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On Your Career

Attitude at your interview.

by Karen M. Kahn

Last month we talked about things you could do to prepare for an airline interview prior to getting that telephone call or letter inviting you to present yourself for inspection and verification at the coveted "airline interview." 

Ideally, you'd like to make this interview your last, leading to a job offer. Or, if this isn't your dream job, let's pretend that it's the one you want for the foreseeable future, and you're going to act like it's the place you really want to be. Why? Because attitude is probably the biggest obstacle to your getting hired anywhere, particularly at an airline where they have applications exceeding slots by the hundreds or thousands. 

We recently assisted two clients with interview counseling for the same airline. One went in with an enthusiastic, "this is where I want to be" attitude and later reported to us how professional everyone was and how it was great to get the opportunity to interview with them. The other, feeling that regional flying was a bit beneath him, wasn't willing to expend much effort on the process, forgot to turn in his paperwork at the interview and found the atmosphere unfriendly and indifferent. 

Who do you think got a job offer? The first one, of course, and just perhaps that applicant's attitude had something to do with it. Even though their qualifications were dissimilar and the second applicant had many more hours of flight time than the first, what counted most in our service-oriented industry was attitude. Credit for those thousands of hours of flight time was lost when applicant No. 2 was unable to project a positive, upbeat attitude. He told the interviewers what he really thought of working for their company by displaying an attitude of "you'll do, since I can't get an interview with a major carrier right now." 

So, after assuming that you meet their basic qualifications, you'll find attitude is of prime importance. Second on my list of crucial factors comes looks, then actions and words. 

Let's now consider these and give you some ideas of how they'll affect your chances of success. 

I listed looks, or your appearance, as next on my hit parade as your first impression is always what counts most. The classic "you've got 20 seconds to make a good impression" is true in aviation where pilots are held in high esteem and expected to set a good example for everyone. Dress appropriately for the occasion; wear nothing trendy or flashy. 

There are numerous manuals that discuss what to wear for your interview, but normally a conservative suit of the same color as the airline's pilot uniforms will help the interviewer see you in your desired role. Wearing the wrong thing can be disastrous. 

After attitude and looks, actions and words run a close tie for third place. Since they're so closely entwined, you have to make sure that they each complement the other. You have to act like the mature, professional pilot you're describing in your responses. Your actions will precede your words as you're judged by the office personnel you meet when you arrive for your interview. Be sure you arrive early, well-rested and fed, prepared for a scrutiny of your credentials. Remember, you've been approved on paper, now it's time to reinforce that opinion in person. 

Be polite to everyone you meet and expect to do a lot of sitting and waiting around-two sure things in a pilot's career! Bring some professional reading to keep you occupied, and try to minimize your participation in speculative discussions with other applicants. You're being scrutinized in the waiting room, the cafeteria, the medical offices and even on the flight to the interview. 

Greet interviewers with a smile, firm handshake and good eye contact. You're glad to be there, and your first impression is under way. Probably the most important questions you'll be asked are "Tell us about yourself?" and "Why should we hire you?" Good preparation can go a long way toward making these two questions sales pitches for all your good points. 

Other questions will examine your technical competence as well as your leadership ability, problem-solving skills, employee relations, work record and how you deal with conflict situations. There are numerous good interview books available. 

If you have any problem areas in your background, practice answers to those questions that can delve deeply into the whys and hows of the situation. You need to let them know what happened in a dispassionate, factual manner and what you've learned from the experience or done to remedy the situation. Since you can't hide these problems, learn instead how to handle them with confidence and a professional attitude. 

Most important is to understand the question and to answer it concisely, to your own advantage. Remember, this interview is a sales pitch for you, so be sure to sing your own praises and to emphasize the skills you have to offer. No need to tell them about your weaknesses. Pitch your strong points and drive home your unique talents that make you well-suited to the job. 

Finally, thank them for the opportunity to interview with them and conclude with your personal summation of why they should hire you. When it's over, send a short thank you note to each person, a reminder of who you are and what you can do for them. Then, sit back, and wait. When all else fails, you've gained a lot of knowledge about interviewing, and you may just get the job! 

Karen Kahn is a captain for a major U.S. airline. Type rated in the MD-80 and Lockheed JetStar, she holds art ATP, Gold Seal CFI:AIM and is rated in gliders, seaplanes and helicopters. She runs Aviation Career Counseling (805 687-9493), a pilot career guidance and airline interview counseling firm based in Santa Barbara, Calif.


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