Helicopter Pilots: Landing a Good Job Includes Networking
What is your industry network and who is in it? If you don’t know, you need to know. For helicopter pilots, landing the best job is all about pilot skills, experience, AND networking. Of course, you will need a good resume, the right type of experience, and some very good people skills. But even more important, you must be known by those who have influence in the industry. Helicopter pilots get hired because they have good connections with reputable people within the industry. Essentially, they know somebody. If you are not known, you might struggle to find good jobs that pay well.
The absolute best “networking” opportunity is to attend Heli Expo presented by Helicopter Association International. Another great opportunity can be found at the Heli Success conference in Las Vegas. Both conferences are incredible opportunities to meet prospective industry influencers.
Being “professional” is a serious matter, and you need to be a serious pilot. However, having a good personality is just as important. Always be approachable, humble, and courteous. Be willing to smile, laugh at appropriate times, and be comfortable being yourself. If you struggle with “people” (too shy or too aggressive) work on your people skills during flight training. Both “piloting skills” and “people skills” will advance your career, or hold you back. Again, landing the best pilot job is all about networking.
Networking is not about passing out business cards. In the helicopter aviation world networking is work. You must be authentic, genuine, conscientious, alert, and passionate about the helicopter industry. It helps if you like people, or at least enjoy meeting new people. When networking with the influencers of the helicopter industry remember that they have the same interests you have – flying helicopters. Learn to enjoy the process and maximize your opportunities. Always remember, first impressions are important so take it seriously.
Networking – What is it?
- Building professional relationships
- Introducing yourself and meet people known
- Find people with similar backgrounds and interests
- Get known
- Join industry associations and be willing to serve
- Listen, learn, and be receptive
What networking isn’t
- Schmoozing, brown-nosing
- Appear needy, pushy, disingenuous
- Whipping out business cards
- Connecting online without a proper introduction
- Shot-gunning blind resumes
Your First Connection Comes From Your Flight School – Choose Wisely
The first important connection you will establish comes from the helicopter flight school you attend. This connection can help you, or hurt you. It depends on the quality of the helicopter school and the type of training you receive. The top schools will prepare you for industry, including helping you to development leadership skills (people skills).
Moreover, the best helicopter flight schools can help you get your first job. First, the better flight schools hire their top graduates (CFI). Second, the best flight training programs are networked with Tier 1 employers, and, therefore, are positioned to help graduates get their first industry job outside of flight instruction. Tier 1 employers will recruit pilots from the best flight schools. Your reputation as a pilot will be tied to the school you trained with.
You will hear that the “helicopter aviation industry is very small”. You will hear this over and over again. Why? Because it is true. Helicopter pilots build their reputations over time, both good and bad. If you stick around long enough, people in the industry will know you by reputation before they meet you. You certainly do not want to burn any bridges or fail an employer. Negative “nicks” on your reputation will follow you everywhere. If you are a good pilot, people will know. If you are jumping from job-to-job, they will know that too. If you are “networked,” a great communicator with good people skills, AND you are a good pilot, your resume will be at the top of every stack.
How are your people skills? Do you need leadership training?
Helicopter pilots with good people skills naturally know how to build strong connections with industry leaders. The question is: “How are your people and leadership skills?” Are you coachable? Are you teachable? Do you listen? Do you communicate well? Do you follow instructions? Do you submit to authority? Do you get along well with colleagues and customers? If not, you need help. Your pilot career will only go so far, and regardless of your experience you will be overlooked and left behind.
If you are a great communicator with good people skills, it will be easier for you to build strong connections with industry leaders. If not, get some help now. Find a school that will teach you flight training AND people skills. We are not suggesting that you become a “brown noser” – that never works and will always backfire. We are referring to an authentic desire to learn from the best. Be a good student, never be a know-it-all, and be hungry to learn while working very hard. Be dependable, flexible, courteous, respectful, and fair. Always be willing to learn from every situation. Treat everyone with respect, honor, and protect their dignity – just like you would want to be treated. Essentially, be a professional in every way.
Industry experts will tell you to find a mentor
The helicopter industry experts will tell you that you need to find several mentors early in your career. Find several people who have risen to the top of the aviation industry. Reach out and establish a professional relationship. At the right time, in the right moment, ask them to help you to be the best all around pilot. Don’t be intrusive, or arrogant, but simply say, “how did you get here (industry leader) and can you help me craft my career?”
Attend industry conferences and meet people face-to-face. Be patient. It may take dozens of conferences before you can connect with industry leaders. Once you have established a connection, never “name drop”. Never exaggerate your experience. Be humble and appreciative. Show prospective mentors that you are serious about professionalism, and be willing to develop real relationships. Never let your mentor down and do not soil his/her reputation by acting like a bonehead – you might not recover.
The time to develop a network starts before you start flight school
The time to develop your industry connections is now. Before you choose a flight school, do your homework. Call Tier 1 employers and ask them for a recommendation on flight schools. If you have chosen a school, before you sign on the dotted line, call around and find out if they have a good reputation for producing quality helicopter pilots for the industry.
Networking Tips for Introverts
- Network one-on-one rather than in big groups
- Work toward creating valuable, deep relationships with a handful of approachable influencers
- Prepare in advance – anticipate key topics and have questions ready to get a conversation going
- Help someone else network, or pair up with someone you know to get an introduction
5 Tips to get your foot in the door
- Discipline yourself and make a plan
- Stay alert – look for opportunities to be around the right people at the right time
- Don’t hijack conversations or outstay your welcome
- Be open to new ideas and alternative plans
- Utilize the people you already know
The Network Code of Ethics
- First impressions are everything
- Everyone you meet will be evaluating you – be smart
- Helicopter aviation is a small industry – people talk
- Think about proper business attire – if in doubt, overdress
- Take out piercings and cover tattoos
- Be smart with alcohol – don’t get sloshed
- Know your career plans
- Get rid of negative attitudes or sense of entitlement
- Social Media can sink your ship
HAI – Heli Expo Networking Opportunities
- Pilot Mentoring Panels
- Industry Job Fair
- Rotor Safety Challenges
- Welcome Reception
- Annual Membership Breakfast
- Committee Meetings
- Salute to Excellence Awards Dinner
- Heli Expo Exhibitor Booths