5 steps to ace that airline interview

7 min read

Multiple offers and a signing bonuses are reality for qualified pilots.

“Congratulations, it’s our pleasure to offer you a first officer position with our airline.  We believe you have the right qualifications and experience to succeed.  We have a class beginning in two weeks.  Included with our offer is a $15,000 signing bonus and you can expect an upgrade to Captain in less than two years.”

Sound too good to be true?  It’s a reality for those who meet the minimum certification requirements for an airline pilot – the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.  What’s more, in the current job market, with demand up and supply questionable, it’s not uncommon for aspiring airline pilots to find themselves with multiple job offers to consider.

For the student pilot, it’s never too early to begin preparing for that dream job.  The highly-respected Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook predicts that through 2035, the aviation industry will need to supply more than two million new aviation personnel including 617,000 commercial airline pilots. Consider that the entire U.S. pilot population is only about 600,000.

And for those existing Commercial pilots and ATPs, now is the time to begin that detailed preparation to ace that first interview.

Do your homework to ensure a good first impression.

1) Understand the qualifications

Do your homework.  It’s not good practice to simply blanket the industry with generically-worded cover letters and resumes with little regard to what the airline has identified as minimum hiring requirements.  That’s not to say you shouldn’t be your own best advocate and work to convince a potential employer of your qualifications even if falling short in some categories.  However, being woefully short in multiple qualification categories could be wasted time and energy.

By law, a pilot flying for an air carrier must possess an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate (may be Restricted ATP (R-ATP) if graduating from an approved College or University).  The minimum experience requirements for ATP generally suffice for most regional carriers.  Do not be scared away if you meet the minimum experience requirements for ATP, but haven’t yet completed the written exam and requisite ATP-CTP course.  Many of the regional carriers will provide the ATP-CTP training as part of the new-hire process and expect that you will complete the ATP practical exam as part of your type rating.  Many airlines will even offer an interview if there is a reasonable expectation you’ll meet ATP requirements in the coming months.

While educational requirements ebb and flow with supply and demand, most regional air carriers still publish a minimum Associates Degree with Bachelor’s degree preferred.  You’ll want to have in-hand a valid, first-class medical, current passport, and radio telephone operator permit.

2) Do your research

Get to know the airline before going for your first interview.

It’s critical that you be well informed about any organization ahead of an interview to ensure a) it’s a company you truly wish to fly for and b) you make a good first impression.  Before applying for the job, you’ll want to know the pilot domiciles, type of equipment operated, pay scale, typical time to upgrade, culture, etc.  There are numerous online tools to assist in this research and you’ll also want to tap the insight and expertise of other pilots you may know working for that airline.  LinkedIn or other social media outlets can be a good source for determining how those in your network are connected to the airlines you are pursuing. If you wish to research on LinkedIn, then kennected.org is the place you must start with.

Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by grabbing on to the first Google return or ending your search in the “about” section on the company website.  Familiarize yourself with company history, key executives and anything that may stand out in the annual report.  Consider what’s important from the company’s perspective by investigating recent media releases or other news stories.

The ability to make a personal connection with something you’ve discovered is a great opportunity to make a good, lasting impression.  One of the most sought after traits for employers is an “engaged” employee.  If your research doesn’t quite lead you in the direction you would like, all is not lost.  Use this as an opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.

3) Organize your documents

The application process will force you to have your documents (pilot certification, logbook, medical, photo ID, passport, transcripts, etc.) organized for submission, but don’t forget about the in-person interview.  It’s always a good idea to have a single folder with copies of everything you may have been required to submit including your resume, cover and references.

It’s a good idea to identify at least three professional references and have those contacts listed on a stand-alone document that you may hand over in the event you are asked.  At the risk of stating the obvious, select those who you believe will make the strongest recommendation on your behalf.  Former co-workers and supervisors are a good start – those who can attest to your piloting ability, work ethic, commitment to safety and adherence to policies and procedure.  Also, consider different categories of references.  You’ll want to avoid filling your reference list with only pilots.  A contact outside of aviation that can speak to your professionalism and dependability will demonstrate multi-dimension.

A final word on references, be sure to gain permission first before listing an individual as a reference.  There’s nothing more awkward or embarrassing than a reference receiving an unexpected call.  Not only get permission from your references, but keep your references informed so they may have some awareness that a call may be imminent.  This will also provide a prime opportunity to influence or assist your reference in saying the right things.  It’s also the courteous, professional thing to do.

4) Prepare for your interview

Prepare thoroughly for typical interview questions.

All of the diligent resume building, research and organization won’t do any good unless you’re prepared and rehearsed at delivering the information.  There are a lot of great resources online that will provide sample interview questions.  It’s not cheating to prepare answers in advance and even rehearse responses in a mock interview setting.

For starters, a polished interviewee will have a stock answer to the question, “tell us about yourself.” It sounds innocuous enough, but easy to fumble.  Develop an “elevator” speech that will highlight your certifications and accomplishments with any experience (aviation or otherwise) that will differentiate yourself from the crowd of pilots vying for the same job.

Conflict resolution is another common source of questioning.  You’ll want to have various anecdotes available for quick retrieval that demonstrate you are able to get along with others, solve problems and lead.  An airline is entrusting you with a tremendous amount of responsibility and the safety of hundreds – they want to be confident in your ability to utilize information and make sound, well-informed decisions.

If you’re having trouble with clear examples that demonstrate a particular attribute, again, talk to others about ideas.  It’s likely others have experiences that may job your memory or be modified to fit a similar situation you’ve experienced.

While you’ll want to be well-rehearsed, you don’t want to look, sound or act like a robot.  Those who are likable in an interview will appear open and helpful with a warm, welcoming smile.  Your voice needs to be warm with inflection (record yourself for practice).  Your body language should project confidence, honesty and positive energy.  People respond to emotional connections, not memorized scripts.

5) Dress to impress

Be sure to dress the part.

Impressions will be formulated from the time you walk in the door.  Let’s agree that humans are relatively superficial.  It’s widely known and accepted that it’s good practice to dress for the job you want – in a manner that is aviation appropriate.  For aviation, I’d describe this as formal, conservative and crisp.  Invest in a dark, well-fitted suit.  A light-colored shirt is your best option and of course, avoid anything loud of flashy.

Each article of clothing should be clean and pressed.  A trip to the dry-cleaner may be in order ahead of the interview.  Shoes should be in a style and color to match the suit choice and free of dirt and scuffs.  The fine attention to detail will demonstrate your respect for the opportunity and appreciation for the responsibilities of the job of professional pilot.

Additional resources

Airline Pilot Central

Future and Active Pilot Advisors (FAPA)

Jet Careers


Will Fly for Food

Interested in sharing more resources and/or helpful interview tips?  Please submit.

Eric Radtke