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March 10, 2009


The "cattle call"

Airlines use a variety of interview formats, techniques and questions when hiring flight attendants. The first type of interview is affectionately known as the "cattle call," in which airlines invite several hundred applicants to various conference hotels throughout the country. Each person fills out a questionnaire, introduces themselves in front of the crowd and has a minute or two to say a bit about themselves. Strong applicants are then invited to a personal interview or group interview that day, and perhaps a follow-up interview at headquarters. The cattle calls are a great way for companies to attract a large group of people in a short period of time and cut down on the expense of bringing so many new faces to the home base for the first round of interviews. The downside is that it is difficult for a candidate to make a noticeable impression without resorting to Hollywood dramatics or reality TV melodrama.

Most airlines use this kind of approach when they are expanding and hiring a lot of people very quickly and trying to fill training classes, especially when opening a base in a new city. The nature of these interviews can vary, although some who have been through them see them as "stress interviews" in which candidates are asked to give a spontaneous speech.

Small group interviews

The next round is the small group interview (usually done at the company's headquarters, but sometimes in home cities during cattle calls). In this scenario, 8 to 12 applicants are seated in a line and a series of questions are thrown out to the group. The recruiters leave it to the applicants to answer in whatever order they choose. You should be sure to jump at some questions, wait on others, and answer in the middle of everyone else during most of the questions. Someone who answers first all the time will be seen as having too strong of a personality and likely to make waves. Someone who answers last or hesitantly is perceived as unlikely to be able to handle and engage the large number of people on a flight. When answering somewhere in the middle, it is difficult to avoid repeating the previous applicants' answers and to be inventive, while also providing continuity with what others have said. Complimenting others on a great answer is a nice idea, but it shouldn't be phony. If you end up belittling or embarrassing another applicant, you'd likely have no problem doing the same with a passenger, so always be nice and never interview with a nasty edge.

Basically, the interviewers are looking for good listening skills, good eye contact with other candidates, an ability to speak clearly and without hesitation, body language and poise that says 'I look good and will make this company look good.' It's also crucial to show sensitivity to others' answers. There will always be someone who says something silly, or an applicant who just doesn't cut it. Don't roll your eyes when you hear a mediocre answer.

One-on-one interviews

Airlines try to get former or current flight attendants to interview, though interviews are sometimes conducted by HR personnel without flight experience. It's a good idea to try to find out about the background and interests of your interviewer before going too deep into your own answers. If the interviewer was a flight attendant, you might want to include more stories about your experiences as a passenger and the experiences of flight attendant friends who have told you about the job. This can show that you have a better understanding of the life of a flight attendant, but if you haven't done your homework, it might show you still have a lot to learn about the job and lifestyle.

Focus on your knowledge of the industry and things that might pertain to your interviewer's own experiences. Talk from more of a lay person's perspective on the expectations of a passenger and general customer service. You will want to include insight from both the flight attendant's and lay person's perspectives. Pretend that the interviewer is a passenger and note how differently you would relate to a mother traveling alone with her child versus an executive business traveler or a 24-year old coming back from a night of partying.

If you're coming from another industry, you'll need to demonstrate an understanding of both the ups and downs of being a flight attendant and how it might differ from a prior career. You might say, for example, that you lost interest in never-ending projects, and the finite nature of flights appeals to you. You should then point out that you're used to and happy with long hours; you would not want to say that you left because you hated working weekends all the time, since flight attendants often work weekends and holidays. Or, if you often felt trapped by working in the same office every day and longed for variety, you can argue that you're a good fit for the constantly changing atmosphere on different flights and in different towns.


Filed Under: Interviewing

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