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A Lifelong Pilot Grounded Herself, Changed Career Direction & Now Empowers Others

Updated: May 26, 2020

Tiffany Miller Campbell had enjoyed a successful eighteen year career as a pilot for a major airline. Her most recent position was flying the Boeing 787 internationally. Last spring a health challenge literally grounded her from her long-held career. This new health circumstance required different work priorities.

Tiffany still wanted - and needed - to work. The new role would ideally accomodate a stable circadian rhythm, a schedule to support mindful parenting of her twelve year old son, minimal travel, retirement planning, and a Seattle area location. Her airline employer had a firm non-compete clause to carefully navigate. While she had years of flight experience as a pilot, as well as a background as a primary flight instructor, she was unsure how to balance the various health, time, location, and legal limitations required.

Working with The Swing Shift, she recently accepted a new role as a simulator flight instructor with Alaska Air Group. Tiffany talks here about how this shift occurred, how she explored her options to move to a different capacity, and insight into the larger job search process, especially when so much has changed in the past twenty years.

Q: Tiffany we’re delighted to hear about your new role as a simulator flight instructor! Specifically what will you be doing?

A: I am so grateful for this opportunity. For the first several months I will be trained to fly the Boeing 737 with Alaska Air standards and procedures. Then I will be trained to conduct flight training in the flight training device, full flight simulator, and classroom ground training to develop and reinforce Alaska flight procedures in normal, abnormal, and emergency flight operations. I admire the people, culture, and performance of Alaska Air Group.

Q: How did your past work history support this career shift?

A: I have dreamed of flying since I was a young teenager. On my sixteenth birthday my Uncle sent me up on a glider flight. It was an incredible experience to fly in a small aircraft. After saving some money I began my formal flight training at Boeing Field when I was seventeen. I have varied experience flying all manner and size of aircraft with several different missions. The range includes small personal aircraft, primary flight instruction, corporate jets, helicopters, regional aircraft, and several different commercial jets. My career has given me experience fostering cooperative relationships through two corporate mergers, culture integration, observing other airline procedures as I sat on various flightdeck jumpseats on my commute, scaling up complexities, furlough, pilot training requirements, and scheduling priorities. I have and will draw on my experiences to relate to my students and coworkers. Some of the best information I have received is by listening my peers discuss their experiences.

Q: When you originally contacted The Swing Shift, you were very disheartened about what you might do professionally other than fly. What was the thing that changed your mind, and brought you to this new role of flight instruction?

A: Over several months and through extensive research, trial and error, effort, and the support of numerous health professionals, my health gradually improved and my optimism followed. It took some time to process and accept that my health challenge required a new career direction. I missed flying very much.

A good friend introduced me to a professional woman who was a wonderful and patient mentor. She helped me see that my circumstances offered me a unique opportunity to consider all manner of career directions. I diligently worked hard to consider various possibilities. Some of the avenues I used were books such as “Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans, “Reinvention Road Map” by Ryan, “The Confidence Code” by Kay and Shipman, various Ted Talks, YouTube videos and wonderful professional friends, personal friends, and family.

Q: What were some key things you learned from attending the The Swing Shift events that helped you through your career transition?

A: My first phone call with Nancy was very uplifting and motivating. She was supportive and her confidence radiated throughout the conversation. Nancy had numerous unique and energizing ideas and contacts. I attended the monthly Swing Shift meetings and kept a notebook to document my job search path. It helped me see my effort tangibly on paper. At the meetings, I was inspired by the interesting, accomplished, creative and dynamic women who were making career changes also. They were very positive and encouraging and introduced me to people they thought would help. I listened to terrific suggestions from Nancy, Sarah and others and began to network. Nancy introduced me to a generous individual who was very motivated to help me. I did extensive online research, went on informational interviews, and monthly professional mixers to see what was possible. Once the momentum got going, I started to work through the various barriers. A particular concern was the non-compete clause required at my former position. It was a great relief to have my former airline employer sign legal documentation allowing me to work at Alaska Air Group.

Q: For other women who are contemplating a similar type of shift - whether it’s to a new role, new industry, or returning after a break - what do you recommend they think about as they look into making this move?

A: The biggest piece I was missing was taking ideas and turning them into action. In my case I needed to break down my actions into small steps. I did a lot of online research, conducted phone conversations with others, and had informational interviews.

I consciously gave myself permission to ask questions, to fail, and to accept redirection as I explored. This process of navigating a new direction continues now as I work to contribute to the needs and aspirations of the Alaska Air training department..

Q: You had been in the same role for a long time. As you prepared and interviewed, what was the biggest difference you noticed in the process compared to the last time you were looking for a job?

A: The vast digital demands and vulnerabilities of looking for a job were a challenge. I found the need to develop my personal brand and market myself on digital platforms to be very uncomfortable. The friction between competing IT systems was very frustrating.

The actual interview was encouraging. I was given the opportunity to teach a flying procedure and it was a pleasure to fully try on that role. I am very grateful to all of the instructors and mentors who have helped me on my path. It is so exciting to learn and evolve in my professional expertise. Now I will have the opportunity to empower others to reach their professional goals and potential.


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