Why Do Pilots Fail Assessments?

Our CEO Frank Collins took to LinkedIn this week to answer an all important question – “Why Do Pilots Fail Assessments?!  With almost 200 reactions we thought it was an article well worth sharing here too!



We typically see failure rates of anything between 50% to 90% – why is that? How come pilots who are flying for one airline fail interviews and assessments when going for jobs with other airlines?

One might think that an experienced pilot who has obtained their licence from a competent authority, gets a type rating and passes the recurrent check should be able to pass an interview and assessment when going for a job with a different airline, but the statistics say otherwise.

The first thing to bear in mind is that you are competing against a number of other competent pilots also applying for the role. So, it’s often not a case that you are not good enough to fly for the airline, but that someone else was deemed a better fit. Almost all airlines are looking for the top 10% of pilots to work from them and certainly no airline is looking for the bottom 10%. Unfortunately, the numbers don’t stack up overall, there is a worldwide shortage of qualified quality pilots. There are just about enough pilots coming out of flying schools to meet the demand for pilots and in some areas around the world there are not enough new pilots coming along. Hence, we see a number of airlines starting to get involved at the flying school level again. So, if there are just enough pilots to satisfy the overall demand, how can airlines ensure that they get the best?  One way, and it doesn’t actually seem to make sense, is to interview ten to pick one – that way you can tell yourself you are getting the best 10%.

What can you do to improve your chances? The application form is the start and the airline is really just looking at your experience (hours), your licence types and previous employment history (who else you have flown for). That and nationality, age and contact details is enough, they don’t want to know your pet’s names or that you have raised money to build a local school. They want to see if you can fly a plane safely, will get on with your fellow pilots, will be a good employee and that you will stay with them for a reasonable period.

These really are the important things. First and foremost, you are going for a job as an employee with the airline and therefore the interview is about trying to find out why you want to join their particular airline and if you are going to stay. They also want to see if you will fit into the airline culture. One question often in the back of the assessor’s mind is “would I want to spend 10 hours in the same cockpit with the candidate”?

The Simulator assessment is much more than checking out your technical flying skills.  The assessor is also trying to assess your soft skills. They are checking your communication skills, leadership and teamwork, problem solving and decision making skills, workload management and situational awareness. All of these will be tested regardless of what type of simulator you are in.

Thankfully most pilots approach the interview and assessment process in the correct frame of mind. It is a job interview and the airline is only going to offer the position to the person they feel is the best fit for the company and is going to make a positive contribution to the airline and the team around them. If you fail to persuade the airline that you are that pilot, or, unfortunately, if another candidate does a better job at persuading the airline, then you may find that you will fail the process. Does this mean you are a bad pilot, no of course not. It just means that airline may not be the best fit for you at the present moment.

Do your homework on the airline, prepare in advance and go into sell mode at the interview and don’t forget to show the soft skill competencies that make you the pilot you are. Its often the simple things that can made a difference:

  • Make eye contact with interview panel
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the HR team, talk to them as well as the pilots interviewing you
  • Give the positive reasons why you want to join the airline
  • In group interviews don’t try and dominate the conversation. Communication skills involve listening and talking. Don’t forget to show that you can listen.
  • Show you can fly the plane and follow procedures.

Every airline has their own culture and push and pull factors for attracting and keeping pilots. And likewise, all pilots are individuals and have their own motivations for working. The interview and assessment process is about trying to match the pilot with the airline to ensure the best fit for both and to ensure that the pilot does in fact have the necessary skills to fly safely, albeit, this is almost assumed as they have a licence and are flying for another regulated airline. If they weren’t safe and competent what are they doing flying for someone else!

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