7 reasons why your airline application may be rejected


You've made it successfully through flight training, have a commercial pilots licence in your hand, and you’ve completed your APS MCC. now it's time to start applying to airlines.

Getting your application noticed is just the first of several hurdles now standing between you and your first airline job. And it's at this stage that so many aspiring airline pilots get stuck.

You meet the requirements and you've heard all about the pilot shortage affecting airlines, but your applications are being ignored and you don't understand why. Most airlines simply don't have the resources to give personal feedback to hundreds of individual applicants.  

Together with our partner airlines, we at VA Airline Training have reviewed many applications for our sponsored cadet pilot programme, and this has highlighted how many potentially suitable candidates are letting themselves down.

We've written this article to provide some insight from a recruitment perspective and help you understand why your applications may be going nowhere - and what you can do about it. It's intended to give you direct, constructive advice.

Here are some of the reasons why so many applications are rejected.

1. You don't meet the eligibility criteria

For every position there will be a published list of eligibility criteria, such as "first series IR pass" or "85% ground school average".

Be sure to check carefully that you meet all the eligibility criteria. If you don't meet it, your application will be instantly rejected - and you will have wasted their time. This may not help you in the future if you intend to apply to the same company again once you do meet all the requirements.

In our most recent cadet recruitment programme, 18% of all applications submitted were ineligible.

2. Your cover letter lets you down

If an airline is reviewing hundreds (or even thousands) of applications from suitably qualified candidates for a limited number of places, it's your cover letter that gives you the greatest opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Your cover letter is your chance to show that you are a good match for the job and for the company. Unfortunately, a high proportion of cover letters are dull, rambling and unconvincing.

When reading so many cover letters it's easy to spot the generic ones, where only the airline name has been changed. Sending a generic cover letter shows laziness, and it's the quickest way to ensure your application goes straight onto to the ‘no’ pile.

Writing a good cover letter is not an easy task - even more so if you're not writing in your first language - but it's well worth taking the time and effort to get this right.

It is refreshing to read a letter that comes across as genuine. So take the time to write yours from scratch, make it obvious that you've done your homework about the airline, and explain (without any arrogance) how you would fit in with the airline's requirements.

Remember that recruiters don't have time to read an essay. So keep your letter to 3-4 carefully crafted paragraphs, and trim it to remove any unnecessary padding.

Last, but not least, proof read it! Then proof read it again. Then again. And then get someone else to proof read it for you. We all know how easy it is to miss our own mistakes. Misspelled words, typos, bad grammar and incorrect punctuation will make your application look sloppy. There's absolutely no excuse for it, and those careless mistakes could quite easily cost you a job.

3. Your CV is confusing or hard to navigate

The most important thing to remember when designing your CV is that a recruiter should be able to quickly and easily find the key information which confirms that you meet the eligibility criteria.

For example, can they easily see where and when you trained, or verify that your IR is current, without having to search for that information?

This is REALLY important, as your CV may only get looked at for a few seconds.

If there's a specific requirement, such as "85% ground school average" make sure your average is shown on your CV. Don't expect the recruiter who is reviewing you CV to get a calculator out and do your work for you!

Try to keep your CV to a single page and make sure the layout is clear.

Display your flying hours in an easy-to-read format, and highlight recent aircraft and simulator hours in the last 6 or 12 months - as having recent hours is becoming increasingly important to many employers.

If you won an award during your flight training, put it in an 'accomplishments' section.  If you were a class representative, add it as an area of responsibility.  However, on the same note, employers do not need to know about that job you had when you were 12 years old, walking your neighbour's dog – save that anecdote for another time.

When listing your interests, you don't want to come across as an aviation nerd. Listing your non-aviation interests can help to show that you are a well-rounded individual. 

A number of companies offer help with tailor-made CVs and cover letters. Flightdeckfriend.com offers this, but it's worth comparing the options on offer. The cost of a good-quality, professional CV and cover letter will be a fraction of the amount you have spent on your flight training.

4. Giving weak answers to application questions

Nowadays, it's increasingly common for employers to ask for written answers to industry-specific questions. These often require applicants to demonstrate their commercial awareness and understanding of wider issues affecting the industry.

Here are some examples:

  • "What challenges do you believe the aviation industry faces at present?"

  • "Pilots need to be flexible and committed. Please give an example of when you have demonstrated these qualities."

If you're asked to a describe a time when you had to demonstrate certain qualities, as in the above example, think about including a non-aviation example. How many similar aviation-related examples do you think recruiters have had to read?

Spend some time getting your answers right. Even if you are limited by word count, providing answers which are thoroughly researched, well considered and comprehensive will make your application stand out.

Assuming there are twenty applicants for each position on offer, for instance, you need to make sure your application is in the top 5%.

Imagine that your answers are 'thin' or too simple compared to others. Who do you think will be invited for selection?

5. Lack of recent flying experience 

A lack of recent flying hours is something which could put you further down the pecking order when it comes to selecting candidates - but this is a solvable problem.

Having recent aircraft or jet simulator experience will make you stand out to the recruitment personnel as less of a training risk, and also shows that you are committed to keeping your skills current. 

Employers are increasingly asking to know applicants' hours in the last 6 or 12 months before deciding whether to invite them for interview. It may be difficult financially, but you should keep refreshing your skills to avoid being caught out on this point.

For example, even though MCC/JOC courses have no expiry date, an MCC/JOC qualification which is over a year old can have a big impact on your chances of getting hired. In comparison to this, taking a regulated and more in depth course, such as our AirlineReady® APS MCC could give you the boost in immediate flying experience that airlines are looking for.

Getting your applications right will substantially increase your chances of securing a job within 6-12 months of completing training - and that means you should avoid having to invest more time and money in staying current and remaining employable.

6. Your uploaded documents lack the right detail

There's a surprising variation in the depth of information contained in Flight School Reports.

In addition to displaying grades, flight school reports which contain comments provide valuable information about an individual and how they have progressed throughout training. 

L3 in the UK, and Diamond Aviation Academy in Sweden, are just two examples of schools which provide clear and comprehensive reports which are helpful to a recruiter in building a 'picture' of the individual.

If you've spent a considerable sum on your training, you deserve a properly detailed flight school report.

Other things to remember when uploading documents to support your application:

  • Unless you are specifically instructed otherwise, upload documents in PDF file format.

  • Use logical file names, such as "John Smith CV" rather than something like "CV".

Review the documents you are uploading and consider how well they represent you.

7. Your application is incomplete

This is a huge mistake, which is completely avoidable, so there's no excuse.

If an airline is asking you for certain items such as your flight school report, your CV and a copy of your medical, for example, make sure you include ALL of them with your application. 

Do you seriously expect that the airline will take the time to call you and ask for the missing items? It's unlikely.

Being unable to follow simple instructions at the very beginning of the application process is a big red light to any employer.

In our most recent cadet recruitment programme, 15% of all applications submitted were incomplete.

After all the time, hard work and investment you've put into your training, remaining unemployed is obviously not the outcome you desired. And it's expensive, especially when you add in the cost of staying current.

We hope this advice will help you to understand what recruiters are looking for, so you can avoid the common errors and refine your future applications to highlight your strengths.

Once your application has been successful, the next stage to get through will be the airline interview and simulator assessment - and we'll cover that in another article.