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Answering Tough HR Questions

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Active member
Nov 27, 2001
I figured there would be some dialogue on this site about those "tough" interview questions that nobody has a real good idea how to answer. I could not find it. I apologize in advance if there is overlap.

I was hoping to hear some ideas regarding the tough HR questions with no right or wrong answer. The ones where there is only one clear solution -- the operation can not safely continue -- but where the tricky part is how you GET to that solution. Human factors.

Here are some examples of the questions, and i'm curious how other people have approached these subjects in the past.

The captain wants to continue below MDA, what do you do?

The captain wants to continue when weather is below minimums and you are outside the outer marker?

The two questions above are quite similar, but not exactly the same. Obviously the outcome of both questions needs to be a missed approach (unless in the first example the Captain does, in fact, have either the approach lights and/or the runway environment in sight). Obviously there is no reason in either case to take the airplane and, in fact, it would be dangerous to do so at low altitudes (unless, of course, the captain is incapacitated). There is no right answer in how you get to the solution...you just have to get there.

If crew scheduling asked you to fly a trip that violated a contract item, what would you do?

Tough one! The management types may be thinking, "fly now, grieve later" where as the pilot interview might want you to remind the scheduler that he/she is violating the contract.

What would you do if the Captain smelled of alchohol?
The captain is seen by the van driver drinking late in the evening prior to the flight. What do you do?

Ah the ol' drinking captain question. Again the solution is clear -- the airplane will not move until there is no question at all that the operation is safe. But how do you get there? Talk to the Captain? See if others notice that he is behaving differently? Did he use any cough medicine? Would he like to call in sick? Should you call in sick to delay/stop the operation?

Describe the worst individual you have ever flown with and why? How did you handle it?
Describe a conflict you had in the cockpit and how you went about handling it?

Two more questions in which they are testing your ability to communcate with other people. What attributes of your flying partner made him/her the "worst", and how did you address them? Was he/she inconsistant? If so, what does that mean? How did you get to the resolution? Did you approach professional standards or company management?

Captain wants you to fly an airplane that is slightly over weight limits. What do you do?

Very similar to the captain who descended below minimums. We have an illegal operation, both of your certificates are on the line. Its the last leg home and the peer-pressure is high. How do you stop the operation? (see? these are tough!)

Ok, just one more. I think we've enough to think about.

A senior captain doesn’t want your help with the checklists. What do you do?

I believe the common theme in all of these questions are the same. The answer itself is simple -- the airplane doesnt move. How you GET there (and show your work!) is tough. Why is it tough? Because 9 times out of 10 you're interviewing with both a management representative and a pilot representative -- and the "correct" answer is different for both of them.

Obviously the management rep wants to know that, not only will you not continue, but that you will make an effort to stop the behavior that got you there in the first place -- i/e will you rat out your buddy?

The pilot rep, of course, doesnt want you to continue either, but he wants to know that you're not going to run to management when there are other avenues to pursue...i/e Have the captain's friends talk with him, talk to professional standards if you have a union, etc.

I hope this starts an interesting and helpful discussion for the many pilots who are currently interviewing or who will be interviewing in the near future.

Good luck and Godspeed!
Most people get themselves into an awkward or uncomfortable situation when they allow their 'feelings' to affect professional decisions. In all but one of the examples given there is only one correct answer. There is only a problem because folks bring an emotional response to an issue of professional misconduct.

For example, the standard question about the Captain drinking is always twisted around to the point of absurdity. Everybody agrees that the flight doesn't go but then the whole thing becomes insane. We always try to prevent the flight and yet not cause anybody any stress or uncomfortableness. What is that?!? Let's be clear, the Captain is acting unprofessionally, criminally and without a moral conscience by deciding to fly an airplane with alcohol in his system. That type of behavior isn't worthy of anything except open scorn and ridicule. Call him on it immediately and he gets a choice to pull himself off of the flight or I'll do it for him. In either case I'm going to call pro standards since this guy didn't have the good sense to remove himself from the flight without my prompting. Why should I protect this guy when he is willing to risk my life and a plane load of passengers lives? Remember that in all of these scenarios it is someone else putting your live and your livelyhood at risk. You don't have to tapdance around anything. They are the problem, not you.

I've yet to have a potential employer ask me more than one of these types of questions. I answered them all just as forcefully as the one above. The HR rep wants to hear that the company and passengers are not being put at risk. The pilots at the interview want to know that you are decisive. Nobody in that interview room will tolerate unprofessional conduct so don't even suggest that you might allow it to occur because you didn't want to rock the boat or avoid getting into a potentially confrontational situation.


While I applaud your decisiveness I think there is really more to it than that.

In the first example the van-driver saw the captain drinking supposedly. Was it really the captain? How do we know if it was or was not. So before we go crazy trying to yank the captain off the trip, it might warrant some investigation into whether or not he was actually the guy the van-driver was looking at! I do not believe that the interviewer wants someone who is so adversarial that he is itching to yank the guy off the trip either.

This is about more than trying to put a stop to the operation without "discomfort"...this is about running an airline and getting the customers from point A to point B safely unless you are absolutely, 100%, certain that the guy in the left seat really DID violate the law or otherwise gives you any reason to believe that he/she can not conduct the operation safely.

I'm surprised with 69 views you were the only one who wanted to take part in the discussion. This is a big part of interviews nowadays, I would have thoguht people would want to talk about it.
To All:

What about the question about continueing below mins. Do you key the mike aand announce am missed? Do you advance the power levers, what? Or do you help him/her put the plane down and then deal with his decision to continue below mins?

Ok the minimums question.

You dont have much time to play with, and you certainly dont want to be wrestling for the airplane when you are so close to the ground.

So there are a few things to consider.

Does he, in fact have the airport in sight? It is entirely possible that the Captain either has the field in sight, or is following FAR 91.175 or 121.651 to continue below minimums to 100 feet above TDZ elevation with the approach lights in sight in the hopes of seeing the red terminating bars (ALSF1, ALSF2) or the runway environment and continuing to a landing.

As long as its authorized in the company ops specs, it is legal.

So it is up to you, the intrepid first officer to determine whether or not the Captain is doing just that, if he is incapacitated, or if he legitamately is breaking the regulation and endangering the aircraft.

"Captain, We're going below minimums. Do you have it?"

I'd probably make a call similar to the above. I might even use his first name to ensure he realizes that, hey...I need an answer.

If there is still no response I would be reaching for the power levers as I said again, "Captain, do you have it?" and with no response, the power would be coming up as I took the airplane from the captain and executed the miss. Usually its 3 tries for an incapacitated pilot, but that low to the ground there isn't time.

If he DOES in fact respond that he has the runway or approach lights in sight, you really can not say much about it. There have been a few occasions over the years where simply due to the position of my seat the Captain may have had the runway when I did not, or I have had it when he did not. As long as he is not making large excursions from the glideslope or localizer I would have no choice but to believe him, and discuss it on the ground.

200 feet AGL is no place to be fighting over an airplane. I would make the decision based on my opinion that it is safer for him to continue a stablized approach and land than to try to surprise him with a transfer of controls unless there was a definate safety-of-flight reason to do so.

What do you think?
Tough Questions

Below Mins.
Your rught that this is a tough one. This is what I would do.
A) Tell the capt. we are below Mins.
B) Ask if he has approach lights (we can continue to 100' above TZE)
C) If no responce to the last two....Push the TOGA button, if he is fixated on the gauges hoppfully they'll follow the command bars, if he doesn't I hope there are no auto-throttles that come up with the TOGA...At least that's something to consider.
D) Annonce to the tower that ABC-123 is on the missed.
*********all the above will be on the CVR*********

I would not try to fight someone for the controls at 150AGL at a rate of sink around 600fpm (15sec from terra ferma)

If your capt is incapasitated that's something different. But if he's there and just doing his own thing, just help get the airplane on the ground and let him explane to the FAA/Comapany/Union/mom&dad/ and thier dog why they landed after a missed was called. And as the FO you better file a NASA report and then report thier butt, this is not the time for the old-boys-club your lucky to be alive and someone my not be so luckly next time.

My Favorite interview question:
(Q) After your last leg the Capt says to meet in the restuarent for dinner. Then shows up in a dress. What do you do?

(A) Is my Capt. a woman? (this is a good chance to see of your preiduce (sp?) againest women) "No" Tell him he would look better in red and let it go, if the Capt is a women and wants to know if they look nice say yes and drop it before it turns into some sort of dicrimination law suit.

There are also all the 91/121/135 O2 requirements.
I reread my post and I don't like the way I presented my point. Now you know how I picked up the moniker Caveman.

The toughest thing to learn how to do is look someone in the eye and tell them that their behavior or conduct is inappropriate or unprofessional. It's even tougher to do it absent of any rancor. It's darn near impossible for most of us to be on the receiving end of that type of criticism without becoming defensive and resentful, especially from a subordinate. The mark of true maturity and professionalism is to be able to listen to the critical comments and weigh them as just or unjust and then act accordingly. If a fellow pilot is unwilling or unable to be on the giving or receiving end of this conversation then they should be identified for further training and or dismissal. It doesn't matter whether the topic is drinking alcohol, flying below minimums, or illegal approaches. In this industry the stakes are just too high to behave otherwise.

Bring your alligator skin to work and check your emotions at the jetway. If I'm doing something wrong or inappropriate call me on it immediately but give me the benefit of the doubt that I was simply mistaken or incorrectly assessed the situation. If I continue to act unprofessionally or unsafely yank my chain hard, because I need to be retrained and re-evaluated as to my fitness to work in this profession. I will do the same for you.

There, I like the wording of this one better.
Interview Vs. Real Life

Ok Caveman,

But, as you know, there are subtle differences to how you might act in real life, and what you would say to get you through the interview. Regardless the solution is the same - the plane doesnt move. But would you express to the interviewer how you got to that point.

For example, in the case of the Captain who refuses to run a checklist. Do you stop the operation and if so how? Or do you continue to run the checklist yourself to ensure he does not miss anything and then, when you have time, discuss it with him. If he continues to insist that he doesnt need "your or your steenkin checklist", you could talk to pro standards.

You are obviously an extremely agressive, hands-on, individual. My question is: Is that what they're looking for in an interview? I am not sure that is the case. In my experience they are looking for charismatic, friendly individuals who are able to make their flying-partners think that it (whatever "it" may be) is the other guy's idea. Can the problem be solved on the line, or does it really have to be taken to the highest level, and the captain's career potentially destroyed?

These are the kind of things I was hoping to explore in this thread. The interview side of the equation.
Be yourself during an interview. I would be pissed off if the company misrepresented themselves to me and I expect they would feel slighted if I did it to them. If they prefer not to hire someone like me with a slightly aggressive personality then it's in both of our best interests for them not to do so. I won't be happy working somewhere that I have to overly rein myself in to fit the corporate culture. They will also be less than thrilled to have me around if I misrepresented myself as being touchy-feely when I'm really not. Tell the truth and everybody wins. I may not get that particular job but there is a perfect job out there for me somewhere. So far I've been offered jobs at both of the 121 carriers I interviewed with.
Was just looking back through some of these old HR type questions (which I believe to be the most challenging questions in an interview) and wondering about some more. Hope you dont mind me bringing this thread back.

What about the question regarding "Tell us about a time that you didn't get along in the cockpit?"

"Tell us about a time when you violated an FAR?"

"Tell us about a time when you felt that you could have done better in the cockpit?"

Some of these are TOUGH -- not so much finding examples of the bahavior, but trying to "spin" those examples so as not to make yourself sound unsafe, antisocial, weak, etc.


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