The networking factor
Everyone who's been successful in aviation was helped by someone, somewhere along the way. It's an unwritten rule that each of us who benefits from this system is obligated to return the favor by helping some other deserving pilot. The key word here is deserving. You must prove you're worthy by demonstrating you'll put this special assistance to good use. Show that you're the kind of pilot who will carry on the traditions we all admire and will make others proud to have helped you accelerate your career.
If there is a specific company you'd like to work for, become acquainted with key personnel there and learn as much as you can about it. If informal contact isn't possible, a formal approach may be necessary, using an informational interview, designed to introduce yourself and acquaint the company with you and your skills. Ask your contact what he or she recommends you do to widen your circle of "inside" acquaintances. Would a particular course or a certain type of flight time aid in your quest?
After your first meeting, send a short thank-you note and then follow up, at least quarterly, with a note or greeting card containing a few lines describing your current status, progress, and short-term goals. Keep the communications channels open.
Maintain a file of your key contacts, listing for each one your initial meeting date, the person's aviation and business interests, telephone numbers, addresses, e-mail address, and the kind of contact you made. When you pass a new milestone--such as a new rating, more flight time, an award or accomplishment--inform your contacts.
Attend as many industry meetings and seminars as possible. I know a pilot who got his start in commuter aviation by introducing himself to the director of operations for an airline beginning local service who had come to an airport commission meeting. Wanting to hire pilots who lived in the area, he was delighted to meet my friend and eventually hired him.
Always carry a supply of professional-looking business cards as well as your updated résumé. The cards should list your name, ratings, and an address, phone number, and e-mail. Your résumé, which you should keep in a folder in your car or briefcase, should be dated and include a self-addressed envelope and your business card.
It has been said that what's important in networking is who you know. Equally important, I believe, is who knows you and your capabilities.
Capt. Karen Kahn is the author of Flight Guide for Success: Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot and a career counselor. A Master CFI and 30-year airline pilot, she flies the Boeing 757/767 for a major U.S. carrier.