Daniel Mason, Senior editor
June, 2015

Graduate schemes at airlines provide great variety and opportunity in a fast-paced environment. Perform well and your career could take off

Thinking of jobs at an airline probably brings to mind pilots and cabin crew as they're both popular career choices. But there are a wide range of openings available for those with other skills and interests.

A quick glance at the British Airways (BA) website gives you an idea of this. Its graduate schemes cover business areas as diverse as logistics and leadership, finance, engineering and IT. It's a similar story across the sector.

'It takes the work of many different people to profitably fly an aircraft across the globe, and this is where there is unrivalled variety, challenge and opportunity,' explains Daniel Hill, BA's graduate programme manager.

'Despite being a place of constant change, much of the excitement and some of the glamour of the early days of aviation remain, which is why there are so many people who will spend their whole career in the industry.'

Lucy Ventrice, a talent, performance and capability consultant at easyJet, says the work is fast-paced, with no two days the same. 'It's got a buzz you just can't get working in a pure corporate world. Seeing aircraft take off and land every day, with happy customers, is really satisfying.'

That view is reinforced by Jordi Pintre, who decided to stay at easyJet after spending two years on its graduate programme. He says, 'It was very exciting, the idea of working for one of the leading airlines in the European market and contributing to its continued success.'

What qualifications do I need?

Winning a place on one of these schemes is not easy. A strong academic record is essential. And while the entry requirements may vary - for example, for BA's engineering option you will need a relevant technical degree - there are some attributes you'll require whichever route you choose.

According to Daniel, these are curiosity, a willingness to learn and a commitment to deliver for customers. He adds interpersonal skills, relationship building and a high level of commercial acumen to the must-have list.

Lucy says, 'We are looking for individuals who are passionate about what they do, who can hit the ground running and add value from day one.'

If you do decide to apply, be prepared for a process more competitive than passengers rushing to get the best seats on the plane.

At both BA and easyJet, for example, the first step is to complete an online application form. Next there are psychometric tests, and often a telephone interview. And then, if all goes well, you'll be invited to an assessment day involving group exercises, presentations and face-to-face interviews.

Be aware that some airlines may not run formal graduate schemes, but it's still worth checking their recruitment websites for opportunities. Another alternative is to look at graduate programmes with airports such as Heathrow.

What do airline graduate schemes involve?

Even if your application is successful, the hard work goes on. 'You should be ready for anything,' says Daniel. 'The aviation industry is highly complex and challenging, but this is what makes it an exciting place to be.'

He explains, 'Working on live projects, with real impact, graduate placements could see you enjoying a variety of unexpected responsibilities and uniquely fascinating challenges.

'From deciding on new menus for our in-flight meals, to developing sales in new markets, or indeed the technology behind our new in-flight entertainment system, the range of opportunity and responsibility is impressive.'

A fifth of BA's senior leadership team joined as graduates or apprentices, so there's the potential to build a long-term career.

'Some of our former graduates have gone on to roles generating millions of pounds of revenue, building new markets, maintaining our aircraft or even managing our graduate programmes,' Daniel says.

At easyJet graduates can develop careers as business analysts, project managers, marketing executives, route managers and many others, says Lucy. 'Being in a company with a flat structure, you have an experience like no other - working with senior and really talented people early in your career.'

Why choose a career with an airline?

Jordi claims joining the easyJet graduate scheme was 'the perfect step into the industry' and gave him the opportunity to understand departments across the airline.

'The roles and jobs you get to do during the scheme are real and you have the opportunity to make a difference.' He especially emphasises the diversity of experience.

'In less than two years I have planned catchy phrases for website banners within marketing, carried out new base assessments with commercial, worked to improve the operational robustness of our schedule and tried to enhance our pricing system.'

He adds, 'I developed hard skills, which will help me in my day-to-day job in the future, but I have also gained and improved soft skills such as project and time management, relationship building and presentation abilities.'

Jordi believes the best qualities you can bring to the table are passion and motivation. 'Keep working for whatever your objective is, as perseverance is usually the key for many doors.'