How DECA Helped My Career Dreams Take Off

Internships are a great way to gain experience in a business or industry that interests you. I have had a lifelong interest in the airline industry and my experience as a DECA member helped me land my dream internship on the social media team at United Airlines last summer.

I wanted to share some skills I learned as a DECA member that helped me succeed in my internship.

Find and Follow Your Passion

When I told people that I would be spending the summer as an intern at United Airlines, the response I often got was some variation of, “Do you want to be a pilot?” Many people I talked to did not think of working in marketing at an airline as a potential career option. I thought that way too, until I competed in the Travel and Tourism Marketing and Management event my freshman year of high school.

One of the things that my DECA advisor told members was, “Everything is a business. Follow your passion.” As I thought about this more, I realized how true it is. No matter what industry you have a passion for, companies in that industry need employees who have an understanding of the skills that DECA helps develop.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

A couple of weeks after I first joined DECA, two members in my chapter asked if I was interested in competing in the International Business Plan event with them. As a quiet freshman with no business plan writing experience, I thought that I would be crazy to say yes. After ignoring my initial uncertainty and putting in several hundred hours of hard work with my team, we won first place at the state competition! By the time I was a senior in high school I had written multiple business plans, won first place at the state level four years in a row, was part of the only student finalist team in a competition for $250,000 and launched two ventures.

Throughout my internship at United, I had several experiences that pushed me out of my comfort zone in a way that helped me grow. One of the most memorable was an improv comedy class that the United campus recruiting team helped organized for the interns. The class felt awkward at first, but was a valuable experience that helped me to think quicker on my feet.

Seek Learning Opportunities

If you find a specific event or aspect of DECA to be interesting, don’t be afraid to learn more about it! During my junior year in DECA, I was elected to serve as the reporter on the Kansas DECA state officer team. As the reporter, I was responsible for managing social media content calendars for Kansas DECA. I was interested in learning more about how brands use social media and decided to join the Kansas City chapter of the Social Media Club. At the first event I attended, a manager from a large US airline presented a case study on how his airline uses social media to develop relationships with customers. After listening to his presentation as a high school student, I knew that I eventually wanted to spend time working on the social media team of an airline.

At United, interns were able to attend several lunch-and-learn events where senior leaders discussed their experiences and answered questions. I made sure to attend as many of these events as I could, and was able to learn from company leaders such as the CEO as well as the senior vice presidents of various departments, including e-commerce, sales and technical operations.  

Have Fun

Every once in a while don’t forget to take a step back and enjoy the moment. In my time as a DECA member I attended social events at the state and international conferences, and still stay in contact with members I met.

United offered their interns a unique privilege many other companies can’t offer – unlimited free space available travel. I spent most of my weekends traveling the world and exploring new cities. It was not unusual for me to spend my Friday evenings in San Francisco, my Saturday afternoons in New York and be back home in Chicago by Sunday afternoon. Some highlights from my summer included a day trip to Hawaii, a weekend trip to Europe, seven total trips to California, four flights on the 787 Dreamliner and occasionally running into national DECA president, Carter Christensen, at Chicago O’Hare.

No matter what industry you’re hoping to work for, your DECA experience can help take you farther than you realize. You should always be looking for opportunities to apply your DECA skills, even in situations that aren’t explicitly business related.

The bottom line is that DECA prepares emerging leaders to succeed, no matter what altitude they may find themselves at. 

Follow Jaspreet on Twitter @JaspreetTravels.

Categories: Alumni, Profiles