Pilot recruitment processes – how reliable are they?

A short insight into how airline pilots are recruited

No matter which role you are applying for, you’ll almost certainly have to go through some kind of ‘process’ prior to joining a new company.  For aspiring and current airline pilots, this is no different, but over the years, airlines have changed their style somewhat.  Historically, you simply had to be on good terms with the chief pilot, possibly undergoing an interview which represented more of a ‘chat’ than an interview, and then you were in -this relaxed style of assessment is very rare these days, certainly amongst the airlines.  


So why are certain types of assessment used more commonly than others, and what are the potential advantages and disadvantages? 

There’s been various studies over the years, looking at the predictive validity of each element of recruitment.  Ultimately, these studies look at how accurate each method is at predicting how a candidate will perform during employment, and/or throughout their training.  Any study will obviously have drawbacks and individual exceptions, and each career path may vary the study/outcome somewhat.  That said, these studies give you a flavour of how useful each element of assessment might be.  One particular way of increasing predictive validity is by subjecting candidates to multiple assessment methods –making it more challenging to fake, or ‘cheat’ an individual element.  In short, your job specific skills and competencies – providing you possess them – should show consistently across a selection event.

 
Currently, interviews are generally competency based in style with typical questions starting with the phrase ‘tell me a time when….’.  The specifics of how to prepare for questions of this type are discussed elsewhere, as this article is more interested in how the validity of the interview is affected.  For example, the historic ‘fireside chat’ style interview of old which involved a friendly discussion with a chief pilot, would be known as an unstructured interview.  This doesn’t allow easy comparison across multiple candidates, nor does it allow for much consistency, relying completely upon the specific judgement of the interviewer.  A more structured method, where the same questions, or questions from a question bank are asked, can increase the validity somewhat.   Ensuring multiple recruiters are used, that they are standardised and consistent, and constructing the interview around pre-agreed skills or competencies can also improve predictive validity. 


So what about the pitfalls?  


Any selection process that involves a human assessor, has the potential for bias to be introduced.  Direct and indirect discrimination is detailed in the equality act and should be respected at all times.  Interviewers can also make mistakes; they may not notice, or record, an element of the candidate’s performance, or they may suffer from the ‘horns and halo’ effect, where an assessor fixates on their initial impression of a candidate. 


What about the candidate themselves?  So far, we have focussed on the selection process itself, but it is entirely possible that a candidate may not present themselves honestly.   They may act in a certain manner, believing their chosen manner is what the interviewer ‘wants to see’.  In my experience, whilst the assessor wants to see the chosen skills and competencies delivered, with evidence, they also want the candidate to present honestly.  This is always something we advocate at AirlinePrep – honesty is always the best policy, and if you need to develop your skillset, there are certainly ways of achieving that prior to selection.   


Work sample tests – where the candidate demonstrates an element of the real job, has one of the highest levels of predictive validity.  For a pilot, this could involve a simulator check.  Clearly costly to run, and labour intensive, they test the actual role – you aren’t trying to infer a skill set, you are witnessing a candidate perform their particular skills or competencies for real, in a simulated, semi-real environment. 


Other forms of assessment are common – group exercises and psychometric tests, for example (discussed in this article).  By assessing candidates across a range of assessment methods, predictive validity can be seen to increase, due in part to a skill set being observed across multiple processes.  


So how best can you prepare?  


This is where AirlinePrep can be invaluable.  For a start, preparation is not about cheating your way into a role.  It’s about knowing what is expected of you, knowing how best to prepare and knowing how best to coherently and articulately demonstrate your skill set.  Much has been written about assessment preparation, along with multiple techniques to consider, with books, papers, websites and various other advice available.


AirlinePrep have been delivering training since 2012, and have assisted hundreds of aspiring, current and military pilots achieve their career ambitions.  If you’d like help and guidance, please just get in touch. 
From AirlinePrep - the very best of luck!
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