Interviews suck. There’s no other way to describe them. Sitting in front of a panel of judgmental pilots and getting grilled for an hour while trying to convince them that you’re the right fit for the next decade can be an intimidating task. It can be even more intimidating if it’s in a squadron with a different airframe or you don’t have any good “inside” connections.
Often, however, we’re only intimidated by those things we don’t understand. If knowledge is power, allow me to peel back the curtain a little and reveal an insider look at the construction and operation of a typical hiring board from my experience sitting on both sides of the table. Hopefully it can help you form your interview strategy appropriately.
1. Who will be on your interview board?
Squadrons vary, but in my experience, a typical board will consist of 4-6 pilots representing the cross-section of the squadron. The Squadron Commander (O-5), Director of Operations (O-5), a Flight Commander (O-4), a Drill Status Guardsman (aka part-timer) (O-4 or O-5), and a “young” guy (O-3) are all common. Certain members may be picked for some strategic purpose while others may have just been one of the few pilots available on the schedule that day.
The one thing they all have in common is a mutual lack of HR experience! In fact, this is more than likely the first time most of these pilots have conducted an interview, so they’re figuring it out as they go.
2. Each board member represents a specific genre of questions.
A common example:
- Squadron Commander: overview of the squadron and the hiring process, broad questions to get things started (e.g. “tell us about yourself and why are you applying”)
- Director of Operations: flying record, qualifications, flight related skeletons or achievements, flying scenario questions
- Flight Commander: career goals, why would you be a good fit
- DSG: off the wall question to throw you off, digging into any skeletons or reasons why you wouldn’t be a good fit
- Young guy: why would you be a fun person to deploy with or hang out outside of work
Every applicant will get asked roughly the same questions. Once this preliminary round of questions are complete, “reattacks” are opened to the group to ask any follow up questions.
3. There will be a hiring board point of contact (POC).
One pilot will be assigned as the hiring POC roughly six weeks before the actual interviews. Although she will not make the final hiring decisions, it is important that you try to make a good first impression because she will be responsible for vetting each applicant.
Not only is she influential in determining who actually gets offered an interview, but she will likely give a brief description of your background and perceived pros/cons uncovered during her research to the board before you walk into the interview room.
In other words, her description of you could become the board’s first impression of you before you even enter the room. As with everything else, do what you can to ensure you make the desired first impression stick.
4. Each vote is not created equal.
The hiring board is not a purely democratic process. Each member of the board is more like an advisor to the commander. They subjectively rank each applicant from best to worst, compare the results, and then attempt to defend their rankings.
It’s not uncommon to leave the interview room with the final collective rankings unresolved. Ultimately, it’s the Squadron Commander who will make the final recommendation to the Operations Group Commander on the selections.
5. On average, there will be 8-12 qualified applicants invited to interview.
It should be no surprise that we can’t hire everyone. Despite a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, we feel that each applicant we invite to an interview has a legitimate shot of being hired.
Since everyone has a legitimate shot, you need to try to figure out your unique advantage. In other words, why should we hire you over the other guy? Perhaps you have a background in Test that will help the squadron transition to an upcoming avionics suite or you played baseball in college and want to bat cleanup for the squadron’s softball team.
Everyone has something unique that they bring to the table and we want your help to figure out what you think that is.
If you figure out a way to make your background or personality stand out from the pack in a way that benefits the squadron, your chances of rising to the top of everyone’s list increases dramatically.
6. So many interviews, so little time.
There will typically be an interview scheduled every hour between 0800 and 1500 over two days. Each interview averages about 45 minutes. The 15 minutes between interviews provides very little time to review the interview that just took place when you factor in a bathroom break, recharging a coffee, and taking the 5 minutes before the next interview to review the next applicant’s background.
The point is, these are long days for the board members and everything tends to blend together after two days of nonstop interviews. This reinforces the suggestions of the previous point (#5); that it will be important to articulate your unique advantage so it is easily remembered when it’s finally time to review and compare all the applicants.
In fact, we may not be able to review how all the interviews went until the end of day two. That’s a long time if you interviewed early on day one, so think about how you can leave a lasting impression that sets you apart from the pack.
7. It may take longer than desirable to hear the results.
Delta and FedEx will let you know before you ever leave the interview if you were hired or not. Don’t expect that to be the case with the ANG interview. Unfortunately, it may take up to several weeks before you officially hear anything.
It’s not that we’ve forgotten about you, it’s just that we have more due diligence to conduct post interview. Often if we don’t already know all the applicants well, we will use some of the information gathered during the interview to track down references, look into TX (Transition Course) eligibility (if required), and/or review the forecasted resources (i.e. orders) available to determine how many applicants we can actually hire.
This is all on top of a normal flying schedule and other competing priorities, so it may take a little time. Be patient and give it a couple weeks before you worry about hearing the results.
8. Interviewing multiple times is looked at as a good thing.
So, you didn’t get hired during the last hiring board. This is not necessarily because you were a bad fit for the squadron. You may have just been a victim of bad timing with those you were competing against, so don’t give up.
There are several guys in my current squadron that had to go through multiple boards before the stars aligned and they were offered a position. Now they’re the same guys doing the hiring so they understand your disappointment and respect your resilience.
If not getting the offer on the first attempt was enough for you to avoid trying again in the future, you probably weren’t that determined to be part of the squadron to begin with.
We want pilots that are excited to be here, so if you continue to rush the unit and reapply, it shows your strong desire to be part of the squadron. This is now one of your strongest advantages over your competition. Use it to your advantage.
Every squadron is different, but I’m willing to bet that most of these points hold true across the various flying communities. Try to think about the interview from the board member’s perspective. How can you stand out? What are they looking for? How can you make this an easy choice for them? What would you be looking for if you were in charge of hiring?
Answering those questions and trying to understand how a typical hiring board works could ultimately give you the confidence and subsequent advantage over your competition. Good luck!