The career advisor
Q: I had a DUI conviction on my record when I was in college, and I hear that it is a real deal breaker for the airlines. Am I dead in the water?--Aaron from Sacramento
A: Virtually all interviews will key in on a person's brushes with the law as well as any FAA checkride failures. The best tactic is to conduct an investigation. Make every attempt to discover the corporate philosophies regarding past transgressions and failures. Talk to new hires and line pilots from that airline.
There is a certain skittishness at airlines regarding individuals with "histories." Imagine the nightly news reporting an incident if, in the investigation, it was discovered that the captain was once convicted. From a public relations standpoint, that kind of story just doesn't sit well. But, thankfully, there is reality.
A former vice president of flight standards and training at a major airline told me, "Yes. We have hired individuals who have a DUI on their record. But, there are extenuating circumstances."
He continued, "A lot depends on when. If the company is interviewing someone in their mid-thirties and the one DUI occurred during college, we are apt to forgive that person. Let's face it. We make mistakes, especially when we are young. If that individual is honest with us and has led a clean life for the past decade, sure, we will more than likely give him a pass. However, if the drinking incident occurred last year or there is more than one, it is not going to go well for the applicant. There are too many hopefuls who want a job at this company who have been totally responsible."
Drinking problems are not the only issues. Moving violations and FAR busts are going to grab the interviewer's attention. Most airline recruiters are apt to forgive one misstep; maybe even two. But, let's say that you have three speeding tickets in the past two years. What does that say about you? It is a clear sign to the interviewer that you have a habitual disregard for law. That could translate to the flight deck.
The same can be applied to failed FAA checkrides. One? Probably no issue. Two? You might still get the nod. Three? Well, what's wrong with you?
It is the very rare applicant who has a sterling, unblemished track record. If you did stumble in the past, the best advice from recruiters is to take responsibility for your actions. Explain what you learned from the experience. Saying things like, "The cop was a jerk" or "The FAA examiner is a butt-head" will not make points, even if the characterizations are true. Instead, you might respond, "Well, candidly, I was late for a date and I was just not paying attention. I got nabbed by the trooper for doing 10 over the speed limit. I learned to plan my time better and I've had no other violations in the past six years." Likewise, "I came to the checkride unprepared. I studied up a little more and took the test again the following week and passed. I learned never to take another FAA test without being totally prepared and confident."
One "gotcha" question I have heard of during an airline interview is, "Have you ever broken the law?" Frankly, are we not all law breakers? Think about the last time you took the wheel on the Interstate. You maintained the speed limit, right? Yeah, sure. Anticipate such questions and be prepared to answer them.
Send us your career question and we'll answer the best ones here. Sorry, but we are not able to provide individual responses. Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines.