Interviews are designed for employers to understand why you want their job, if you can physically do their job, why you’re the best person for the role and to see how well you would fit into their existing team.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of non technical pilot interview questions which jobseekers say they have been asked most frequently by the world’s biggest airlines. How you answer these interview questions will be a key factor in how your application progresses.
We’ve also included advice on how you should answer each question and more importantly, what the interview is looking for by asking you these questions.
Even though you can’t be sure exactly what you will be asked, planning your answers to the most common pilot interview questions can help you feel more relaxed and confident.
Remember, if you are attending an interview for a position as a First Officer, you are also being interviewed for the role of future Captain so you should bear this in mind when answering your questions. Airlines want to employ future Captains, not career First Officers.
So let’s get started.
What do you think defines a professional pilot?
The interviewer wants you to describe the ideal attributes of a professional pilot. When detailing each attribute, give an example of a time where you displayed these skills.
- Key things to mention:
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to take command and remain calm in critical situations
- Willfulness to train and develop
- Adherence to company procedures
- Systematic in all approaches
What do you know about our airline?
If an interviewer asks you this question, they are looking to see how interested you are in the job which you’re applying to – did you take the time to research their company before the interview? If you didn’t, it will show and it will probably go against you.
- By doing your research on the airline, you should know the following:
- Aircraft types & fleet size
- Product (Configuration First / Business / Economy)
- Orders of aircraft
- History (including when the airline was formed and any major events)
- Key people (CEO, CFO, Director of Flight Operations)
- Financial and performance overview (profit, revenue, passengers carried, year on year growth)
- Recent company news (e.g ordering a new aircraft or announcing a new partnership)
- Industry threats (global pandemic/epidemic, oil price, competition, market saturation)
By putting time in to research the airline thoroughly, it also demonstrates that you would put the same care and attention into the role which you are applying to.
Why is it important for pilots to be proficient in more than one language?
The interviewer wants you to outline why effective communication is a vital part of a pilot’s role. Poor communication has contributed to a number of deadly plane crashes since the beginning of modern air travel, which is why pilots must now provide proof that their English language proficiency meets the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) requirements.
For UK issued licences, pilots must demonstrate proficiency in English. Language proficiency is assessed on a scale of 1 to 6, with Level 6 being the standard of an expert speaker of the language. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requires the minimum standard for a licence holder to be Level 4. (An aircraft operator or employer could demand a higher level of English language proficiency.)
However, while not a legal requirement, it is also extremely important to be proficient in other languages, particularly ones which you will come into contact with regularly.
- You will regularly come into contact with passengers who do not speak the same language as you. Being able to understand and cater to your passengers’ needs is a desirable, if not essential, trait which employers will look for
- You will regularly come into contact with ground crew or airport staff who do not speak the same language as you. Being able to communicate in their native language is respectful, responsible and shows a high level of competence.
Why is it important for a pilot to have global skills?
With international travel rapidly increasing year by year, the aviation landscape has become more multicultural and globalised. This does not come without its challenges, particularly for pilots.
Working as a pilot means that you need to be aware of different cultures and how your actions can be construed.
An example of this would be, whilst flying as a First Officer in Greece, Marcus Lindblom tried to notify the ground crew that he required 5 tons of fuel by signalling with his whole hand (one finger for each ton required) with his palm facing forward. However, in Greece, this is deemed as a rude gesture which resulted in the ground handler denying his request and looking the other way. Fortunately, the Captain had experienced this before and advised Lindblom accordingly.
This example just goes to show how essential global skills really are.
What qualities make a good pilot?
In this question, the interviewer is looking for you to reflect on the soft skills needed to be a great pilot.
The aviation industry is built on hard skills such as technical proficiency, knowledge and experience, and while these are essential, soft skills are also extremely valuable to employers.
Soft skills include things such as people skills, listening skills and time management. You could be the best pilot in the world, but if your poor timekeeping delays a plane from taking off, this would be a big problem for your employer.
When detailing your soft skills, you could also give examples of a time you demonstrated this. Soft skills include:
- Interpersonal (people) skills
- Time management
- Positive attitude
- Team work
- Self discipline
- Ability to remain calm in a crisis
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In this question, the interviewer expects you to have an idea of your future career. They will be looking for ambitious individuals striving for success.
Interviewers will often search for indicators that you are using this role as a stop gap. To avoid this, you could detail how you plan to achieve X number of flight hours and X experience, which will allow you to apply for Captain vacancies within their airline (as and when they become available).
You could also answer this question by aligning your future with the future of the business. Research the company’s careers page or website for clues on where they see themselves in 5 years time.
For example, if the airline has a mission to reduce their CO2 emissions by 30% in 5 years, you could answer the question by detailing how you plan to become a leading advocate for sustainable air travel by speaking at events and educating trainee pilots.
In this instance, you would be demonstrating that you are committed to the role, the company and its values.
What would be a pilot’s role during an emergency?
In this question, the interviewer expects you to understand the basics of managing an emergency which are aviate, navigate, communicate.
Aviate – keep the plane flying is the first priority
Navigate – direct the plane to a safe space
Communicate – advise crew members or air traffic control of your situation and seek advice/instructions
There is a significant amount of information available in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for practically every major emergency which could occur, but it’s unlikely your interviewer would ask you to recite emergency checklists.
As well as detailing the actions you would take in an emergency, you need to demonstrate that you would keep calm and control the situation under tremendous pressure.
Should you have experienced any emergencies, you could include examples here, detailing the emergency, how you handled the situation and the outcome.
You could also draw reference to your soft skills here. For example, “After a bird strike caused one of our engines to fail, the Captain and myself brought the plane to safety by redirecting it to a nearby airfield. I had never been in the cockpit with this particular Captain before but we worked efficiently together to control the situation and bring the plane to safety.”
What does success look like to you in this job?
Success in your job could be measured in milestones, flight hours, reaching the left hand seat, or even landing a plane in every major country in the world.
Whatever you count as success, the interviewer is looking for the passion and enthusiasm in what you do. At the end of the day, the most exciting people to hire are the people who are the most excited about what they do.
The most exciting people to hire are the people who are the most excited about what they do.
Tell me about the toughest crew you had to deal with?
This question is designed to see how you deal with conflict and how you interact with others. As a pilot, you will find yourself in the cockpit with new co-pilots regularly. On occasion, differences in opinion can occur, for example the Captain believes it is safe to take off but you do not.
When these occasions occur, an employer needs to know that you’ll be able to resolve them.
In your answer, don’t focus on what your co-pilot or crew member did wrong. Focus on what you did to resolve the conflict in order to continue the flight safely.
You could also draw reference to what you learnt in CRM (crew resource management or cockpit resource management) training here. This training was purposefully designed so that all crew members are working together as effectively as possible to solve any problems which may arise.
Why are you a pilot?
The perfect way to answer this question is to be true to yourself. Is it a childhood dream? Are you following in your parents footsteps? Do you want to visit every country in the world? Or do you just love flying?
Try to avoid saying that you want to be a pilot for the money; an interviewer would rather hear about the enthusiasm and passion you have for your chosen career.
Why did you leave your last job?
There are many reasons why a pilot would want to switch airlines, but while the interviewer expects you to be honest, you should also try to put a positive spin on it.
For example, “I didn’t feel there was an opportunity to grow or advance further in that role so I decided a change would be best for my career. I’m keen to progress my career to the next level and as you put so much emphasis on career development, I believe that this airline is the perfect place for that to happen.”
Some common reasons for leaving include:
- Personal responsibilities
- Switching from long haul to short haul (or vice versa)
- Options to grow professionally
- Seeking a better salary
- Made redundant
Don’t talk negatively about a previous employer, even if you were made redundant or left on bad terms. The interviewer will be looking for signs that you are a positive, upbeat character who is focussed on the next chapter of their career.
If you were sacked from your previous position, you must be honest and explain the reasons as to why. If you get the job and they discover this information at a later date, there could be serious ramifications.
Why should we hire you?
Granted, this is a loaded question as you obviously can’t respond ‘because I need a job.’
To answer it well, you should demonstrate that you are the solution to the employer’s problem and that no other candidate could possibly do the job better than you.
You could also impress the interviewer by demonstrating your knowledge of the company, so be sure to have a good look at their careers pages before the interview.
An example of how to answer is, “Based on what you’ve said and from the research I’ve done, this airline is looking for a First Officer who will live up to the highest professional and safety standards and bring genuine customer focus to the cockpit.
I believe my previous experience aligns and makes me a great fit for this company. During my years with Etihad, I was a true ambassador for the brand and thrived off delivering a superior experience for the customers. Due to a change in personal circumstances, my time at Etihad came to an end but I would love to replicate that passion for this airline.”
You should demonstrate that you are the solution to the employer’s problem and that no other candidate could possibly do the job better than you.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
This is similar to the ‘what is your greatest strength?’ question and can be addressed in a similar manner. Pick a personal accomplishment that shows you have qualities the company values and that are desirable for the position you are interviewing for.
Your choice of greatest achievement will give the interviewer an indication of what you consider to be important, and how you achieved it will show them how you get things done.
Your greatest accomplishment could be acquiring your pilot license; let’s not forget that it takes a huge amount of time, skill, academic knowledge, dedication and financing to achieve. You may have also achieved this against all the odds.
Your greatest accomplishment could be something much smaller, but whatever it is, make sure that it lines up with the company’s values.
Name a time when you went out of your way for a customer
Airline pilots are often on the front line of customer service and employers want to ensure that passengers are well looked after. After all, without passengers, the airline would be no more.
In this question, the interviewer expects you to give specific examples which showcase your ability to deliver excellent customer service. This could be through meeting and greeting passengers as they board the plane, regular updates to passengers during the flight, or through sharing knowledge on their final destination.
Your answer could also relate to one specific passenger and how you helped them.
For example, a Southwest pilot held the plane for an additional 12 minutes to ensure passenger Mark Dikinson made it onboard. Dikinson was on the way to say goodbye to his dying grandson but a long queue at security had delayed him from reaching the plane on time.
As Dikinson boarded the plane and thanked the pilot, he responded, “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”
Every second counts when a plane is delayed, and pilots are often reprimanded for the late running of a flight, but in this instance, this particular pilot was praised for going out of his way for a customer amid tragic circumstances.
What lessons have you learned from mistakes in a previous job?
We recommend that you answer this question honestly as it is common for pilots to make a mistake. Being a pilot is a demanding role and you are not a robot. The most important part about making a mistake is that you recognised it and learnt from it.
Never suggest that you have never made a mistake as this will look suspicious to the interviewer.
What was the most difficult decision you’ve made during a flight?
The complexity and potentially fast changing environment along the flight path calls for pilots to have a systematic approach to problem solving and decision making.
In this question, the interviewer expects you to detail a tough decision which you had to make and the outcome of the situation as a result of the decision you made.
One of the most documented decisions made by pilots was that of Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles. On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was struck by a flock of birds shortly after take-off; the plane lost all engine power as a result.
Unable to reach any airport for an emergency landing, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles made the difficult decision to ditch the plane by gliding into the Hudson River. The passengers and crew were subsequently rescued by nearby boats.
During the investigation that followed, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) used flight simulators to test the possibility that the flight could have returned back to land at LaGuardia airport, or diverted to nearby Teterboro.
Only seven of the thirteen simulated returns to La Guardia succeeded, and only one of the two to Teterboro. The NTSB report called these simulations unrealistic citing “the immediate turn made by the pilots during the simulations did not reflect or account for real world considerations, such as the time delay required to recognize the bird strike and decide on a course of action.”
A further simulation, in which a 35-second delay was inserted (to account for Sullenberger and Skiles to make the difficult decision) never made it back to La Guardia airport.
The NTSB ultimately ruled that the two pilots had made the correct decision to glide the aircraft into the Hudson River. This split second decision was the difference between life and death for the 155 people on board that day.
The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators described it as ‘a heroic and unique aviation achievement.’
While it’s unlikely that you will have such an impressive story to tell your interviewer, pilots make difficult decisions all the time and the interviewer is looking for signs that you can make the right decision under enormous pressure.
Do you have any flight violations?
In this question, the interviewer expects total honesty. By lying or skirting over the truth, your character will be questioned and you won’t get the job.
The majority of violations discussed during the interview process are honest mistakes such as altitude bust on an arrival crossing restriction while distracted by a runway change.
In these instances, discuss the violation, what you learnt as a result, and how you have improved since the incident.
Intentional violations will be harder to explain so you should be prepared to answer some rigorous questioning around it. You will need to convince the interviewer that you would never make an intentional violation ever again and that you do not possess a threat to the airline.
By admitting an intentional violation, your character will also be thrown into disrepute. You will need to reaffirm that you do follow the rules and have the utmost respect for regulations and safety.
What are your favourite things about your current job?
By asking this question, the interviewer is trying to gauge if what you love doing matches up with the position you are applying to.
Your answer should be positive, constructive and instil confidence in the interviewer that you are the best candidate for their vacancy.
For example, “I love my job because you get the best office view in the world! Every day is different with a new challenge which suits my personality perfectly. It’s an honour to share the cockpit with colleagues who share the same passion as me – it doesn’t even feel like work most of the time!”
Your answer should be positive, constructive and instil confidence in the interviewer that you are the best candidate for their vacancy.
What are your least favourite things about your current job?
This is a tricky question to answer because you don’t want the interviewer to think that these frustrations would be carried over into your new role (if you got the job). You also don’t want to badmouth your previous employer.
When posed with a negative question, it is natural to feel that the answer should also be negative. However, it is a trap; the interviewer is really looking for you to turn that negative into a positive.
For example, “I used to love flying long haul but now that I am a parent, being away from home for days at a time is my least favourite part of the job. That’s why I am seeking a position flying short haul because it means I can still do the job that I love and be there to read my kids a bedtime story every night.”
Or, “I can’t say I dislike anything about my current job but the airline is very small which means career progression opportunities are limited. What attracted me to this company was the potential to learn and grow with the airline.”
How would your employer or colleagues describe you?
In this question, the interviewer is trying to see if you have the right personality traits for the job and if you would fit well into their company.
Saying nice things about yourself can be challenging as you don’t want it to be construed as cocky or arrogant. Focus on positives such as:
- Hard working
Instead of reeling off a long list, you could elaborate on why they would describe you in this way.
For example, “My colleagues would describe me as punctual and dependable. In my 20 years at EasyJet, I arrived on time for every single flight.”
Pilots are required to shoulder many responsibilities during the course of a flight. Describe what these are.
In this question, the interviewer is trying to see if you have a full comprehension of the responsibilities involved.
Some responsibilities would include:
- Safety and navigation of the aeroplane
- Analysing weather conditions
- Inspecting operation systems and navigation equipment
- Completing paperwork e.g sign for fuel received, pre flight inspection etc…
- Maintaining the aeroplane’s status within the air traffic control system
- Guidance to the other crew members on the flight
- Excellent customer service to passengers
- Aviate, navigate and communicate during emergency situations
What was the hardest decision you’ve had to make in your career?
When an interviewer asks this question, it is a golden opportunity to showcase your critical thinking skills.
When answering this question, describe the scenario, the difficult decision which you made and the positive outcome which came about as a result of your decision.
The interviewer is interested in learning how you think. Pilots must regularly make difficult and decisive decisions so the interviewer is looking for signs that you can do this.
Accidents can (and have) been caused by pilot errors in judgment so the interviewer is also looking to be reassured that you would take no action until you have thought about which course of action is best.
Rash decision making can lead to incorrect conclusions which could be critical in an emergency situation. You may have heard the saying, “no fast hands in the cockpit.”
Why are you looking for a job?
In this question, the interviewer is looking for a few key pieces of information. They are probably curious about how much effort you have put into your job search, why you applied to this specific job opportunity and what you’re looking for in your next position.
They will be listening for any red flags such as:
- You applied on a whim and might not leave your current position
- Bad feeling between you and your former employer – and signs that you could have contributed towards the relationship breaking down
- You have a tendency to change airlines frequently. Pilot retention is a significant concern for airlines
What do you do in your free time?
In this question, the interviewer is looking to see if you would be a good cultural fit for the company. By understanding what you do in your free time, they can make assumptions on your character and how that would fit into their established team of employees.
In your answer, you should demonstrate that while you are career-minded, you also have a strong balance of personal goals and interests.
Great hobbies to highlight include furthering education and physical activities, such as running, cycling or sailing.
For example, “As a pilot, I obviously spend many hours in the cockpit. While I love my job, I’m not physically active during those hours. That’s why when I’m not working, I love going running and for long walks with my dog. Being physically fit is not only great for my well being, but for my career too. Staying active keeps my brain function and memory sharp, and the strength and flexibility I get from physical activity helps to keep me comfortable during long stretches in the cockpit.”
Have you applied to any other airlines? Which have you interviewed with?
When an interviewer asks you this question, they might be scoping out the competition, seeing how serious you are about joining their company or they might be quietly concerned about losing you to another airline.
Wherever you’re up to in your job search, your best bet would be to explain how you’re actively exploring different options but that you are most excited about this position.
By answering this way, you’re subtly giving the impression that you’re such a great candidate, multiple employers have shown interest in speaking with you. You are also massaging their ego by expressing your enthusiasm in joining their airline.
Explain how you’re actively exploring different options but that you are most excited about this position.
Would you fly fatigued?
This simple answer to this is no. If you feel so fatigued that you could not safely operate an aircraft or perform your duties, pilots must advise their employers that they can not fly.
Pilot fatigue is a huge concern within the industry so by asking this question, the interviewer is looking to see how you would handle it.
You could also follow up with the actions you take to try and avoid pilot fatigue such as adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, staying hydrated and avoiding caffeine.
What would you do if you suspected your co-pilot had been drinking prior to a flight?
In this question, the interviewer is trying to see if you respect rules, regulations and safety measures. Your answer should include how you would report the incident to your employer and that you would never allow the flight to take off.
What is the definition of CRM?
In this question, the interviewer expects you to have a good comprehension of what CRM is and why it is important. Crew resource management or cockpit resource management is a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have devastating effects.
CRM is primarily used to improve aviation safety and focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership and decision making in the cockpit.
This training was purposefully designed so that all crew members are working together as effectively as possible to solve any problems which arise.
When answering this question, you could explain what you learnt during CRM training and describe a time when the training helped you deal with a difficult situation.
In your opinion, what makes a good first officer?
In this question, the interviewer isn’t looking for you to detail the job responsibilities of a first officer, they are looking to see what qualities you think a good first officer should have which compliments the various captains you will fly alongside.
As the first officer must assume responsibility should the captain become incapacitated, your answer should definitely include qualities such as remaining calm under pressure. Your answer is subjective, but could include:
- Good time management
- Adapting well to flying alongside different captains
- Following standard operating procedures
- Brave enough to highlight mistakes which the captain has made/about to make
- Asking questions to extend their knowledge
- A team player
- Remains calm under pressure
In your opinion, what makes a good captain?
Again, in this question, the interviewer isn’t looking for a list of job responsibilities, they are looking to see what qualities you think a good captain should have.
The qualities should demonstrate that you are a natural leader who can make good decisions and shoulder responsibility. Your answer is subjective, but could include:
- Good time management
- Knowledge of responsibility
- Following standard operating procedures
- Self motivated / Can motivate others
- Critical thinker
- Great customer service
- A team player
- Remains calm under pressure
What is the importance of checklists and SOP?
Standard operating procedures (SOPs) and checklists ensure tasks or operations are completed correctly. SOPs ensure the aeroplane is flown according to manufacturer guidelines and appropriate regulations. SOPs, backed by proper checklist use, allow two pilots that haven’t flown together before to fully understand what the other pilot is doing (or should be doing.)
Strict adherence to SOPs and checklists is an effective and proven method to enhance the safety of ground and flight operations, so by asking this question, the interviewer is looking to see that you understand the importance of SOPs and that you would strictly adhere to them.
Why was there a gap in your employment?
Gaps in employment are nothing to worry about as they are often perfectly legitimate, such as it took you a little longer to secure employment, the airline went out of business or even that you wanted to travel the world!
You don’t need to share more details than you’re comfortable with but you should approach it honestly, confidently and positively. By fumbling around with an answer, the interviewer may become suspicious that you are not telling the truth.
It’s also important to highlight what you did during your gap in employment, particularly things which would be relevant to the role which you are applying for.
These could include:
- Spending time in flight simulators
- Reading up on industry news
- Freelance / voluntary work within the community
- Speaking at aviation events
- Mentoring juniors within the industry
The interviewer is looking to see how driven and productive you can be, even in periods of unemployment.
Gaps in employment are nothing to worry about as they are often perfectly legitimate.
Do you have any questions?
Nowadays, this is a very common question asked at the end of an interview so it makes sense to plan a few questions in advance. Naturally some of the questions will be answered during the course of the interview so make sure you have a few questions to fall back on.
Your questions should make it clear that you were engaged during the interview and have quickly gained a sense of the company’s goals and priorities.
You can also refer back to things you learnt during the interview to phrase your question. E.g. You said earlier that you have great career progression opportunities, would you be able to elaborate on that?
You could also ask questions based on things you discovered while researching the company. E.g. It says on your website that you have a strong company culture, would you be able to tell me more about that?
By not asking any questions, you could leave interviewers with the impression that you’re not engaged with the conversation, or worse, that you’re not that interested in the position which you’re applying to.
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