Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Part I: How I Tried Not to Get Hired

A few posts back I wrote a piece called “Monkey Business.” You remember; it was about the Air Force colonel who disparaged the airline business at an airlift operations course. His diatribe drove me in the opposite direction he intended. I filled out airline applications that evening. (I had been carrying them in my brief case for weeks.)

And I did every thing wrong according to the hiring gurus. I filled out my application by hand. I didn’t study-up on airline history. I didn't buy practice simulator time, and I didn’t go out and buy a new $400 suit for the interview. I figured my old navy blue sport coat and khaki slacks should be good enough.

If you paid the gurus money they would coach you. I didn't, but I knew that they advised of the exhaustive astronaut style physical exam you would get at American. They cautioned about Delta’s picky application process. They warned of TWA's extensive written exam, and offered to sell you a practice test.  

The interview itself was the biggie, they said. They taught airline pilot hopefuls how to answer the Give Me an Example question. (Example: “Give me an example of a time when you had a serious disagreement with your supervisor, and how you resolved it.”) The list of cautions and recommendations from the gurus went on and on, fed continuously by feedback from their clients who gutted-up and assaulted commercial aviation’s corporate hiring bastions.  

Then two airlines complicated my life. They offered me interviews. First I went to Dallas to take the astronaut physical. I passed, despite failing dismally at trying to humor a grumpy nurse, one we dubbed "Nurse Crochet." Then I had to go back for more screening. My Air National Guard pal, “Flat Land" Moore said, “If you get invited for the third trip you're in, buddy!”

I got the third invite. I asked Eleanor how she would like to move to Dallas. She frowned.

On the much ballyhooed “third trip” I was scheduled for a simulator ride and an interview. I was to fly a Boeing 707 simulator. The sim briefing was at 0700 on a Sunday morning. I got there at 0630 but couldn't find the right building. The place was deserted―buildings locked, no one around to ask. I scurried from door to door looking at my watch. It was a nightmare in the purest sense. 0700 passed. 0715. 20. Man, I was late for the most important simulator evaluation of my life. Or was it? For some, maybe.

Then I found an unlocked door, went in, bounded up the stairs and trotted to the correct room number. I opened the door and found the evaluator sitting across from another candidate (two of us were scheduled). The evaluator looked up. “Cockrell, I assume. Glad you could join us.” He wasn't smiling.

I flew the 707 sim with no difficulty. A takeoff. An ILS. Done. And the interview sprang no surprises.

But showing up late was a fatal mistake. Needless to say, the Dallas boys didn't invite me to join them.

Then came an invitation to Denver.

First was a “mini-interview.” That was just to get the immense pile of paperwork right. Then they gave me a physical exam, which was not quite as comprehensive as the one in Dallas, plus the nurses were nice. 

But it was my first experience with a female physician, and she wasn’t bad looking. I tried to think of something else, to avoid coming to attention when she checked me for hernia. I imagined the mechanics of a golf swing. I didn’t even play golf. It succeeded. The trooper remained at ease.     

Next they threw in a battery of brainteaser tests. I sat in a room doing timed practical math and navigation problems while listening to recordings of aviation radio chatter. After that I took a 600 question written psychological test. I had been warned they would ask the same question repeatedly in different terms to check for consistency―warnings that proved correct.  

A month later they invited me back. I was sick of the process and seriously considering throwing in the towel. I packed again thinking that when this is over and behind me, I'll get this airline stuff out of my system and move on. The commander of the Memphis Air Guard unit had offered me a full time position as a C-141 instructor. I asked Eleanor how she would like Memphis, and I got a shrug. I left for the final trip to Denver, but my thoughts were on Memphis. With such an mindset, the potential for failure was immense.

Next post, Part II: I Try Again to Blow It.

"I glance at the instruments. All is as it should be. Occasionally, as we climb, Gillette moves the throttles forward slightly. He is a good pilot, this silent man. His reserve is not cold but warmed with shyness, and consequently with him there is peace."
--Ernest Gann, "Fate is the Hunter"

If only Gann could have seen this.