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You're Hired: Landing Your First Turbine Flying Job

Shawn McCauley

Shawn McCauley is the Chief Pilot at Quad/Graphics, a global commercial printing company, which operates a Gulfstream G-IV and a Bombardier Challenger 300. He holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate with CL-30, G-IV, DA-50, and SD-3 type ratings.

Are you dreaming of a pilot job? Excited to pick up your first flight in a large aircraft as part of a flight crew? Before you make that jump, you'll endure the pilot interview - one of the most anticipated, hyped and studied events in a pilot's career.

In addition to his current role as the chief pilot at a corporate flight department, Shawn McCauley has held leadership positions at multiple Part 135 air carriers on both passenger and cargo sides of the business. In those positions, he's become an expert at hiring pilots.

Hiring Freight Dogs

A few years - and jobs - prior to joining the Quad/Graphics flight department, McCauley worked as Director of Training for a large FAR Part 135 cargo operation out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company operates Short 330 and 360 aircraft, twin engine turboprop cargo workhorses. Hiring was a frequent task, as pilots often moved on to other carriers.

The Typical Applicant

I ask McCauley what the typical applicant profile looked like. "Most were flight instructors from aviation universities. We got a lot from Averett University, Indiana State, also people from the region. We also had applicants from the academies, like All-ATP." Typical applicants had around 1,000 hours, but some applicants had as few as 250 hours. As with most operators, times ebbed and flowed with the industry. "When the regionals were hiring," says McCauley, "we had to lower our minimums."

Short 360 1 Flickr/CDN Aviator

The First Call

Like many operators, McCauley's company used an online application process. "We'd filter applicants by flight hours, select a set, and call them to schedule an interview."

I ask McCauley if an applicant could wash out during the first call. "Normally, no. It's all part of the interview process, but really, we just wanted to schedule an appointment. You could wash out if you said something stupid. But most people were really excited."

Into the Fire: Interview Day

Applicants started the interview process with a written test - a step used by nearly all aircraft operators. "It was nearly verbatim out of the ATP written." I ask McCauley if most of the applicants studied the gouge - notes and cheat sheets from past interviewees - before the interview. "After a while, it was all over the Internet. But we didn't mind it - if you know the material, who cares if you found it online."

After the written, applicants interviewed with a panel. "We usually had someone from the chief pilot's office, plus HR and someone from training." While the written exam evaluated the applicants' technical knowledge, the interview focused on soft skills. "We really wanted to know if this was someone you wanted to sit in the cockpit with - get the job done and not drive you nuts."

So what makes that person? "Work ethic. You had to load the aircraft, tie down the cargo and fly. We wanted people who could handle the work conditions. You're going to relocate, fly at night. It was tough."

I ask McCauley how you pick that out in an interview. "Gut feeling - you try to get them to let their guard down. I didn't want to hear canned answers." I ask him if it's easy to pick out canned responses. "Yeah - after ten interviews a day for three days straight, it's clear."

So what's a canned response? "When I ask them what they plan to do in five years, ten years, and they tell me, 'I want to fly here.' That's canned. This is an entry level job - I didn't even want to stay!" What else? "When I asked them what their biggest personality fault is, and they replied 'perfectionist' or 'over-achiever'. We want to get to know them - not hear answers from an interview book."

Skeletons in the Closet

What happens when you have a skeleton in the closet? I ask McCauley about one of the biggest black marks a pilot could have - what happens if you have a DUI? "Not necessarily a huge problem, if it is only one - it depends on how long it's been, how old they were when it happened, and how the pilot learned from it. You've got to be honest and forthright - don't try to blame anyone. We're not so focused on what happened, but how you've changed. People make mistakes, it happens. But you better not make that mistake more than once."

How about a failed check ride? "If you're in primarily training and you fail a check ride, it's not a big deal. You'd be surprised how many people have failed one. Again, [we want to know] what did you learn from the experience. If it happened during your professional career, it's tougher, because of PRIA [Pilot Records Improvement Act]. A pattern of failures is a problem. Training a pilot is very expensive, I'm not going to hire you if I think you may not be successful in training."

Short 330 4 Flickr/I Wish I Was Flying

The Sim

If you pass the written and the interview, you head to the sim. I ask McCauley how applicants fared there. "It was tough - 50% made it through." What was the sim like? "It was a PCATD, like a Baron. You fly a standard profile - takeoff, track to a VOR, vectors to an approach." I ask if they throw in any failures. "No - it was hard enough to fly already. The sim was really sensitive. You didn't have to keep it within 100', but you did have to catch and correct your errors."

Why was the sim so tough? "We didn't want to put people in training who couldn't pass. Training is fast, and failing training in a professional environment is bad for your record. It doesn't help you or us."

Moving Up

Now that McCauley's at a corporate department, I ask him if interviews are any different. "Entirely, it's almost a 'courtship,' we really take our time. Our pilots interact with our senior leadership and customers on a regular basis. I need to be certain they will represent us well, in addition to being someone I will want to do a 17 day European trip with. We hire people we know - from companies we know or who have a relationship with one of our pilots. At this level the flying skills are assumed, you wouldn't have gotten to this point if you can't fly."

I ask him what suggestions he'd have for a pilot aspiring to fly corporate Gulfstreams. "Stay away from the airlines. Corporate aviation is a small club, you're not going to meet the people you need to know at the airlines. Fly cargo, fly charter, work your way up. And network, network, network."

I ask McCauley if he's ever busted an interview. "I spent two years delivering airplanes before I finally got an interview with Horizon Air. I made it to the sim and flew the profile 100' off the whole time. They said 3,700' and I few 3,800' - brain fart." It seems to have worked out in the end.

Short 360 2 Flickr/CDN Aviator

Aleks Udris

Aleks is a Boldmethod co-founder and technical director. He's worked in safety and operations in the airline industry, and was a flight instructor and course manager for the University of North Dakota. You can reach him at

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