Airline Recruitment and Pilot Selection Skills Training

Getting that office with a view. Photo credit Ismael Jorda

Airline Pilot Selection methods – what to expect and how to prepare

In our previous article we explored some of the advantages and disadvantages of modular and integrated flight training courses, if you missed it click here to have a read. This article will focus on airline pilot selection and the steps a candidate can take in preparation for an upcoming pilot selection process.

An understanding of the selection process will help you to focus your preparation in the right areas. The excerpt below is taken from an MSc thesis entitled “Pilot Training – Developing a Model to explain Pilot employability,” which explored the factors that affect the employability of a newly qualified pilot. While the study looked at recently qualified pilots, this section on airline selection will be of interest to any pilot considering a change of position.

Scores are quoted in the excerpt, they refer to data gathered from a survey and interviews held with airline and flight school training personnel. The scores are on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is unlikely to lead to increased employability and 5 is very likely to lead to increased employability.

A discussion follows on from the excerpt.

Airline Selection

Jankowska and Fabian (2015) suggest that employers use a wide variety of selection methods. These methods were reported to be of varying validity, with ability tests rating highly and graphology and astrology rating very poorly.

Those survey respondents who indicated that they had been involved in pilot selection were asked which selection methods were used by their airline. The results are tabulated in figure 1.

 Airline pilot recruitment methodsFigure 1. Prevalence of airline selection methods

Face to face interviews using competency-based questions was the method that was most commonly reported with 92% of respondents indicating that their airline used it. This was followed by CV analysis at 84% and technical interviews at 81%. Application forms, reference checks, assessment centres, psychometric testing and simulator testing all featured highly. 5% of respondents indicated that graphology (hand writing analysis) was used while 1% indicated astrology was employed. The last two methods are proven to be unreliable and respondents potentially misunderstood the term.

Airline selection tests may be thought of as a barrier to employment. Training is available with a view to improving one’s performance in the selection tests.

Selection skills training

Survey respondents and interviewees were asked several questions regarding selection skills training, specifically about CV coaching, interview coaching, aptitude test coaching, group exercise coaching and the completion of a specific selections skills course.

Scores relating to CV coaching varied between the different categories of respondent. ATO Heads of Training rated this factor highest at 4.1, while those who were seeking their first job rated it slightly lower at 3.7. Those in training or considering training rated it lower again at 3.3 while those who were between flying jobs scored it lowest at 3.0. Those who had been involved in recruitment scored this factor at 3.1 and airline-training managers scored it at 4.0

Interview coaching was rated very highly by ATO HoTs at 4.5, although one HoT stated that he had no opinion on this factor. Airline managers scored it even higher at 4.6. Those seeking their first job scored this factor at 3.9, those in training scored it at 3.6 and those between jobs scored it lower at 3.4. One airline training manager stated that he disliked interview coaching in general as it made the recruiter’s job more difficult. Those who reported involvement in pilot selection scored this factor relatively lower at 3.5.

ATO HoTs scored aptitude test coaching at just 2.6. Those seeking their first job scored it significantly higher at 3.8, perhaps an indication that a perceived need is not being met by the ATOs, at least in the eyes of recent graduates. The rational of several of the Heads of Training was that there was no point in coaching this area as they did not feel the results could be improved. Those who had been involved in pilot selection scored it at 3.4, as did airline training managers.

Airline managers scored group exercise coaching highest at 4.0. ATO HoTs and first time job seekers scored it at 3.7. Those between jobs scored it lower at 3.2. Those who had been involved in pilot selection scored it at 3.3.

Those who are seeking their first flying job rated a specific selection course highly at 3.9, followed by airline managers at 3.8 and ATO HoTs at 3.7. Those who were working as commercial pilots scored this factor at 3.3. Those between jobs scored it at 3.1.

Across the various selection skills there are several common trends. With the exception of aptitude test coaching, ATO HoTs place a high emphasis on selection skill training. Airline managers similarly place a high emphasis on all factors.   Those who are seeking their first job also score these elements very highly. The lowest scores come from those who are between jobs. It could be suggested that these are the very people who would most benefit from selection skills training. Airline training managers and ATO HoTs score interview coaching and CV coaching in particular higher than those who are in training or job seeking.

 Airline pilot selection skills trainingFigure 2. Perceived effect of selection skills training

Tomlinson (2007) as previously cited, suggests that graduates should be market oriented. Preparation for airline selection tests can be thought of as positioning oneself in the careerist quadrant of the orientation to employment graph.

It can be seen from the research that airlines use a variety of selection methods. The competency based interview is the most common of the selection methods scored in the survey. A competency based interview works off the premise that the best indicator of future behavior is evidence of past behavior. What this means is that an interviewer will ask you for examples of times when you showed a certain trait or skill that is relevant to the position, so for example, you might be asked to talk about a time you were involved in a leadership role. These type of interviews are common across all industries and do require careful preparation. This preparation should start well before the interview.

Airline pilot interview coachingFigure 3. Don’t underestimate the importance of pilot interview preparation

Technical interviews are also common. This area can feel overwhelming as it can be hard to establish what areas to prepare for. Will you be asked questions from your ATPL groundschool on Radio Navigation, or should you focus on learning about the aircraft that the airline flies themselves?   Or maybe you should be looking back over notes on the DA42 or Piper Seneca that you completed your Instrument Rating on. The answer to this question will vary from airline to airline, but ask yourself what areas should you be an expert in.

Instances of telephone interviews are on the decline but internet interviews seem to be increasing – some pilot recruiters will conduct Skype interviews, others may use an automated system to record your answers to questions. Automated systems can be off putting – it is uncomfortable to speak to your computer or tablet with nobody on the far end. If you know this type of interview is coming you would be well advised to do some practice.

The data on opinion on selection skills training quite clearly highlights that Heads of Training in the airlines and Flight Schools feel that interview coaching is beneficial in enhancing pilot employability. An interview is a golden opportunity as it gives you the chance to personally interact with the interviewer and sell yourself – prior to this you are potentially just a name on a long long list of applicants! Aspire Aviation can provide you with tailored Pilot Interview Preparation and realistic Mock Interviews to maximise your potential. Contact us today

Sometimes people don’t appreciate the importance of a good CV – it may be the key to getting called for an interview so make sure you concisely set out your aviation qualifications and experience, and any other relevant details on a CV that stands out from the crowd – include a little subtle colour and break up text into paragraphs and columns. Include a professional photograph – not a cropped Facebook image! Your CV should be adapted to each vacancy you apply for – tailor it to match the requirements of the specific airline or role you are applying for. CV coaching was rated highly in the research quoted above. Even if you don’t get professional guidance on putting together your Pilot CV, spend some time researching suitable formats and putting together this key part of your application.

Get your pilot CV right!Figure 4. Spend time on your CV

Many airlines will use online aptitude testing as an early tool in the pilot selection process. The research suggests that first time job seekers feel that there is a need for guidance in this area that may not be adequately addressed by the flight schools. This is an interesting topic, some will argue that your aptitude is simply your aptitude. However, there is little doubt that you can improve your technique in these tests. There are loads of options here, you can find plenty of books on the topic, there are Apps for your smartphone or websites where you can practice, have a look at Lumosity at this link. The trick is to start practicing these exercises well before you anticipate sitting the tests – picking up a book the previous day is unlikely to be of huge benefit.

Personality tests are often included with aptitude tests. Where an aptitude test may assess your ability to complete mathematical problems, or mentally twist and turn shapes, a personality test has no right or wrong answers. These tests are professionally designed and your best course of action should be to answer honestly – the designers will design inbuilt checks to indicate is a candidate is being dishonest.

Group Exercises can be hard to prepare for as it is hard to anticipate they type of exercise that you will have to complete. Typically the group will be given a fixed amount of time to discuss a problem that may or may not be related to the aviation industry. These can be as obscure as designing a revised itinerary for a disrupted cruise ship! The trick is to make sure you constructively contribute to the exercise – show that you can work with the other candidates. Don’t treat this exercise as a competition – it’s an opportunity for you all to shine together. Point scoring against other candidates is likely to be detrimental to your chances. Be ready for a new piece of information being provided or a change to the exercise’s aim midway through the exercise to see how the group deals with the additional challenge or complication.

Here’s an example group exercise where you (and the other candidates) are required to rank items in order of importance.

Airline group exercise Figure 5. Working together is the key to group exercises

The data reveals a common trend when it comes to pilot selection skills training – those who are experts in the field (heads of training), place a higher emphasis on this training than the people who are in training towards their licence or are seeking a position as an airline pilot. Don’t fall into the trap of underestimating what preparation can do for you.

At Aspire Aviation we provide expert guidance in the area of airline pilot selection training. Our one to one pilot interview coaching sessions and our pilot mock interviews will provide you with the confidence to excel at interview. We will happily review your CV with you too to make sure it reflects your strengths. Contact us today to help us maximise your potential.

Look out for our next pilot selection article, which will be published on shortly.  Follow us on Facebook or LinkedIn and we’ll post when the next article is published.