Think of becoming a professional pilot as building a portfolio of your skills. You can attain these different skills in a variety of ways and some skills may be required by certain employers, while other skills may not be necessary (and may even be unwanted) by others. However, there are fundamental skills that you will need across the board (for any employer).
The basic skills you will need for a career as a pilot with any employer are:
Basic Skill #1: Learning to Fly
To be a pilot, you obviously need to learn to fly. Here are the first few steps you need to take:
Basic Skill #2. In most instances, you will need a college degree
If you already have a college degree, try to think of a way to use it to your advantage? For instance, do you have a technical degree, such as in physics, math, or engineering? Look for opportunities with aircraft manufacturers, such as maintenance test pilot, demonstration pilot, or even test pilot.
If you don’t yet have a college degree, there are ways for you to get both a college degree and your flight certificates and ratings at the same time. However, be careful if you’re thinking of applying to aviation universities that offer a “professional pilot” degree because this type of degree will only be good for getting pilot jobs. If you ever loose your medical or want to change careers (you get furloughed, or decide a flying career is not for you), you won’t have anything to fall back on.
It’s better to obtain a degree in something other than flying – it can still be related to aviation, just don’t make it a “pilot” degree. For instance, an aviation management degree, aviation safety degree, human factors degree, are examples of degrees that will give you skills you can place into your portfolio and will accomplish a few things:
1. Will make you a better pilot
2. Will open up more opportunities for you than someone who is “only a pilot”
3. Will serve as a backup in the unfortunate event that you decide not to fly as a career, but will still allow you to work in the aviation industry
The above two sets of skills are the minimum you need. However, in order to be competitive, you should try to attain the following skills as well:
a. A college degree outside of aviation
b. Negotiation skills
c. Interviewing skills
d. Organizational skills
e. Computer skills
f. Any other skill that you have an affinity for
Some of the best pilots I know have law degrees, management degrees, and advanced engineering degrees. This not only allows them the opportunity to be pilots, but also opens doors into management positions or offers them the opportunity to have side business when they are not flying.
Even if you don’t get a “degree” in something else, you can take classes, seminars, or courses in order to continue to fill up your portfolio with skills that will set you above the average pilot candidate.