Where Should You Apply?
If you can, spend some time considering what characteristics are the most important in your ideal job. These might include location, type of aircraft/mission, operational tempo, where your friends and family are located, and more. Use the MilRecruiter Squadron Map section to find units in areas you want to live in. Use our Job Board to find out who’s hiring.
If you want to fly fighters and live in the northwest, you can focus on just those 3-5 squadrons. If you want to stay in the northwest regardless of aircraft, you can apply to about 15 squadrons. On the other hand, if you just want to fly fighters regardless of location, you have closer to 40 different options. If you’re not picky or you don’t have the luxury of time, you should cast a wider net. Most units only hold one hiring board a year, typically in the spring or fall.
As a general rule, we recommend casting a wide net. These slots are becoming more and more competitive, so apply to any/all squadrons that interest you. As the great philosopher Michael Scott once stole as his own, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Luck = Opportunity + Prepartion
Every squadron is different. What might get the attention of a hiring board in Squadron A may get lost in the shuffle at Squadron B. Next year, when the members of that particular hiring board swap out, it may change again. Also, your competition – the other applicants – will fluctuate from year to year and squadron to squadron. The point is, by maximizing the number of squadrons you apply to, you’re increasing your chances to stand out from a crowded field in the eyes of that particular squadron on that particular year.
You have control over your preparation (e.g., your qualifications, your application, etc.), but there’s a certain amount of luck (e.g., who’s your competition, who’s on the hiring board that year, etc.) required to get a squadron’s attention. Increasing the number of opportunities you give yourself, combined with the preparation you put in, will undoubtedly make you more “lucky.”
One of the great benefits of the Guard/Reserve is that you can be stationed in one place for your entire career. However, that is not required. Realize that it is not uncommon to transfer to a different squadron at some point in your career based on your personal and professional goals. If you’re from the west coast but get offered a slot on the east coast, you can transfer to a different unit closer to home at a future date. We mention this only to point out that there is flexibility with the aircraft you fly and the locations you choose later in your career, so don’t limit yourself to specific locations now unless that’s a non-negotiable for you.
One caveat to that flexibility is that it would be VERY unlikely that transfer from heavies (e.g., C-130s, C-17s, KC-135s, etc.) to fighters. So, you may be able to transfer from New Jersey F-16s to California F-15s or Washington KC-135s later in your career, for example, but you should not count on transferring from a heavy to any fighter unit. It’s not that heavy pilots are incapable of becoming good fighter pilots; it’s more based on the requirement to attend significantly more training to make that conversion happen. However, on the flip side, a previous fighter pilot would be eligible to apply to most heavy units without requiring an abnormal amount of training to convert.
Cast a wide net now to get your foot in the door and then reevaluate a few years down the road if a different mission or location would be a better long-term fit.
Rated pilots often limit themselves to only the squadrons that fly the same aircraft they currently fly. If that’s a requirement for you, that’s great, but if not, cast a wider net. You may be surprised by the amount of unique value you can provide squadrons that fly different aircraft. For example, if you’re an F-35 pilot on active duty, you could apply to other 4th gen fighter units and talk about how your experience will help with 4th and 5th gen fighter integration or future conversion to F-35s.
Another common pitfall is only applying to squadrons where you already have a personal connection with someone in the squadron. Having personal connections within a squadron, perhaps from a previous active duty assignment, is always a plus but rarely a prerequisite. Put in the effort to rush squadrons you’re interested in (also not a prerequisite, but a plus) and provide a list of references (we’ll discuss that later) so they can get an idea of what your reputation is. Reputations in one community typically translate into a new one. Having a great reputation passed from your list of credible references is often far better than having a mediocre reputation passed by a former colleague already in that squadron.