AIRLINE ASSESSMENT PREPARATION
So now that you’ve got that all-important assessment with your favourite airline, what can you do to ensure you give yourself the very best chance of making the most of the opportunity and land that dream job? Like everything else in aviation, the answer lies in thorough preparation. Airline assessors, whether they be HR people or pilot assessors/managers, see hundreds of applicants every year and will spot the unprepared candidate right away. You must do your homework on your chosen airline and their assessment process and try to anticipate whatever may be thrown at you in the selection process.
The process usually follows the following format, aptitude/personality testing, either on-line or at the assessment centre, sometimes as a basic screening tool to eliminate those in whom the airline would have no interest. The next steps may be a technical test followed by an interview, nowadays often a competency-based one and those who pass that phase successfully advance to a simulator assessment. Some airlines may do all three/four phases and not necessarily in that order, but each of the steps is usually pass or fail.
1. The Interview
Most interviews are conducted by HR personnel with a pilot expert also on the interview board. Candidates need to understand that companies will look at you as an employee first and as a pilot second and they are trying to find out what kind of person you are in a short space of time, typically less than an hour. By this we mean that if they think you won’t fit into their company culture, then it doesn’t matter how skilful you may be in the aeroplane. Accordingly, you need to know the basic information about that airline, show gratitude for the assessment opportunity and come across to the assessors as an enthusiastic pilot with common sense and good commercial awareness. Ensure you can describe:
Most interviews start by asking the candidate about his flying history so have that ready and be succinct in your answer – no need for your life history but you need to show that you:
If the interviewers get the impression that this is just another company you’ve applied to, you’ll be on the next flight home. Be enthusiastic about the prospects of flying for this company. If asked which other airlines you’ve applied to, be honest in your answers. Assessors want to hire pilots with integrity.
Types of Interview Questions
Basic questions as in a Tech General paper such as –
Such as – You were flying and X happened, what would you do? These are often CRM-type questions to see how you might react in specific circumstances. If the question involved minor SOP breaches by the Captain without safety implications it’s best to be cautious about reporting this through official channels. Better to say to the Captain that this is not what you were taught and if the Captain persisted with the minor breach of the rules, don’t under any circumstances state you’d take over control! Equally, it would be best to try to talk to him post-flight about the incident and your understanding of the SOPs and if that wasn’t satisfactory, perhaps ask a few colleagues or training Captains about his normal behaviour before deciding if you are going to report it through official channels.
These attempt to elicit answers from your own personal experience, ideally in your flying history but if you can’t think of something from there, then get an answer from your life history. The types of competencies asked about are usually
Tell me about a project you were involved in and how did you organise the other team members
Tell me about the best experience you’ve had as a member of a team (in any area of life)
When did you have to make a really important decision and what things did you take into account in coming to that decision. Did you get it right? What did you learn from the experience?
The ability to take things in your stride and bounce back from adversity.
What was your worst day flying and how did you handle it. Follow-up questions are likely to ask what did you learn from this experience and how would you try to prevent it in future?
What can you do as a pilot to help the company’s financial position?
Efficient flying, best cruising level, ask for shortcuts etc to save fuel. Fuel accounts for about 30% of an airline’s costs
Good P.A. The public address announcement from the flight deck is usually the only contact the pilots have with the customers. Accordingly, practice your P.As. Keep them short, factual and avoid technical terms or beacon names. Give the customer what he wants – the route (by geographical places like cities instead of VORs), the weather and ETA. Keep it friendly but professional and speak slowly. Try to remember that there is probably one young child or an old person on board for whom this is his first flight. Remember your own first flight!
Work hard to ensure on-time departures. On Time Performance is an important part of every airline’s operational policy.
If company policy allows it, be at the cockpit door to say goodbye and thanks to departing passengers. Remember, they pay your salary!
Be able to explain why SOPs are so important in modern airline operations.
Usually based on the manufacturer’s published SOPs
Are formulated by experts in a calm manner – not on the spur of the moment.
They allow any two pilots who’ve never met (or who may dislike each other) to safely operate the aircraft to the company’s satisfaction with both pilots fully aware of his own and the other pilot’s responsibilities.
As per the scenario type above, you need to show that you believe in complying with SOPs but not at any expense if there is no safety implication.
“Tell me about a time when you had to take action to ensure the safety of flight.” Again, follow-up questions may ask what you learned from the experience and what you might have done better. Don’t be afraid to show you didn’t handle it very well but that you learned a lot from the experience.
2. Group Exercises
Some of the larger airlines also use a stage of group exercises to assess potential pilots. In general, these exercises are designed to see how you work in a group. Are you a good leader, a good follower? What are your communication and analytical skills? Overall, they are trying to establish how well you can work as a member of a team and if you demonstrate leadership qualities. The result of the exercise is usually immaterial. It’s the process the airline is interested in.
They want pilots who can work well with others, yet can demonstrate leadership skills. They do not want those who take over the task but rather those who show they can lead yet are prepared to contribute to the overall aim of the exercise. In such exercises, candidates should try to ensure they make a positive contribution to the discussion/task but don’t dominate. All airlines try to hire future Captains, not just co-pilots.
3. Simulator Assessment
Normally the final step in the process. It always involves the candidate being assessed as both Pilot Flying and Pilot Monitoring. This second role is often overlooked by inexperienced pilots but remember the assessors are always very experienced TRIs or TREs with vast experience of training and assessing pilot competency and will immediately rule out anyone who is seen to be unhelpful to the other pilot in the sim.
In many ways, the PM role shows more about the pilot’s character that the PF role. You need to be a good support to the other pilot when he is flying. Better to err on the side of too much support than the other way around. If the assessors think you’re overdoing the prompts, they’ll tell you to ease off. Always ensure you call any deviations of the basic parameters by calling “Heading” or “Speed” or “Altitude” or “Localiser” or “Glideslope” etc as appropriate.
You may find yourself in an unfamiliar simulator so the assessors will be aware of this and will be looking to see how quickly you adapt to a strange machine. Remember, you’re not rated on this type and they will be trying to assess your ‘trainability’ – would you get through a type rating without any great difficulty. Obviously handling skills will be important so you want to fly the manoeuvres as accurately as you can. This is where you need to have a fast scan so make sure you’ve had recent instrument flying practice before the assessment.
If you know in advance what type of simulator is going to be used for the assessment, you would be wise to spend some cash on getting a few hours in that type just before your assessment. This doesn’t come cheaply but you’ve already spent a lot of money on your training up to this and getting yourself some simulator time at this stage would be money well spent! Many training organisations such as Simtech Aviation will have short programmes to prepare candidates for assessments geared towards specific airlines so you will get the most up-to-date information on what that airline currently asks and expects of the candidates.
Keep it short but relevant and ensure you include the Emergency Brief and TEM. A simple guide towards assessing potential threats is to think of these areas: (WATC)
Aircraft – any MEL items
Terrain in the immediate area
Crew (unfamiliar with the sim, low experience, assessment pressure etc)
Finish off your brief by asking the other pilot if there’s anything he’d like to add. This demonstrates good teamwork and also helps to ensure you haven’t forgotten something.
Most assessments will consist of some or all of the following:
A number of airlines have dropped the single-engine assessment in favour of looking at your general handling and navigation skills/situational awareness and your ability to think while flying the aircraft. These will place a great emphasis on your basic flying skills on the basis that if you have good skills they will be able to train you on their aircraft type. Accordingly, they may spend more time on climbing/descending and turning at specific speeds/rates of Climb/Bank Angle. You might be asked to perform a calculation or a navigation question while you’re flying manually.
“What is your QDM to NDB/VOR XXX and what heading would you turn onto to intercept that track?”
“Which entry would you make to the hold?” (remember it’s always the easiest one!)
“Where are you now in relation to the runway/airfield?”
Prepare, prepare, prepare!
Many airlines are notoriously slow to revert with your result, especially if you haven’t been successful – and don’t expect to be told how you’ve done in the sim as nobody gives feedback these days.
Make notes immediately after your assessment while the details are fresh in your mind. You may need them for the next assessment.
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