Lessons From A United Airlines Intern

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Lessons From A United Airlines Intern

This is a guest blog post written by Drew Dunkin.

This past summer I was an intern for United Airlines in Houston working for the Flight Operations Division as the Intern Coordinator. I owe all my success and experience to Lauren’s book “All Work, No Pay”. It was my road map and bible for the internship. I relied on it from start to finish along with my family.

I helped pilots learn the iPad with the flight manuals and its purpose in the cockpit while also getting new hires scheduled for drug tests, flights, hotels and much more. It was a well-rounded internship with not one day being the same thing. I recommend even if you are not a flight major to pursue an airline. The internships they have – from marketing, engineering, and even social media – might surprise you.

Below are five things that made my internship great. They are typical points, but I made sure to put my own spin on them. Before we get started, I want to talk about something crazy I did that all interns should do.
In Lauren’s book, she talks about how she found Ken Baker’s business card, the editor of US Weekly Magazine, and took a chance by emailing him; well mine is a similar story. One day we had a conference call with the CEO of the airline, Jeff Smisek, with all 75 interns for United Airlines about where he came from and where he wants to see United be in a few years. I thought I would take the chance and email him. Being an intern, I was skeptical at first, would I step on toes or burn bridges being at the low end of the totem pole emailing the highest figure in the company?

After talking to a few people, I decided to take a chance and I am glad I did. I wrote a formal thank you note talking about the conference call and also pulled some talking points from speeches I had seen him give in the past, plus some company publications that Lauren always tells us to find and read. I received an email back from him saying how grateful he was I wrote to him and that not many, if any, interns take a chance at writing him. He said that he wished people would really take to heart the open door policy he states. I was glad I wrote him, but if you do write your CEO or President, make sure to ask around before doing so. Our CEO has a great open door policy and some others may not.

Below are five points to make your internship a great experience like mine was.

1. Always say yes!
This probably seems like beating the nail on the head but take this seriously. There were tasks that I jumped at and was known around the office as the guy that would get it done and done right. Leaving my internship, my managers raved about my ability to step up and always be a self-starter.

2. Ask for more:
At times when I would get low on work, I would always turn to my managers and ask if he needed any help. United is currently hiring a lot of pilots, so my manager was always busy and was glad when I could take some work from him. It allowed me to get involved with the hiring process for pilots which was a great skill for when I come back to apply in a few years. It gave my internship a more well-rounded experience instead of always doing the same thing.

3. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone:
This was a game changer for my internship. If I had not stepped out of my comfort zone I would not have emailed our CEO. There were experiences that I was able to be a part of because I jumped at the idea when usually I would have second guessed. One of which was when my manager invited me out to dinner with top executives who were in town for a meeting the next day. I remember at first thinking that it sounded very intimidating but I can definitely say that was one of the most memorable nights. Instead of meeting people and asking what their job was and their role in the company or what airplane they flew, I got to know them on a personal level and finding out about their family and what their personal life was. This put me a step above the other interns in that the management also got to see me for who I truly was.

4. Meet as Many People:
Meet as many people as you can from the executives to even the people who work on the same level or below you. At United they have over 85,000 coworkers and each person has a part to play in the operation. I met outstanding executives not only in Houston but also Chicago and Denver. Do not just meet the executives but also grow relationships with your fellow interns. You all can help each other not only during the internship but down the road when everyone is looking for a job.

5. Take Advantage of It All and Have Fun:
This sounds like a simple task and really ties all four of the previous tips together but can make or break your internship. Have a blast with any internship you get. If you are having fun then the management will see and it will shine through the work you do. You will be invited to more opportunities and you will get more out of your internship. Jump at the sight of something different or odd, it might surprise you with an outstanding outcome. Do not just sit back and think everything is going to come to you since you have the internship. Just like you did with all the work leading towards the internship with the Intern Queen Dream List and the company research. Take advantage of all the opportunities the company provides. The internship is still a full time job and should be treated as that. Remember they are usually a 3-4 month long interview anyway so put your best foot forward each day and keep your head held high with the best attitude you can give.

I am a senior at Auburn University majoring in Professional Flight. I hope to one day fly for an airline and hopefully that be United Airlines. Lauren Berger came to our campus last spring and spoke about internships. I recommend going out and getting her book “All Work, No Pay”. Do not wait around for someone else to kick start your internship, this is your life, this is your dream career, so make the most out of it and do the best you can.

Want to have Lauren Berger speak at your school? Email info@theguildagency.com.