Careers in crisis – Ten top tips to navigate through turbulent times ahead

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ROSALIND AZOUZI FRAeS, NICHOLAS DAVIS and RISHI RADIA ARAeS from the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Careers and Skills Team provide essential information for those aerospace professionals forced into career changes in these challenging times.

What a difference six months make. In November 2019, the RAeS Careers team held one of its most successful annual careers fairs ever. Then Covid-19 turned the world upside down leaving civil aviation in crisis with large-scale redundancy programmes announcements affecting both supply chains and aerospace and aviation professionals at all career stages. To support those affected, the RAeS Careers team has run a series of careers and mentoring-themed webinars with expert panellists from across the Society’s membership to help provide practical advice and guidance. Here we bring together some key tips drawn from the sessions to help you navigate through the crisis.

The RAes has been running a series of online careers information and advice webinars.

1. Online Learning and Networking

Actively seeking to advance your skills and learning, especially during unexpected downtime, can help you develop your knowledge and networks. Now, more than ever, there is a vast range of online learning tools and methods, such as webinars, blogs and other publications available for free, many of which would normally incur hefty fees. Secondly, joining platforms, such as Alta, can help you make useful contacts and develop your ‘virtual’ skills. They can also help you identify career opportunities which may be advertised by ‘word-of-mouth’, or help you find a mentor. If you haven’t used LinkedIn before, this may be the time to load up your profile and start connecting.

That said, not everyone has had more time during lockdown. Some working parents, in particular, have expressed concerns that balancing home schooling with working from home full-time has been exhausting, leaving little time for online events. Remember that many webinars are available to view online post-event, so you can still register for events which can be followed up when more time is available.

2. Mentoring

Online platforms make mentoring possible even during lockdowns, enabling you to connect with like-minded people who can share their advice and experiences with you. Maybe they have been through previous crises and can provide valuable insights on resilience, how to reinvent yourself, cope with change and find opportunities even if things seem bleak. Remember you can have more than one mentor helping you with different aspects of your career. You could also become a mentor to someone in their early career who may need some support – a great chance to give back, boost each other’s confidence and you may even pick up on new skills such as social media engagement.

3. Transferable skills self-assessment

Employers not only use technical qualifications and direct experience when assessing applications. They also look for future employees who can blend in with, or lead, their existing teams, deal with customers, clients or suppliers, resolve problems, innovate, work under pressure and progress through their training programmes. It is not always easy to articulate these abilities to prospective employers. Now might be a good time to undertake a self-assessment of your soft skills. If you find yourself working in a role entirely outside aerospace/aviation due to the crisis, this does not mean you won’t pick up valuable, transferable skills for your eventual return to the industry. Sectors such as logistics, medical, nuclear and rail offer particularly transferable experience but all experience counts and can help develop and enhance your existing knowledge and skills in unexpected ways.

4. Update your CV

You may not have written a CV in a long time, or may have never had it reviewed by a careers advisor. Seek expert advice and get started. Whether you are in your early or late career stage, a UK CV should normally be two pages long, whether for engineering or operational roles. This might prove challenging in practice but focus on your expertise and achievements on page one, reinforced by your employment history/personal activities on page two. Conversely, if you are moving away from the flight deck, two pages may seem too long but remember you will need to focus more on your soft skills for future roles and less on pilot’s licence, type ratings and hours on type.

With aviation in crisis, competition is fierce.

5. Careers coaching

Are you getting the most out of your job applications? Seek the advice of a careers expert and get some coaching. You are now in ‘sales mode’ and the product is you! Think about developing a toolkit of stories, highlighting various competencies you have gained through your education, previous roles, hobbies etc. A careers coach/professional can guide you through various aspects of the recruitment process, whether that is a CV feedback session, mock interviews or creative job search tips.

Whatever your career move, don’t forget that the RAeS Careers services include FREE 1-2-1 support and are open to anyone seeking advice for aerospace and aviation related roles and training.

6. Interview preparation

Interviews come in many formats, whether 1-2-1 or with a panel. You may be a seasoned interview pro or have until now sailed through your career avoiding interviews altogether! Preparation is key.

Given the current Covid-19 crisis, companies are now turning to virtual interviews on Zoom/Skype etc. However, the formats remain similar to face-to-face sessions, including technical questions relating to the role’s specific knowledge requirements plus ‘soft skill’ questions; sometimes these may be broken down into a series of different interviews. However, as well as technical/knowledge specific responses, you should develop a strong bank of answers to soft skill questions which are common to all organisations – leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, innovation etc.

Researching the prospective employer beforehand is vital – it is essential that you demonstrate a deep understanding of the organisations you have applied to. Learn all there is to know about their products/services, business outlook and even their competitors. Recruitment is an expensive process, so the interviewers will be looking for candidates who not only demonstrate the required aptitude and skills for the role but also demonstrates likely staying power by virtue of having done extensive prior research.

Presentations are still common in virtual interviews; ensure that you focus on what is being asked and spend time producing an interesting, well-structured slide pack or handout. Finally, check that you know how to work the virtual meeting platform tools, such as share screen buttons and, if at all possible, test it out beforehand and download any software a few days before the interview day in case of any niggles.

7. Recruitment agency vs executive search

We are commonly asked, what is the difference? ‘Contingency’ recruitment agencies tend to work in junior to mid-level roles. ‘Retained’ executive search firms focus on senior executive and board director roles. In both cases, search firms work to fill specific mandates and are client-driven, ie the priority is to meet the company’s requirements, rather than those of the individual candidate. Usually if you are early to mid-career, and/or looking to make a lateral move, recruitment agencies offer the most relevant opportunities while executive search will focus on senior and executive roles. There are several specialist agencies that specialise in aerospace or aviation recruitment, as well as many in engineering and getting on the relevant books can help increase opportunities. Many employers will use LinkedIn to advertise roles. The crisis has also brought together displaced aviation professionals who are creating their own networks, such as Miramar and Aviation Action, providing further networks to engage with like-minded people who understand and can translate your skills and knowledge to future employers within and outside the sector.

8. Everything counts

Whether you are in your early career and faced with no opportunities to gain relevant experience, or an experienced industry professional suddenly faced with a career move into a completely different sector, do not panic. All experiences count and you should never be afraid to put work you do inside and outside your target sector on your CV. You can tie this together with as much relevant knowledge or experience that you do have, such as from education or previous industry roles. Examples from any job can provide a good illustration of your work ethic, how you deal with difficult people, customers, time management, agility and taking responsibility. Faced with the current crisis, doing something different, be it volunteering, community engagement or retail, will all demonstrate your agility, resilience and tenacity.

9. Get involved

While it can be difficult to stay motivated when your career plans receive an unexpected blow, it is always beneficial to remain active. There are ways you can stay connected to the industry, such as through voluntary activities and your professional body – with so many online RAeS seminars, networking events and resources including our careers support services, dedicated website and much more. You may not have got round to upgrading your membership to receive peer recognition of your current experience and expertise in the industry. If you are an engineer, now may be the time to complete your professional engineering registration for EngTech, IEng or CEng status. Students and apprentices can join the Society for free and during this time all Society committees and groups continue to operate virtually, enabling you to contribute and link up with networks like the Specialist Groups, local Branches, Young Persons Network or support our educational programmes and Diversity and Inclusion initiatives. This will help keep your CV current, as well as raise your self esteem and confidence through gaining new friends and retaining a sense of community.

10. Take time out

Finally, as important as a career can be for your identity, there are many benefits in taking some time to pause and reflect on your current position. You may not have had time before to step back, take stock and evaluate what you really want. Or you may have been on auto-pilot towards a particular trajectory without really seeing if it is what you want. Take time to evaluate your skills and knowledge and re-discover your passions, unidentified talent or opportunities for further learning. If you can, spending time on other things than your career can be beneficial to your well-being. Try and find time to do the something you have always wanted to do, such as a new hobby, volunteering, connecting with friends and family, books, box-sets, trying a new sport or culinary passion etc. Perhaps you can even incorporate this into a future ‘dual’ career – while it may be that in the short term your aviation career may have to be part-time, perhaps a ‘portfolio’ approach will not only help you survive but thrive and eventually help you be even better prepared for recovery.

Aerospace is a long-term industry and opportunities still exist for the truly dedicated. (Virgin Galactic)

It would be premature to predict which regions and sub-sectors within civil aerospace and aviation will recover first and when. When recovery does get underway, the challenges to make aviation greener and more sustainable will remain, requiring engineers and innovative thinkers from different disciplines to create aviation’s new future, underpinned by the need to reach across a wider, more diverse talent pool.

Nevertheless, the Society’s footprint is wide and, for some sub-sectors, such as defence, space, cargo, legal and insurance, the impact has been less severe, with opportunities for continued growth. Do keep looking for opportunities, aerospace is made up of diverse areas but across a relatively niche community and there may be more opportunities than you first realise. Whatever the short-medium term impact, in the long-term, aviation will be at the heart of helping people and businesses reconnect in person when it is safe to do so and we will all need to be ready to step back in.

Thanks to our panellists

We would like to thank our panellists for giving up their time and expertise to support the webinars providing invaluable advice from their personal experience over our four webinars

  • Victoria Cope MRAeS, Head of Procurement (20 May)
  • First Officer Stuart Christie, airline pilot (3 June)
  • Professor Sue Durbin, RAeS Women in Aerospace & Aviation Committee/Alta Steering Group Founding Partner (9 June)
  • Jenny Edwards ARAeS, Systems Engineer (6 May)
  • Yvonne Elsorougi FRAeS, Aerospace Advisor and RAeS Council Member/Women in Aerospace & Aviation Committee (9 June)
  • Senior First Officer Mark Furness, airline pilot (3 June)
  • Judith Milne FRAeS, Aviation Advisor (9 June)
  • Capt Marnie Munns, airline pilot (3 June)
  • Arpad Szakal MRAeS, Executive Search specialist (6 and 20 May events)

Visit the RAeS YouTube Channel or Careers in Aerospace > Resources to access the webinar recordings. Webinar handouts and further guidance on CVs, interviews, soft skills and more are also available to view for free on the Careers in Aerospace website. For careers support and 1-2-1 appointments please contact

Rosalind Azouzi FRAeS, Nicholas Davis and Rishi Radia ARAeS
7 August 2020

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