|Three ways to get your career going again|
[Guest article by Rick Hogan, aviation author and MD11 first officer]
I came up with a new industry term (in my own mind) the other day after talking to a career-frustrated friend of mine: stagnation point. The stagnation point is when you reach a certain level in your career and begin to wonder if youíre ever going to make it to the next step. I can tell you without a doubt Iíve been stuck there before, just like he is, and just like a lot of other people.
One thing Iíve learned about moving past the stagnation point is that creating opportunities isnít all about grinding out flight time. I was logging nearly 100 hours of multi-engine, multi-crew, turbine PIC month after month for a long time, and not seeing any results. I wanted to scream at the online applications I was obsessively updating, "Hello! Look at all this work Iím doing! Why isnít my phone ringing?"
So is it all about luck? Being in the right place at the right time? Winning the lottery and getting your name pulled out of the magical interview hat? Iíd much rather be lucky than good any day of the week, but I also believe you create your own luck. Here are three things you can start doing right now to make your own luck and get a leg up on the competition:
Iím getting a little tired of hearing about networking to be honest: Social networks, job networks, wireless networks, ad infinitum. The reason you hear about networking so much, however, is because it is really that important. If youíre not out there trying to actively increase your contact list, youíre going to fall behind, because there are those who are. What does networking really mean? Do you have to run around faking interest in people, deciding if thereís any job benefit for you in socializing with them? No. All networking really means is being social, friendly, and trying to meet people. If you meet enough people in the right circles, one of them will eventually help you out. And all it takes is one.
Hereís an example: I was having breakfast in Taipei, Taiwan one morning. I saw a guy who was obviously another pilot (I knew immediately from his white tennis shoes and brown leather jacket with epaulette holders). I asked who he flew for, and he invited me to sit down with him while we ate. We chatted about this and that for a while and then he got up to leave. As he stood, he flipped me his card and said if I ever wanted help flying purple-tailed airplanes to give him a call. Nice gesture. Did I sit down at that table hoping to get a recommendation at FedEx? Absolutely not. I was really just looking for some English conversation while I ate my runny eggs. But, and this is the thing about networking, you never know when itís going to pay a dividend. If you donít actively put yourself out there, itís unlikely somebody will walk up out of the blue and offer to help you out. If you do put yourself out there, eventually the planets will align; youíll meet the right person that will make the right phone call and suddenly youíll leap-frog a few thousand applicants.
Always look your best
It doesnít matter if youíre mingling at a party with a bunch of pilots, or having an informal meeting with someone to just Ďtalk about the job.í If youíre on the job hunt you always want to look presentable. Itís nice to stop shaving, grow your hair out, and put all the studs back in your piercings when you havenít worked for a while. Unfortunately, if you look like you just got out of jail when you meet someone with the potential to help you out, theyíre not going to. I know we live in a society where everyone is a unique snowflake, and youíre only supposed to judge people based on whatís inside. If you think youíre not being judged based on how you look in aviation, youíre kidding yourself. I canít tell you how many times Iíve seen people blow great opportunities because theyíre under-dressed for a particular situation. Showing up for an interview in a polo shirt and jeans, meeting informally with a chief pilot in a t-shirt, or generally looking like you just rolled out of bed are great ways to blow a valuable opportunity. Always try to dress one step above whomever it is youíre meeting with. If your interviewers are going to have shirts and ties, you should have a suit.If youíre meeting someone socially, you should at least have a nice shirt and pants on (literally, have pants on). Personal presentation is one of the most important aspects to creating opportunity and getting jobs. Perception is reality, and if people donít perceive you as being sharp, nothing else really matters.
Go where the work is
Based on your current circumstances, this is sometimes easier said than done. Iíve been based in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Alaska, and points in-between. Not quite the four corners of the globe, but pretty close. Being flexible and going where the work is has helped me maintain what I consider to be a mostly upward career trend. Thatís not to say itís always been sunshine and roses, however. When I first started flying, did I plan on being based in China? It never even entered my head as a possibility until circumstances dictated otherwise. If career progression starts disappearing in your current area of operations, sometimes looking abroad can offer lucrative opportunities you wonít find close to home. It may not be your dream job, but if you keep moving forward it can and will lead to better things. Taking jobs abroad led me to opportunities that would not have presented themselves otherwise. Because of the unpredictable stability of being a pilot in general, there have to be times when you abandon preconceptions about what your career is supposed to be like. Go where the best opportunity presents itself. It may (and probably will) be someplace you didnít expect, but thatís part of the adventure.
Those are just three things you can start doing today that will pay off down the road. I know, I know, thereís a pilot shortage coming and pretty soon the jobs will come to you. While youíre waiting for that to happen, do yourself a favor and start working toward your goal right now. I think there will be a reasonable amount of hiring going on at some industry levels in the future, but you will always face stiff competition for top-of-the-industry jobs. If youíre not actively trying to promote yourself, your application is just one in a stack of thousands. If you want to push past the stagnation point, sometimes itís best to step outside the box. Or you can stay in the box and live in it down by the river, but that may be less glamorous than you imagine.
Article by Rick Hogan, author of "How to Land a Top Paying Airline Job" (order here).