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LinkedIn – Social Media for Professional Pilots

Last week we covered some of the benefits and perils of social media for pilots who are trying to land a dream job at a Guard or Reserve unit, airline, or other flying operation. While a lot of social media platforms are at best neutral forces in your efforts, one of them has the potential to be very helpful. More than any other social media network, LinkedIn has the greatest potential to help you reach your goals – as long as you put in the work and attention required to set up your profile.

Today we’ll discuss how to make a great profile on LinkedIn. We’ll identify ways to set yourself apart from the competition, and mistakes to avoid. It’s worth noting that you can do everything we’ll cover today for free.

Table of Contents

  1. LinkedIn vs the Resume
  2. Profile Basics
  3. Details
  4. Fill Out Everything
  5. Get the Wording Right
  6. Connections
  7. Get Help
  8. Activity
  9. Original Content
  10. What to Expect
  11. Be Prepared
  12. Free for Veterans Deal
  13. Conclusion

LinkedIn vs the Resume

With few exceptions, you need to submit a resume to every military unit, airline, or other flight department where you apply. If there is one overriding principle for aviation resumes it’s that they must be no more than one page long.

As a young pilot with little experience, this may feel like a blessing. However, if you’ve done a couple of odd flying jobs while earning your ratings and then gained any level of experience in a flying squadron, your career will be increasingly difficult to fit onto a single page. We’re constantly helping pilots struggle through the process of condensing 10 or 20 years of flying experience into a single page summary. It’s not easy, and it can feel frustrating for experienced aviators who want to put their best foot forward.

This is where LinkedIn can be a huge help for you!

Your profile on LinkedIn is essentially a long-form resume, complete with fancy icons and standardized, built-in formatting. The expectation on this platform is that you detail all of your experience. When you include the address of your LinkedIn profile with your application and resume, you’re giving your squadron or airline hiring manager the option to easily get more information about you than fits on that single page.

If the hiring manager isn’t interested in you anyway, including your LinkedIn information doesn’t hurt anything. However, if your resume did pique someone’s interest, it could make all the difference. Put yourself in a hiring manager’s shoes:

You have two applicants with similar resumes. Both meet your standards for an interview invite. However, one also has a LinkedIn profile that provides an easy to browse career summary that shows experience well beyond what could possibly fit on a resume. The other applicant’s only social media presence is a Facebook profile detailing every restaurant meal he’s eaten for the past five years. Who are you going to hire?

LinkedIn has the potential to make you shine when every other applicant is nothing more than an awkward single-page summary. Here are some specifics for optimizing that profile to get yourself hired.

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Profile Basics

There are a few things you can quickly and easily get right as soon as you set up your LinkedIn profile.

Profile Picture

First, you need a professional profile picture. Unless you have reason to do otherwise, we recommend a professional photo of you wearing a suit & tie or dress blouse. There are many great causes in the world, but this is not the place to be coy about your true identity by using a picture of your dog or to border your profile picture with an overlay supporting your latest favorite cause. Keep this professional and simple.

Within the aviation world, there is room for a little variation here. It’s not inappropriate to post a picture of you in a flying uniform, if it represents the type of jobs you’re looking for. If you’re looking for Guard or Reserve opportunities, or you want to work as a government contractor, it’s okay to have a profile picture featuring you in a flight suit. If you aspire to work at a major airline, it’s okay to post a picture of you in a white shirt with a tie and epaulets from your regional airline, corporate flight department, or even CFI job. These pictures could be taken on the flight deck, as long as they still feel professional.

If you are currently employed by and very proud of your achievements at a notable aviation company, it’s not inappropriate for your profile picture to show you standing in front of one of your aircraft or your company’s logo. I wouldn’t do this if you’re just Joe Copilot at the company. However, if you’re deeply involved in the company’s operations, product design or development, or a founder, then this would be appropriate.

Here are some pictures that I feel are good examples:

One of my personal heroes, Elliot Seguin, is working hard to build his credentials as a professional test pilot without a government-funded trip to a formal Test Pilot School. You’ll notice that his profile picture isn’t the traditional suit & tie “professional” shot that I’m recommending. However, for his personal goals, this picture is perfect. Only choose something like this if you have a very specific (and probably less-traditional) career direction in mind.

Self-Made Test Pilot

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Cover Image

Cover images are a one-time good deal for saying something about yourself. If you have flown a particularly interesting aircraft, this is an okay place to post it. I recommend featuring the aircraft itself, rather than you in the pilot seat.

Another great option here is just a panoramic photo of a place you love, possibly taken from the air. Although this image is a nice chance to say something about yourself you still want this to be professional and not distract from the rest of your profile. You want people here to read through your full work and education history, not to look at a photo gallery.

Custom URL

This is an extremely easy fix that most people overlook…and it makes them appear sloppy. Take Col Robin Old’s profile for example:

LinkedIn allows you to customize the URL (web address) for your profile. Change this to something simple and obvious. If you can get first and last name, use it. (Since I have the same name as a doom metal artist and a creative director, I have a tough time getting “/jasondepew” profiles. I had to add my middle initial and go with: linkedin.com/in/jasonddepew). If you don’t like using your middle initial, try first initial followed by last name.

The idea here is that the hiring officer at your Guard squadron is probably looking at a paper copy or PDF of your resume. It may not be easy for him or her to click on a hyperlink and get taken automatically to your LinkedIn profile. However, if all this person needs to do is type in “linkedin.com/in/” and then your name, it’s pretty idiot-proof.

The other thing this does is show that you pay attention to detail. This is a 30-second task. You’ll notice that attention to detail is a major theme for your LinkedIn profile, as it is with all your application materials.

In case you’re wondering how to do this, Google and LinkedIn can answer your question. The cheater’s version is:

  1. Click on the small arrow just below your profile picture.
  2. Click “View Profile”
  3. Near the top right corner of the page, click on “Edit public profile & URL”

Go do this now.

Click on this button on your profile to customize your web address.

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Details

Unlike a resume, your LinkedIn profile isn’t limited to length or content. Don’t go crazy, but this is definitely the place to get into detail.

Do you remember this picture of what not to do here from last week? It’s the summary of 15+ years of experience for an O-5 KC-135 Evaluator Pilot in the Air National Guard.

This LinkedIn profile belongs to a friend of mine. He’s an O-5 in the Air Force Reserve, but this is all he has to say about it. This profile doesn’t exactly scream “I care” or “Attention to detail.”

Here’s a much better example from one of my connection’s work experience:

A much better example of listing your experience on LinkedIn.

Note that each job title in this section has at least a little detail, even though they were all at the same base. These descriptions absolutely must not be (or sound like) they’re copied directly from your annual performance report. You need to reword them so they’re actually meaningful to a real human being. Shoot for 1-2 sentences each.

In general, I don’t advocate for lumping together eight years of experience as you see in the bottom entry in this example. However, the person with this LinkedIn profile isn’t looking for regular line pilot jobs right now. He has a cool position on the management side of a major airline. Detailing eight years of crew dawg flying doesn’t add anything to his efforts to land more of these management/executive level jobs, so glossing over that stuff here makes sense.

However, if he were trying to get a job at a Guard or Reserve squadron, or as a line pilot at an airline, I’d recommend going into a little more detail than that entry. This section allows a hiring officer to see things like how long it took you for each of your upgrades, and if you have any unique skills that their squadron needs.

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Fill Out Everything

Although it’s easy to focus on the “Experience” section of your profile, there are many other opportunities to provide useful detail to your recruiter. LinkedIn has space to detail your education, licenses & certifications, publications, patents, volunteering, and much more.

You should fill out each of these sections in detail. As a pilot, you should have at least one license to list. As I’ve mentioned many times, many companies these days have favorite charities or causes they support. You should be able to list at least some meaningful volunteering on your profile. If you have your heart set on working at a particular company, find out what their pet cause is and make sure your volunteering section has that cause’s logo prominently displayed!

If you don’t have anything to put in one of these sections, consider sacrificing some of the time you spend watching TV or scrolling through other social media to go out and earn the right to list something there. Do some writing, build a new skill, take an elective training course, join a project. Every LinkedIn profile will list some work experience and education. If you want to catch your hiring officer’s eye, make sure you have something interesting and applicable that he or she won’t commonly see on other profiles.

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Get the Wording Right

As you make sure to populate every section of your profile with lots of meaningful details, it’s important to make sure that you use correct wording and titles.

As long as the employer or school you’re adding has its own profile on LinkedIn, the system should automatically populate their entry and logo when you start typing its name. You want that automated entry on your profile! First, the logo is recognizable and helps make your profile look professional. Second, the automated entry is a hyperlink to that company or school’s profile. If your hiring officer isn’t familiar, he or she will be able to quickly follow that link and learn all about that part of your history. Isn’t that better than a resume?

If the system isn’t automatically coming up with a link for you, it’s probably because you’re putting in the wrong name. If I had to type “UIdaho” on my profile, I would have ended up with plain text and no logo. That’s worse than putting nothing. Instead, I had to type “University of Idaho” to get my school’s logo and the hyperlink. Be careful about this for your professional military education as well. Don’t settle for “USAF ACSC.” Type out “USAF Air Command and Staff College” to get their fancy patch.

Having that little icon next to your school’s name makes your profile much more readable and attractive for hiring officers and recruiters. Plus, it ensures that this entry serves as a hyperlink to that organization’s own LinkedIn profile.

It’s also important to make sure that you get job titles and FAA certifications entered correctly. Some common mistakes we see include:

  • In the USAF, “DO” does not stand for “Director of Operations” at the squadron level. It stands for “Operations Officer.” In the civilian flying world, the title “Director of Operations” comes with some significant and specific connotations. A DO in the USAF probably fits most of that description, but it’s not technically correct. (Note that “ADO” also stands for “Assistant Operations Officer.”)
  • CFI stands for “Certificated Flight Instructor”, not “Certified.” This may seem like a meaningless distinction to you, but for those who care this mistake can make you look ignorant and/or lazy.
  • Along those same lines, you must understand that CFII is not a higher “rank” of CFI. It’s a flight instructor rating for a different category and class (Instrument Airplane vs Airplane Single Engine). If you hold any combination of CFI, CFII, MEI, CFIH, CFIG, etc., it’s appropriate to specify them all under a single entry for “Certificated Flight Instructor.” This entry should be associated with the FAA and to get their logo:

  • You probably have two pilot certificates…two plastic cards to carry in your wallet. One is for your Private, Commercial, Airline Transport Pilot, and Type ratings. The other is for your Flight Instructor Ratings. I recommend one entry for your Pilot ratings, a separate entry for your Flight Instructor Ratings, and possibly a third entry for your Type ratings. I chose to break out separate entries for my Commercial and ATP-level ratings like this:

If you don’t already feel familiar with all of these little technicalities, please go read The Military Pilot’s GA Translation Guide! It will help you look thorough and professional…or prevent you from looking ignorant, depending on how you look at it.

Please, for your sake and ours, go read this post!

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Connections

Another part of setting up your LinkedIn profile is establishing connections. This amounts to “friending” people on Facebook or gathering followers on Instagram or Twitter, but it’s more important. LinkedIn does a great job of summarizing who your connections are and what that means to the hiring officer viewing your profile. He or she can learn a lot by seeing who your connections are.

You’ll need to spend a few hours thinking through all the people you’ve flown and worked with throughout your career, and then looking for them on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to send a connection request to someone you haven’t interacted with in years. They benefit from having you as a connection as well.

As we noted a couple of weeks ago, it’s important to realize that adding a bunch of LinkedIn connections is not Networking. You’re not going to have a lot of meaningful interaction with these connections, at least not right away. This is merely a way to provide more detail about your career that could never fit on a resume.

Eventually, your connections may choose to endorse some of the Skills you have listed in that section of your profile. LinkedIn tries hard to make this a valuable part of its system, so these endorsements are valuable. You should never send someone a message asking for them to endorse you for Skills. The best way to make this happen is to start giving your endorsements to others. They get a notification when this happens, and that will prompt them to return the favor.

As LinkedIn expands features, they’re adding ways for you to provide detail on your relationships with your coworkers and specifically list the people who worked with you on a particular Project. When you do that, thumbnails of their profile pictures will appear next to your entry for that Project. This visual representation makes things far more readable and informative than any resume. The more detail you can put into this aspect of your profile, the stronger it will be.

When you apply for a job, it’s not inappropriate to send a connection request to the squadron hiring officer you work with. You may even get connection requests from other people in that squadron or company.

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Get Help

If you care about your career, you should never assume that you got something like a resume, application, or LinkedIn profile correct on your first try. You made mistakes, you left things out. Ask someone you know and trust to take a look at your profile for you!

The best way to find effective help is to look through your contacts’ profiles and find one that seems professional and polished to you. Endorse a few of his or her skills. If he or she has written or posted any original content on LinkedIn, be sure to like it and consider sharing it. Then, send a personal message complimenting his or her profile. Note that you aspire to make your profile as polished and ask for them to take a quick look at yours to recommend improvements.

Note the deliberate approach to this proofreading. Don’t ask for help from someone who has a terrible LinkedIn profile or who doesn’t use the platform at all. Their own profile is a sign that they don’t know or care about how to put this platform to good use.

If you’ve exhausted free options for your profile and want help, there are plenty of paid services online that will do a good job for you. In fact, there are even services that will create your whole profile for you.

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Activity

LinkedIn is a unique social media platform because it’s very specific. If all you ever used it for was an expanded, living resume, it’d be a meaningful tool for finding your dream job. However, there are many other ways to use it to your advantage.

Most companies and schools announce news and big achievements on LinkedIn. Your primary interface isn’t your profile…it’s a feed of this news just like on most other social media platforms. It’s simple to open the app and scroll through liking, commenting on, and sharing these posts.

Your activity shows up in your connections’ main feeds. “Emet liked Blue Origin’s post about their upcoming launch!” Seeing what you’re interested in provides insight about you that a resume can’t. If you manage to make meaningful comments or engage in a productive discussion about a post, others will see that too.

Note that this can be a two-edged sword. Don’t be a bully. Don’t post classified information. Don’t condescend or argue. You don’t want the commander of your dream squadron to see that kind of behavior from you.

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Original Content

As noted in our general discussion on social media, there’s one type of user that really bothers me: the spammer. This person posts constantly on social media but shows zero original thought. The vast majority of a spammer’s posts are just sharing something that someone else came up with. Some spammers try to appear intelligent by adding a few words or even a sentence of commentary when they share this post, but it’s not enough.

LinkedIn seems to attract a lot of these people. They want to appear active and interested to all the professional hiring managers of the world. They want to “build a brand,” so they try to do it with spam. Don’t be this person!

Another type of spammer especially common on LinkedIn is what I call a Cheerleader. They’ll like, love, or care about posts all day. They even go out of their way to leave quick comments on as many posts as possible.

“Congratulations!”
“What a great achievement!”
“Nice work!”

It’s not necessarily unkind to do this, but it’s also not a particularly meaningful expression of thought. This is not building a brand.

If you have a strong personal relationship with someone, it’s okay to post congratulations in a more personal manner. Mention an inside joke or past experience related to your connection achieving a goal. Note that this is a good stepping stone toward a higher goal. However, don’t think that you’re doing your career favors with meaningless comments on the posts of “connections” who are little more than strangers.

If you really want to gain influence or notoriety or whatever on LinkedIn, your best bet is to start producing high-quality original content. Are you a photographer with a unique perspective like Ross “Extreme” Franquemont? Post your photos with some details. Do you have an awesome YouTube channel like Mike Patey? Please, post your videos on LinkedIn so I know to watch them!

If not, consider writing something new and insightful about some aspect of your current or desired flying community. If you have a blog of your own, it’s very easy to link your accounts so any new articles get automatically posted on LinkedIn. If not, LinkedIn puts the option to “Write article” top & center on your news feed. You could identify something from the news of the day or just fall back on classic topics like “how to balance pilot skill against atrophy due to automation.”

At one extreme, this can turn into the more professional version of becoming a social media influencer. Sandy Munro has made a name for himself and his company doing car tear-downs. Dan Johnson has long been the de facto expert on Light Sport Aircraft.

Achieving that level of notoriety (or dare we say “influence”?) takes a lot of work. If your goal is just to get a job flying the F-15EX for the Oregon Air National Guard, then this would be a waste of your time. You’re better off gaining flight hours, going to Safety School, becoming a Weapons Officer, finishing college, or doing dozens of other things.

The F-15EX is going to be a beast.

However, if your family’s dream is to settle down in Bentonville, AR, and drive bizjets for the Walmart flight department, a carefully crafted online presence could be a big help.

When in doubt, keep your LinkedIn profile simple. Don’t be a spammer. Don’t feel obligated to produce a bunch of original content, but even a little might help.

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What to Expect

If you start taking your LinkedIn profile seriously, you can expect several things to happen.

First, you’ll start getting connection requests. In most cases, it doesn’t hurt to accept these. This isn’t like Facebook where you’re posting pictures of your gender reveal party setting California on fire. (Too soon?) If a relative stranger becomes your connection, he or she can only peek into your carefully crafted online professional presence.

And you will get connection requests from complete strangers. Another type of spammer on LinkedIn is the person who thinks that raw number of connections equates to importance. They send connection requests to everyone under the sun, even if they have no professional reason to interact. This isn’t harmful, per se, and I have yet to experience a problem from these connections. However, I haven’t felt bad about deleting connection requests from some of these people as well.

Ideally, most of your connection requests will come from people you actually know. They’re working on building their profile just like you, and you can be glad they found you. This may even prompt you to get back in touch with old friends, which is rarely a bad thing.

You’ll also get a lot of professionals offering you their services. As soon as I wrote a book about personal finance I started getting connection requests from financial planners offering to manage my money for me. (If they’d read the book they would have realized that I recommended most pilots stay away from financial planners and manage things themselves.) I’ve accepted connection requests from these, but politely declined offers for their services.

It’s not unrealistic to expect some job offers as well. Some of these will come from professional headhunters who have automated tools that search LinkedIn for new profiles matching their requirements. These usually aren’t flying jobs, but they might be the right fit for your family.

I’ve been contacted by individuals about jobs for both flying and writing though LinkedIn because of my profile. I’ve been able to take advantage of a couple, though most didn’t work out. As long as you’re polite and honest about your capabilities and availability, I feel like most of these brief interactions leave a door open for future possibilities.

Like I said, there are many ways to use LinkedIn. If any of these interactions interest you, it’s very easy to pursue similar opportunities. If not, just treat the platform like another social media to scroll through infinitely, and/or an expanded, online resume.

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Be Prepared

You may not be actively searching for a job right now, but COVID-19 has reminded us all that things can change in the blink of an eye. If you suddenly find yourself looking for a job, you have a lot of tasks to accomplish and a lot of pressure to do them quickly. The worst possible time to try putting together a detailed, professional, polished profile is when you’re panicked about a looming furlough and worried about putting food on the table.

While I could take or leave most social media, I feel like it’s worth maintaining a LinkedIn profile as a sort of long-term insurance. Once it’s live, it’s easy to update it anytime you upgrade, add a new rating, or do a new volunteer project.

Delta volunteers participate in the 2019 Global Build with Habitat for Humanity in Recife, Brazil on Monday, March 18, 2019. (Photo by Chris Rank, Rank Studios 2019) If I was having trouble getting hired at Delta I’d be doing a lot of volunteering for this organization.

If you do aspire to put some valuable content out in the world, having a back catalog of posts and/or meaningful commenting is nice. It’s relatively easy to see how long a given LinkedIn profile has been active. If you rush to put one together and pump out some quick content to appear active, it’ll show…and not in a good way.

I strongly recommend you go set up an account today and start making it look great. You may not need it right this moment, but you’ll be glad it’s already there when the need arises.

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Free for Veterans Deal

Social media platforms need to make money to survive. Most do this in part by selling ads. LinkedIn also offers a premium-level account for a fee. Having tried out this type of account I’ve found it interesting though not particularly useful to an aspiring crew dawg. However, if you’re looking for work as a government contractor, corporate aviation, or at a specific company, it could definitely be useful.

If nothing else, the premium membership lets you see who has viewed your profile. This reverse-stalking can provide insight on what types of interest your profile is attracting and help you fine-tune things to attract recruiters from the jobs you want. It’s also not unheard of to send a connection request to someone interesting who has viewed your profile.

I recommend you not sign up for a premium subscription unless you have a good reason to. However, there’s one big caveat. LinkedIn offers a full year of their premium service for free to military veterans.

Whether you’re trying to get hired by a Guard or Reserve unit, or even a regular airline, I’d consider taking advantage of that deal when you’re ready to start seriously pursuing these jobs. For a young pilot, or someone looking to leave Active Duty, this could be about the time you’re ready to start rushing units. For a pilot headed to the airlines, I’d consider activating a premium account about when you’re ready to make your airline applications live.

You can put the advanced tools from this premium account to good use in your job search, then hopefully never need them again. (Although if you’ve kept your profile fresh, you can subscribe to premium again for a month at a time in the future if you find yourself needing those features.)

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Conclusion

Most social media is little more than an advertising platform presented as entertainment. However, LinkedIn is uniquely tailored to help you get the job of your dreams. This platform is free to use unless you want some advanced features. Military vets can get a full year of those features for free.

At its heart, LinkedIn is just a 21st century resume format. It allows you to break the old fashioned convention that only allows you a single sheet of paper to summarize your entire flying career. It has sophisticated, built-in tools that give hiring managers and recruiters insight into you and your career that a paper resume could never possibly convey.

Don’t bother setting up a LinkedIn profile unless you’re willing to put in the work to make it detailed and professional. You need to pay attention to detail, and you need to have someone look over it for you. Depending on your goals, it may be necessary to interact or create content on the platform as part of your overall presence. However, when used correctly, it’s an incredibly powerful way to provide your unit’s hiring officer a wealth of information with a short, personalized hyperlink.

I hope this knowledge helps you land your dream job. As always, let us know if BogiDope can help you with your job search!

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ps. Yes, I have a fancy LinkedIn profile all set up at https://www.linkedin.com/in/jasonddepew/. Feel free to steal any ideas you like. Note that my profile isn’t perfect. I’m not looking for work right now. In fact, I’m trying to reduce it. If I needed to find a job, you’d see several changes.

 

Image Credits:

The examples of good profile pictures are from the public LI profiles of: Marcus UnderwoodEric Melniczek, Marco Taufer, and Elliot Seguin. Well done all!

The F-15EX photo is from Boeing’s gallery: https://www.boeing.com/defense/f-15ex/#/gallery.

Delta’s Habitat for Humanity work is from: https://news.delta.com/delta-employees-around-world-build-six-homes-brazil-habitat-humanity.

All other content here came from publicly available LinkedIn profiles.

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