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Ace your online airline pilot interview

The difference between that first shaky ILS and the smooth approach you deliver today was knowledge and practice. This is no different.

Now it is time to look and sound good on a Zoom interview. Get some practice using whichever platform the company uses (Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and Microsoft Teams are popular choices). The less you have used a particular video chat platform, or video chat in general, the more important this practice becomes. Practice with friends and family is good, and if you can connect with people working in the industry for a practice interview or two, they can help you polish your presentation.

Technical tips

This is an audio and video exercise. To make good video, lighting is the most important element, followed by strong audio. Be sure to test various lighting combinations to see what looks best. Natural light is great, but it rarely can be controlled the way you need for this application. A simple halo light is a cheap fix for most lighting issues. Most of the lighting should be in front of you with little or none of it behind you. The solution for a good image and sound rests with your video camera and microphone.

Most late-model laptops or even a tablet or cellphone can do the job. The best, however, would be a separate video camera or video/microphone combination. This will offer the highest quality and a wide range of settings for the best results in varied conditions. Placement is important both to frame your face and to control your background clutter. The video and microphone must be stable during your interview. Never handheld. This is definitely not a selfie. Experiment with the controls available on the platform and on your camera/microphone. Zoom, for example, offers options and tools to touch up your appearance, adjust for low light, display your name, mirror your image, and adjust camera resolution.

It may seem obvious to you how to use these features, but here are a few things to think about: Each of these features can produce very different results depending on your equipment. Experiment with a practice session and try each feature to see what works best for your setup. I use the touch-up feature, but I am an old bird. The low-light feature may provide a better image even if you have normal lighting in place. Your name is a good thing to display since the interviewers talk with lots of candidates each day. I mirror my image because when I do not do this, I find my screen image very disorienting—left is right, etc. High definition is always good unless you are short on bandwidth and then it can cause or increase buffering delays on both ends. Speaking of bandwidth, a job interview can be derailed if other users on your home network are streaming movies, so you’ll want to coordinate that and let them know in advance.

A virtual background is a two-edged sword. A professional photograph is often a better visual backdrop than your cluttered bookshelves, but it may cause distracting visual side effects if you move your head or hands quickly. You may also have the option to blur your background, which focuses the presentation on you, not the clutter, though the same visual distractions can crop up if you move around.

It is worth taking time to “clean” up your background. Remember to remove any strong political or religious statements from the camera’s view. You may want to create a “studio” for yourself with a plain background where you can control what’s in the background and avoid interruptions from kids and pets; noises from phones, radio, TV, heat, and air conditioning; and street noise. Ideally, you’ll have a space where you can lock or block the door. There’s nothing like a barking dog or a passerby photo-bombing your interview to kill the mood.

Remember to turn off the sound alerts you get from any program running on the device you’re using for your video chat—email, messaging, and calendars. It is safest to just close these programs during your interview, and turn off all audio alerts just in case you missed one. Don’t forget to do the same on other devices, such as your phone, that you may have with you. If an alert does go off, just ignore it—stay focused on the task at hand. Keep a finger on the mute button if you have a known problem like a bad recurring cough to save the interviewer from ear damage. Have a backup device available and fully charged in case you need to switch devices during the interview. Use a fully charged device or better yet have the power connected during the interview.

Think of the interviewer you are talking with as living in your camera. Positioning the video image close to your camera’s location makes it easier and more natural to talk to the interviewer. Positioning the camera just above the screen that shows the interviewer’s image works well for me. You want to be looking up slightly or level but not down into the camera. Use a stand to put your camera at eye level. The old advice about maintaining eye contact applies to the camera. Make eye contact with your interviewers through the camera, regardless of how many people are asking you questions.

Personal tips

Your posture conveys a lot of information, and affects your voice, too, so don’t forget to sit or stand up straight. There are phone sales operations that do not allow their salespeople to sit during the call. It might sound harsh, but it ensures that they can project when they speak. You might create the same setup for yourself, but if you do sit, remember to counter the tendency to slump over time by paying attention to your posture: Sit upright with your shoulders back and your butt well back in the chair. Over the course of your interview reposition yourself to your starting position to avoid ending up in a slump.

You should dress as you would for a face-to-face interview—full business attire right down to the shoes. Be sure your clothing fits properly. This might sound crazy, but dressing your best gets you in the interview mode and helps your interviewer visualize you in the company’s uniform. Television news anchors learned long ago that suit jackets tend to bunch up around the collar when the wearer is seated, and they also learned to fix this by sitting on their own coattails. Your coat should be unbuttoned when you are sitting. Just look at your image on the screen to see and fix this problem.

If you have eaten before your interview—and you should—brush your teeth. Have a glass of water handy in case you develop a dry mouth in the 30 minutes to full hour that this could take—take a drink if needed. Have a notepad and pen available in case you need to take a note or two. Have current copies of your paperwork with you at the interview. Review them the day of your interview.

Remember to test your setup the day of your interview and get to the meeting at least five minutes early.

For the best sound and visual presentation, I recommend wireless earbuds. This avoids the dangling wires from wired earbuds or headphones. Otherwise, if using a stand-alone microphone, your distance from the microphone is as important as lighting was to the camera. Remember to get your mouth as close to the microphone as you can if you want to sound good. Built-in microphones are the weakest link when using all-in-one devices like a tablet or phone. Test to be sure you have good sound. Make a change if you do not like what you hear.

This is a lot to think about, so another benefit of a few practice runs is to get you past having to think about all the variables. This lets you focus on what the interviewer wants to do, which is to get to know you. A problem or two may appear during your interview—remember to keep a sense of humor and be humble while telling why you will make a great captain for the company someday.

Your single most effective tool you have during any interview is a smile, and it is just as visible and important on a Zoom interview. Be friendly—remember that the interviewer wants to know what it would be like to be on the same flight crew with you on a multiday trip.

It is good to have a question or two ready, but avoid asking about pay, or asking the interviewer to speculate on what working conditions might be like years down the road. If you do not have a question, share what you’ve learned about the company that you like, and show that you’ve done your homework on the company.

End on a positive note, if possible. It is good to tell the interviewer you want the job, but remember he or she cannot give you the job on the spot. Your interview performance will typically be reviewed by a panel from flight operations, human resources, training, legal, and possibly medical staff before a decision is made in an hour, a day, or several weeks.

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