First, find a pilot. No, really, that’s my secret. Okay, I guess I can elaborate…
A few years ago I started working with a defense contractor in Huntsville, AL. One of our government contracts includes providing instructor pilots in the UH-60M Black Hawk Helicopter. As you might imagine, these guys are not hanging out at the local employment office seeking employment.
I have no military background, so I was fairly certain that even if I managed to find one of these guys somewhere, I’d run them off through my sheer lack of knowledge about their profession. But I hung in there anyways. In the past few years I’ve talked with dozens of pilots, hired a few, and learned more than I ever imagined about helicopters, flight qualifications, and what makes these pilots tick.
How I Find Pilots
As I said in the beginning, I’ve realized that my biggest weapon in the recruiting battle is a referral. The pilot community is incredibly tight-knit, and there’s a good chance that a contact will be able to refer someone to me. Over time I’ve built a network of dozens of pilots, and when I have new jobs I reach out to each of them with a custom message asking for assistance. I have great success with those contact emails.
Sourcing is next. Sometimes those referrals don’t turn out, so I go to Google and start looking. It doesn’t always turn up a contact, but more often than not I find someone to reach out to. This is how I built the original referral network and now I add people to it every time I have a new job opening.
Finally, if the other methods aren’t returning positive results, we consider posting on niche boards for pilots (CopterJobs, FindAPilot, JSFirm, etc.) or purchasing short term database access to search for candidates. This is a last resort, and we’ve only done it once in the past 2-3 years, but when you are up against the wall, there’s not a lot you can do.
Understand the Qualifications
Sometimes a qualification that’s listed as “required” in the contract is actually more flexible, especially if the pilots are difficult to find. This was a revelation for me, and it has come in handy a few times when we were close on a deadline.
For instance, a current opening requires me to find a Bell 412 EP instructor pilot with search and rescue experience. If you hadn’t guessed, that’s a mighty small niche to target. However, the flight qualification says Bell 412 EP or equivalent aircraft. We talked with our customer and found out that “equivalent” is a pretty open range of aircraft, which means I am not killing myself to target only that type of pilot.
Knowing when to push back and ask questions about “required” qualifications is a critical skill.
We’re Kinda Cheap
I’ve realized over time that there’s no real strategy behind our lack of spending on resources, niche job boards, database access, etc. We’re kind of cheap. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and I’ve been able to push for spending when it is completely necessary, but a search that might take two weeks ends up taking three or four because we try to avoid any additional expenses.
I do all the sourcing. I do all the interview scheduling, candidate follow up, etc. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very exciting to know that we could have gone to a third party agency (there are some that exist exclusively to provide pilot candidates to companies like ours) and paid 20% of a 100k+ salary for a direct placement, but we avoided that entire expense and filled the job at virtually no cost.
In summary, we use a combination of referrals, sourcing, and niche job boards on rare occasions. I’d love to hear from anyone else who might have additional ideas to share!
Ben Eubanks spends his days working as an HR Generalist for Pinnacle Solutions, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Alabama. Pinnacle provides instructor pilots, software engineering, and technical publication services to the military. For the past four years, he has managed upstartHR, an HR blog focusing on entry level HR, culture, and leadership. Ben also co-founded the HRevolution unconference in 2009. Connect via Twitter (@beneubanks), LinkedIn, blog, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Image Credit Ely Tran.