Airline Pilot Group Exercise Skills

The aim of this article is to offer some more insight into the group exercise part of the pilot assessment. What follows are the observations and tips from one of our highly experienced recruitment pilots.

Ah, the dreaded Group Exercise...the unknown territory of the assessment day!

Think about it - CV? Tick, you can control what info you put on it and how it is presented. Ditto the application form. Online tests can be practised and no-one is observing so the pressure is off a bit. Even the interview...you have a reasonable idea of what is coming at you if you’ve done your homework and you have control of what you say. And if you survive the assessment day you will be invited for a sim check - nerve wracking for sure but, as pilots, it’s what we do! We know where we stand with an ILS or hold entry with a crosswind but put us around a table with a small group of strangers and ask us to discuss and issue or solve a problem and most of us struggle.
Why is that? Forrest Gump’s analogy about life being like a box of chocolates could be applied to the other candidates you find yourself with at a group exercise - you never know what you’re going to get!

You might think the gods are smiling on you if you get 5 or 6 really ‘normal’ individuals who all conveniently fall in the stable extrovert corner of the personality graph. Or maybe your heart sinks when you realise you’ve got an over controlling individual or an unconfident person who struggles to meet anyone’s gaze. Actually those outliers, the overly dominant types or the slightly reserved, under confident souls, can be an absolute gift in a group exercise.
To understand first ask yourself why we use these exercises as an assessment tool? What are we focussed on throughout the entire recruitment process from the first contact with a candidate via application form or CV right through to offer of a job? The answer is pilot skills, those core competencies that we need to see demonstrated by candidates as evidence that they have the potential to become a really dependable, professional pilot to join our airline.
Have a look at a pilot skills list and consider what you may be able to demonstrate during a group exercise when faced with ‘challenging’ fellow applicants. Take the reserved candidate for example; he or she has said very little, made a fair number of notes but does not seem able to break into the discussion. How might you bring them into the debate? Using names encourages quieter candidates and fosters an open atmosphere for communication so address them directly and invite them to share their thoughts. Facilitating and motivating colleagues to share ideas is a key attribute on the flight deck and this will impress the assessors.
And what about our more controlling character? This is the candidate who steers the group, allowing little room for differing ideas or opinions, who asks closed questions and dominates the conversation? One of the most important attributes in a First Officer is the ability to be appropriately assertive, so think about what that actually means. It means not being afraid to challenge, to express your opinions even when it might be awkward or uncomfortable. Toning down an overly authoritative fellow candidate is a really effective way to show this skill off while remaining calm and supportive. Thank them for their ideas and then turn to another applicant and ask for their thoughts. This moves the focus to someone else and should open up the discussion.

Remember it is not only the result or conclusions that you reach as a group that are being assessed, more importantly it is your journey as a team to that resilt and the behaviours demonstrated along the way. 

So next time you turn up to an assessment day and realise that you have a few tricky individuals with you, don’t be deflated, think of them as an opportunity, a chance to demonstrate some of your pilot skills and get a tick in the group exercise box.