Most of us—during our business aviation journey—come to a career crossroads. It’s that inevitable point at which we decide which path to follow. Will it be to thrive as an individual contributor or should we pursue becoming a middle manager? Or perhaps we want to eventually run the entire operation?
Knowing where we belong requires a lot of introspection and self-awareness.
That’s why I’m sharing some insights from fellow business aviation professionals regarding their own mindfulness and decision-making process. Their experiences just might help you decide if a move is right for you. And your organization.
The Career Crossroads Dilemma
Aviation job candidates often come to API in a conundrum. Individual contributors and managers sometimes aren’t sure where to begin. Or whether to begin at all.
Are they in the right position? Or should they start to look for something more challenging? Some professionals get paralyzed with the thought of moving up. Others are 100-percent happy where they are. Then there are the candidates who want the top spot, but don’t have what it takes—yet.
Should a PIC become a chief pilot? Should a chief pilot become an aviation director? Or should the lead scheduling manager apply for that role? When is a senior maintenance tech ready to vie for the director of maintenance job? And should a DOM become a VP of business aviation?
Get Honest with Yourself
- Are you passionate about your “craft” (flying, scheduling or maintaining)? And are you fulfilled working behind the scenes?
- Are you hungry for change and ready for more responsibility?
- Do you have the aptitude and emotional intelligence to become a people leader?
- Are you willing to delegate the “doing” while you lead?
- As a middle manager, do you have the ability to develop internal talent and ensure their success?
- How would you effect change if you had access to more information? What if you could gain higher-level perspective of the organization?
- Would you prefer to lead the aviation operation? And if so, do you have a polished executive presence? A visionary-style leadership? Financial acumen? And critical thinking skills?
Do Your Due Diligence
So, perhaps you’ve come to the decision to see what’s out there and available for yourself career-wise. When you do evaluate a job opening, understand the expectations for the role you’ll fill in that position. Following are some tips:
Knowing what you’re getting into is critical, and that requires research. Before you apply, find out as much as possible about the inner workings of the position and what it takes to succeed in it.
For example, in many larger departments, there’s often what’s called a “brain trust.” This is a group comprising the aviation director, maintenance director chief pilot and head of scheduling. Be sure to understand the relationships and interactions at the company. (If unknown before the interview, ask around in the industry). And you definitely should discuss these important factors during your interview. Will your new job require topnotch critical thinking and communication skills? And a high-level financial management acumen?
What, for instance, is the nature of interaction between maintenance and flight operations? Is your next position one that involves “doing” and “leading”? Or does it involve developing relationships with the executive office? Perhaps you’ll have to manage bureaucratic red tape. And possibly navigate the political culture within the company. These issues might be factors in your decision.
Find a Mentor
A great way to achieve a lot of this knowledge is through mentorship. Find someone who can fill a mentoring role for the position you’re seeking and then pick his or her brain. Also, if you want to move up within your own organization, be sure to communicate with your leader. Does he or she understand your goals and aspirations? Can they take you under their wing and provide a succession training plan?
Look Past the Title (Know the Requirements)
Before you go after a certain position, do remember that not all titles in business aviation are created equal. For example, a chief pilot at a small organization might be a people leader and business unit leader. But a chief pilot at a seven-aircraft operation might have up to up to 21 direct reports. And he or she might report to the aviation director or VP. You’ll want to fully understand that the job title you’re pursuing matches up with your expectations for that role.
Be Strategic About Your Career
Thinking strategically about your next move is essential to any career movement. One aviation maintenance leader we know takes a very intentional tack regarding their career. This person told me that they think of their career in chunks—in “18-month experiences.” This approach forces you to constantly reevaluate where you are, what is fulfilling and where you want to go as you gain knowledge and skill sets. Professionals are always evolving. And, as such, so should our career aspirations. Remember one caveat: to “evolve” doesn’t always mean to “move up.”
This leader reiterated: Not everything you plan will come to fruition, but it’s important to have a plan. It’s important to be deliberate about your career because all too often, the numerous other priorities in our lives enable us to take a passive role in our career progression. This causes complacency, not evolution.
As a leader, this person values the ability to help the team grow and develop. And it’s top-of-mind for them to create levels and achievable milestones to help them get to where they need to be. In so doing, this leader is thinking about their progression within the organization. And they’re likely to be better positioned to help the team—and themselves.
When You’re at a Career Crossroads
If you’ve reached career crossroads, you now know some of the questions to ask yourself. But I do want to emphasize the need to be decisive about your path forward. As my father always said, “Once you’ve made the decision, don’t second guess yourself.” Knowing that you’ve looked at the possibilities from every angle, you’re ready to move ahead with confidence.
Also keep in mind that it’s advisable to re-evaluate your career, either annually or in 18-month increments. (Just like the maintenance leader mentioned above does). Remember: we are all a work-in-progress. Regardless if it’s to become the best captain in the cockpit or the most reliable maintainer in the hangar.