When up-start pilots find out you've been hired by several airlines and corporate operations, they always ask "Well how do you get hired by an airline anyhow?"
I always take that as "Well how'd (some jerk like) you get hired by an airline?" In that context it's a fair question and it deserves an honest answer. Before giving that, however, I'm obligated to tell you, the readers and airline pilot wannabes, what it is really like to get hired by an airline.
Most wide-eyed up-starts see airlines as big, clean aircraft, the smell of jet exhaust, your ID clipped to your pocket, a uniform on and walking around out there on the ramp pre-flighting. Here's a dose of reality... often the only good part about walking out on that ramp is the fact that there is so much noise that you can fart as loud as you want and no one can possibly hear it.
Cold truth be said, getting hired by most airlines is a lot like (from a guy's perspective mind you...) hooking up with a girlfriend who has supermodel looks and the mind of a psychopathic killer. Everyone thinks you've got it made, but after a few months she's trying to kill you over and over. Within a year your life is in shambles, she's constantly hounding you on the phone demanding to know your every move, treating you like property and you can't leave because if you do all of your relatives will think you're gay. In the end she sends you off to the funny farm, drooling but comforted in the fact that you'll soon be drown in Thorazine and lost in remembrance of the good old days when you were a flight instructor new-hire at some tiny FBO.
That said... actually getting hired is, in my own experience, largely a matter of luck (good or bad- depending on your perspective). In my case, it seemed as if the harder I tried to get hired, the more I got passed over, or... "got The Letter" that says "thanks but no thanks." Yet. when I wasn't really trying was when I got hired. Take my career disaster at TWA for example. I didn't want to go there, but I got the interview and decided to go through it just for practice. I actually wore an Alfred E. Newman, Mad Magazine tie to the interview (HONEST!). That's how much I did not want to get hired there... the bastards hired me anyway... at the end of the interview they told me they liked my tie.
Back in 1992 as I was trying to escape the CFI, bug-smasher role, I did my very first airline interview. It was a point in time when pilot hiring was actually somewhat worse than it is today and Continental Express announced they were actually hiring and- to everyone's amazement- was not requiring Pay-for-Training! I sent in my paperwork and I got invited for an interview! I spent 2 weeks flying the flight school's Frasca multi engine simulator as I intensely prepared for the interview- I studied the AIM and FARs- especially part 121. I was gonna be as ready as I could be. Finally, I took the ticket they sent me and non-rev'ed out to Texas, took my room in the crew hotel and spent the evening rehearsing my "answers to common airline interview questions" in the mirror. I was sure that I had a chance to go in there and really impress them with my 1,200 odd hours, no ATP but plenty of charm and new suit. When I reported to the big... BIG meeting room the following morning I saw that it was packed with others of my ilk or better... way better. Tons of former airline pilots were on furlough in those days and they all seemed to be in that room... I felt like a six year old. One of the other guys and I got talking and he had the skinny on what was going on. They were looking for 12, count 'em, 12 pilots to fly their ATRs. This new found pal of mine had been counting the heads and I was number 43 to come into the room... he and I stopped counting around number 57. And, it got worse. When the guy from the hiring board came to the front to speak he told us that there were just 3 positions remaining because they had already interviewed 3 groups of similar size to ours. He then made a joke that obviously most of us did not have a chance, unless we had a space shuttle mission under our belts- and one guy raised his hand... and he was serious. My "in the interview room" session lasted about 9 minutes. No technical questions, no common airline questions, just "briefly tell me about yourself" and it was over. The hiring board guy then mercifully sent me back to the big room to finish filling out my paper work and told me that when I was done I could just come back to the interview room and shove the packet under the door... which I did. I got "The Letter" a week or so later.
After almost a year of similar interview nightmares I decided to get my ATP and shortly there after was invited down to interview at Paradise Island Airlines in FLL. I went down there with a "Aww what the hell" disposition. The HR part of the interview was so basic the lady doing it could have been interviewing me to work at K-mart again. The technical part was done one-on-one with the Director of Ops. He asked a few simple IFR questions and then came across the place in my logbook where my Beech 18 time resides. He asked about it and I told him it was just poor-man's autopilot, night IFR, dead of winter- I flew while the real pilot slept and then the same guy signed it off as dual given. He asked if I'd gotten anything out of it. I said "hell yeah" that "I actually learned to fly instruments in the 18 and although it's like spinning a plate on a stick while standing on one foot on a bowling ball on a moving escalator, it really made it a lot more easy when I got back to college and went into the T303 Crusaders." We laughed. He then got sly and asked what was unique about the brakes in the 18. I told him that when one guy is on the breaks the other guy's breaks are useless because of the shuttle valve between the two. He asked how you lean the engines- I described the color of the exhaust flame. He asked about the tail wheel retraction and I answered about the bicycle chain and keeping it well oiled. He smiled and told me he used to fly the Beech 18. He shook my hand and said he'd like me to go wait in the hallway for a bit as he had a few other people to talk to. I asked how many and he told me they had 21 candidates for 3 seats and I was the first one to interview so far. I sat outside as about six other guys were escorted in and out. Then the HR lady came out and asked me if I wanted to come to work for them.
Oddly, after all of the formal training, the degree in Aeronautical Science, the ATP and all of the hours spent sitting next to students- what got me that first job was simply the time I'd spent playing autopilot in the middle of the night in a ratty, old radial engine, widow making, oil throwing Beech 18 in the coldest winter of my life. Those flights didn't cost me a cent. My first airline job was gotten by pure happenstance- the D.O. of that carrier and I just happened to have that one experience that clicked.
Of course- my first airline job could easily be defined by what I said earlier... ya' know... that stuff about the supermodel psychopathic... oh yeah.