Published on March 5, 2019, at 10:05 a.m.
by Hudson Nuckolls.
Southwest Airlines Co. is not only one of the most prestigious airlines, but also companies, in the world. Taking its first flight in 1971, it now carries the second most passengers per month as of 2016, 144 million, according to IMM International. The company’s mission is “dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit,” according to its website.
The airline has consistently achieved this mission. It ranked number one in customer satisfaction in 2018, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, posting a high ASCI score of 80 for the third straight year. In addition, it was the top airline on Fortune’s World’s Most Admired Companies in 2019, ranking at #11 overall.
It is also one of the most prestigious employers in the world. “We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer,” Southwest’s Careers webpage claims.
Southwest appears to deliver on its promise to its more than 53,000 employees. It received the highest ranking of all airlines on Forbes’ Global 2000: World’s Best Employers list. The company also appears as #10 on Glassdoor’s 2019 Best Places to Work rankings.
For recent graduates, Southwest Airlines is a coveted place to be hired. It’s named one of Forbes’ Best Employers For New Grads. One of the best ways to become a full-time employee at any company is interning. According to a Yahoo Finance article titled “Forget Google: Here Are 5 Awesome Internships You Should Know About,” over 55 percent of all students interning anywhere in 2015 received at least one full-time job offer after graduating. Southwest’s internship program, Campus Reach, is also one of the most prestigious internship opportunities. It appears on National Intern Day’s Top 100 Internship Programs of 2018.
As with many popular internships, the process is highly competitive. In 2015, 311 interns were hired from an applicant pool of more than 14,000, according to the same Yahoo Finance article. What makes this internship program, or any position at Southwest so highly sought-after?
An important part of any job is who you’re surrounded by on a daily basis. Southwest Airlines stakes its foundation on its people. When asked what made her Southwest internship unique, Allie McKee, a summer 2018 intern, said it was “the culture of loving one another and putting your people first, whether they were employees or customers.” Alyssa Comins, another summer 2018 intern, shared a quote she heard from her manager on her first day: “Your bad day at Southwest is still going to be better than your good day at any other company.” Comins said this became true for her by the end of the summer because of the people with whom she got to spend every day with.
The development of a people-focused environment starts with the company placing an intentional emphasis on personality when hiring. Both McKee and Comins, in separate interviews, said, “Southwest hires for personality and trains for skill.” The recruiters want to get to know the people they are looking to hire. This careful construction of personalities on teams has attributed to the strong culture that is currently in place.
Once the interns are hired and onboarded, they are not treated like the stereotype — making copies and coffee runs. Instead, they are valued and supported.
Comins explained, “The human resources professionals (also called the “People Department”) would sit down with us two to three times during our internship to make sure that we were getting the experiences we wanted.” She added that every employee “genuinely wants you to succeed,” which she believed is what made the internship the best experience that anyone can be a part of.
McKee shared that one of the most difficult learning experiences she faced during her time was learning to receive constructive criticism from her intern managers, but believed it was also what grew her the most. Being able to share constructive feedback in order to grow people is a sign of a healthy culture.
One benefit that sets Campus Reach apart from other internship programs is its main perk: free flights. Every intern is able to fly standby on any Southwest flight for no cost.
When explaining what makes Southwest’s internships better than others, McKee said, “You don’t get those exhilarating, after-hour, travel experiences from other internships.” She added that these adventures allowed her to get to know the other interns. They would pack a suitcase with clothes for any weather condition, walk up to the departures screen and say, “Where should we go this weekend?” From a day trip to San Diego, like Comins took, to a weekend trip to Cancun, like McKee went on, the interns are constantly taking advantage of these flight privileges.
McKee said she realized something on her flight back from Cancun, however: “It’s not about the places you go … the people that surround you are what make the journey worth it.”
CEO Garry Kelly said, “Our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring longterm competitive advantage.” Herb Kelleher, the founder of Southwest Airlines, is responsible for making people the cornerstone of the company. He was quoted in “The Power Advantage” by Joe Currier, saying, “The people of Southwest have always been my pride, my joy and my love. Their indomitable dedication and esprit de corps have taken Southwest from a three-airplane dream to a 500-airplane reality.”
Southwest is built on people, and its internship program gives students a unique opportunity to become a part of a culture that has contributed to the airline’s success as a favorite among its customers and employees.