I recently interviewed successfully with the Southwest Airlines Co. for an intern position. This was my first real interview with an airline (and being 21 and a college junior, my first "real" job interview). Fortunately for me, it was with a company I love and would love working for! I interviewed with a panel of seven interviewers, and I can honestly say that I've never felt as comfortable in an interview setting--even one-on-one--as I did at Southwest.
Of course my education and background were just what Southwest was looking for. The intern program is hugely competitive, and if this wasn't the case, Southwest wouldn't have gone through the trouble to fly me to Dallas for the interview, anyway. While those things are important, the most sought-after trait among Southwest new-hires is a fun-loving attitude. A maxim for the People Department has always been to hire for attitude, and train for skills.
I took a dressier approach to business casual (no suit) and wore a tie with vintage airplanes and colorful bag-tags that looked like the ones Southwest used to have. The combination subtly told interviewers that I can be serious about an interview (or job), but that I don't take myself too seriously. To top it off, so to speak, going into the interview I wore an inflatable Southwest Airlines 737 hat (it has a headband that goes around your head and secures with velcro, proudly reading "Southwest Airlines" across the forehead). Down the hallway to the conference room where the interview was to be held, heads turned, folks laughed, and faces lit up with big, bright smiles! In the conference room, everyone laughed and smiled as I shook hands. Before we began, I explained myself: "I imagined that it's probably just as easy for you to get worked up over an interview as it is for me, and I thought this (the hat) would be a great way to break the ice." They agreed. "But," I continued, "I'm going to take the hat off before we begin so that you can take me seriously during the interview." They told me to leave it on, but at this point I felt silly. We got on with our interview. I'm not sure if my icebreaker had really worked, or if it was the close affinity I feel to Southwest and its corporate culture, but I really did feel at home with the folks that took the time and care to interview with me, and in general at Southwest Airlines.
The interview set out with me being asked to tell the interview panel about myself. I was then asked about classes I've taken that I enjoyed (and why), and on the flip side, some that I haven't enjoyed so much. I was asked about my experience working in residence life at Western Michigan University, which I used to highlight my teamwork and people skills. I was asked to tell about a time when I worked in a group that didn't work effectively, how I handled the situation, and what the outcome was; and about a time when I thought I went above and beyond, either in work or school. All general interview fare. Because on my resume I had listed "sense of humor" as a primary qualification, I was also asked to give a sample, which I did. We all spent a few moments laughing again. The only question I was caught off guard by (remember, this is Southwest Airlines) was when I was asked: "Who's your favorite superhero?" I used it as a segue to tell them more about my experience in residence life (and to give a better idea of my sense of humor). "Last year, when I was making a bulletin for the month of February, when everyone else was making hearts, and flowers, and bows and arrows, I made an educational board for my residents on safe-sex with a fictional superhero that I made-up named Captain Condom..." We laughed some more. In the end, I had to admit that I hadn't ever given much thought to who my favorite superhero might be. But I later made an excellent recovery (read on)!
At the end of the interview, I put a package on the table with a whole bunch of padded notepads (like post-its, but without the sticky part). I had designed and made them just for this purpose in an imaging course I took this fall. The pads were interleaved with multiple colors and four different sayings, all with the word "nuts" (Nuts about you!, Gone Nuts!, Totally Nuts!, and In a Nutshell). Each sheet also carried "compliments of Christopher N. Sultana" (clever, I thought...what a great way to be remembered when it comes time to make a hiring decision). A receptionist pointed out to me that I had forgotten the most obvious one: "Just 'Plane' Nuts!" But that didn't stop my notepads from being a hit, not just with the interviewers, but with everyone that I gave them out to (pretty much everyone I met at Headquarters).
When I left the People Department, I had several hours before my flight home. I asked if there was someplace in the building I could stay and write some thank you notes. I was issued a visitors pass and shown to "The Landing", Southwest's Employee cafeteria overlooking Love Field. While I was there, I met Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett. I was in awe to see them, and a small group had gathered around them when they came in. I asked a man who was eating his lunch if he thought Mr. Kelleher and Ms. Barrett would mind if I introduced myself after explaining why I was visiting Headquarters to begin with. "God no! Herb's such a conversationalist, he'd talk to a fly on the wall if he thought it would talk back! I think they'd love to meet you." This was the answer I was hoping for. I went and stood in the small circle that had gathered around Herb and Colleen, a little to the side. When Herb finished speaking with the gentleman he was talking to, he looked over, saw my visitor's pass, came right over to me with his hand outstretched and introduced himself. I told him the purpose of my visit, and he wished me the best of luck, saying "I hope we'll be welcoming you aboard!" When we were done, he turned to Colleen and personally introduced me. They were such nice people, and very down-to-earth. It was an amazing opportunity to have met with them.
As I continued writing, I got to the note I was writing for the interviewer that asked about my favorite superhero. Here's where I made my recovery. I wrote: "I was caught off-guard when you asked about my favorite superhero. I have many heroes, though most don't possess super powers otherworldly strength. Most are ordinary people like you and I, and I was fortunate to meet two of them today after our interview when I met Mr. Kelleher and Ms. Barrett. Their maverick spirit and commitment to the People of Southwest Airlines is truly inspiring, and I don't believe that Southwest would be what it is today without their forward thinking and positive leadership." Whew!
I went back down to the People Department to leave the notes with the recruiter I was working with. I figured folks would get their notes sooner if they were sent through interoffice mail. By now, a few hours had passed. When she met me again to take my notes, she told me that the interview panel had convened after my interview, and that even though they had said I would know in a few days, they really enjoyed interviewing with me, thought my skills and background were right for the position, and that I would be a "great SWA fit." Before I left, I had already been extended the offer, and I accepted it gratefully. I went to shake the recruiter's hand, but instead was waved-off. "None of that handshake business here, you're family now. Gimmie a Southwest hug!" It was my first of many to come on the way home, from ticket agents, to flight attendants.
I don't tell this story because I'm full of myself. Yes, I was very lucky to be offered an intern position at Southwest Airlines, and I'm incredibly proud to be the Spirit of Southwest Airlines (it even says so on everyone's Employee ID
, I believe). I know that I might sound like a brown-noser, but when you're really passionate about something, you give it all the care and effort you have. I wanted to share the story behind my interview because it is amazing, and this--or at least a lot of it--is probably a typical experience for anyone that interviews with Southwest. I didn't come across ONE person that had a bad thing to say about their company during my whole trip. Everyone I met was friendly, and went out of the way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. Even Herb and Colleen (maybe that's not part of a typical interview experience) made it a point to take an interest and care about me and the position I was seeking. I hadn't expected to have an offer so soon (if at all--I'm sure there were many strong candidates), but to have received the offer personally really made an already very positive experience into something memorable and grand.
Thanks for reading and sharing in my experience!
[edited for spelling]
[Edited 2006-12-01 18:29:22]
Opinions expressed by "iflyswa" are not those of Southwest Airlines Officers, Directors, or Employees.