The daunting interviews...
Since I created the Pilot George blog its growing readership numbers have provided me the opportunity to connect with several aspiring pilots. One common trend in almost every conversation is a fear/concern of the selection process. I can confidently say that some people worry themselves silly about the technical aspects - I was one of those people back in 2016 - but by that same token just as many people are concerned about the non-technical aspect.
Following the popularity of my recent technical assessment write-up, this companion post aims to breakdown the Non-Technical aspects of selection and answer several of the frequently asked questions received by readers. To get the most out of this post you should read it in its entirety, but the post is split into smaller chunks for ease. I hope you find it useful - be sure to let me know in the comments! :-)
Click/tap on a heading to get started.
Where technical assessments exist to score your aptitude, non-technical assessments exist to score your personal/interpersonal skills and behaviours/attitudes against the desired qualities of an airline pilot. Commercial airline flying requires cohesive teamwork and it's therefore commonplace for non-technical assessments to assess both your individual and group performance in assessed areas.
It's worth saying that if you've been invited to a non-technical assessment day then congratulations! Up until this point in the process you're exactly what the academy are looking for and it's now down to the non-technical assessments to establish if you're the right fit for both the role of a pilot and for a given airline's culture, where applicable.
NOTECHS is a framework used for the assessment of social skills (those we use to communicate and interact with each other) and cognitive skills (the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention) which makes it possible to pick out individuals possessing the foundation skills not directly related to aircraft controls or systems. In other words, NOTECHS and similar frameworks assists airlines or training organisations in selecting those individuals who fit the mould of the professional pilot: somebody who will co-operate, who shows true leadership potential, who can make a decision when needed, and so on.
An individuals non-technical skills are essential in the world of commercial flying which relies heavily on two-pilot operations. You could well be the best pilot in the world but if you can't work in a team then you'll likely struggle in the pointy end of your Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. Therefore, pilot selection processes will commonly assess your non-technical skills in both a one-on-one and group-task basis.
The next section of this post goes into a bit more detail about NOTECHS framework and breaks it down into its' individual components. I've included this in the blog post as I feel understanding NOTECHS will help you appreciate exactly what non-technical criteria is considered during your typical pilot assessment process. It may also help you to see why exactly certain questions could be asked during the one-to-one interview etc.
The NOTECHS framework comprises three different levels and we'll take a look at these here. The first level is referred to as a category and in most cases there are four of these although this can be altered to an organisations requirements. A non-technical assessment is designed to seek out qualities in your person which align to these categories. Here are the most common four.
|Co-operation||Working and communicating actively among group members to create a mutual working environment.|
|Leadership & Managerial||Coordinating and managing a task, problem or directing an entire group.|
|Situational Awareness||Perception of aircraft systems, external environment, time, and where they'll be in the future.|
|Decision Making||Ability to recognise a problem, evaluate possible options and choose the final outcome.|
The second level of the framework contains subsets/sub-categories of the first. These are referred to as Elements. For example, it can be said that strong team building & maintaining can be seen as co-operation. You can find some examples of elements in the table below. Note this is not an exhaustive list and not all of these will apply to a selection process for an aspiring pilot.
|Leadership & Managerial||
The third level of the NOTECHS framework is referred to as the Behaviour Markers. These exist to help assessors mark observed behaviours in a standardised and objective manor. Each marker aligns to one or more element and indicates whether an observed action projects a positive or a negative impact in the overall category. Let's take a behaviour marker aligned to the considering others element.
|Takes other peoples' viewpoints into consideration.||Fails to take the opinion of their peers into account.|
An individual marked as positive for this behaviour marker is one deemed able to consider others and as a result able to co-operate well. There may well be more than one behaviour marker for each element and you might be assessed for the same behaviour marker or element in multiple sections of a non-technical assessment which in L3 Airline Academy's case consists of a one-to-one interview and group task.
In the subsequent sections we'll look at the different methods assessors could use to score you. The following sections are more related to the assessment at L3 Airline Academy which consists of a one to one competency interview and a group exercise.
Competency-based interviews are one of the most common styles of interview out there. They often last between 30 minutes to an hour and will contain a number of questions focusing on the desired competencies for the position being offered. The major difference to that last statement is that at an airline academy they'll often be looking at your future captain potential alongside your capacity to cope within a training environment. My own interviews at L3 Airline Academy were conducted on a one-to-one basis although it has been known that additional staff be present in the case of airline specific programs.
Given our detailed look into NOTECHS above you should now have some understanding of what typical pilot competencies may be. However, the NOTECHS list is by no means exhaustive and most generic competencies tend to span the following areas:
- Communication skills
- Decision making
- Goal orientation
Questions can often ask you to recall experiences from your past and may even take on a hypothetical context to assess your thought processes. With this in mind you can quite often expect questions that start like this:
- Can you think of an example where you have demonstrated...
- Describe a way in which...
- How do you cope when...
- What would you do if...
- Give me an example...
The most effective way to answer competency-based questions is with the use of the STAR technique and I've gone into the STAR technique and how to answer competency-based questions in much more detail in the following section of this blog post. Having used STAR in almost every interview i've ever attended I pretty much swear by it and it's a great way to structure your answers.
This list is not exhaustive, but provides some example competency questions.
|Tell me about a time you've worked in a team|
|How do you deal with conflict?|
|Describe a way in which you've demonstrated leadership|
|Tell me about a time you've had to prioritise tasks in a situation that demands time pressure.|
|Tell me about a time you've had to be assertive?|
|Tell me about a time you've faced a major set-back?|
|How do you cope with failure?|
|Tell me about a time you have used effective time management to overcome success.|
|What do you do when you don't know how to do something?|
|Why are you a good fit for *insert airline name here*?|
|Tell me about a time you supported a colleague who was struggling?|
|Tell me about a time you demonstrated initiative|
|Tell me about a time you've had to adapt your communication style?|
|Describe a time when you have had to work as a team to solve a problem|
|Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?|
|Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone. How did you eventually overcome that?|
|Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone. How did you eventually overcome that?|
|Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure?|
|Tell me about a time you were dissatisfied in your work. What could have been done to make it better?|
|If you a colleague you were working with wasn't following the correct procedure, what would you do about it?|
The STAR method is arguably one of the most widely-used and recommended approaches to answering both behavioural and competency-based questions. It's essentially just an acronym that once broken down represents a structure for your answer. It's so successful at helping candidates provide the information an assessor is looking for, that even L3 Airline Academy tend to recommend it themselves in preparation guides or in selection day presentations.
Having worked in recruitment in the past, the biggest frustration is the applicant going on and on and on but thankfully STAR will provide you with a way to plan answers to common questions well in advance. This will ensure your answers are short but sweet all while containing the juicy information assessors are looking for.
Let's take a look at what each letter stands for and build up an example answer.
Click/tap on each heading to learn more about it.
With any answer you'll first want to set the scene for the assessor and provide some context. You don't need to be over the top with your explanation.
At ACME Products Limited I worked in the real-estate and retail team as a graduate. We were responsible for managing the construction, fitting and opening of the companies stores. I worked in the project management section and towards the end of my first year my manager felt I was fit for projects of my own.
Build on the situation and provide an outline of the task at hand. Be specific about how this task related to you as a person and even talk about what the task meant to you if needs be. In short, you're just trying to explain to the assessor what your job in the specific situation was.
I was incredibly excited to get going and soon found out that my first allocation was the re-launch of one of the regions largest stores. It was rare for a new starter to be given such responsibility but I was determined to prove myself and set about on the day-to-day job. Before long I started to worry I'd be unable to complete the project and that it would all look bad on me. The timeline continued to slide and construction wasn't even complete by the time all the fixtures and fittings arrived. As this store was the regions most profitable it was essential it opened on time but I felt that as a new face to the team the construction partners weren't really listening to me.
What actions did you take to complete the task at hand?
It's mostly in this section that you provide the interviewer with the proof that you posses the competencies they're truly seeking. Try to reinforce the most appropriate competencies to the question throughout.
I hated to admit it back then but I really was in over my head. I'd let smaller items slide and gradually these small items became big items and those big items jeopardised the whole project. It took quite a lot of guts back then to admit I was struggling but I took a long, hard look at the situation and knew it was the right thing to do. I scheduled a meeting with my manager and she agreed to provide additional project support and took specific deliverables away from me as part of this. With a much smaller task list and with support from colleagues I was now able to work to the best of my abilities.
What was the overall outcome of your actions?
Don't be shy to take credit for your actions, but don't become cocky and take it all. This is especially important if team work was involved as it could well backfire. Be proud talk about what you learnt from the situation as life is a constant learning experience. The ultimate aim with STAR is to take any situation and spin it in your favour.
With the additional support of my team we went on to complete the store two weeks ahead of schedule. The meeting with my manager made me realise just how important it is to recognise when things aren't going to plan. This project made me realise I should have pushed back on the prospect of my own projects if I didn't feel ready. It also taught me that asking for help should never be seen as negative. After some guidance from the company and one or more projects worth of shadowing I later went on to manage a project twice the size with great success. That was a great accomplishment for me.
All a competency interview answer really is, is a story about your past. Your success depends on how well you tell it and how well your version of events links tightly with the desired competencies for that role. In order to tell a good story you need to put in the time with your preparation.
The downside to competency-based interviews is life experience. It's beneficial to have many examples you pull from during your interview so that you're not recycling the same example again and again. This point applies in particular to those young-faced entrants straight out of school with little or no work experience. Planning is perhaps more important for you than an experienced individual with several years of work under their belt. What I would suggest for those of you who are concerned about the interview is to list off all of the competencies of a pilot and then think of things you've done in your life that demonstrate that. You may find one example spans multiple competencies and as such this offers you the chance to use for the most suited question.
While the STAR system is designed to help you structure your answers, don't use it too rigidly. You want your answer to flow like natural conversation. Ultimately the less of an interview your time in the spotlight feels, and the more of a friendly conversation it becomes, then the happier you'll feel inside about your performance.
Experienced recruiters will be there to put you at ease and they'll ask their questions in a friendly and approachable manor. You'll be pleased to hear that not all interviews are like a scene from the BBC's Apprentice! I often find that in the heat of the situation I lose my trail of thought and if that happens don't be afraid to ask the interview to remind you of the question. It's perfectly fine to do this so, we're all human, just make sure it's not on every question.
Great Answers To Tough Interview Questions
Back when I was attempting to get in to flying school I was also in the process of applying for various graduate jobs as a fall back too. With that in mind I wanted to find a really good book which would let me know all about the interview questions you could be asked. This book was brilliant! Not only does it have great tips on answering touch questions, to which there a plenty, it also talks more about the psychology of interviewing too and how your body language might come across to your interviewer. At the time of writing this book can be purchased for less than £10 on Amazon and it's an insightful read for sure.
The sole purpose of a group interview is to assess, compare and contrast a selection of candidates. Group interviews are effective as they enable the assessment of a behaviours, competencies and metrics that a one-to-one interview can't. These include but aren't limited to team working, conflict management, time management, spatial awareness and so on.
It's important for me to say here that there is no one size fits all approach to group assessments and as such they can take many forms. The group assessment I took at L3 Airline Academy back in 2014/2015 and then the additional group exercise as part of easyJet's selection were each different and the tasks we as a group were asked to complete took on a different style. It's therefore going to be impossible for me to tell you exactly what you'll face during your own exercise. Adding to this I also signed a document to state I wouldn't openly comment on the tasks employed but having said that, I can provide a general overview of what you could look to expect and some tips on how you may stand out from the rest of the group.
The individuals on your assessment day will likely be split into smaller groups as part of the group assessed portion of the day. During my time at L3 this was achieved with different colour lanyards or name badges. The blue group had their one-to-one first and red had their group exercise. The assessors will lead you into a conference style room such as the example photograph above. You may be asked to take a seat randomly or be told to find your name should you be allocated one already. It's common that assessors will sit at the end of the table and there is often more than one of them.
You might find pens, sheets of paper or other items on your table and it's likely these will help you during the task. The assessors will take a moment to introduce themselves and explain how the tasks will run so that there is no doubt as to what is expected of you. If you are unsure of anything explained, be sure to ask aas once the task starts you're being marked.
Group tasks can last anything from an 30 minutes onwards depending on the task and sometimes there are multiple tasks to complete.
Types of group task
Here is just a small list of the types of group tasks that I have personally experienced in the several interviews I've attended over the years. Note, these aren't all specific to L3. They've been provided as examples only.
- Discussion based
"Current Affairs" or "Views on improving an airline" or "Challenges facing an airline" etc.
- Problem based
"Stuck on a desert island" or "Sinking ship" or "Lost passenger baggage" etc.
- Task based
"Bridge of straws" or "Build the tallest tower out of cups" etc.
Key aspects of most group tasks
- Group Work
Kind of obvious this one. The group task is going to require you working as a group to meet the objectives of the task.
There will almost always be a time limit, or multiple time limits for each component. Assessors will watch this time incredibly closely with a stopwatch and it is down to the group to manage their own time. Usually one individual takes on the responsibility for time keeping but if this isn't you then it won't hurt to be aware of the time yourself. Should the time keeper fail in their time keeping - as I have one (more on that in a mo) - then you could say "There's still 2 minutes left" which means the rest of the group can use that 2 minutes to complete the task effectively without all stopping.
On every task I've ever done - except the odd building task - assessors have always thrown in a curveball mid-way through the task which tends to drastically change the task at hand or the view point of each candidate.
The "Dos" of Group Exercises
- Be an effective communicator
You must be able to listen to others and also respond appropriately. One of the group may suggest the daftest thing you've ever heard but don't just laugh it off. Be considerate of them and approach the situation appropriately by suggesting why their solution may not be the best. When you eventually speak be sure to make it both clear and concise. You also want to be confident in your viewpoint but don't dominate the discussion with it.
- Development on the points of others
Someone in your group might suggest a point which you think has promise. Acknowledge it's positives and consider building on their ideas if you can contribute anything. The two of you may have the same idea so this shows you've listened and considered the view of your peer. You might build on it like this "Yea, I agree with Jane.. she's made a great point. If we combined it with [insert your own point] then it would allow us to.....". Doing this demonstrates support and encouragement for others and their suggestions.
- Include Everyone
If one of your peers is sat quietly it doesn't mean they don't have anything to contribute. Not everyone is an extrovert and by opening up your arms and including them you show both a consideration of others and your ability to manage a team. You could address them directly to do this, such as "What do you think Dom?". Once everybody has said their bit you might consider putting all the ideas to a democratic vote or running a tally to come to your final outcome.
The "Don'ts" of Group Exercises
- Be overpowering / talk over people
With interview processes being rather competitive in nature, it can be tempting to try and show assessors why you're the best by taking the lead in an overpowering manor. Don't get me wrong, demonstrating leadership is a great attribute to have but there's also too much of a good thing. I'm sure you've experienced this at some point in your life already where one person becomes rather bossy or wants to take the lead. A group exercise is very much about everybody having an equal say. To quote recruitment site Reed: "the wisest people don’t always speak the loudest, but they always make their voices heard. Always think before you speak".
- Lose focus
Due to the fast nature of group exercises you can rather easily fall behind the curve and lost track of what's been said. Ensure to give your full attention to the task at hand, retain a suitable level of social interaction and try not to mention something that's already been said by one of your peers. Making notes or a list of what has already been said can help you out here.
These group tasks tips are non-exhaustive and you can find many more along these lines with a quick Google search.