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Future Pilots

Keep the Clean Side Up

By Tim Genc
July 23, 2021

In previous articles, we’ve spoken about the importance of a good résumé, solid interview skills, and appropriate attire. The last thing you want is to have your impressive – not to mention expensive – education and valuable industry experience overshadowed by a negative as avoidable as a sloppy outfit or an afterthought-résumé.

However, after the interview event is completed and you’ve been offered a job, you might not be out of the woods just yet. At this stage in the process, your future employer is running background checks and might be analyzing your internet presence. Does that make you nervous? What are they going to find? More specifically, what are you going to have to explain?

If you are considering a career in aviation – quite frankly, if you are considering a career in anything – you need to know that your actions and decisions have far-reaching ramifications; the decision to drink and drive from your college days or what you thought was just a funny post on social media can have consequences. And these consequences could capsize your career plans.

Here are a few pieces of advice to keep in the back of your head as you are starting or continuing your aviation career journey.

• Don’t make enemies. Aviation is a small world. A very. Small. World. It’s not that there’s a chance, but a certainty that you will consistently run into people you know, or who know people who you know, or have worked for the company for whom you work or want to work. It is one, big, interconnected family. So, that job you left without giving two weeks’ notice? That employment contract that you skipped out on? That company to which you consistently showed up late? Those burnt bridges will catch up to you. Treat your industry well, do the right thing, go the extra mile, treat your employers and co-workers professionally and with compassion. It will come back to help or haunt you. Every company you touch, every aviator you encounter, know that you are leaving your legacy with them.

• Consider consequences. Younger students, or their parents, will often ask what they can do in high school to best-prepare for a career as a pilot. I always say, “keep your nose clean and stay out of trouble.” Stealing street signs, playing with illegal fireworks, and underage drinking seem harmless enough … until you get caught and made an example of, and now have an ugly blemish on your permanent record. Seemingly mundane offenses can have far-reaching ripples in the pond of professional aviation. There are some aviation companies that are understanding of “kids being kids” offenses, while others have a zero-tolerance policy. Canada has very strict rules when it comes to DUIs; so much so, that US Citizens with DUIs in their histories could be prohibited from entering Canada. This becomes a big deal when flying for a carrier that regularly goes into Canada, which is why some aviation companies very specifically state, “no DUIs”. Your criminal history is fair game in an interview and could eclipse an otherwise stellar aviation/educational background.

• Be mindful of your digital signature. Social media can be a lawless place where opinions and criticisms are exchanged like gunslingers in a fight at the OK Corral. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, religious and political affiliations, but know that companies have very specific ways they want to be remembered and portrayed. What you post to your TikTok account or FaceBook page absolutely can and will be used against you in an interview or employment decision. In fact, some companies will ask for links to various social media accounts! Yes, we live in a country of free speech, but not necessarily freedom from consequence. Companies are entitled to make their own decisions about who they wish to hire; don’t give them a future reason to not wish to be associated with you with a careless post or comment today.

We’re presenting this information in the Future Pilots section of our website so that we can prevent issues before they come up. But, what do you do if mistakes have already been made? Unfortunately, now you have to do damage control. This could amount to something as simple as cleaning up or attempting to remove any unflattering posts or pictures, or go all the way to hiring an attorney to deal with legal transgressions.

As previously stated, some aviation companies are more lenient than others when it comes to legal and alcohol-related issues, but that only goes so far. There are very specific requirements and a list of crimes that some companies simply cannot work around. We’re at the beginning of a new age of aggressive pilot recruitment and airlines are starting to attend aviation events, like FAPA Pilot Job Fairs and Future Pilot Forums. Attending such events can put you right in front of recruiters and HR reps to whom you can tell your story and see if it is an issue with their company. If you find yourself in more dire straits, there are organizations that can assist you in dealing with or better understanding the consequences of past actions; the AOPA, for example, has advanced levels of memberships that include legal advice and consultation from their staff attorneys.

Image is important in all aspects of life and aviation is no different. The way you carry and represent yourself says a lot about you, but it also says a lot about the kind of company for whom you work. You are a brand representative to your aviation company and they carefully chose you to do that well. There are challenges – both marketing and operational – that present when their prized employees have a past; some of the challenges are easier to explain and navigate than are others. The line between a simple mistake and poor all-around judgement can be paper thin. Each company needs to triage their employees and their mistakes and ask themselves if it is worth it to keep such an individual around. I’m not saying whether it’s right or wrong, fair or unfair, I’m just saying it’s reality.

Ask yourself who you want flying the plane carrying your loved ones, then ask yourself what mistakes or poor decisions you would accept from them. Once you have done this, make the decision to be that person.

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