In an industry that actually does seem to be about who you know, the best time to test the waters and get started on building your network is while you’re still studying or training. Here are some ideas tailored to student pilots, engineers or management students, looking to find a way to start working on their own network in the aviation industry.
When I started my aviation degree, I literally knew no-one in the industry. So, when everyone wouldn’t stop talking about it being a “who you know” industry, I started to get very concerned.
However, through subjects and programs at the university I began to pick up some of the lingo and get an understanding of how to go about creating connections. I talked to a lot of people and had a lot of false starts, but eventually I started to find my feet in the networking game. I created a good foundation on LinkedIn, secured myself positions to attend networking events, engaged with the conversation and ensured I always followed up.
Reflecting on the last three years, my developing ability to network played a vital role in securing work experience placements with Virgin Australia and QantasLink, my gig with Australian Aviation, and ultimately my position in the cadetship.
This blog contains a list of things that have worked for me. I’ve also linked in some other students I know personally who have had similar experiences as me with certain tips. I hope that other young aviation professionals coming into the industry, student pilots in particular, can refer to this, get some idea’s and hopefully, have less false starts than I did when beginning to build their networks.
***Disclaimer: this list is obviously not exhaustive and everyone will have different experiences implementing the suggestions***
Start a LinkedIn account.
These days it is nearly impossible to go about building your aviation network without having a LinkedIn account to back you up. Every young aviation professional should take the time to build a polished LinkedIn account, engage with the medium regularly, and ensure that all professional information remains up to date. If you need a hand, there are endless online resources to assist you; a quick google search should do the job.
I’ve spoken to lots of people that have had mixed results with LinkedIn. However, those that use it often in a professional manner have been able to build their reputation and knowledge on the industry, which has, in turn, assisted them to secure certain positions.
The best example of this is Ami Love, a USQ Bachelor of Aviation Student and now Virgin Cadet of July 2019. I didn’t know Ami personally until we met through the cadetship, but I had heard of her and everything she was achieving. Ami built her account largely over the last year and updated her network at regular intervals which really made her account take off.
Her post about her first solo flight received an astronomical 550+ likes and just under 60,000 views from across the globe. This is a pretty impressive achievement, considering most people struggle to get 10 likes when they first start their accounts.
Sign up to Aviation Associations.
Another great place to start is by signing up to the variety of aviation groups and associations that there are out there. There is almost a group to match every niche in aviation. A lot of them also offer free/heavily discounted memberships for students looking to join. There is almost nothing to lose by joining.
I have personally been involved with the Australian Federation of Air Pilots and Aviation/Aerospace Australia, specifically their Women’s division. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from AFAP, which provided much needed financial support during the early stages of flight training. They also provided additional soft support by sending educational pamphlets and connecting me to other pilots for networking and advice.
These associations provide soft support that is invaluable during from the day your training starts all the way right up until the end of your career. They send bulletins on regulation changes, pilot requirements and programs being run. There is the opportunity to have your say and to eventually even build your own leadership skills.
Attend the aviation events that these associations hold.
The groups hold anything from networking events and panel discussions, to trivia nights and safety briefings. Throw yourself into as many of these events that you can attend, dress nicely and introduce yourself to people at the end.
With WA/AA, I have attended conferences and networking evenings so far, and honestly haven’t been disappointed. They discuss content that is current and relevant and they always manage to secure interesting, influential speakers that you can normally only dream of being introduced to.
A Griffith student who has really excelled through this is Baha’a Fayoumi. He put himself out there and nominated for one of Aviation/Aerospace Australia’s competitions for young aviation professionals. He flew down to Melbourne to present an innovative idea, and ended up winning himself a one week placement with Moorabin Flying Services.
Introduce yourself with purpose.
Take a second to pick your target at these events and think of something specific you can talk to them about when you approach. Were they just speaking at the event? Was there something they said that you wanted to ask more about or follow up on? Who does their name tag say they work for? Is there something in the news relevant to that company that you could use as a conversation starter? See some of the other tips in this article for more ideas on where you can draw knowledge from.
The number one thing that you cannot do, is walk up to someone and straight away ask for work experience, or for assistance in getting a job. Imagine how you would feel if someone did that to you? Not only is it unprofessional, but it shuts you down to that person almost straight away, as they will most likely make an instant judgement of you.
Introduce yourself to a variety of people, not just those that you see immediate relevance from.
Just because you are studying to be a pilot, doesn’t mean you only talk to the other pilots or airline recruiters in the room. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how many times I have made a connection that seemed to stray a little from my focus of flying, and I actually ended up turning to that connection for help. Having a broad network within your relevant industry will undoubtedly come back to serve you in the long run.
Buy a set of business cards and actually hand them out.
This one seems a bit funny to a fresh student pilot. I was always confused about why this could be relevant, until I started attending these events and had to awkwardly pull out my phone in the middle of the conversation to save their contact details instead, or to write down my email on a napkin.
The cards can be super simple, with just your name, number and email, or you can play with customisation options and really start to craft your own personal brand. Prices normally start from $10.
Even if you only end up using them a few times, every time you pull them out you can fool the person you are talking to into thinking you are a little more put together than you really are.
This is the number one golden rule! Send that all important follow up email, text or LinkedIn request. Send a message that holds something further to engage with, and thank the person for offering their time to engage with you.
If they reply, maybe even suggest a further coffee or chat next time they have a spare chance. Coffee is a key aspect of aviation, so you really can’t go wrong there.
Back yourself up with strong credentials.
Try to cut back a bit on the Netflix binge when you know you’ve got assessment coming up in a few weeks. Take the time to study that little bit harder and pull your grades up, because if they end up asking for your resume you want to have a strong foundation to support you.
Try and find your niche of subjects that you are particularly interested in. Maybe as a child you worked on cars with your dad, and now you do particularly well in AGK and aerodynamics. Find a way to tailor that academic success to into a unique skill that you feel comfortable talking about. In this example, you could then go and help out with the aircraft maintenance company for an hour a day before you start flight training and eventually get signed off for all the Schedule 8 maintenance items.
Subscribe to aviation magazines and follow aviation news pages on your preferred form of social media.
Immerse yourself in current topics within the industry to sound like you know what’s going on when you’re in a networking situation. When you then find yourself in a conversation with an industry professional, you will have more of a chance of being able to hold a descent conversation. Trust me, there is only so long you can make a conversation last when talking about the weather on the way into the event.
Volunteer for local air shows, air displays, aviation conferences or industry events.
Do a comprehensive google search for the local aviation events that are coming up. Air shows and air displays in particular are generally always looking for volunteers. You could be working as anything from a ticket seller to an aircraft marshal.
Don’t be concerned if they don’t let you marshal at your first event. Come back the following year or ask for a nice recommendation and maybe you will be able to get promoted next time you do it.
Not only will you meet a bunch of other aviation professionals and get to spend the whole day chatting with them, many who have been in the industry for yonks, but you will be able to gain hands on experience to put on your resume.
An example of volunteering going a long way for someone is my friend Monica Gradwell. She graduated with me from the Bachelor of Aviation. We both volunteered for the TAVAS Caboolture Air Display in 2017, and while I returned in 2018 as an aircraft marshal, she got promoted to be the assistant to the event organiser.
Monica became a liaison between the management team and vendors, volunteers and aircraft, and even got her own golf buggy (I was very jealous). Her communication and leadership skills were tested and strengthened astronomically and she now has genuine experience she can refer to should it be appropriate when networking or in interviews.
Always appear professional.
When handing out links to your LinkedIn account, ensure that you haven’t been liking stuff that is questionable. Comb through your social media to ensure there’s nothing on public that could cause some eyebrow raises from a quick google search.
If you manage to secure that follow up coffee, rock up dressed to impress, and do your research on the person’s company so you seem interested to be there. Take the time to think of a few good questions that you could ask, and comments that might make you seem like you’ve been following their company for decades.
Create a network of other young aviation professionals that you can turn to for advice.
A lot of these suggestions can be a bit nerve racking at first, and it can often help to go along to events with your friends. Of course, you should try to split up and conquer when you are there, but it always helps to have a familiar face around to quickly bounce ideas off before you throw yourself head first into a conversation you are unprepared for.
Even if it’s not specifically at an event, having people that you know and trust within the industry to proof read an email or to practise a pitch to is a good idea. This person shouldn’t necessarily be a mentor, because if you get yourself in a situation where you’re lucky enough to have a mentor, you don’t want to bother them with the mundane.
The people featured in this picture have become such an important part of my network. An example of needing professional friendships is how I worked with Anthony Hill last year. We both held similar leadership positions at the uni so I didn’t have to spend a long time explaining context to whatever problem we were solving. I would send him emails quite often to proof read, debrief meetings and bounce ideas off of him.
I really have found that involving yourself in clubs and associations and forming connections with those at similar stages to yourself really is invaluable.
Those are my main tips so far! Of course, they might not work for you, but remember there is a period of trial and error. I have been employing these tactics for just under three years and have seen some success, so I’d like to think others would too.
Also, as I said, I have only been trying the whole networking thing out for three years, so the list is not exhaustive. If you thought of any others while you were reading, please drop them in the comments so everyone else reading gets to see them too.