How Do I Get My Airline Application Noticed?

Updated 5 January, 2016: Added points 15 and 16 on social media and additional training.

I recently got hired by a major airline and have been asked several times for advice on applications, interviews, etc. from other hopeful future airline pilots. One of the questions I’ve repeatedly fielded is: “My app has been in the system for a while, but I haven't heard from anyone. What can I do to make my application more attractive?” I’m writing this in hopes of sharing my advice with a larger audience.

Disclaimers: 1) Some of this will be tailored to military pilots applying to the airlines, but I think most of it still applies to pilots who haven't served in the military. 2) There is no magic "right answer." If I knew that answer, I probably wouldn't give it away here for free. 3) I’m no expert at this. I was probably just the guy on top of the “meh” pile and the hiring department needed to meet a quota for that month. I can’t promise you that any of this will get you an interview or a job, but I sure hope it helps!

Now, without further ado, if I had submitted an application and hadn’t heard back from any of the companies I want here are some things I’d consider doing:

  1. Fly! The more hours on your application the better. The airlines also require you to have flown a minimum number of hours in the recent past. (Some look at the past year, some go as far as the past 3 or 5 years.) If I was worried about my application getting noticed, I'd make sure I had a lot more than the minimum number of pieces of flair.

    Renting is an option, but it can get expensive. If you need more than 200 hours and/or you think you might enjoy continuing to fly GA that much, you might consider buying an airplane. Buying with one or more partners makes that even more economical. (Look for more on the specifics of how to do this in another post.)

    If I was shopping for a plane right now, I'd look into something I could offer for rent on Open Airplane. They have a special agreement for surprisingly cheap insurance and I think they'll be a great way to access an untapped rental market. You might not make money, but if you have the right aircraft in the right location I think it stands a good chance of at least paying for itself.

    Whether it's your own airplane or someone else's you could consider teaching in it. If you get something with a tailwheel or that goes upside down, you ought to be able to find a market of somewhat skilled pilots in your area. If you really like the idea of teaching, stop by all the local flight schools and ask if you can get on their roster. I've done this and picked up a few students on a part-time basis. I'll talk about CAP more later...they're always happy to have more pilots. They need mission pilots and instructors. Once you get qualified with them, they're a source of a lot of cheap or free flying that can actually make a difference in the world.

    There are some paying jobs out there. You can tow banners or fly a jump plane. For any type of corporate or charter flying look to forums or Facebook groups for leads.

    Whatever you choose, you can't go wrong by adding as many recent hours as possible to your application on a regular basis.

  2. Speaking of getting paid to build recency, why not join a regional airline while you're waiting for a major to call?

    You may have been God's gift to the [insert military aircraft here,] but until you're a qualified and competent Part 121 FO, that won't do much for you except for 45 minutes during your interview. You can learn a lot and gain a lot of credibility flying a multi-engine turbofan airliner in the regionals for a while.

    The regionals need pilots even worse than the majors do, and since they pay so terribly they're going to have an increasingly difficult time finding bodies. Sure, you'll practically be working for free...but you're just sitting around waiting for a major to call you anyway, right? You might as well be flying for an actual Part 121 airline and learning how the industry works. The majors will see this in your application and know that you're taking this airline pilot career thing seriously.

    If your military experience alone hasn't been enough to get you noticed, doing some regional airline flying could do something very helpful for you. The airlines put applicants into 3 buckets: military-only, civilian-only, and military who have also flown for civilian airlines. Flying for a regional could move you to a different bucket and let you compete against a whole different group of people. That may be just what you need.

    I've heard several stories of military pilots spending a little bit of time in the regionals and getting picked up by a major pretty quickliy. One pilot in my interview group retired from the Air Force and had just barely finished training for his regional...as he was at his interview for a major. (He hadn't even done IOE yet.) He turned out to be pretty lucky when the major airline's training pipeline got backed-up. He's spent the last few months flying and earning money while the rest of us sit around waiting for training dates.

    (Thanks to Bill F. from TPN for pointing this one out to me!)

  3. You must change something in your app at least once a week. (Just update your flight hours, if nothing else.) Some airlines' systems check how recently an app has been updated. If it's more than 2 weeks it goes into an "inactive" pool and doesn't get looked at as much. (I've been told this one from multiple sources.)
  4. Have someone else proofread your application. If I were a hiring department and I got an application with poor grammar, misspellings, or random formatting I'd instantly set it aside until I'd finished with every other application in the stack. Even a little thing like formatting a phone number with "(xxx) xxx-xxxx" in one part of your app and "xxx-xxx-xxxx" in another could be causing you problems. (If that offends you, you're welcome to withdraw your application from that company.) Some companies are very specific about how they want some things formatted. If they are, make sure you and your proofreader are watching for adherence to that criteria in your application.

    If you want, there are services that will review your application for $60-100. It may be worth it. I had Kit Darby look at mine (no promotional consideration.) I did some interview prep with Emerald Coast Interview Consulting (nope, they're not paying me either) and feel like they're a good company. They offer an application review as well. These are only two examples out of dozens available...shop around and please let us know what you think.

  5. Under "Education" list every applicable course you've ever been to, not just high school and college. I put my PC-12 initial and recurrent training (separate entries) at SIMCOM, and all of my military training. I even listed military courses like "Instructor Pilot Upgrade" and "Evaluator Pilot Upgrade" even if those were in-house courses that lasted a few days. As a military guy, I also had some courses like "Dynamics of International Terrorism" to list. I didn't put any of my survival training, but I would consider it. If you think it could be useful for an airline pilot, list it. (Naturally, there are plenty of things to not list here as well. Use your judgment, and if that fails, reference the recommendation for proofreading above.)
  6. Under employment, list any volunteer flying you've done. I've been a volunteer CFI and tow pilot at a couple glider clubs, I've flown with the Civil Air Patrol (or CAP,) and I've done quite a bit of flying with the EAA's Young Eagles program. Sure, you could put the volunteering you do at the local soup kitchen and Habitat for Humanity, but these types of things are aviation related. You are applying for an aviation job after all.

    Haven't done any volunteer flying? No problem, it's easy to get started! Young Eagles is the easiest and you don't even need to own an airplane. It's about $40 to join the EAA, and they send you a great magazine every month. After that you can sign up to be a Young Eagles pilot, rent a C-172 from your local FBO, and take kids flying. There are glider clubs all over the US that need instructors, demo pilots and tow pilots. CAP requires a fairly hefty investment of time, but once you get checked out they are a great source of free flying. Give it a try!

  7. Under "Work Accomplishments" put everything you can think of. Were you the office's Junior Popcorn Popper of the 3rd Quarter in 2012? Put it down! Did you get ranked (strated for military-types) on a performance report? Include that too. I listed my combat sorties and hours here. I also listed all of my military ribbons and medals.

    You'll feel a little dirty for this...like you're bragging. You're not! Your future airline wants to know these things about you and the only place for you to communicate it is in your application. There isn't time for you to mention this stuff in person at your interview, and it'd feel like bragging at that point anyway. Your airline wants and expects to see a lot of stuff listed here.

  8. I updated my membership with and joined some more professional associations. At the very least, as a pilot you need to be a member of Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). I'm also a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the Soaring Society of America (SSA), the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA). I'm a CFI, so I'm a member of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI). These are all great organizations working to promote aviation in our country. They lobby congress to protect pilots' interests. Most of them will send you a magazine that's worth reading. You won't be sorry maintaining membership in these organizations.

    I also joined the Organization of Black American Pilots (OBAP,) and Women in Aviation International (WAI). I'm neither black nor female, but thankfully these great organizations don't restrict membership to their target demographic.

    Now, I have heard of people at a airline interviews getting asked things like, "I see that you're a member of NAFI and a CFI, but you've never given a single hour of civilian instruction. Can you explain to me how that isn't hypocritical?" or "You're a dude...did you only join WAI because you thought it'd look good on your app?" While some people might look at these as worst-case scenarios, I'd much rather answer these questions in an interview than the dreaded, "Your captain just broke rule X...what do you do?"

    No, I'm not a black woman. However, I absolutely support this organization's mission of furthering aviation in our country. I want my daughter to have every opportunity to be a pilot if that's the path she chooses in life, and I'm proud to support and organization that will help make that possible for her. As a military pilot, I'm still learning about the airline industry. OBAP/WAI was recommended to me as a great resource for preparing myself for my future career and I'm planning on attending one of their well known job fairs in a few months...unless you want to save me the trouble and hire me today.

    Nope, I've been too busy instructing and deploying in the military to use my CFI yet. However, I love teaching and I'm looking forward to sharing the skills I learned in the military with some young pilots in General Aviation. I realize that civilian instruction is different from military instruction and NAFI has been a great resource so far in preparing myself to give quality civilian instruction when I get the opportunity.

    If you'd like to recommend an organization, list it in the comments below.

  9. I mentioned NAFI as a great resource; they also offer accreditation as a Master CFI. There are more than 98,000 CFIs in the United States right now, but NAFI has only awarded about 1200 Master CFI accreditations...ever. They say that only 300-400 CFIs hold this accreditation at any given time. Talk about setting yourself apart.... I don't know if your airline gives you much credit for this or not, but it sure can't hurt.

    The most common limiting factor is that you must have given 1000 hours of instruction. If that's the case and you're an active military IP or CFI there's a good chance you could qualify to be a Master CFI. If you haven't been active enough lately, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for you to make yourself eligible. Check out the requirements on their website and consider pursuing accreditation.

  10. Recommendations. I think recommendations are great. I don't think they'll get you hired in most cases, but I do think they'll help you get an interview.

    Some airlines allow a pilot to email or hand a recommendation directly to a chief pilot. You can't do much better than this. If your airline does this, start buying beer and making friends.

    Also important are recommendations put into the automated systems at airlineapps.com and pilotcredentials.com. From what I've heard, just one recommendation is enough. If I were trying to make things happen, I'd try to get as many recs as I could and space them out over time. Remember #1 above? What better way to update your application than to have someone from your target company gush about what a great pilot and human being you are?

  11. OBAP and WAI both hold hiring conferences a couple times a year. They sound slightly painful to me. You pay a few hundred dollars for a ticket to stand in long lines with a stack of resumes hoping for a few minutes of face time with recruiter(s) from the airline(s) of your choice. If you can manage to make a good impression, they can make sure your application gets a fresh look in the near future. Interview not guaranteed. Job offer not guaranteed. Hmm.

    Some people swear that this scenario is exactly what got them an interview though. I'd say it's worth a try. Better yet, these conferences also usually have lectures from several airlines about corporate culture and hiring criteria. That's great interview prep! Most importantly, these conferences are a good place to make friends and network. You never know when you'll meet someone who can put in a good word for you. Who knows, maybe you'll meet someone who is perfect for a job that you know of and for whom you can give a recommendation. That's a win-win situation.

  12. Get as many pilot ratings as you can! Every extra rating you hold is a box you can check in your application. This scores you points. It also makes you look like more knowledgeable pilot.

    If you're in the military, you absolutely must use the military competency rules to get your commercial pilot and CFI tickets. Check here for info on how to do it. It's so easy it's silly. If you haven't taken advantage of it, you'll either look lazy or arrogant. (What do I need a Commercial ASEL or single engine CFI for? I'm a jet jock who is too good for those prop jobs....)

    Glider ratings are relatively cheap to add on. I did my seaplane add-on with Jack Brown's in Florida. They charge a flat rate of $1400 and I promise it'll be some of the most fun you've had in aviation. If you like doing SES, there are plenty of places that will do an MES as well. If you've never flown a tailwheel aircraft, I definitely recommend going for your endorsement. It should only take a few hours, it's a lot of fun, it makes you a better pilot, and it opens up a whole world of aviation possibilities that aren't available to nose dragger-only pilots. If you want to get crazy, consider adding helicopter, gyroplane, balloon or airship ratings. Wouldn't you love to answer an interview question like, "How did you enjoy getting your blimp rating?"

    Since we're talking about adding ratings, I'd also consider going for a type rating. Sure, you could pay a bundle to get a B737 type, but not even Southwest requires that anymore. You could consider getting typed in some kind of small business jet. You might even be able to get some part-time work while you're waiting for your airline to call. However, I'd consider doing something fun! There are places in the US that have type rating courses in classics like the B-25, DC-3 and A-26. There's a place by the Grand Canyon that does type ratings in a Ford Tri Motor. Jet Warbirds has a bunch of cool old fighter aircraft you can fly. A full PIC type rating will probably run you at least $11,000 (I've heard it costs a mere $40K to get typed in Fifi, the only flying B-29) If that's a lot of money, consider doing a SIC type rating in one of these planes. Unless you've planning on flying that aircraft commercially outside the US, an SIC type rating is essentially useless. However, it still goes on your license. Wouldn't you love to asnwer an interview question like: "I see you're typed in the B-25. What was it like to fly that?" The last time I checked, a B-25 SIC type could be obtained for as "little" as $5K. That's a big initial investment, but over a 20-30 year airline career you pay will more than make up for it.

    A lot of those old warbirds actually need people to fly them. If you're typed and interested, there are opportunities to help fly them around the country to attend airshows and give rides. What better way to spend a summer waiting for your airline to call?

    If this suggestion gets your heart beating fast, I'd recommend shopping for a Commemorative Air Force squadron near you. There are also private owners all over the place. Go to airshows, or just start hanging around your local airport and ask around. There are some great opportunities out there.

    Will having an exotic type rating get you a job? Not necessarily. It probably won't even flag in your airline's automated application review. However, most airlines also have human beings look at their applications periodically (at least the active ones.) I'd wager that a DC-3 type rating will catch the eye of a pilot reviewing an airline application every time.

  13. Get your ATP...maybe. If you didn't take your ATP written before the rules changed last year it will cost you at least $10K to get your ATP. That sucks and I'm sorry. The regionals are already hiring commercial pilots and paying for their ATP. That's a great deal. If you're a military pilot planning on going directly to the majors, you're probably fine applying without an ATP. However, you're reading this because your airline hasn't called yet, right? Personally, I can't imagine applying for a job as an airline pilot without holding an ATP.

    I don't know if it exists now, but eventually someone will combine the ATP CTP course with a type rating course and give it all to you as a package deal for ~$10-15K. That will actually be a decent deal. (Hmm, maybe I just figured out how to start the Aviation Bull Flight Academy....)

  14. There's a Facebook group called The Pilot Network. It's a great source of information, advice, and rumors. I'd ask to join. There's a pretty decent chance you'll come across more helpful information in there.
  15. Do a Social Media audit.

    Some people think that the airlines are too busy to dig through your social media profiles to get to know you. I disagree. If I were a in charge of hiring someone to work for my company for the next 20-40 years...for which I'd be paying them millions of dollars, you'd better bet that I'm at least going to take a look. Do you want to bet your future career on the chance that they won't look?

    Do you have a lot of drunken-dancing-on-the-bar pictures on your Instagram page? Is your Facebook timeline covered with angry and indignant memes about politically-charged topics? Do you have a unique ability to rant in tweets of 140 characters or less? Is your Pinterest page an homage to your love of all things death metal? It'd probably be a good idea to remove some of that...at least for now.

    Do you have a Linked-In profile? Before I hit submit on my airline app, I made sure that my Linked-In page matched the work history, education, volunteering, etc. in that app pretty closely. I also took advantage of the features there to list some things that airlineapps.com didn't let me include. We spend too much time proofreading our applications to blow the appearance of attention to detail with a weak social media profile.

    Don't like social media? Don't want to put forth the effort to tighten up your profiles? It might be worth thinking about deleting those accounts. In my mind, it's better to have nothing out there than a sloppy or embarrassing product that will reflect poorly on you.

  16. Take some training. Wait, we've covered this, right? ATP, type ratings, CFI renewall, etc. Yes, but there's more to aviation than that.

    Military pilots all do survival school, safety training, CRM training. I didn't list survival schools on my app, but if you haven't been noticed yet, it might be worth spelling out each one. If you went to an interesting school like Arctic Survival, that might be worth listing as something different. (Arctic Survival school is another great interview question setup.)

    I once did a military course called "Dynamics of International Terrorism" (DIT) for my additional duty as the deputy junior anti-terrorism lieutenant. It's not directly aviation-related pre se, but in this day and age a course like that is absolutely applicable to a job as an airline pilot. I also took a course called "South-Central Asia Area Orientation." It's applicable to anyone who might ever work in that part of the world and I would have loved to explain how during my interview.

    Haven't done any courses like that? If you still have time in the military, why not ask to go? Maybe you'll end up with another additional duty for a couple years. If that helps you reach your desired end-state in life, it'll be worth it. If your unit won't pay for you to go, ask for permissive TDY or even take some leave. DIT was a week at Hurlburt Field, FL. Take your family and make it a vacation!

    If you're not in the military or can't get a seat in the class, these courses are slightly harder to find. They're still out there though! There are applicable classes and conferences in the civilian world all the time. Here are 537 pages of government-sponsored courses. You might also just ask a police officer, DHS agent, fireman, or government official from your local area. (Your networking has included people other than airline pilots, right?) Colleges and universities are starting to offer curriculums in national security. They might have a short course for free or you could audit something at night or online. There are plenty of options.

    There are also plenty of aviation-related courses to take. AOPA has a wealth of safety courses, case studies, webinars, etc. for free. Many companies have in-person courses for survival, physiology, CRM, etc. The EAA's SportAir Worshops spend a weekend immersing you in some aspect of aircraft construction.

    No, an airline pilot is never going climb out onto the wing of his or her 777 and pull some rivets to meet a takeoff time. However, the FAA also requires you to take fire extinguisher training. How much are you really going to use from any course you take? In most cases, hopefully very little, right? What we're going for here is demonstrating a lifelong pursuit of knowledge related to the job of Airline Pilot. All of this training will mean extra work for you...time you could have spent doing your primary job, hanging out with your family, or even relaxing. However, if your goal is to get that job with your favorite airline it's on you to take whatever steps will get you closer. If adding a few of these kinds of courses to your resume helps, won't it will all have been worth it?

No matter what, don't get discouraged. Keep flying, be a good person, and it will happen. The numbers are published in black & white at AirlinePilotCentral.com. The 3 major airlines need upwards of 40,000 pilots over the next 15 years. They can't afford to not grab every good pilot they can get. Then there's Southwest, Alaska, Jet Blue, FedEx, UPS, a bunch of others...and all the foreign carriers. It's a great time to be in the job market.

Thanks for reading! Please let me know if I missed anything. Good hunting!