Human error during airline pilot assessments?

An introduction to human error types – how can this contribute to your interview performance?  

What is error?

We’re all human.  We make errors.  I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with those two points, but crucially, how does understanding what type of errors you make, contribute to your interview performance?  

I’ll explain, but first, we must understand how to categorise human error.  There are many ways of defining error in this context, but we will consider that there must be some kind of human action that exceeds a defined level of acceptability; a human action leading to a performance shortfall that must be measurable in some way.  There should also be the potential to act in a way that would not be considered erroneous.  

The Health and Safety Executive categorise human failure into:

  • Human error – an unintentional action or decision
  • Violation – a deliberate choice, intentional
Human error can then be further divided into skill-based errors (unintended actions) and mistakes and violations (intended actions).  

Firstly, unintended skill-based errors:

  • Slips – This is when you perform an action, but perhaps do it in the incorrect sequence, do it too many times, or do it incorrectly.  You might turn a dial the wrong way or press a button twice instead of once. 
  • Lapses – This is when you forget to perform an action; for example, finding out you’ve forgotten to put milk in your cup of tea!  
Secondly, intended actions:
  • Mistakes – these are decision making failures; doing something wrong when you believed the action to be correct.  These can be further categorised into rule-based mistakes and knowledge-based mistakes.  Rule based mistakes include applying a bad rule, applying the wrong rule, or applying the correct rule, badly!  Knowledge-based mistakes include not fully understanding the situation or potential implications. 
  • Violations – These are deliberate actions; bypassing rules or procedures in a deliberate fashion.  
What strategies can be used to prevent error? 

This will very much depend upon the environment, but there are a multitude of things that can be done to try and prevent error.  Working in a logical sequence, considering the use of procedures and checklists, and ensuring distractions are kept to a minimum can help to prevent slips and lapses.   Time pressure, attempting to do too much at the same time, or trying to complete too many complex tasks simultaneously can lead to mistakes so it would make sense to make time where possible, and sequence tasks in a logical order prior to completion.

Violations are interesting.  At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that all violations were bad, but this is not always the case.  Rules and procedures can only ever be made for a certain set of situations – non normal or emergency situations may require ‘outside of the box’ thinking, and therefore ordinary rules may no longer apply.  

It may also be the case that a rule or procedure has become out of date, or obsolete.  Of course, in this situation it would be appropriate to raise this and attempt to drive change.  If it’s harder to ‘do the right thing’, human nature will often lead to short cuts – potential violations.  These should be raised appropriately.   

How does error relate to selection?  

It’s important to fully understand the classification of error in order to appreciate how we can prevent error occurring or reduce the likelihood of error.  An employer will have some responsibility to make it as easy as possible to prevent human error, but where do we stand as individuals?  How can we best avoid error?  How can we trap error if it does occur?   

This is where we begin to move into how an appreciation of error can help you prepare for selection.  No employer will expect you to arrive at selection having never made an error in the past.  Indeed, it would be wrong to state “I never make mistakes”.  So, a few things need to happen in order for an error to be discussed effectively during selection:

  • An appreciation that you have made errors in the past (and likely will again!)
  • An understanding of what particular errors you have made
  • Crucially, you have considered what you will do to prevent errors in the future – that you have the ability to learn from situations
The last point is key; how you avoid error is what is important.  Recruiters understand that you’re a human being, and they understand things don’t always go to plan.  However, they want to know that when errors are made, you review them and put in place changes to prevent the same, or similar errors happening again, in the future.  Being self-aware is important, considering in advance what errors are possible, attempting to implement mitigation strategies, and thinking about ‘what if’ scenarios.  

Consider your commute to work – you consider that there might be traffic, so you leave early.  What happens if there’s poor weather forecast?  Perhaps you might leave earlier still.  You get the idea – this is potentially preventing an undesirable situation occurring as you have thought ahead and considered what might happen in the future.

What questions may be related to error? 

Questions such as ‘tell me a time when you have made a mistake’ or ‘tell me a time when you would have done something differently’ have the potential to discuss error.  What the error was, what happened, why it happened and crucially – what you do now to prevent the same error happening again.  What have you learnt?  Will it happen again?  What mitigation strategies do you use, or indeed encourage others to use?  

Understanding error will hopefully mean you become increasingly self-aware, always on the lookout for error; always looking for ways to prevent sub optimal situations occurring.  

AirlinePrep are experienced at helping clients understand and discuss error in an articulate and coherent manner.  During selection, the discussion of error should not be something to be feared; instead it should be viewed as an opportunity to state what strategies you have in place to prevent error, that you understand and recognise that error may occur, and you do your best at all times to prevent error occurring. 

As always – if you have any questions, please just ask. 

From AirlinePrep - the very best of luck!
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