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The Recommendation Letter

The New York Report, 
sometime in 1996


by John Barton, JFKFO/Mentor

I would like to start, by saying, that after reading my article in the last NY Report, I do recognize that the hiring process at United is not without improvement, and I have shared the same heartache as many of you in trying to get well qualified applicants hired at United. I do notbelieve that the process is a "pilots hiring pilots process, as other ALPA members have written so I solicit any suggestion for improving the process, along with your support of some of the ideas that I will pass on in upcoming NY Reports. 


What is it?
Currently a recommendation letter receives "one point' towards the score which is used to determine if an applicant will be invited to Denver to participate in the interview process. It doesn't matter ,whether this letter is from a Capt, Chief Pilot, or Hart Langer himself. Its weight is "one point". It can be written on the recommendation form that the company has in each domicile, or typed up on a separate piece of stationary, or on a paper napkin. They all get the "one point". Does "one point" really make a difference in bringing a applicant in for an interview. Well, I wouldn't not write one for someone because I felt they didn't need it, but they probably don't need it if they are getting an interview. Qualifications are the biggest factor in getting the interview, and even if an applicant was pushed over the edge with the extra "one point", he most likely would have been called in anyway within the next few weeks or months without the extra point. Just a couple of things to think about: How many of you have written recommendations and your candidate has still not been called? How many of you have been called by the employment office when an applicant that you recommended has been rejected and asked, "Captain Jones, we have a candidate here that just interviewed today, and he didn't do so well. How well do vou know him, and can vou shed any light on this candidate. You gave a strong recommendation, and we'd like to consider your input before sending out a rejection letter". 

Who should you write one for?
Well, here is the rub. How well do you know the applicant you are recommending? Would you stake your reputation on this person? Would this person if hired, truly, not want to jeopardize your reputation? Do vou know what kind of grades they had in college? Any "F's", D's", several withdrawals? Have vou seen their resumes, logbooks, flown with them? Would you let this pilot take your wife and children up for a flight in IMC conditions? Are you starting to get the picture? Many times we have friends who are wonderful human beings, and because of that friendship, our judgement is impaired when it comes to the recommendation letter. If you find yourself in doubt, maybe you should have your candidate meet with another United pilot to get a second opinion, and have that pilot write a recommendation along with yours. After watching a few interviews action, I certainly feel lucky, but also proud to be a pilot for United. We as a group, spend years building time and experience, to end up in such a fine profession. One likened to doctors, and lawyers, with far more responsibility. If a doctor loses a patient, he comes back the next day to try again. Not so with us. My point: Give your recommendations sparingly, if we are to demand more credence in them from the personnel office. 

How to do it?
I do not put much stock in the company recommendation form. If you seriously want to sponsor an applicant, then type up a recommendation letter on stationary the way you've always seen recommendation letters. Your letter should include how you know the candidate, how long, and their flying abilities. The letter should include something about the candidates "credibility", "enthusiasm", "professionalism", "sociability", and their "willingness to sacrifice". Deliver this letter, if at all possible, in person to the Denver employment office. I would get this applicant in to see the LEC Chairman, or Chief Pilot at your domicile. We need to start getting these people to support the applicants that we recommend. If the personnel office continues to reject applicants that have the support of LEC Chairman's' and Chief Pilots, then at least we have something to question the employment office about. We must put integrity in the system before we can demand change. 

Why change?
Pilots write recommendations for anyone. Some of the company recommendation forms I've seen have been filled out like chicken scratch. They are glanced over in the interview with, as I see it, little regard. By the time someone meets the review board, if they have tubed the interview, your recommendation has been lost in the pile. Why is the recommendation of a pilot, a valued employee, not given higher regard? Are we not employee/owners? Basically, all we get out of the recommendation letter is "one point". 

Food for thought
These last few notes are for pondering. What if we went to a recommendation program that only allowed you to sponsor one candidate, until they completed the entire process. Then you could sponsor another. Like the Mentor Candidate, or the Intern, they would be guaranteed an interview, but not a job. The standards would be the same for the interview. The only change would be the value of a recommendation letter from a United Pilot. In guaranteeing the interview, a pilots credibility would be on the line every time he recommended an applicant. Seems only fair that I'm able to get someone an interview as an employee/owner.