The Case for Soft Skills


What can I do now?

A common question by both readers and new entrants into the aviation industry, especially those with very little total time logged, is, “What can I be doing now to help advance my career?” Other than the simple advice “study and fly as much as possible,” there are quite a few areas of focus that can be developed outside structured lessons, and airlines are looking for these on your résumé and during your interview.

Usually, on day one of indoctrination class at an airline, one of the facilitators will ask the class how many captains are in attendance. Most first-time airline pilots don’t pick up on the cue that the facilitators intend for everyone to raise their hand. This is because airlines do not want to hire career first officers. They hire future captains, and they want that mentality on day one. No, they don’t expect you to run the flight deck, or consult with dispatch, or brief the flight attendants. But they do expect you to display the professionalism and leadership qualities of the seat that you will eventually be sitting in on day one on the line.

Professionalism and leadership qualities of high importance include communication, conflict management, situational awareness, leadership effectiveness, empathy, motivation, and time management. These are all examples of soft skills, which means they define how you work and relate to others. Reading the skills above, you can see why these are critical for effective Crew Resource Management (CRM) and being a great captain. While the physical aspect of flying a plane is important, the soft skills are the glue that hold the operation and flight deck together. So, how can airlines tell if you have these qualities compared other candidates?

The short and easy answer is – your résumé. Filling yours with examples of opportunities to use these skills will help you stand out among your peers and get you to that first, second, and final job interview much quicker than simply focusing on hours. What do these opportunities look like?

Volunteering: Perhaps the best way to show motivation, empathy, time management, communication, and leadership is to volunteer in some capacity. While many people think this must include long hours working in a soup kitchen, there are countless opportunities within your community, work group, student group, or church that can provide many of the same opportunities to develop these soft skills that you would find in a more formal work role.

Workplace Role: The most obvious answer to this soft skills question is to find roles within your current employment to showcase the ability to use them. Taking on managerial roles, additional tasks that require more communication, and conflict management opportunities are great interview topics that highlight your familiarity with these skills.

Scholarships and Awards: Nothing is better to attest to your skills than having someone else validate your worth. This is what scholarships and awards help do, as most of the time these types of recognition programs have requirements that will emphasize your outstanding ability in a soft skill. Do not discount their value on your résumé!

This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of all the ways that you can show your soft skill exposure and development, but hopefully it gets you thinking about ways that can help you identify opportunities to develop and use these types of skills. Your career will thank you.

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Founded on the principle that there should be no such thing as “you just have to learn the hard way” schools of thought, the founders of VATH Publishing set out to remove that unfair and inefficient way of thinking for future professionals in all lines of work. Starting with our first publication, The Airline Transition Manual, we worked to ensure that aspiring, new, and even seasoned pilots had all of the information available to them up front to get the most out of their careers. So much emphasis was placed on flying the aircraft, that many pilots struggled at their first job while they were confronted with the trials and tribulations of learning all the “gray matter” that came with being a professional pilot that no one had bothered to inform them about. Our book set out to right that wrong. Going forward, we are looking to expand on this mentality so that future professionals have all the tools they need on day one of their careers. Do you have a title that fits this vision? Please contact us!


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