So you want to be a flight attendant …
it was the best decision I ever made.
And ever since I started my career with Emirates Airline, moved to the Middle East and started travelling the world with a fancy red hat; countless friends and friends of friends have asked me about the interview process, what the company is looking for and how I ended up as a flight attendant in Dubai.
It has been four and half years since I arrived in the desert and two years since I left, but based on my experience and that of my flying friends I’ve decided to break it down for you; to prepare you for the big interview day, for the big move to the Middle East, and for the big, beautiful world that you’re about to inherit.
My story starts in Thailand where I was living as a beach bum and English teacher when a friend encouraged me to apply for Emirates, a company that, being Canadian, I had hardly ever heard of.
With her enthusiasm and my free time, I found their website, researched the company, created an online profile, checked their open days (there were no upcoming ones in Thailand) and didn’t think much about it.
A few weeks later, an email arrived when I was at the Full Moon party on Koh Phangan inviting me to an Assessment day and the next thing I knew I was washing off my glow paint and on my way to Bangkok to compete with hundreds of applicants for a coveted spot as Emirates cabin crew.
My interview process was out of the ordinary because I was already living in a foreign country and was the only native English speaker and foreign woman in a group of 450 Thai applicants. But this worked to my advantage because I instantly stood out from the crowd and had already proven that I could survive outside the comforts of my own country. Since Emirates invests quite a bit of money to move you to Dubai and to train you to their standards, proving that you will be a worthy investment goes a long way.
My number one advice to any applicant who really wants this opportunity is to apply from a country other than your own. If you’re from Canada but travelling for 6 months in Kenya, try to apply from Nairobi. If you’re from Ireland and there aren’t an upcoming assessment days, make the effort to get to one in London.
Because the truth is that it’s harder to be selected for a career with Emirates than it is to get into Harvard, and although there are thousands of applicants from around the world only 5% are actually chosen. This makes standing out from the crowd and being memorable particularly crucial, and the best way to do that is to take a chance and to step out of the box (or your borders, so to speak.)
It’s pretty unrealistic though for most of you that you will be living in a foreign country when you go to apply for Emirates, but you can relax because I have plenty of friends who went through the process in their own country and still ended up with the offer. The biggest difference was that their assessment process was that it was a few days shorter, with much fewer applicants and without the English proficiency test.
My interview process in Thailand was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and stretched across 5 days as they cut 450 applicants down to just 30 hopefuls. Over those 5 days applicants participated in group work, wrote a psychometric test, wrote an English proficiency test and sat down for a final one-on-one interview.
A little bit about,
Group Work: Don’t be intimidated, all that happens here is that you’re split into small groups, given an idea, asked to expand on it and then present it to the Interviewer.
One example might be: You’re a production company making a movie and need to cast two leading stars. Decide as a group on which actors you would choose and explain why.
The purpose of this exercise is to see how you work in a group, if you take a passive or aggressive lead, if you engage at all, etc. My best advice here is to be the leader but not the boss, (as you’ll need these skills onboard anyways) and the recruitment team will appreciate your ability to listen to others.
Psychometric Test: also not as scary as it sounds, a psychometric test is an impossibly long written test that asks general questions and provides a few options where there’s really no wrong answer. All they’re looking for here is to see how your brain operates and to test your numerical, verbal, diagrammatic and most importantly: situational reasoning skills. My best advice here is to answer each question honestly (I even admitted to hating the sound of loud noises in small places, aka a baby crying on a plane) because the test is intentionally riddled with similar questions throughout meant to catch you for inconsistency or extremes. The psychometric test is also considered further down the road and used during your final interview, so save yourself the drama and just be you.
English Proficiency Test: only applicable in countries where English is not the official language, it is mostly a comprehension test with a written component.
Final 1-on-1 Interview: after 450 applicants had been whittled down to 30, the ones left standing were invited to have a twenty minute conversation with a recruitment officer and if you can keep your cool about you, it really is just that, a conversation. In Bangkok I watched a lot of women freak out about the interview, over prepare, become too nervous and let the interviewer see that this was their be-all-end-all. For me, and for a lot of my colleagues onboard and in the sky, most of their experiences were like mine regardless of where they came from, in that they hadn’t even intended to ever be a flight attendant or end up in Dubai. There are so many stories of cabin crew who only went to the interview to accompany their diehard friends and got the job instead. My best advice here is to be determined but not desperate, to already have a job while you are applying and to go in with the attitude that they need you and you need them.
I imagine I might have scared you just there when I said that the psychometric test is used in the final 1 on 1 interview, but it’s only used to provoke questions from the interviewer in regards to how you work. For example, if you were to answer, “Strongly agree” on the question, “I will speak up for what is right when I know that something is wrong” – they might ask you about a time in the past where you had to go over the head of your manager about something that wasn’t right, or step in on behalf of a friend, etc.
If you don’t have examples to support your answers or if you have lied throughout the test, the interviewer will know this before your twenty minutes is up. My only advice here is to just be you.
On www.emiratesgroupcareers.com they advertise recruitment like this:
Do you have what it takes to be part of our team?
The Emirates Cabin Crew requirements are:
• At least 21 years of age at the time of joining
• Arm reach of 212 cm while standing on tiptoes
• High school graduate (Grade 12)
• Fluency in English (Written and Spoken)
• No visible tattoos while in Emirates Cabin Crew uniform (cosmetic and bandage coverings not permitted)
• Physically fit to meet the Emirates Cabin Crew requirements
• A positive attitude and empathy for others
• Strong cultural awareness and the ability to adapt to new environments and people
• Flexibility and the motivation to manage a demanding work schedule
• Qualities necessary to live up to the mission and values that Emirates holds in high regard – Professional, Empathetic, Progressive, Visionary, Cosmopolitan
and all of it is true.
But here are the other truths that they don’t mention:
Appearance : I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you that Emirates is a brand and that when you wear their uniform you become a living, breathing billboard when you walk through international airports, check into hotels and represent the company.
As one of the most recognizable brands in the world, Emirates takes their reputation and marketing very seriously and they don’t mess around. If you join the company at a healthy weight and eat one too many cheese platters from business class when you’re bored out of your mind and locked in a metal tube at 3 in the morning flying over Bejing (been there, done that), then you run the risk of falling outside of your BMI and being put on fat-watch (which is NOT what its really called, but what it actually is) and then officially in fat-camp where you’re grounded from flying and have to go to a nutritionist. The same type of “support” goes on if you manage to loose too much weight from the flying lifestyle (good luck with that) or develop a Dubai eating disorder and while either of these shouldn’t be joked about, they’re very realistic added pressures that probably didn’t exist at your old job.
You don’t have to be a beauty queen to work for Emirates but you do have to have a nice smile, a natural hair colour and to be within your BMI (body mass index). In my three years and thousands of colleagues I never once met an employee with braces on their teeth; interesting coloured hair or one whom was obviously overweight. When you work for Emirates, you sign a form that you won’t dye your hair colour two shades darker or brighter than your natural hair colour, that you don’t have any tattoos in which you haven’t marked on a diagram and you resign yourself to a whole contract full of gelish manicures (which must be polished with Emirates red or French, if you’d like to go to work).
Your weight is taken annually; your entire health history assessed and before you are sent the final offer of employment you have to provide various medical examinations and prove that you have an almost perfectly clean bill of health.
Education: A pretty humbling thing that you’ll quickly learn onboard is that since Emirates hires from over 180 different countries worldwide, you’ll have an incredible cross-section of colleagues. For example I had friends who were waitresses, hairdressers, nurses, lawyers, accountants, and even doctors back home but that had come to Dubai for opportunities that they couldn’t have in their own countries.
As long as you have your high school GED, I don’t believe that it’s possible to be over or under qualified to be cabin crew.
Experience Flying: Emirates hires ex-crew from all over the world but you have just as good a chance of being hired if you’ve never worked on an aircraft before as you do if you have. There’s even a rumour that Emirates prefers to hire cabin crew that don’t have any flying experience so that they can mold you with their own procedures and standards, so don’t worry too much about this part. Again, if you have your high school GED, you’re good to give it a go.
Experience abroad: there is no rhyme, reason or requirement to this as I had flying friends who were the children of diplomats and had grown up moving from country to country and friends who had never really been outside their own. One of my friends, who is Canadian but had grown up in Dubai didn’t get past the first stage, another friend who hasn’t lived outside of Ontario got to the final interview. My best advice here is to always take any opportunity to travel and to jump right into different cultures and new cities. This will make your transition to the cabin crew lifestyle seem a little saner and your life a lot more interesting.
Emirates was an incredible opportunity and a great place to work, but like all sparkly things it eventually faded and by the time my three year contract was up I was already gone. But for the 2.5 years that I worked for Emirates and lived in the Middle East, the company provided me with a fully furnished shared apartment, sent a shuttle around to take me to work, paid me with a tax-free salary, offered discounted flights around the world on most any airlines, provided a guaranteed flight home to my home country once a year and allowed me to live a pretty ridiculous lifestyle in the most ridiculous city in the world.
By the end of my third year there, I was tired of living in a place in which I didn’t want to, in which the rules were so different from my own, I was exasperated with staff travel, over-booked flights, beyond reasonable passengers; exhausted from the insomniac lifestyle of setting an alarm at 10pm to wake up for a 20hour day, crossing over time zones for less than 24 hours, over eating too many cheese platters and had fully realized that I was less myself every day that I stayed and more and more becoming bitter staff # 444650.
So I left, and came home, which brings me right back to the beginning of this blog:
That joining Emirates was the best decision I ever made, but that leaving it was the second.
My best advice here is to take this incredible opportunity, see how beautiful the world is, get lost, introduce yourself to everything and everyone, sob from loneliness, laugh with new friends, fill up your passport, learn who you are and what matters most to you– and then take the world with you move on.
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