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By Janie Foster

Schmoozing.  Brown-nosing.  Unfortunately, networking is often thought of as one of these less than flattering activities.  I encourage you to think again.  Embracing the true concept of networking could be the vital link to your desired career opportunity.

Networking skills are a valuable asset, whether you’re searching for that first commercial industry break, changing jobs, or selling toothbrushes to fish.  Once you understand what networking is (and isn’t) you’ll appreciate the significance of cultivating a network for career advancement. 

TIP #1:  Know What Networking Means

Recently, I received an e-mail that said, “I would rather get recognized for my hard work and dedication to doing a good job, but I realize that ‘brown-nosing’ is necessary when breaking into a new career.”

Business networking isn’t brownnosing, rather it’s collaborating to build professional relationships.  Here’s the Dictonary.com definition: 

net·work·ing [net-wur-king] noun -- A supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest….

Another common sentiment is, “I am an introvert and networking is tough for me.”  If you’re reserved when it comes to representing yourself in the professional arena, reframe the situation.  Let’s say you have professional expertise that’s in demand. When people ask for advice, ask yourself the following:

  • How would I like to be approached by someone seeking information from me?
  • What kinds of people do I trust?
  • How would someone act to be memorable to me in a positive way?  In a negative way?
  • How could I help this person be effective?

Another perception about networking is that it’s one-sided.  A person hesitant to network may think, “You have something valuable that I want, and I have nothing to give back.”  Don’t think that.  Mentors wishing to provide career tips don’t view you as a “taker.”  Rather, they see a professional individual to guide along in the rotorcraft industry.  It’s no secret that you’re looking for advice and leads and they want to help you become successful.  Remember, they started in the same place – with a dream and zero flight hours!

Your dedication and hard work on the job will be apparent.  But first, you must establish the contacts that will lead you to that job. 

Tip #2:  It’s Never Too Soon To Start Networking

Here’s a comment I hear frequently:  “I don’t have enough experience to start networking for a job.”   

If you’re working on your private rating, building time as a CFII, or exploring civilian aviation in anticipation of leaving the military, the sooner you begin building a professional network, the better.  Not only will you have more contacts, you’ll also have a rich resource for employment options.  Another reason to start early is to establish meaningful connections that will be in place by the time you meet industry qualifications or depart the military.

Networking is a process.  The sharing of information happens through a series of communication exchanges over time that eventually leads to valuable contacts and job tips.  This intelligence gathering doesn’t generally net an immediate, direct connection.  Think of your efforts as planting seeds for future harvesting.  In his book “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty,” author Harvey Mackay describes the value of networking by saying, “People aren't strangers if you've already met them. The trick is to meet them before you need their help."  

As an example, I overheard an interesting comment at this year’s Heli-Expo Job Fair.  While a candidate was talking with a recruiter, another recruiter with the same company stepped over and said, “I know him.  He’s been in contact with me since he had 200 hours.  He’s got the flight experience we need now, so let’s schedule an interview.”  This was the direct result of his contact-building diligence throughout his flight training.

Tip #3:  Know Where To Find Your Contacts

There is no shortage of ways to cultivate your network.  Tap into the following resources to get started:

Join top organizations – HAI (Helicopter Association International), AOPA (Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association), The Whirly-Girls, NBAA (National Business Aviation Association), PAMA (Professional Aviation Maintenance Association), WAI (Women in Aviation International).

Attend industry events – Don’t’ miss RPMN’s HeliSuccess career seminars and attend annual conferences such as Heli-Expo, WAI Conference and NBAA.  Be sure to look into the various committee meetings and educational courses held during these shows, as well as military-to-civilian workshops (held during HeliSuccess and HeliExpo).  Check into the many free presentations hosted by the FAASTeam and AOPA. 

Find a mentor – This is a proven method of connecting with experienced and knowledgeable people for professional advice and career guidance.  A mentor will listen, understand, coach, advise, caution, encourage, lend perspective, and provide regular doses of reality.

Stay in touch with your peers – Graduates from your flight school that have moved into commercial jobs will have the inside scoop and they could provide a valuable recommendation for you.

Conduct internet research – Reseach industry websites, as well as professional networks, such as LinkedIn.  Also look for industry forums, blogs and webinars.

Tip #4:  You Don’t Need To Send A “Blind” Resume To Apply For A Position


Helicopter aviation is a small circle.  As your individual contact list grows, your networks develop, giving you the ability to establish a connection to almost anyone, whether it’s directly or indirectly.  Not only is getting your foot in the prospective employer’s door easier, odds increase for your resume’s consideration once inside those company doors.  Which option is better: the stack of resumes on the chief pilot’s desk classified as, “YES, I know this person” versus the pile labeled, “MAYBE, I’ll get to these 300 resumes later” languishing in a file cabinet down the hall?

The key concept here: It is not only whom you know, it is who knows you – and whom they know.

Tip #5:  Stay On Your Contacts’ “A” Lists

Now that you’ve made a positive, enduring impression on your contacts, follow these rules of engagement to maintain that status and effectively maximize your connections:

  • When requesting guidance, articulate your interests.  Be concise, avoiding the two-page e-mail describing every detail about your situation.  Due to time zone differences, e-mail is best to maintain a dialogue.  If you call, make it during known business hours and prepare in advance what you’ll say.
  • Listen to the recommendations you’re given.  Don’t discount a suggestion because it doesn’t track with your original plan.  Those offering advice are doing so based on experience – they know what works.  Be teachable and receptive to alternative ideas.
  • Be considerate of schedules.  If you’ve sent an email or placed a call and don’t receive a response, it could be that your contact is traveling, working internationally, based in a remote location, standing night duty or working long days, not to mention that your communication may have been sabotaged by a cyberspace gremlin.  Employ diplomatic persistence by following up in a reasonable timeframe.

Networking is a powerful tool.  Realize that others are lending to you their good reputations.  Respect the trust that they are extending to you.  Just as you are counting on your contacts to assist you by opening doors – make sure they can count on you to professionally represent their recommendations.  Make them look good.  Remember too that one day, you’ll be the one offering rotorcraft industry guidance to others.

Janie Foster is currently flying an AW139 with Era Helicopters for SAR/EMS support to the oil and gas business in the Gulf of Mexico.  She has worked in various segments of the helicopter industry, including wildland firefighting, logging, and utility.

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