Taking Job Profiling in the Airline Industry to the Next Level

July 26, 2017 Richard Justenhoven
image assessing for the aviation industry

Pilot selection – a white paper

When looking at the qualities needed by pilots, much of the focus in the past has been on assessing mental ability rather than the personality characteristics. And yet, the effectiveness of the flight-crew is actually a combination of three components: technical skills, attitudes and personality characteristics (Fourshee & Helmreich, 1988; Sells 1955).

We have looked closely at the competencies and behaviours that airline captains, first officers and cadets need to successfully undertake their jobs. We’ve looked at the assessments of 27,000 flight team members across 12 different airlines and, using these findings and global validation research, we’ve been able to create job profiles for each flight crew role so that recruiters can select against these when hiring cadets, first officers and captains.

The study shows that distinct operational, personal interaction and motivational competencies are relevant for each role within the flight crew, including:

  • safety orientation – prioritises and takes responsibility for safety, following rules where necessary;
  • decision-making – takes relevant information into account and its implications to make quick decisions;
  • customer and commercial orientation – understands the importance of customer satisfaction to the business and their role in this;
  • teamwork – understands their role in the overall team and how to achieve team goals;
  • communication style – understands the critical nature of effective communication;
  • resilience – remains calm in stressful situations and deals with pressure;
  • drive – has the desire to do their best every day;
  • interest in self-development – has insight into own strengths and development needs and keeps up to date with latest developments and equipment.

However, the research shows that subtle differences exist at each level.

For example, a captain’s role involves leading the team and resolving any conflict, whereas a cadet’s role (the person training to operate an aircraft) is more about learning, understanding and following the rules, making it known when they see a safety issue.

We found in this study that the competencies and behavioural preferences of candidates can be assessed using our shapes personality questionnaire and a separate questionnaire – squares – which measures safety orientation and ethical awareness. Both of these factors are essential for pilots; they need to be aware that their task to keep passengers and crew safe and that their actions impact others’ lives. shapes, by contrast, looks at more general job-related personality traits and also allows for assessing candidates’ emotional stability and conscientiousness, again two very important factors for the role of a pilot. The results from these two assessments can be combined to create a ‘behavioural fit report’ for each candidate, showing how they compare against the required competencies. This can flag up personal or psychological aspects that should be explored further in an interview.

By assessing applicants against the core competencies and behaviours required in these roles, airlines can sift out those who are unsuitable and focus their attention solely on the individuals who have the potential to succeed. This is just the initial step in recruiting and more in-depth assessment is carried out in later selection stages through interview, assessment centres, simulation exercises and so on.


Foushee, H. C., & Helmreich, R. L. (1988). Group interaction and fkught crew performance. In E. L. Wiener & D. C. Nagel (Eds.). Human factors in aviation (pp. 189-227). San Diego, CA: Academic.

Sells, S. B. (1955). Development of a personality test battery for psychiatric screening of flying personnel. Aviation Medicine, 25, 35-45.

About the Author

Richard Justenhoven

Richard Justenhoven is the product development director within Aon's Assessment Solutions. A leading organizational psychologist, Richard is an acknowledged expert in the design, implementation and evaluation of online assessments and a sought after speaker about such topics.

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