It’s not uncommon for job seekers to look for assistance or professional advice when preparing for an interview, but Charlie Hobson, Ph.D., professor of management at the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics, believes that interviewers and their companies can also benefit from formal interview training. That’s why Hobson and the IU Northwest Center for Management Development offer an interview-skills seminar as part of their comprehensive package of training and development tools for Northwest Indiana businesses.
On Aug. 16, Hobson engaged 16 managers from U.S. Steel Gary Works in a series of exercises and discussions aimed at preparing them for upcoming recruiting trips. These employees were not all human-resource people, but instead were managers from myriad departments, and some of them were preparing for their first experience interviewing prospective employees. The managers said their presence at the seminar was part of the company’s strategy to involve department managers in the hiring process, since they’re more aware of what personnel skills and attributes they need in new hires than general human-resource employees might be.
“We are putting a major effort into getting employees who are cross-functional,” explained Sandy Armstrong, staff supervisor for labor relations at U.S. Steel. “In the past, this just would have been handled by human resources.”
“I wouldn’t have the first idea what to ask an engineer, for instance,” explained Terry Nallenweg, staff supervisor for Mill Accounting East at U.S. Steel. “It’s better to let the engineers interview engineers.”
Yet the human-resource component of effective interviewing remains crucial, according to Hobson, because today there are so many questions and topics that are inappropriate or even illegal for interviewers to bring up. Conversely, he said, there are questions and topics that should be raised with job candidates whether the interviewees bring them up or not. Since engineers, accounting managers, line operators, and other professionals within a company might not be familiar with these issues, the CMD’s interview seminar schools them in how to ask the right questions, project the right image, and ultimately land the right employee.
For example, Hobson recalled a newly hired line manager at the steel mill who immediately began looking for another job because he didn’t believe he could work with the union. The man had been a drill sergeant in the U.S. Marines, Hobson said, and he brought that same bearing to his duties as line manager, an approach that caused immediate conflict with the union workers.
“If someone had told him what he might encounter in that situation, he might not have taken the job,” Hobson explained. “He never even knew what a union was before he had that job.”
Other topics remain steadfastly taboo, for reasons of legality or good taste.
“We talk about topics that you need to avoid, even if the interviewee brings them up,” Hobson said of his one-day seminar. “You wouldn’t want to talk about someone’s pregnancy plans, for instance.”
Hobson said it’s just as important for interviewers to project a positive personal and company image as it is for those being interviewed. One of the day’s exercises focused on finding positive rebuttals to potentially negative statements or perceptions about U.S. Steel or Northwest Indiana. As the participants made lists of potential objections, they crafted lists of counterpoints, brainstorming ways to sell recruits on the steel industry, Northwest Indiana, and U.S. Steel’s Gary plant.
“This teaches you to sell yourself and sell your company,” said Jim Roach, senior coordinator for general accounting at U.S. Steel. “It goes over the basic do’s and don’ts of interviewing.”
The CMD works with hundreds of area businesses large and small, according to Anna Rominger, dean of the business school. Topics include not just interviewing, but also every aspect of management development. Rominger said the benefits of this interaction with the business community flow both ways.
“Not only are the businesses learning from us, but we ourselves are learning from them. We’re all learning,” she said.
The interview seminar is just one of several CMD training programs, both on campus and on site, that are utilized regularly by U.S. Steel. Hobson said some CMD programs include application assignments in which employees utilize the lessons learned in the classroom, then report back on their experiences in follow-up sessions. This practice, Hobson said, substantially increases participants’ retention and usage of the training material. Hobson said other companies that utilize the CMD don’t want to take those extra steps because they don’t like for their employees to feel as though they’re being given homework. But the practice seems to have worked for the steelmaker, he said.
“U.S. Steel is saying to its employees, ‘If we’re going to pay you to go to training for a day, we want to see what you’ve learned, and we want to know that you’re applying it in the workplace,’” Hobson said. “And we’ve had 100 percent compliance. Everybody does the application assignments. I think maybe people are afraid of being the only one who doesn’t. I wish other companies were as committed to training as U.S. Steel is.”
John Gibson, the CMD’s interim director, praised the center’s 15-year relationship with U.S. Steel and said that IU Northwest’s AACSB-accredited School of Business and Economics is pleased to assist one of Northwest Indiana’s leading employers in meeting its training goals. He noted that U.S. Steel was the first company to participate in training in IU Northwest’s new Dunes Medical/Professional Building, which features state-of-the-art meeting rooms and training technology.
“U.S. Steel is still here. U.S. Steel is still strong. This tells us that you can still get a steel job in Northwest Indiana,” Gibson said. “We like to feel as though we’ve been a small part of that.”
Hobson reiterated that the CMD’s training and development resources are available to other companies looking for quality training from degreed faculty who also have real-world business experience. IU Northwest is committed to such community interaction, he said.
“It’s part of our mission, to do this kind of outreach and be involved in economic development,” Hobson said. “And we’ve been doing this for years.”
For more information on the Center for Management Development at IU Northwest, contact Gibson at (219) 980-6635, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.