Moving up the job ladder
"How do I progress upward from my current CFI position to find a cargo, corporate, or commuter job?" Start by selling yourself with a bit of personal public relations. Let other pilots and airport people know what you're looking for and approximately when you'll be ready for a new job. If it's a CFI job, keep them updated on your progress as you complete your flight ratings. If it's a charter job or post-CFI job that interests you, it's never too early to start checking out the possibilities.
Prospective employers want to see that you have built multiengine (ME) time as quickly as possible, so you'll want to have at least 200 hours of ME time when you reach 1,000 hours of total time. Having thousands of hours of light single-engine time and little or no ME time can bring into question your advanced flying skills and your seriousness of purpose.
If you are an enthusiastic, inventive CFI, there are numerous ways to move up the ladder. You can virtually make your own job by carefully looking over the marketplace. Is there any charter work or a corporate operator who might need another pilot at your local airport? If so, get to know the people who work there and start learning about their operation, including who does the hiring and what kind of flight time this person likes to see for new hires.
When you find a prospective employer, take the time to express a sincere interest in the equipment they're flying and do some research to familiarize yourself with the company and its airplanes. Obtain a manual for the aircraft and study it with an eye to asking good questions when the pilots have some spare time to talk. Find out where you can attend ground school on their specific type and, if feasible, offer to pay your own way. Trained, enthusiastic professionals are hard to come by, so you'll be distinguishing yourself and learn a lot in the process.
Befriending the current pilots of a prospective employer can often net you valuable advance information on their hiring plans; they may know if the company plans to hire, when, and how many. Or, if any of them have personal plans to move on to another job, perhaps you'll be able to apply for their slot. Demonstrate your sincerity and interest so that a current pilot will be happy to recommend you as his replacement.
Remember, hiring through résumés can be a difficult process, so if you are there when it's time to hire someone, you may make someone's job that much easier. You're a known quantity, and if you are known for your quality--in appearance, attitude, and ability--you will likely get the job. Make sure you look and act appropriately for the job you're seeking. Follow up every lead and report your results back to your source to encourage more leads in the future. Think positively and show that you are proactive in managing your own career progress.
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.