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Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:04 am
by FSDan
Since high school at the very least, I've been interested in working in the commercial aviation industry. Transportation of all kinds has long been a fascination of mine, but I have a particular love for everything commercial aviation. Network/schedule planning is particularly interesting to me (and I believe fits my skill set well). However, thus far in my career things haven't led me towards an airline job. I got my undergraduate degree in Industrial Engineering in 2011 and had no luck whatsoever getting interest from airlines at that time. I ended up landing a job in a technical support role at a major healthcare software company, and have been at that company for 8 years now. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with said company, but I still find myself drawn to the commercial aviation sector.

At this point I'm wondering if I should go back to school for a masters degree of some kind. I had been thinking of an MS in Business Analytics, or potentially an MBA. However, I'm interested in hearing what those of you within the industry (and particularly those of you who got in part way through your careers) have to say. Some questions I have:

  • How important is it to know someone in the industry in order to get in? Unfortunately, I don't have any direct connections, and I don't currently live in a city that has a major corporate presence from an airline.
  • How much does experience outside the industry (technical troubleshooting, computer programming, etc.) matter? Pretty much every analytical airline job I see posted wants prior airline experience. I have solid problem solving skills and a lot of airline industry knowledge I've picked up over the years, but not the type of airline experience that can really go on a resume. I'm also at a point in my career where ideally I'd like to jump in a little above entry-level, but I'm wondering how realistic that is.
  • Is there any way to get feedback through the application process regarding what to improve? In the applications I've submitted to major airlines thus far, my experience is that you never so much as hear if anyone has looked at your resume, let alone whether you were close to getting a call or not. I understand some of these applications get dozens (or more) of applicants, but it's pretty frustrating to not have a way to contact a hiring manager or someone else in HR to learn what's going to improve your chances going forward.
  • Regarding a masters degree, are there strong arguments for or against an MBA, MSBA, an advanced engineering/operations research degree, etc.?

I really appreciate any insight you have to offer!

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 7:02 am
by spacecadet
What job are you going after? I get the sense that one of the problems with the resumes you've submitted thus far is that you're not particularly focused. A "career in the commercial aviation industry" could mean about 500,000 different things.

I was interviewed for a job managing an airline's corporate intranet site, then for pilot cadet programs at two different airlines, one of which I got. I didn't have to know anybody. But the first job was something directly related to things I had done previously for 10-15 years, and the pilot cadet program was just something I'd always wanted to do and happened to have the aptitude for after all the testing. So my experience is just that, like any other high level job, you have to be really focused on what you want and be able to demonstrate that it's something you've been working towards for some period of time.

Keep in mind also that many airline jobs require a certification, and you may need to be willing to relocate. Airlines don't really have much of a presence in most cities they fly to; if it's some kind of office job you're going for, you'll need to go where their operations center is. If you're applying to jobs now and don't make that clear, often it's a strike against you if you don't already live in the area. Even if you do make it clear, it's still a variable that the airline might not have to worry about with someone else. So you're going to have to be a superstar candidate.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 7:04 am
by VSMUT
I don't think there is one golden rule, and it varies a lot from one place to another.

FSDan wrote:
How important is it to know someone in the industry in order to get in? Unfortunately, I don't have any direct connections, and I don't currently live in a city that has a major corporate presence from an airline.


It is very important. But almost everybody starts without contacts, you need to build them along the way.

LinkedIn is not a bad place to get started, just tailor your profile towards the position you are hoping for and start adding every airline related contact you can find. Sooner or later you will reach a "critical mass" where HR reps and recruiters start adding you.


FSDan wrote:
How much does experience outside the industry (technical troubleshooting, computer programming, etc.) matter? Pretty much every analytical airline job I see posted wants prior airline experience. I have solid problem solving skills and a lot of airline industry knowledge I've picked up over the years, but not the type of airline experience that can really go on a resume. I'm also at a point in my career where ideally I'd like to jump in a little above entry-level, but I'm wondering how realistic that is.


Likely depends what position in an airline you are after. For the flight crew department, experience outside aviation mostly means nothing at all. They want a pilot, not a computer programmer. Prior non-related experience might give you an advantage over a completely green candidate, but that's about it.


FSDan wrote:
Is there any way to get feedback through the application process regarding what to improve? In the applications I've submitted to major airlines thus far, my experience is that you never so much as hear if anyone has looked at your resume, let alone whether you were close to getting a call or not. I understand some of these applications get dozens (or more) of applicants, but it's pretty frustrating to not have a way to contact a hiring manager or someone else in HR to learn what's going to improve your chances going forward.


Don't get your hopes up, I've only had feedback once in what must be over 1000 applications at this point.



FSDan wrote:
Regarding a masters degree, are there strong arguments for or against an MBA, MSBA, an advanced engineering/operations research degree, etc.?


Depends what you are after and where in the world you are located. My experience is that in Europe they are more likely to ignore unnecessary MBAs, degrees etc. and focus on whoever is best suited for the job.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 2:59 pm
by GalaxyFlyer
What country are you a citizen of or have the “right to work”? Huge differences between nations and between FAA, EASA and Asia.

GF

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:44 pm
by FSDan
spacecadet wrote:
What job are you going after? I get the sense that one of the problems with the resumes you've submitted thus far is that you're not particularly focused. A "career in the commercial aviation industry" could mean about 500,000 different things.

I was interviewed for a job managing an airline's corporate intranet site, then for pilot cadet programs at two different airlines, one of which I got. I didn't have to know anybody. But the first job was something directly related to things I had done previously for 10-15 years, and the pilot cadet program was just something I'd always wanted to do and happened to have the aptitude for after all the testing. So my experience is just that, like any other high level job, you have to be really focused on what you want and be able to demonstrate that it's something you've been working towards for some period of time.


I'm after a network/schedule planning job, or some other analytical position related to that. Interested in optimization, problem solving, etc. As far as experience in that area goes, I have my industrial engineering undergrad degree (which included operations research coursework that would certainly be applicable), a lot of studying of airline networks and schedules on my own time (which I suspect wouldn't be helpful to put on a resume), and then my unrelated experience in programming/tech support that wouldn't directly cross over, but hopefully can showcase my problem solving aptitude and overall experience in the workplace. I'm not sure what types of experience outside an airline would really be helpful in moving me towards network/schedule planning since it's quite a niche field.

spacecadet wrote:
Keep in mind also that many airline jobs require a certification, and you may need to be willing to relocate. Airlines don't really have much of a presence in most cities they fly to; if it's some kind of office job you're going for, you'll need to go where their operations center is. If you're applying to jobs now and don't make that clear, often it's a strike against you if you don't already live in the area. Even if you do make it clear, it's still a variable that the airline might not have to worry about with someone else. So you're going to have to be a superstar candidate.


I do understand that I'll need to relocate (I currently live in Tucson, AZ) in order to get one of these positions. It's good to know that it may even be helpful to relocate prior to landing a position if that could be a deciding factor between two otherwise comparable candidates.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Tue Aug 27, 2019 3:46 pm
by FSDan
VSMUT wrote:
It is very important. But almost everybody starts without contacts, you need to build them along the way.

LinkedIn is not a bad place to get started, just tailor your profile towards the position you are hoping for and start adding every airline related contact you can find. Sooner or later you will reach a "critical mass" where HR reps and recruiters start adding you.


Thanks - I appreciate the advice!

VSMUT wrote:
Depends what you are after and where in the world you are located. My experience is that in Europe they are more likely to ignore unnecessary MBAs, degrees etc. and focus on whoever is best suited for the job.


Good to know. I'm not averse to potentially getting some experience abroad, so I'll keep that in mind.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:15 am
by VSMUT
FSDan wrote:
Good to know. I'm not averse to potentially getting some experience abroad, so I'll keep that in mind.


Looking abroad might be a good way into the business. Try looking at smaller airlines too. Even a 10 airplane operator require several people in that role.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2019 11:53 am
by 737tanker
You may also want to look at the Fractionals such as Netjets, Plane Sense, and XOJet.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2019 6:42 pm
by UpNAWAy
Apply for an Data or Engineering position with AA now. With your background I think you could easily get on in those two areas. IN Engineering the data background is a huge plus. After one year at AA apply for something in the area of your dreams......

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2019 9:56 pm
by strfyr51
FSDan wrote:
spacecadet wrote:
What job are you going after? I get the sense that one of the problems with the resumes you've submitted thus far is that you're not particularly focused. A "career in the commercial aviation industry" could mean about 500,000 different things.

I was interviewed for a job managing an airline's corporate intranet site, then for pilot cadet programs at two different airlines, one of which I got. I didn't have to know anybody. But the first job was something directly related to things I had done previously for 10-15 years, and the pilot cadet program was just something I'd always wanted to do and happened to have the aptitude for after all the testing. So my experience is just that, like any other high level job, you have to be really focused on what you want and be able to demonstrate that it's something you've been working towards for some period of time.


I'm after a network/schedule planning job, or some other analytical position related to that. Interested in optimization, problem solving, etc. As far as experience in that area goes, I have my industrial engineering undergrad degree (which included operations research coursework that would certainly be applicable), a lot of studying of airline networks and schedules on my own time (which I suspect wouldn't be helpful to put on a resume), and then my unrelated experience in programming/tech support that wouldn't directly cross over, but hopefully can showcase my problem solving aptitude and overall experience in the workplace. I'm not sure what types of experience outside an airline would really be helpful in moving me towards network/schedule planning since it's quite a niche field.

spacecadet wrote:
Keep in mind also that many airline jobs require a certification, and you may need to be willing to relocate. Airlines don't really have much of a presence in most cities they fly to; if it's some kind of office job you're going for, you'll need to go where their operations center is. If you're applying to jobs now and don't make that clear, often it's a strike against you if you don't already live in the area. Even if you do make it clear, it's still a variable that the airline might not have to worry about with someone else. So you're going to have to be a superstar candidate.


I do understand that I'll need to relocate (I currently live in Tucson, AZ) in order to get one of these positions. It's good to know that it may even be helpful to relocate prior to landing a position if that could be a deciding factor between two otherwise comparable candidates.

were I trying to break into a Major airline? I might want to get my Dispatcher's license first. That would make you a double threat as a "Certificated Airman" Many in the operations are have Dispatch Licenses because it makes them accountable TO the FAA (In the USA) and Imparts a bit of knowledge to understand what they can do and Have to do legally. When I worked in Maintenance control for United, some of the OPS types proposed all manner of sketchy Ideas mainly because they weren't accountable TO the FAA as they were putting Their name on Nothing, After the merger with CO where CO ops types were required to hold an FAA Dispatcher's License? The Sketchy Ideas were lessened by 99% as they had FAA accountability and couldn't just blame it on somebody ELSE! So? It'll also look good on your resume as well.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Fri Aug 30, 2019 3:06 am
by RushmoreAir
FSDan wrote:
Since high school at the very least, I've been interested in working in the commercial aviation industry. Transportation of all kinds has long been a fascination of mine, but I have a particular love for everything commercial aviation. Network/schedule planning is particularly interesting to me (and I believe fits my skill set well).


Sounds like we have similar interests! I currently lead a small team at a smaller U.S. carrier, so I might be able to shed some light on your questions.

The last opening for an analyst on my team received 134 applications in the two weeks it was posted, of which maybe 40 met the basic qualifications (analytical B.S., 1+ years of general work experience). There were multiple PhDs/MBAs/M.S. holders in the pile as well. I insisted on sorting through the resumes myself, most managers would probably let HR pre-screen. Without demonstrated aviation expertise/interest it would be hard to stand out on the basis of your resume alone if you don't have any sort of connection. We ended up hiring someone with a M.S. in OR and multiple years of relevant experience (aviation, not airline). Don't quit applying to anything you think you might like - this person had applied to multiple other jobs at my airline before finding the right fit and getting hired.

So ... I would likely look at continuing your education if you don't have any other ways of finding industry connections.

Any of the schools that participate in the FAA NEXTOR consortium would likely help you make decent connections. I considered Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, MIT, and George Mason. I ended up earning my M.S. at one of these institutions, right after finishing an engineering B.S. While in school, I conducted research in an airline-specific lab, where I got to present my work to industry insiders at various conferences. Everyone in my lab got job offers in RM, Network/Scheduling, or airline consulting. I think all but one classmate found their jobs through connections made at these meetings/conferences. The bigger airlines all have MBA programs too, which I'm sure you could get connected with if you go to a high caliber school.

Talent searches in network/schedule planning tend to be quite internally-focused, as there multiple aspects of the role that are unique within the industry. At my airline, everyone on our network planning team was hired internally. Everyone in scheduling either has a relevant advanced degree or was an internal hire. If you're looking to start off in the industry, RM is not a bad way to go - the analyst jobs are relatively thankless and can be done by anyone with a vaguely analytical background + some econ. Many of our external hires start in RM. Despite being an engineer, I've always worked on the commercial side so I don't know the equivalent generic entry role for TechOps.

My recommendation would be to consider school, but keep applying to anything entry-level that you're qualified for at an airline. Once inside the industry, it's much easier to move around and find the job you'd really like.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 12:36 pm
by mikeinatlanta
You live in Tucson? Go to Ascent in Marana and take any job they will give you (they are hiring). Once you are established as a quality employee you will easily be able to move into areas best suited to your skillset. Ascent also works out of the Tucson airport, but I would suggest starting at Marana.

Re: Career Change Into The Commercial Aviation Industry

Posted: Sat Sep 07, 2019 6:04 pm
by WPvsMW
What a great tip. It's posts like mikeinatlanta's that make a.nut Tech so cool.