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A New Twist in the Interview Game

by Jim Carman, AIR, Inc.

Are you ready for your line oriented interview?

Funny how the increased likelihood of an interview - a pleasant prospect that seemed like a piece of cake six months ago - can suddenly turn your stomach into knots.

Feelings of apprehension and angst are perfectly normal. Interviewing is an aquired skill, and there are a number of facets to a successful airline interview. Your physical image must be appealing to your interviewers. Your verbal presentation must be interesting, succinct, enthusiastic and focused on the skills you offer the company. The auronautical knowlege you demonstrate during the interview must reinforce the experience recorded in your flight logbook. And finally, you must reassure the interviewers that you will fit into the culture of the company.

Several airlines - including Southwest, Fedex and (now SkyWest) - have modified their hiring process to help their recruiters identify the most promising pilot applicants. Foremost among these changes is the addition of a line oriented interview as a component of the interview process. Also known as a situation-based interview at some companies, the line oriented interview is an attempt by pilot recruiters to simulate "a typical day at the office" in the words of Amy Webb, a pilot recruiter in the people department at Southwest Airlines.

The setting for a line oriented interview is normall a static cockpit mock-up or cardboard trainer rather than a flight simulator, and involves the pilot job candidate taking the left seat and acting as captain for a scheduled flight segment. The resources available to the new-hire pilot during the line oriented interview include the same kind of information and assistance normally available to an airline captain in flight - including a qualified first officer and a lead flight attendant or a flight engineer, as applicable. In addition to this direct flight deck support, pilot job candidates have access to dispatchers, air traffic control, and maintenance technical experts - all of whom will provide accurate information when requested but not volunteer any information or assistance. The scene-setting for the line oriented interview may even include the added benefit of a jump-seating pilot commuting to work as an additional resource on the flight deck.

At some point during an otherwise routing flight, the prospective new-hire pilot will be presented with an aircraft system malfunction or a weather, passenger, security, air traffic control, or fual management problem. The pilot will be evaluated based on the ability to assess information, analyze alternative courses of action, demonstrate appropriate crew resource management skills, draw on pilot-in-command experience, and formulate a plan of action in a finite time constraint. This is not a simulator flying exercise, but rather an evaluation of headwork, decision making, and crew coordination skills. Webb describes the line oriented interview as an attempt to "put pilots in a comfortable environment and watch them do their job."

Airline interviewers expect that candidates for first officer positions will have detailed technical knowledge and flight skills commensurate with the flight experience recorded in their logbook. However, leadership skills, team building expertise, communications capability, and decision making savvy are qualities all airlines seek in their new hires but are not always accurately assessed during the traditional interview process. The line oriented interview seeks to fill this void.

The director of pilot recruitment at Fedex, John Ryder, points out that one of the reasons Fedex requires 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command (using FAR part 1 rules) is to help identify those candidates with the greatest likelihood of making appropriate pilot-in-command decisions in a "pressure-packed environment." Ryder also emphasizes that Fedex is looking to go beyond a crew coordination expercise in their situation-based interview. "We are evaluating pilot-in-command decisions, leadership skills, and decision making under stress as much or more as we are evaluating crew resource management skills."

Likewise, Webb at Southwest Airlines reiterates that airline interview teams are constantly seeking to gain additional perspective on job candidates, including insight into their team-building skill and leadership strengths. Accordingly, Southwest's line oriented interview builds and expands on the essential imperative of every aitline job interview - to get to know the job candidate as well as possible in the time allotted. Webb elaborates, "we are trying to get to know a professional pilot in a very short period of time - and all of the information we can measure is very helpful."

Decision-Making Skills

Pilots with Part 121 experience will be familiar with the vast majority of the resources available to job candidates during a line oriented interview - an experience first officer and flight attendants, dispatchers, technical support experts, jump-seating pilots, system operations managers, and in some cases, on-call physicians. However, pilots enteering the airline job search directly from military service and entry level civilian pilot posisionts may not be experienced with many of the flight support resources available to the captiain during scheduled airline operations. Regardless, the line oriented interview is less about precise aircradft knowledge or company specific procedures and more about the candidate's ability to use the available resources to reach an appropriate and timely decision.

For professional pilots with a deep resorvoir of flight experience, the best preparation for a line oriented interview is probably a good night's sleep. The old adage- "well-rested and well-tested" holds true. Most line oriented interviews begin with a scene setter such as: at the gate and boarding passengers at an outlaying station (probably with no company maintenance support available); in flight with a passenger, cargo, or security related issue; or a final approach with a rapidly changing weather situation, for example.

Your goal during the scene-setter portion of the exercise is summed up in two words: intense listening. As the situation is presented, seek to determine as much information as possible concerning the scenario to be addresed in your line oriented interview. Understand the essential elements of weather, fuel, alternate airports, hazardous cargo, and aircraft systems status. Inquire about the presense of additional airline employees, beyond the normal flight crew, who may be available to provide assistance with this situation.

Resist the urge to view this scenario in the same context as your squadron or chatroom buddy who may have faced a similar situation during his or her line oriented interview last month. Even subtle changes in the setup can radically alter the appropriate response. Most importantly, as the scenario begins to develop, use the crew coordination skills and pilot-in-command experience you have amassed throughout your flying career to gather information and craft an appropriate course of action, while keeping in mind that most line oriented interviews involve a finite time constraint.

Aviate, Navigate and Communicate

Readers familiar with crew resource management concepts will recall that clear and precise communication is an essential element of success in managing a developing situation. Specify who is to fly the aircraft and manage air traffic control communication while you work the problem. Instruct flight attendants, the flight engineer, and the dispatcher to keep you informed as circumstances develop. Solicit their recommendations, and those of your first officer. Keep other crew members apprised of your intentions.

Watch the fuel! Don't complicate a relatively minor in-flight situation with a self-generated minimum fuel emergency. Narrow body transport aircraft usually burn approximately 100 lbs of fuel per minute in flight. Monitor your destination and alternate fuel and weather requirements throughout the line oriented interview, and be alert for air traffic control delays that could complicate your fuel planning. Maintain situational awareness, and don't be rushed to start an instrument approach prematurely. Finally, don't let a minor missed step early in the line oriented interview spoil the entire event. It's not how you start - it's how you finish.

As you work the problem, recall the basic guidance outlined in most company flight manuals regarding the execution of revenue flights. While specific guidance will vary from company to company the general precedent throughout the airline industry specifies that aircraft operations are to be governed by the following three imperatives, and in this order of priority: flight safety; passenger comfort and convenience; and operational economics. Your decision making process througout your line oriented interview should reflect these three priorities.

Many line oriented interviews conclude with a self-evaluation by the job candidate. This is a good time to remember the three Bs: be honest; be brief; be quiet. The best approach to a self-evaluation, if one is requested, is to:

-highlight the essential elements of the problem, as you understood them

-review your rationale for selecting or rejecting alternative courses of action

-accept responsibility for the consequences of your decisions and

-share credit with other crew members who may have provided thoughtful advice as the scenario progressed.

View this debrief as an opportunity to learn from the experience you gained during the line oriented interview or situation-based interview.

The goal of a line oriented interview debrief is consistent with the goal of the entire interview process - to get to know you as a person as a professional pilot. Most of us enjoy working with pleasant and thoughtful people who suspend judgment; solicit input from colleagues; accept criticism; share credit; listen without interrupting; and show enthusiasm for their work. Keep these qualities foremost in your mind and your line oriented interview will be a useful learning experience.

It's important for interviewing pilots to remember they are under continuous scrutiny from the moment they board their flight, to the job interview, until they return home. All of the material available to the airline - including your application, resume, letters of recommendation, test results, interview or evaluations, simulator flight check performace, and line oriented interview impressions - will be reviewed by the pilot selection committee. The line oriented interview is just "one piece of the puzzle" in the words of Southwest's Webb, a difficulty in one portion of the interview does not disqualify a candidate from selection.

However, many airlines job interviewers caution pilot applicants against "over-preparation." This takes many forms, but the most common examples are offering canned answers rather than a personalized response to thoughtful questions. Appearing to have prior knowledge of interview questions; answering the wrong question; and any actions that may cause interviewers to question your sincerity or honesty. It's easier said than done, but try to relax and be yourself.

A popular military axiom says a plan of attack rarely survives its first contact with the enemy. Your airline interview will not go perfectly according to plan. Expect some missed steps and unanticipated questions, and be honest if a question concerns a topic or concept you're not familiar with. Approach your airline interview with enthusiasm to share your aviation experiences, gratitude for the opportunity to interview with a growing airline, and a commitment to learn from the interview process. Webb at Southwest Airlines summarizes a line oriented interview succinctly: "You're coming to work. This is your office; relax and do your job."

Building Crew Resource Management Skills

Effective crew resource management skills and decision making ability are the foundation of a successful line oriented interview and an essential quality for a prosperous airline career. As you prepare, focus on these essential elements of good crew resource management.

-The best leaders are good listeners. Lead with questions, not answers; suspend judgment; and remember that effective communication is a two-way street.

-Engage in dialog and depate, not coercion.

-Keep the crew informed of your intentions.

-Don't overload in an emergency. Delegate responsibilities to other crewmembers and maintain situational awareness.

-Good leaders relentlessly study and are always prepared. Failure to prepare means preparing to fail.

Crew resource management skills have evolved into an excellent tool to enhance flight safety, and most airlines provide CRM training to their pilots, flight attendants, and dispatchers. CRM skills are also a frequent discussion topic during airline job interviews. If your flying career has not included formal CRM training, or if your CRM skills need refreshing before your first job interview, make plans to attend an AIR Inc. CRM seminar, which is offered at every AIR Inc. airline pilot career seminar.