climbing aviation career ladder

Nearly everyone in business aviation that we come into contact with here at API is “upwardly mobile” and looking toward the next rung of the career ladder.

The only alternative might be to those who are reaching out to celebrate their pending retirement.

Whether you’re a captain looking to take a chief pilot role, a maintenance tech hoping to get slotted in as a supervisor, or a flight operations manager positioning yourself to be an aviation director, the benchmarks for these upward moves might be a little more challenging than you think.

As aviation recruiters, we hear from countless career professionals who tell us they’re ready for a move.

But in reality, many aren’t really prepared for it. Nor are they able to articulate their readiness and what experience they’d bring to their next role.

So if you think you’re prepared to climb the next rung up on the aviation career ladder, think about your plan of attack and your “pitch.”

How do those making the decision to move you up perceive your readiness for that next big job? And what criteria they might use to decide if you’re ready.

Working with what you know

Let’s start with the basics—how you got to where you are today.

One thing you must realize is that moving up the ladder has very little to do with how long you’ve worked in your organization.

So please don’t expect an amazing promotion and compensation package to be dropped in your lap.

Even with the aviation talent shortage , you cannot simply raise your hand and say “I’m ready” based strictly on your longevity.

It’s all about actively demonstrating your readiness by selling yourself and your fitness for the position. You must also have a proven track record of managing/leading special projects on your own.

You need to talk to the right people, in the right way and at the right time.

A word of advice: If you know in your heart and mind that you want more than flying or fixing airplanes, you need to verbalize your desires directly with your manager as well as your professional network.

Along with recognizing and understanding that important rule of thumb, there are also a few other aspects of upward mobility that you ought to know.

Here are a few tips if you happen to be job searching:

  • Know your environment – Talk to your mentor(s) and manager and get a sense for how he or she thinks you’re doing. If you get a good review, let them know you’re ready to take on more responsibility and more authority. And, if your organization offers skip-level manager meetings, you may want to communicate your desires to your boss’s boss.
  • Know your skill-set boundaries – A great pilot or a great maintenance professional doesn’t necessarily make a great team or department leader. The view is always “grand” at the top.So if you see yourself as a future Director of Aviation or Director of Maintenance, you’ve got to love people, managing problems and working with your owner or corporate leadership team. (Here’s another post to check out if you’re ready for leadership.)
  • Know your mindset – If you’re feeling burned out in your position, do something to take control of your situation and make a change. If you don’t have a great attitude now, how is that going to change in your next role?
  • Know your (next) job description – Every leadership role within a flight department has a unique job description. If you’re moving up within your current organization, what is required of you in the next position?
    Once you find out, you’ll need to demonstrate that you understand what’s expected of you, and that you have the talent and skills to take on the new challenges.
  • Know yourself – One of the most important considerations to ask yourself is whether or not you think you can move from being a “doer” to a “leader.” This goes back to a few suggestions above about working through people—not taking on everything by yourself.Some people simply do not feel comfortable occupying a position where they have to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others. Leading people and processes through the fine art of delegation is something you might need to study and prepare yourself for.

    If your leader is open to the idea, ask him or her for educational support, CAM certification, attendance at aviation conferences, the ability to volunteer on a committee and access to other preparatory resources.

  • Know your leadership philosophy – If you think you’re ready to take advantage of our industry’s talent shortage, it’s important to know how you intend to lead and what your strategy might be for improving on the status quo.


Your Turn

The key to next-job readiness can be a bit more elusive than it might seem. What’s your own experience been like in this regard?

Do you have some advice for your fellow “movers and shakers” in the aviation industry? If so, we’d love to hear from you.


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