pick themselves up after it or do they let it affect the rest of their interview?” says Sprules.

2 Gain control

The purpose of an interview is to show yourself in the best light; don’t let the curveball distract you from this. When preparing for the interview, (such as reading background about the company) think about the strengths you will wish to portray: “it is useful to think of some real-life work experiences you have had”, says Sprules. “Think about the experience from different perspectives, and strengths you want to demonstrate,” he says, “this way you can adapt your answers whilst retaining a sense of control.”

3 Expect other surprises

At McGinley Human Resources, director of aviation Liz Cusack says that there is no place, or need, for classic curveball questions when recruiting for flying roles.

“It is a much cleaner interview process than that”, says Cusack. “These interviews are very straightforward because the emphasis is on preserving and protecting the safety of passengers and crew.”

McGinley conducts pre-screening in line with client’s requirements. Successful candidates then participate in the airlines’ interview schedule, which is typically based around technical interviews and assessments, including a practical simulator assessment, and an interview with the airline’s HR specialist which looks at soft (interpersonal) skills. Some airlines conduct psychological profiling and most practise competency-based interviewing which results in consistently scoring the outcomes.

But while potential pilots and captains are unlikely to be asked eccentric questions, they can still expect to be taken out of their comfort zone at some point during the practical tests.

“During the flight simulator assessment, for example, there will usually be an unexpected ‘incident’, in order to test the pilot or captain’s skills and experience whilst dealing with emergency procedures. This evaluates the individual’s knowledge of the aircraft’s emergency procedures, control of a potentially dangerous situation and utilisation of best practice Crew Resource Management skills”, says Cusack.

4. Ask questions too

You can’t always prepare for the unknown, but the known is within your grasp. Prepare for standard questions (and so alleviate some of your stress) by studying the job description. At the same time, don’t forget to get questions for the interviewer about the organisation.  “This shows that you are genuinely interested in their business and demonstrates you have done your homework”, says Sprules.

Lucy Standing adds that this approach fosters the mutual exchange or conversation which characterises an effective interview.

5 Leave a good impression

If you find that you can’t answer a question, just be honest. It’s much better to have the confidence to say that you don’t know, than answer poorly.  However, you should not do this too often.

At the end of the interview don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer how you have done, and respond to their answer. If they raise a concern then tackle it immediately, in a professional manner.

Remember, the interviewer wants to ensure that you are capable of the job and that you will match the organisation’s culture. “If you are the right person for the job, one curve ball question is unlikely to stop you getting it”, says Sprules.

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