Monday, September 20, 2010

Cover Me

Air Canada has an HR management company called Taleo looking after job applications these days. The site only accepts updated resumes for positions they are hiring for, and as everyone in Canadian aviation probably knows, they have just opened the Pilot job for applications. I was on the road for a few days, but today have opportunity to re-apply. I put it number one on the to-do list and bailed out of bed. How hard can this be? I have to re-total my logbook, combine the various columns in the way that Air Canada asks about, and click though a few webpages. Should be done in time for breakfast, eh?

The adding up and entering in isn't too bad. It's the uploading. I hate my résumé. It's a depressing catalogue of jobs that I accepted or left at the wrong time or for the wrong reasons. It represents people and places I miss, opportunities lost, and a sad lack of overall career progress. Is this why I hate filling out job applications? I update the numbers on my resume, make sure no one has edited it to change my job duties to dirty words, save and upload it. Now the cover letter.

The first part is okay. Name. Address. Date. I got that far without messing up, I think. And just to demonstrate that I have a basic grasp of business etiquette, I know that I should not commemorate Talk Like A Pirate Day in a job application letter. I must write terrible cover letters. I've never got a job through a formal job application. Every job I get is through referrals or personal visits. I can bang off five blog entries in an undisturbed afternoon, but I can't lay out my skills and aptitudes in a simple letter. Let me try again.

Dear Nice Air Canada People:

I am a good pilot. I always check to make sure there is enough gas in my aeroplane before I take off, can fly in really straight lines, follow all the rules, and never ever get into fist fights with my coworkers or customers. I have a nice haircut (or at least I will when I go to work) and know how to make my shoes shiny.

Please hire me to help fly your aeroplanes. I will do a good job and even stop blogging about aviation if you wanted me to.

Love and kisses,


Nailed, it, eh?

I honestly don't know why this is so hard for me. I put my heart into applying for jobs, because I don't like to do anything halfway, and I hate being rejected without even being seen. Is it so hard to write because I am trying to psych myself up that this time will be different? I don't find other impossible goals so hard to start. I'm still running and although I don't think I'll make my long term speed targets, I enjoy running and second by second I'm inching closer to those distant goals. Of course it's impossible for me to see the difference between being in the pile of instant rejects and the pile that almost got called for an interview.

While I'm agonizing over what to write procrastinating by doing other things, I read an e-mail from someone who hopes one day to be a pilot, describing a co-worker who used to be an airline pilot. The ex-pilot said that the airliners are all under the company's control, and all the time asking:

 Why are you 2 knots slower?
 Why are you 2 degrees of course?
 What happened on this landing?
 Why did you take the wrong exit?

I ask myself questions like that all the time. I want to be super efficient and accurate. But like someone who stands there and tells you what to do just as you're about to do it, someone who asks why you do everything just as you're thinking about it yourself, doesn't sound fun. I want to believe that I hate applying for jobs because mine is so good that I don't want another job, but I suspect that it's more a case that I hate doing things badly, and I know that I'm bad at this game.

So here's me taking advantage of the resources at my disposal. If you can write a better cover letter than the one above, and can handle a bit of negativity and whining, I wouldn't mind some help.


Anonymous said...

(You might not need any of this, but here goes ...)

You're writing the letter only to get the interview. Focus sincerely on how much you'd enjoy meeting and talking with them, just like you would if you were sending a note to set up a coffee date with one of your blog readers. Write to them as professional equals, not as the lofty, god-like gatekeepers of all your hopes and dreams.

Once you have the interview, then you can focus on getting the job: just let them see the same friendly, skilled professional we all admire in your blog.

Break a leg!

Anonymous said...

They would like to know who you are. Send them a link to your Blog.

Anonymous said...

I would not send a link to your blog.

I wouldn't think you need much help writing a cover letter. You are a formidable wordsmith.

Interviewing with a major is a high stakes game, nothing more. That is why weak pilots who interview well get jobs. Find out what they want to hear on the cover letter...

Do you know any captains over there who could give you some last hired phone numbers?

I would even suggest paying somebody to write your cover letter. Pull the damn stops out to get that interview.

If you do get an interview, we can talk beforehand...

K1MGY said...

In one memorable experience I was hired by a Harvard MBA CEO based on "your cover letter". Apparently I said more of myself and how I would help the efforts of this particular organization than any resume would do. When the interviewing process brought consistency to the letter, it was a cinch.

I imagine hiring in aviation is much like that in radio broadcasting (I was in radio - or as we liked to say a "radio speaker" for years in my younger days): all luck.

So good luck, but focus your letter on summarizing what you will bring to the efforts of customer service (what commercial aviation is all about) and use it to highlight who you are.

sean said...

The problem you face is simply one of misunderstanding. Not by you, but by the hiring team.

Air Canada are most likely out-sourcing the first cut of resumés. Taleo is quite good at doing this first cut automatically, and after the robot-cut, you'll be in a pile of resumés sitting before someone from Human Resources. So you need to pitch this cover letter to someone who doesn't know anything about being a pilot.

First and foremost, you need to sound professional and make sure that the fiddly things like spelling and grammar are correct. Then, the best trick to making sure that you pass the robot and HR tests is to make sure that you explicitly say that you meet the requirements that they are looking for.

This may sound like a joke, but to a HR junior who has a pile of a couple of hundred resumés and a checklist; statements like "I have passed the Air Canada and Transport Canada medical and visual acuity requirements for my currently held Category 1 medical certificate" helps them to check-off whether you meet the requirement of "Ability to pass the Air Canada and Transport Canada medical and visual acuity requirements for a Category 1 medical certificate". The mistake most people make is that they think that "Currently hold a Category 1 Medical" will suffice. It would to another pilot, but to someone who doesn't know anything about being a pilot, there is a grey area about whether it meets that specific requirement.

Once you have specifically stated that you meet their requirements and clearly show that you also hold some of the desirables (commercial flight experience, additional languages, etc), include some high level statements about your dedication to their "Key Success Factors". This doesn't need to be "I put safety first. The safe operation of all flights is paramount. Not crashing is always at the top of my mind", but something a bit vaguer would suffice.

After that, and I can't stress this one hard enough, read your letter **out loud** to yourself... twice. Sometimes, it is only when we are reading every word out loud that we realise that there are awkward sentences, changes of tense, or sentences that run on forever (like there are in this comment).

Then, when you are happy with it, press the submit button and wish your application off on its merry way.

Good Luck.

sean said...
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Anonymous said...

Sean is right. These companies have elaborate computer systems to do their selection for them based on buzzwords in both your resume and cover letter.
Only if you have the correct buzzwords in there (or enough of them at least, say 80% from a set of 50) does a human even get to see the application.

And that human will be some junior flunky who knows nothing about the job he's selecting candidates for, he just vets whether you have anything in there that's in the "optional" category of buzzwords to set you apart from the rest.
The customer (or the recruitment company's customer specialist for the customer's line of business most likely) gets to see only a very small number of applications (depending on contract, this might be as few as half a dozen from thousands of applications).
It's the flunky's job to select that half a dozen from the few hundred that pass the computer filtering, and as said that flunky knows nothing about aviation.

He'll read your cover letter (I hope it's not the actual one you submitted, but I'll use it as such here) and decide you're too immature to handle "a position of considerable responsibility", and bin it instantly.

Or in my case and business, he'll see that I'm going on 40 and decide that I don't fit in the "young and dynamic team" that the customer claims to be.

That's his job, and that's all it is, filter those that the computer can't easily filter without more programming that costs more than keeping the flunky around.

crazyscot said...

Building on what others have written, keep it short and to-the-point. Don't waffle; keep it clear and make your words count (as if we need to tell you this!) The person who initially reads your letter has loads to get through - tl;dr means a date with the round file.

I subscribe to the notion that, broadly, a good cover letter has three parts (three paragraphs?). The first is to explain why you're writing (to apply for the position of XYZ, though perhaps not in those words); the second is where you sell yourself and try to get the reader to want to bring you in for interview; the third is to invite them to actually do so (again, not always directly).

You can do the whole thing in three or four carefully-worded sentences; whether this is wise is a judgement call based on what you know of the firm. Aviation being such a conservative business, I'd reckon that - assuming you pass screening - by the time your letter is seen by somebody in the chief pilot's office, you perhaps ought to have reference in there to being a good team player, keeping up the customer service virtues and so forth. (And, on that note, while wacky cover letters and resumes work in some industries, I doubt they would in aviation.)

townmouse said...

What Sean said. I've done sifts for interviews and you bless, bless, bless the person who's made your job easier in their covering letter by ticking all the boxes in your sift sheet. There should be something like a person specification and a job description somewhere and you need to systematically go through those and point to the evidence you have for each of those points. (I also bend over backwards to include someone who sounds like they might be fun as well but that's just me).

Good luck

Syrad said...

Everyone else has addressed the resume, so I'll talk about the part at the end with the spying airplane. Do you think he was talking about FOQA? It might get a little distorted if one airline pilot who didn't totally understand it told a layman who told you.

Paul B said...

"...can fly in really straight lines..."

... don't you also need to be able to fly in gentle curves too?

"I have a nice haircut"

... should you mention that you have green hair at this point?

"and even stop blogging about aviation if you wanted me to"

no, no NO!!!!!!!!!!!!! that is NOT allowed :-)

"Love and kisses"

... not to sure if you should include the kisses. Or if you do, don't forget to add some "xxxx"es after your signature!

Good luck!

Aviatrix said...

Thanks everyone for your advice and samples. I'm going to take it all under consideration and write the real letter now. (Don't worry, the parody cover letter in the blog entry was simply an expression of frustration. Also I find it's sometimes easier to correct existing work than to fill a blank page).

Syrad: Yes, I assumed he was talking about FOQA (unfortunate acronym, eh?) I have something like that in my current ride and I kind of like it, with its implication that someone cares about the details of how precisely and efficiently I fly.

Syrad said...

I've worked with FOQA at my current airline and I'm a big fan of the system. Pilots tend to think of it as a spy in the cockpit, but that's really not the case, especially in a large fleet. (For those not familiar, it's basically a system where flight data recorder info is saved on a memory card and then uploaded to a secure server. The airline's flight data can then be tabulated and measured.) When you consider the thousands of flights made daily at a large airline, it's really impossible for each flight to be examined individually. At FOQA meetings people rarely ever look at a single event, because it's all about the trends. Are we trending one way or another on 250 knot exceedances below 10,000 feet? Which airports do we show a large number of unstable approaches at? Which arrivals are consistantly producing steep descent rates and why? Are the engines running efficiently at FL350? What's our average fuel flow rate? Occasionally a pilot will be called about an isolated event, but it has to be a really significant issue to trigger the system to alert the FOQA gatekeeper. It's a great system that allows the airline and the training departments to really see what's going on on the line, what we need to work on, and we get almost immediate feedback on how new policies and training are helping on the line.

zb said...

Hope the cover letter turned out. If it didn't (and you noticed only after hitting the send button), here's my little story: I managed to nail a good cover letter for my first job after college. It was at a small company where the boss reads stuff like cover letters himself. For my current gig at a bigger company with an HR department instead of just an HR person, I wrote a cover letter that was nothing but a bunch of awkward grammar and weird sentences and guess what: no one cared. I even apologized for the lousy language during my second interview and all the boss-boss said was: "You know, I can only spend as much as 30 seconds for a cover letter, so please don't worry too much. What counts is the stuff in the resume and the question if you are able to tell me about your previous gigs in a way that shows dedication." I am still happy working at this company.