airplane pilot man hiring business aviation professionals

Hiring the most ideal, best-suited business aviation professional is no easy task. It requires merging a great cultural fit with superior skills and an attitude focused upon the organization’s success. And you must do this all while subordinating your own ego in favor of the entire organization’s success.

In the first of our two-part series, I collaborated with my friend and aviation industry colleague, Jim Lara, Principal and Founder of Gray Stone Advisors.

Together, we take a “deep dive” into the best approaches when making a great hire and ensuring that the person is the right fit.

Male business aviation pilot standing in front of aircraftWhen beginning the search for ‘Mr. or Ms. Right-Fit,’ answer these challenging questions before you start:

  • Just what will success look like for the candidate and the organization?
  • What would failure look like?
  • What are the early warning signs of each?
  • How will our flight department measure up to the new hire’s performance standards (or expectations)?
  • What will our new hire have demonstrated and/or accomplished during the first 6 months to meet our expectations?
  • Will the current members of the organization support this success or will they challenge or sabotage it, either consciously or unconsciously?

Two Keys for Aviation Hiring Managers: Focus and Listen

During the recruiting process, ensure that you are focusing on each professional for what he or she really is, as opposed to what you wish they would be. If you’re the aviation hiring manager, your job is to listen — and more importantly hear — what’s being said (as well as what’s not being said). Listen not only to what the candidate says, but also to what other interviewers and industry colleagues have to say regarding their interactions with the candidate.

Recruit for Fit and Attitude, Train for Skill

Look for candidates that have both the right fit and attitude. Unfortunately, development of these two attributes together can rarely be achieved. Technical skills are another matter entirely. They can be taught given the appropriate level of intelligence and learning capacity.

It is absolutely critical that candidates and their qualifications are carefully and independently vetted. The aviation hiring manager should personally explore and verify every fact that will materially influence the success or failure of the candidate chosen for the position at hand.

Hiring mistakes can prove to:

  • Be hugely expensive;
  • Take years to unwind; and
  • Permanently damage the professional careers of both the hiring manager and the candidate, as well as other members of your organization.

4 Steps to Complete Before Interviewing Business Aviation Professionals

1.  Clearly document the business aviation job description. 

This helps you determine if the candidate is a right fit. There are many online templates available that can assist in this task. Whichever approach you take, make sure you clearly define and describe the characteristics that will determine if the ‘fit’ is correct—for the candidate as well as for the aviation organization. An incompatible fit is the largest root cause of recruiting failures.

2.  Request that Human Resources play a key role.

Your HR partner doesn’t need to become the technical subject matter expert (you will already be filling that role), but be sure to collaborate with them in the creation of the job description and questions that will be addressed during the screening process and interview(s).

3.  Define what’s needed to simply ‘survive’ in the position, versus ‘doing well’ versus ‘blowing us away.’ 

With each one of those performance levels, there usually comes a price tag. Also, be realistic. Is there growth potential? If not, job satisfaction for the new hire can quickly erode. If this is more of a ‘B-level’ role, hire a great ‘B’ player. But be careful not to expect ‘A-Player’ performance if you end up hiring B-level talent.

4.  Involve the aviation team in the process. 

In areas where collaboration (teamwork) is a prerequisite to stellar outcomes, individuals in similar roles should be involved in the interview process. Panel interviews are excellent, but only if the interviewers know their role and the process. Who will be the final decision-maker and how much input will the panel have? It’s best to know that all questions are carefully constructed, and that the decision-making process is clearly defined in advance. And remember, it’s generally a poor practice to have subordinates participate in the selection process for their new supervisor, manager or senior leader.

When to Compromise on Skills versus Attitude: The Tradeoffs

It’s important that, during the process of hiring the ideal business aviation professional, you know when to compromise on skills/experience versus attitude. When thinking about tradeoffs, prioritize them in the following order:

Personal and/or professional integrity. If either are suspect, pass immediately. It’s always best to trust your gut instinct.

Positive, professional and collaborative attitude. A good attitude cannot be taught. If the right attitude composition for your organization does not exist in the candidate, then the fit will ultimately be poor.

If you anticipate a bad fit, don’t put yourself through the grief and pain of a bad hire. This assumes, of course, that your organization’s performance is driven by positive, professional and collaborative attitudes. As strange as this may sound, many organizations are not built on that belief system.

Experience and skills. Both are teachable and transferable through a variety of means. Skills may involve training, which will be a budgetary item. Experience, however, is a developmental item that usually requires high-quality mentoring in order to achieve the richest outcomes in the most compressed time frames.

Trust, but Verify

Reference checking can be a touchy subject. First, there are all the conventional avenues such as calling prior employers, but this has limited value in the non-commercial aviation world since there is so little that a former employer can answer due to legal constraints.

Then, there are the references provided by the candidate themselves. This can prove to be much more fertile ground. Ask very open-ended questions designed to solicit ‘essay-type’ answers, but be careful not to go too far. It’s best to leave reference checking to employment professionals.

Third, take advantage of the plethora of public records that exist, such as the FAA database and social media outlets including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other online searches for information attributed to the candidate. LinkedIn, in particular, can give you a good picture of how the candidate presents himself or herself to the world. Examine the tone and content of the candidate’s postings on these sites and ensure they are consistent with the discussions that you have had with this individual.

Remember, you can’t do it all yourself, and this is one area of your job where you don’t have to worry about bringing in outside resources to assist. A specialized business aviation recruiter (such as those at Aviation Personnel International) can perform all of these tasks, keeping you and your company at an arms length from the candidates throughout the entire vetting process. The search provider will generally dig much deeper than you could, and assess the candidate’s soft skills and personality in order to validate your assumptions. Using a highly specialized aviation headhunter, such as API, can reduce your hiring risk to near zero.

Your Turn

We’ve come up with four steps to complete before you start the hiring process. What are other ways to you ensure you’re recruiting for the best business aviation professional? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


About our Guest Blogger:

Jim Lara is the principal and founder of Gray Stone Advisors, a consulting firm that helps aircraft operators and executives simplify the business of business aviation. With more than 12,000 flight hours, he has led the turnaround of corporations as well as major flight departments. To read more blogs by Jim and his team, visit


The next post in this two-part series will take an in-depth look at onboarding. These strategies and tactics will help ensure the right candidate for the job is successfully up-and-running after accepting the position.


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