Pilot Applications & Assessments – What’s Involved?

Protect your investment!

So you did it! What has probably cost you between £50-£100,000 has culminated in you being awarded a small plastic book that says you’re a commercial pilot! So what happens now? Well, you’ll just get a job right? Wrong! The assessment phase that really counts is just about to begin, and that means being successful with an application and assessment to an airline. In buoyant times, with the demand for pilots high, then arguably you stand a better chance of getting that dream job on the flight deck. However, when the market takes a downturn, it is vitally important to be ready for an application and assessment and that means not leaving it until the last minute! In this article, we are going to look at the basic processes involved in applying to and then passing an airline assessment process. Train to Prepare!

“However, when the market takes a downturn, it is vitally important to be ready for an application and assessment and that means not leaving it until the last minute!”

The Application

Far from being a “tick box” exercise, your application to an airline forms a crucial part of the selection phase. Whether you are applying to a large Airline like British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, Jet2.com, Emirates or to fly float planes for a small airline like Trans Maldivian, you will be competing against what could be thousands of other pilots. Some may have more experience than you and may even be type rated, and all applying for the same position. Your application often forms part of your assessment! The application phase will usually consist of some form filling, to check that you meet the entry requirements, attachment of your CV, potentially a cover letter and/or answering some “essay questions”. Let’s look at each of these in turn:

Creating a Pilot CV

A pilot CV is your chance to sell all of your experience to date in a way that indicates your suitability for the role of a commercial pilot and your suitability for that company. It is simply not enough to have a “one size fits all templated” CV for your application. Beware of companies that “write your CV” for you. Each pilot CV needs to be carefully tailored towards each Airline that you are applying to.

Do you meet their entry requirements? When an Airline opens recruitment, it could receive possibly thousands of pilots CV’s across its desk. It is therefore vitally important that your CV first and foremost indicates that you have the necessary qualifications required to apply to that Airline – make it clear. If it is difficult to discern that information from your CV, then it may not get passed to the “shortlisted” pile!

Introduce pilot competencies! When it comes to describing your experience to date, then make sure you are indicating all of the skills and qualities in each of your roles in a way that links to being a commercial pilot and commercial asset. Introducing key skills and qualities (known as competencies) into your career history is also essential. Competencies include things like: leadership, teamwork, communication skills etc.

One page CV’s? It really doesn’t matter and you should not get too hung up on this – these days most CV’s will be electronically viewed and scrolled through. Just ensure that everything on your CV is concise and relevant to your experience e.g. it would be very hard for a military pilot with 20 years experience in multiple roles to condense that all into one page. If you have just completed your flying training, then make sure you include a reference to your flying training!

Hobbies and interests. Think about integrating aspects of any hobbies that you have that link to competencies an airline would like to see in its pilots and employees e.g. teamwork.

“Beware of companies that “write your CV” for you!”

Click here to view our comprehensive Pilot CV services.

Creating a Pilot Cover Letter

A pilot covering letter is your chance to evidence to the airline that you are the right fit for that airline.

Demonstrate your motivation for joining that Airline. You should be able to effectively demonstrate why you are applying for the role.

Don’t overdo the content/detail. Briefly summarise your experience and competencies that would make you an asset to the role and indicate why you would be a commercial asset to the Airline. Keep your covering letter concise and to the point. Your CV is the place for most of the detail.

Click here to view our comprehensive Pilot Covering Letter services.

Airline Essay Questions

Some Airlines will ask you to answer questions as part of the application process. These so-called “essay questions” are designed to check your motivation for wanting to work for the Airline and enable you to demonstrate the key competencies that would make you an asset to that Airline; and not just in the role of pilot. They often ask questions along the lines of : “In no more than 300 words, tell us why you believe you would be an asset to our team and what skills and qualities you will bring to the role”.

Take your time – do your research! You must give these essay questions the due diligence and time they warrant. In all cases, make sure that you do some thorough research on the Airline that you are applying to. No matter what your experience level, nobody owes you an interview – you must earn it!

Introduce competencies! As with a CV and covering letter, you must introduce key competencies that back up your answer.

Click here to view our comprehensive Pilot Application services.

The Airline Assessment

Once you are through the application phase, it’s time for the assessment phase. Most Airline pilot assessments will follow a broadly similar format. Some will require you to undergo some remote assessments via the internet, some will complete the entire assessment process in person. You can usually expect an assessment phase to comprise of all, or most of the following: some psychometric and/or aptitude testing, a group exercise, a technical interview, a competency based interview and a simulator assessment. Whatever processes are involved in your assessment, it is crucial that you make time to prepare for this phase. This may be your only opportunity to gain employment and you should treat each and every Airline interview, as if it is your dream Airline pilot job. Do not – repeat not – use any assessments as “practice” for another Airline!

“Do not – repeat not – use any assessments as “practice” for another airline!”

Documentation. You will almost certainly be given a list of required documentation to bring with you. If not, then as an absolute minimum, you should have the following with you:

  • License
  • Medical certificate
  • Logbook
  • Passport
  • Personal details 


Make sure you read the documentation from the Airline regarding your assessment extremely carefully!

Personal Appearance and Dress Code. It is essential that your personal appearance demonstrates the high standards that you would uphold as a pilot and as a potential future representative of that company. Ensure that you are smartly dressed and that your shoes are polished. Rucksacks and unkempt hair are unlikely to impress either!

Pilot Psychometric & Aptitude Testing

Pilot Psychometric Tests and Aptitude Testing. Everybody will have a different innate ability in these types of tests. Common psychometric tests include inductive, diagrammatic, verbal and numerical reasoning tests. The only way to prepare for these tests is to practice! You must become adept and familiar with these tests ahead of any assessment, which will include making sure that your basic maths and physics are up to speed, too. Many experienced pilots have been astonished when they have failed these tests, and have gone on to kick themselves when they didn’t get the job! Aptitude tests do exactly what they say on the tin – they assess your aptitude for the role of a commercial pilot. These tests will usually involve aspects that test your hand to eye coordination, your spatial awareness, your memory and reaction time. We recommend that you check out the following links here and here and consider purchasing some tests well ahead of any potential assessment.

“Many experienced pilots have been astonished when they have failed these tests, and have gone on to kick themselves when they didn’t get the job!”

Airline Pilot Interviews

The interview stage is your chance to shine and evidence to the recruitment team why you would be an asset to their company. You can usually expect to be interviewed by more than one interviewer, although this is not always the case. Whatever the case, you should be prepared for both non-technical and technical interview questions.

Be yourself. The interviewers want to get to know the real you (not a rehearsed version of you), so it’s important to relax as much as you can and to be yourself.

Do NOT rehearse answers! Preparing is not the same as rehearsing. Getting some help with easy to use frameworks can make a significant difference to your performance.

Demonstrate your motivation! If you can’t demonstrate your motivation for the role of pilot and your desire to work for that Airline, then it is unlikely that you will be successful at the interview stage. Do your research and really think about why you are applying to that company.

Competency based questions. In a modern day Airline pilot interview, there is usually significant emphasis on “competency based” interview questions. It is essential that you are prepared to be able to evidence competencies for the role. Competencies include things like: leadership, teamwork, communication skills, etc. Simply stating that you have “good communication skills” is not enough – you must to be able to evidence to the interviewers why you have good communication skills. 

Technical questions. Although some interviews do not include canned technical questions, you should be prepared to answer them. If you are a low hours and/or non type-rated pilot, then you must ensure that your general ATPL knowledge is up to speed. If you are a type-rated pilot, then you must ensure that your technical knowledge of that type is also excellent. That airline may not fly that particular type, but one of the interview team may have previously flown it and if you cannot demonstrate sound knowledge, then what does that say about your professional standards?

Industry knowledge. You should also be able to demonstrate good industry knowledge and knowledge of the company you are applying to. For more guidance on the types of interview questions, easy to follow frameworks and an annex of over 150 interview questions, then check this out.

Airline Pilot Group Exercises

Group exercises form a key part of many Airline assessments. They are designed to see how you interact in a group/team setting when faced with a fictitious problem. During a group exercise, you can expect to have to resolve a potentially complex problem and one where multiple outcomes might be appropriate.

It’s not a competition! You will likely face this exercise with other candidates that you may not have met before, and who may have vastly different backgrounds to you. Do not assume anything in a group exercise! It is very difficult for people not to be the intrinsic characters that they are, and you should give this careful thought before entering the group exercise. You are more likely to be successful in the group exercise if you support the other team members, rather than competing against them.

Being the leader? Don’t be afraid to take a prominent role – this doesn’t mean you are “the leader”.

Work collaboratively. Try to ensure that you work collaboratively during the group exercise to find an appropriate resolution to the problem that you are faced with. These exercises embrace many of the key skills and competencies that pilots use every day when at work, when interacting with all the various teams involved in the multifaceted role of a pilot. This is why they usually form a fundamental part of an Airline assessment.

Click here for help with the interview and group exercise phases of your Airline assessment.

A Flight Deck Wingman Airline/Flight School Assessment Preparation Day Course in progress 2020.

“Try to ensure that you work collaboratively during the group exercise to find an appropriate resolution to the problem that you are faced with.”

Simulator Assessment

Simulator assessments can be one of the more nerve wracking aspects of the assessment. If you’ve made it through to the simulator assessment, the chances are that you have impressed in all of the other areas. That said, do not assume that an average performance will mean success.

Do not worry if you are not familiar with the type of aircraft that you are being assessed on, this is absolutely not the most important thing and the assessors will not expect you to fly the aircraft as well as a seasoned type-rated pilot! You’ll be assessed for smoothness, accuracy and overall improvements throughout the detail. Your non-technical skills are also likely to be assessed and you will often find yourself teamed up with another candidate.

Practise “raw data” flying! Most simulator flying does not represent day-to-day flying, in that during a simulator assessment, you are likely to be asked to fly raw data SID’s and STAR’s, most probably without the use of full automation. Make sure you take some time to practice this type of flying e.g. joining holds etc. well ahead of any simulator assessment.

Know the datums! The Airline is also likely to send you some documentation ahead of the assessment, including pitch and power settings, profiles and checklists. Make sure that you know these parameters inside out ahead of the assessment. What would it say to the assessor if you did not know the settings, having had them in advance?

Booking simulator time. Whilst it might help your confidence and general exposure by booking some simulator time, do not feel that you need to book a full flight simulator for your simulator assessment. Check out FSM professional flight training and motion flight for some “fixed-base” simulator training devices.

The Outcome

Whatever the outcome, positive or negative, you should always aim to learn something from an assessment process. You never know when you might need it in the future! If it has not been a positive result for you, then make sure you reflect carefully on the areas where you thought you could have done better, or where you may have fallen short. If you have fallen short, the most likely reason is a lack of preparation. Most people that come to Flight Deck Wingman having previously been unsuccessful with their applications and assessments, have simply not prepared adequately.

“I qualified four years ago as a commercial pilot with the intention of working for an Airline. Having been through many Airline interviews during this time, I always received the dreaded “..... you have not been successful email.”

I was introduced to Andrew at Flight Deck Wingman who was fantastic and within ten minutes of our Skype session he had worked out where I had been going wrong all this time! Flight Deck Wingman’s interview techniques along with the genuine enthusiasm, had given me the confidence I required to gain my dream job working for Ryanair. 

Flight Deck Wingman always put my interests first, made time for me and were great with communication. I would thoroughly recommend  Flight Deck Wingman to anyone looking for interview preparation. The only regret I do have was I wish I met Andrew and Flight Deck Wingman earlier during my flying career! Sachin Varia

Am I Prepared?

How Do I Know If I’m Ready? That’s a great question and one that you should ask yourself! If you’d like to test your readiness, then a great way to do that is to consider taking our Airline Pilot Skills Test. Not only will you receive an Airline style interview and psychometric testing, but you will receive in depth written feedback on your performance, which is invaluable in evidencing any of your weaker areas. This Skills Test is used by leading UK Flight Schools to assess their students and we are certain that you will find it extremely beneficial as a gauge of your readiness for an Airline assessment.

Get Yourself a Wingman!

How Can You Prepare? Whether you are an aspiring, military, rotary or experienced Airline pilot, then please get in touch if you would like some help with your application and assessment. We offer a range of CV, Covering Letter, Application and Airline and Flight School Assessment Preparation services that will leave you fully prepared for any assessment. In a career where a licence can cost in excess of £100,000 to gain, is it not worth a small investment in the bit that ultimately matters the most to you – getting that dream job on the flight deck? We have an outstanding success rate, with approximately 99% of our clients getting to (and through) their Airline or Flight School assessment.*

“In a career where a licence can cost in excess of £100,000 to gain, is it not worth a small investment in the bit that ultimately matters the most to you – getting that dream job on the flight deck?”

Editors note: I’ve been asked many times why I formed Flight Deck Wingman. Well, back in 2006 I had just left the military and attended my first Airline assessment with TUI. I failed that assessment! Why did I fail? I failed the psychometric testing stage  – I didn’t even know that was part of the process. I was a front-line Sea Harrier pilot and I assumed I’d be fine (not even arrogantly!) but I hadn’t adequately prepared. If I had had an awareness of what the process involved, then my career path might have been very different. I might be a TUI Training Captain now… Sure, things have worked out for me – I am a First Officer operating the B787. However, having moved on from my first Airline job with Thomas Cook (after 10 years there) due to job security worries, I had to start at the bottom of another seniority list again. This has hurt my career earning potential SIGNIFICANTLY. I wanted to make sure that others didn’t make the same errors, so Flight Deck Wingman was born!

*Does not include those that were unsuccessful with their psychometric/aptitude testing or simulator assessments (Flight Deck Wingman does not currently train in those areas).


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