App Review “Come to Jesus”

Dear Network,

We need to have a talk about application reviews. The crusty Green Beret Sergeant Major who taught my high school ROTC class used to call this type of talk a “Come to Jesus meeting.” No, we’re not trying to save your eternal soul. Instead, we’re trying to save your eternally impactful career.

(I don’t have a picture of SGM Charles M. Jay, so you’re getting a picture of a similar conversation between me and my daughter.)

Every time application reviews get mentioned on TPN, or elsewhere for that matter, at least one person chimes in saying that you don’t need to pay for one. He or she asserts that if you just do a good job, look over your app, and have a few buddies do the same, that you’ll be fine.

Sometimes, this person bases his or her opinion on the fact that professional airline application reviews have gotten more expensive lately. He or she may even take exception to the fact that there is an app review industry in the first place. I get where this person is coming from. I wish the airlines would make things sufficiently straightforward that professional application reviews weren’t even a thing.

For the record, this person is correct. You can get hired at a major airline without a professional application review.

Okay Emet, then why did I just put on a Princess Minnie dress?

Well, despite the validity of our commenter’s opinions, I assert that most pilots are better off getting a professional app review done anyway. I think any drama over the topic stems from not understanding what you’re asking for when you sign up to have your app professionally reviewed. So, we’re going to look at what a professional app review is and what it isn’t. We’re going to look at why they cost as much as they do, and discuss how you can get the most out of yours.

Please note that this is not a sales pitch. It’s true that TPN has several sponsors from this industry: Checked and Set does app reviews, Emerald Coast does interview consulting, MilKEEP does logbook conversions, and BogiDope does both application and interview prep for people seeking Guard and Reserve jobs. TPN needs these sponsors’ support to continue providing you valuable resources, but I don’t benefit personally from that. This also isn’t just about our sponsors. I frequently get questions and feedback from pilots who didn’t get what they were expecting from app reviews at a wide variety of companies. I feel bad when that happens. I want each member of the Network to feel like they can get the help they need on their app reviews, and I want each of you to get hired by your dream airline. Let’s see if we can improve your chances today.

You Need an App Review

So here’s the deal: I have completed dozens of free application reviews for friends from past lives, and even complete strangers who reached out to me through TPN.

(Yes, if you can’t find anyone else, I will look at your app for free. Yes, you’ll still need someone else to look over it after me. Yes, if demand gets overwhelming I’ll have to either start turning people down or charging money for my services. More on that later.)

In all the applications I’ve looked at, I have yet to see one that didn’t need corrections. In many cases, there was at least one glaring error that would likely raise a red flag and prevent the pilot in question from getting hired. I don’t care how hard you work, how much attention you pay to detail, or how much time you put into your app. You need someone else to look at it!

The scary thing is that most of the apps I find problems with have already been reviewed by someone else…and in some cases by professionals. Let’s address both sides of that.

Low Quality App Reviews

First, even if you refuse to pay for a professional app review, you need to have some of your buddies look at it for you. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee of the quality you’ll get from those reviews. Some people don’t have the time or attention span to be thorough, especially when they’re working for free. Some don’t have a clue about converting military flight time to civilian formats. Some have no idea what the airlines are looking for. In far to many case’s; you’re buddys commnad, of, the, english Language just suck’s.

Like it or not, “You get what you pay for” applies all too frequently to free application reviews. I wrote an entire book about how much money your airline career is worth. Do you really want to risk all that money and Quality of Life on your buddies’ ability to do a good app review? (Yes, this hyperlink is a shameless sales pitch for my book. Read it anyway. I promise you’ll thank me!)

So maybe you decide you want to pay a pro to look at your app after all. You might feel worried because there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that professional app reviews aren’t perfect either. I’ve seen quite a bit of feedback about some companies just doing an overall poor job. I’ve looked at friends’ apps after a professional review and found numerous errors. How could this happen?

Sadly, the truth is that there are some mediocre companies in this industry. All it takes to start a professional app review service is $12 for a domain name and a passing knowledge of WordPress or Squarespace. As customers, you’re at a disadvantage when it comes to verifying the credentials of the services from which you can choose.

Verifying Credentials

Your best resource for avoiding the bad companies is The Pilot Network. There are numerous posts asking for feedback and recommendations on different companies. (Use Facebook’s search function! If you can’t find what you need, go ahead and post your question.) Although we have several sponsors from this industry, we don’t block or censor comments recommending other companies. I promise you’ll get some valuable feedback right away.

I also recommend attending TPNx 2020 so that you can meet the people in charge of these companies, shake their hands, look them in the eye, and decide for yourself whether they’re the real deal or not. (Also, there’s free food, an open bar, and invaluable education.)

Another way to make sure you get a good company is to go with ones that can clearly show their credentials. If you haven’t already, listen to a recent episode of The Pilot Network Podcast with Charlie Venema of Checked and Set. Charlie explains exactly how he gained his app review expertise. Spoiler alert: in addition to completing countless thousands of app reviews, he was the Chief of Hiring for a major US airline. Personally, I would not apply to that airline without having Charlie review my app.

By the same token, if I was going to apply to Southwest, I would absolutely have my app reviewed by Career Takeoff. The founder of the company, Rebekah Krone, was the Senior Employment Team Lead at Southwest Airlines for more than 9 years! Or, if I didn’t want to work with Career Takeoff for some reason, I’d go to Ace Interview Prep with Vicki Ross who was on the Southwest interview team for 17 years. You really can’t beat those credentials. (A friend of mine, who now flies for Southwest, worked with both of these companies.)

Although I just went on the record recommending each of these services, I’ll admit that I’ve heard feedback from people who found errors remaining in their application, even after having it reviewed. Let’s pause for a moment though and ask ourselves: “Why might this happen?”

What’s A Fair App Review Price?

To figure this out, let’s run through an exercise pretending that I decided to start a company called Uncle Emet’s App Review Service. (UEARS? We’re still working on the name.)

One of the first things I need to do is decide how much to charge for my services. Maybe I want to undercut the Checked and Sets of the world, so I want to price it as low as possible. At the same time, I have to be realistic about the time it takes me to review an app. In most cases, I spend 30-60 minutes looking at any given app and documenting my recommendations. I could probably get a little faster with practice, but I don’t want my quality to suffer. UEARS would include a phone or video call where we discuss my recommendations and address any questions. I’d advertise this as a 60-minute call, expecting to take longer than that with at least 50% of my customers.

I’d probably involve my wife in these calculations. When I tell her what I’m planning, she’d look at the likelihood of me spending at least 2 hours per customer and ask how much time I plan to spend on this little side hustle in a given week. I’ll tell her I hope I get dozens of customers each week because that’ll mean I’m making money and helping lots of good people get hired.

My wife is smart. She’ll look at all this extra work and ask, “Why don’t you just pick up an extra day of flying here and there?”

She has a point, right? I’m on Year 5 A220 Captain pay right now. That’s $246/hr, plus the company’s 16% 401k contribution, plus 16.7% profit sharing this year. Put that together and in the two hours I spent reviewing each app, I could have earned $666. (Hmm…maybe app review is the devil afterall.)

Most of the people in this industry earn a lot more than me too. I’m in Year 5 on a low-paying aircraft. Charlie Venema mentioned on our podcast that he’s a B767 Captain, and I’m pretty sure he’s on the top longevity line on his pay scale. Two hours of his time as an airline pilot is worth even more than mine.

Even if I thought I could get away with charging that much for an app review, this isn’t an entirely fair comparison. I can fit app reviews in during airline layovers, meaning that they don’t have to cost me airline pay. I can also do app reviews on my couch at home, with my family, which offers a QOL bonus that I can’t get while flying for work. Maybe this decreases the value of my app review time slightly.

And yet, if I’m doing app reviews at home, I’m not spending that time engaged with my family…or my endless honey-do list. I frequently drop flying, without hesitation, to prioritize time with my family. Maybe my at-home time is worth that rate.

Although these factors don’t give me a clear answer, they lead me to think that maybe $333/hr is actually a pretty fair value for my time.

Metering Demand

As it stands now, I feel like I’d be totally justified charging at least one hour’s worth of my pay to spend two hours of my life on your app review…let’s make it a round $350. I’ve recently learned another lesson about small business that plays in here though.

I’ve done a lot of writing for TPN over the years. Although I’m far from perfect, I feel like my writing is at least good enough to be proud of in most cases. Companies outside of TPN have noticed this and started offering to pay me to write for them. I’m generally interested because I enjoy both writing and money. However, I’ve started to see so much demand that I’m feeling a bit tapped-out. Part of the reason it took me two years instead of one to write my book, Pilot Math Treasure Bath, is that I was busy writing for other people. Publishing one book has made me want to write more, and I’ve started a lot of projects that I simply can’t get to because of all the other writing I’ve committed to.

I’ve tried to address this in two ways. First, I simply say, “No thanks,” when a new opportunity comes up. There haven’t been any hard feelings yet, and I may end up doing some of that writing in the future. The other way I try to address this is through market forces. When someone asks me to write, I quote them a price that I feel is closer to the top of the market. It’s not unreasonable, but it reflects the value we just calculated for my time and the fact that any new writing I take on will conflict with projects I already have going…including being a husband and father.

This assertive pricing has tempered demand to the point where my workload remains reasonable. It’s a way to say, “Yes,” without selling myself short.

(If you’re interested in writing for money, I’d love to help you get started! Find me on the TPN Community website, send me a PM on Facebook, or email me at jason (at) thepilotnetwork.org.)

Finalizing a Price

Having learned to meter demand for my writing, I would absolutely apply this principle when deciding how much to charge for app review services at UEARS. Personally, I can’t handle 10-20 app reviews each week at two hours each. Realistically, I could probably only do about 2 apps per week if I want to maintain any type of quality, along with my sanity.

Sure, I can hire people and grow the business, but I prefer to start small. Plus, if I hire other people, I have to charge enough to make it worth their while, plus some extra to cover my overhead and make at least a little profit. I’d rather wait to raise prices until after I’ve made a (good) name for myself.

If I only charge $100 for an app review, demand will be insatiable. I’d get dozens or even hundreds of requests each month. It’d be too much. Given my current availability, I’d need to set my price high enough that only a few people would feel like it’s worth it. Tim Ferriss would tell me to use a Google or Facebook ad service to test out several price points at once. I could sign up for several versions of the same ad, promising UEARS app reviews at price points of $600, $500, $400, and $300. Running those ads for a few weeks would show me what the market is willing to pay (and probably generate a lot of work for my first month on the job.) I’d settle on the price that produced roughly two new customers per week, and I bet it would be somewhere in the $400-500 range.

Bang For Your Buck

Let’s say I settle on a price of $450 for a UEARS app review. This reflects the value of my time in both airline pay and family QOL, while metering demand to keep things reasonable. If I were someone like Charlie Venema or Rebekah Krone, this might also reflect the depth of my experience on the hiring side of the airline industry.

I’ve essentially offered to spend about one hour reviewing each app, and one hour talking with you about it on a video chat. Now I need to make sure that I’m providing you a good value for your fee. What can I do to make the most out of our time?

During our conversation, I could start from page one of your application and discuss every spelling, grammar, and formatting error I found. This would be useful as I’ve found that most people are terrible about this stuff. I mean really, truly atrocious. (It’s not all your fault. Human Factors says that the more time you spend staring at your own app, the less likely you are to see any mistakes.)

Unfortunately, most of the apps I review have so many of these stupid little errors, that I could spend most of our hour covering them during our conversation. Is that a good value for your money? Does the person looking for those mistakes really need to be an expert in the aviation industry? Is there anyone else in your life who would find those types of errors, possibly for free, instead of you paying me $450 to do it?

What other type of valuable feedback might I provide during an app review?

First off, I’ve seen some terrible job descriptions on applications. Some are vanilla boilerplate directly from your old airline’s job description website. Some are lines shamelessly copied from military performance reports, and lack any significance or readability for a civilian. Some are so long that they’ll just get ignored. I can provide a lot of value by helping you translate these job descriptions to something concise and impactful. Yes, this can make a difference. No, your buddy who is still serving in the military probably isn’t any better at this than you are.

Second, I’m well-versed in all styles of logbooks, and translating between them. I’m a big General Aviation enthusiast who understands the value that comes from flying a variety of aircraft. I’m uniquely capable of taking a look at the flight hours you report on your application and identifying time when you’re reporting something incorrectly, or if your numbers don’t quite add up.

At best, an error like this could get overlooked during your interview. If things are a little worse, you’ll get asked about it, explain that you’re just ignorant, and spend several minutes sweating while you work a calculator. At worst, what you’ve reported will be an outright violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations and/or this airline’s policies. You’ll look like a moron and be lucky if they don’t just show you the door. No, your buddy who has never flown anything but the F-16 or the KC-135 is not equipped to identify these kids of red flags.

I also have a lot of practice helping people word explanations of failed check rides and driving offenses in ways that simultaneously cover the necessary facts, don’t sound whiny, and put a positive spin on everything. (The pros who have spent decades on this stuff provide even more value here!)

Those are just a few of the types of graduate-level services that I could provide my customers through UEARS. If you were one of my customers, how would you want to spend your hour with me? Covering this graduate level stuff, or listening to me point out 23 errors like how you wrote “Street,” “street,” “St,” “St.,” and [nothing] on different iterations of the exact same address in your app?

Special Flowers

As a pilot, I naturally know that I am Entitled to have everything I want, the way I want it, when I want it, with no consideration to the burden my desires place on others. You know the same thing for yourself, right?

In this light, you might expect me to promise you as much of my time as it takes to go over every single teeny tiny mistake and correction in your app, the moment you pay your fee. Reviewing your app to that level of detail could take a while. Discussing that many issues could take hours.

Is that really fair though? Is your time so much more valuable than mine that I should give you unlimited amounts of it, even after trying to set an honest price based on what this work costs me and my family? How long do you think my wife will be happy with me continuing this business if I operate that way? How long will an app review company exist if it fails to set its prices higher than its costs?

Like it or not, when you pay for a professional app review you’re not paying for an exhaustive overhaul of your application. You’re not getting a concierge who will spend an unlimited amount of time working with you. You’re paying for someone to review your app, probably just once or twice. They’re focused on ways to optimize what you have there. They’re also looking for glaring errors. They’ll address smaller errors if they have time, but most early-draft apps need enough work that it’s tough to get to that point.

Higher Purposes

Another consideration here is my personal motivation for starting UEARS. One of the reasons I turn down some writing jobs is that they just don’t inspire me. I believe it’s important to help military pilots understand what life is like on the outside, and take great pride that I’m contributing to the US military’s pilot shortage. I wrote Pilot Math Treasure Bath because I believe its message has the power to completely change your family’s life for the better. However, I’m not particularly inspired by the idea of spending my layovers writing sales copy. I continue to write because I feel like I’m making a difference.

Charlie Venema gave a fantastic presentation at TPNx 2018. If you were there, you have no doubt that Charlie doesn’t run Checked and Set because he’s after your money. He gave away more than enough secrets for anyone in that room to go out and start a company like Checked and Set (or UEARS.) He does app reviews because he cares about you and me. He wants us to get our dream jobs.

I suspect that another part of his reasoning for running an app review service is to make things easier on his friends at his airline’s hiring department. He knows exactly how mind-numbing it is for them to sift through a pile of terrible apps every day. If he can improve the quality of the submissions they receive, he improves their Quality of Life too. I suspect that many of us will hold those hiring department jobs in the future, and we’ll thank people like Charlie for their work.

As fulfilling as this work has the potential to be, it is not what I would call enthralling. At best, reviewing an app is boring. At worst, it’s frustrating because there’s so much wrong with it. I also feel a lot of pressure based on the fact that my friend’s future rests, in part, on my ability to catch his or her mistakes. 

If personal fulfillment was part of the reason I decided to start UEARS, then I’d want to focus all my efforts on the graduate-level stuff that my customers can’t get anywhere else. If customers started demanding that I instead focus primarily on the little spelling, grammar, and formatting errors that any schmuck should be able to point out for free, then this side hustle would stop being as fulfilling for me. Money completely aside, I can’t imagine myself continuing to run a business that required me to spend all my free time mired in such minuta.

Drawing Conclusions

I hope that our little exercise helped you understand some of the forces at work in the airline application review market.

If you happen to notice that professional application review services fail to alert you to every little error in your app, there are several explanations.

Rough drafts of most airline applications have so many issues that there simply isn’t time to cover everything. A professional app reviewer can have more impact and get more fulfillment from covering big-picture, graduate-level issues that your buddies, your sister, and your former English teacher couldn’t catch for free.

Even if correcting your formatting errors was fulfilling enough to repeat for hundreds of customers every year, it simply isn’t economical for a professional app reviewer to spend enough time on your app to get them all. Each company has to base its pricing on the value of the time spent reviewing your app. If they charge too little, they won’t be able to keep up with demand or their quality will suffer. In order to charge enough to justify spending as much time as your app needs, they’d probably have to price themselves out of the market.

Yes, you’re Mommy’s special little flower, and UEARS should be honored that you allow them to work with you. However, no app review service will continue to exist if the payoffs are less than the costs. Sorry.

A Way Ahead

So Emet, what am I supposed to do?

Here’s the way I see things:

No matter what, you need to get someone else to look at your app because you won’t catch everything on your own. This means you need to ask some of your friends to look at your app, as a favor, for free. (I recommend at least offering to pay with beer.)

If possible, I’d ask a set of friends from different backgrounds to help looking over your app. You definitely want some pilots to run through things, especially if they’ve already been hired by one or more airlines. However, I’d also have a friend, spouse, or other relative who doesn’t work in aviation put eyes on things. He or she will bring different perspectives and pick up on issues that a pilot might overlook.

I believe that step in your application review process needs a lot more emphasis than it tends to get. You need to choose carefully the people you ask to review your work. They need to be detail-oriented and have an above average command of the English language. If you’re lucky enough to have someone in your squadron or company who is really into General Aviation, have that pilot look specifically at your flight hours section. I would plan to do 2-3 iterations of having your app reviewed by friends, taking the time to implement any recommendations between each review.

At this point you have two choices. 1) Get a professional app review, or 2) Submit your app without one.

During the process of having your friends review your app, you should have gotten a feel for how strong it is (or isn’t.) If you don’t have a lot of hours, or other pilot professional development, you might want someone to help you word things to maximum effect. If you got conflicting guidance from different friends, or nobody was sure what to do about a given issue, you might lean toward hiring a pro with lots of experience in airline hiring. If you’re feeling very confident about your app, and/or a bit lucky, you might want to save your money and just submit right away.

Personally, I’d consider asking another friend to look at my app even after I finished working with a pro. Maybe implementing some of their recommendations generated more spelling or formatting issues. Maybe you sent it to the pro full of issues and he or she didn’t even have time to identify or mention the little stuff because you were both focused on bigger-picture improvements. If all a final review costs me is a couple beers, it’d be worth paying for this final look.

I don’t think any of TPN’s sponsors will mind me suggesting these courses of action, given the risk of you deciding you don’t need their services. Although they’re always working to grow their market share, I’m pretty sure their names are well-known enough that they have no shortage of customers. On the other hand, if you actually put as much effort into polishing your app as I’m suggesting, before you send it to a paid service, they will get the luxury of focusing on the fulfilling, impactful work they prefer anyway. Your app will be far better after that review than it could if you’d send them one full of errors large and small. It’s a win for everyone.

Parting (cheap) Shot

Although it’s at least slightly petty, I’m going to suggest one more course of action you might take if you’re unhappy with the current professional app review market: you could start your own company. You need a good side-hustle anyway.

(I just decided that I’ll license the name UEARS for a great price! PM me if you’re interested.)

Do you think that $300+ is too much to charge for an app review? Awesome! Now go prove it! Go reserve a domain name at GoDaddy.com, set up your website (use Wix to do it for free if you don’t want to pay for WordPress or Squarespace,) and start advertising! If you can stay sane, fulfilled, and profitable at a price that beats the competition, you will have no shortage of work. If fact, you’ll need to spend as much time hiring, training, and managing employees as you do reviewing apps. Global airline hiring hasn’t even hit its peak. You have several years to build your brand and market share until things slow down (slightly…they’re forecasted to not drop much below 2014 levels for a very long time.) Before you know it, you’ll have enough work to make this side hustle a full-time job.

I wish you luck in your endeavors and I hope you’ll consider sponsoring TPN as part of your company’s approach to marketing and outreach!

Whether you take the leap into entrepreneurship or not, please help me spread the word about what app reviews are and what they aren’t. Help your friends understand that they’re buying a limited quantity of someone else’s time, and put that time into context for them. Help them understand where professional app review services provide the most value and convince them to spend time perfecting all the little stuff in their app before paying a pro. It’s better to use friends and family to catch the little stuff for free, and let the pros focus on making your app more impactful and danger-free.

I understand why there’s been some disappointment with app review services in the past. However, I feel like a lot of that is based on unrealistic expectations. You need a review of some kind. If you get a professional review done, approaching it the right way really pays off. Being an airline pilot is an unreasonably awesome career, and I don’t want anyone to miss out on a dream job because of a sloppy application. If you choose to invest a few hundred dollars in an app review, I promise you’ll be glad you did when you finally get the job of your dreams.

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