Chuck Hansen, President







New Steel Magazine, February, 1999

by Chuck Hansen


Like many core industries in the United States, the steel industry has weathered countless cycles of good times and bad.  We've been on a roll for the past four years.  The economy is good, business is good, and we've been in a very positive hiring mode.  In fact, our most difficult problem has been a shortage of candidates to fill a growing number of positions.


But timing is everything.  Today some sectors of the steel industry are again downsizing.  If it happens to you, keep in mind these facts:

  • The softness of the steel markets isn't disastrous across the board in the U.S. Some markets are holding up quite well.

  • If you're mobile, you might be able to improve your career path, not to mention your standard of living. I had to move nine times in my 25-year career in the steel industry.

Steel industry employees are valued in aluminum and other metals industries.  Steel making equipment undergoes a lot of strain and requires much more maintenance than that used for producing nonferrous products.  Aluminum rolling mills seemingly last forever, even though they're basically the same as steel-rolling mills.


What follows is my “$4000” speech that I have given countless times to cronies, relatives, and former associates of USX who call for help.  All these callers had an overriding theme:  They all wanted to get back in the steel industry.  Here's what I tell them:


Start Networking fast.  A detailed plan is vital.  Make a list of the top 100 people you know in high places.  Don't stop until you have a total of 100.  It's not easy, but you can do it.  Systematically contact three people from the list each week.  It's important that you see each person face to face - no phone work here.  Get in front of them and tell your story: "My career has flattened at XYZ Company, and I'm interested in building my network.  Who can you suggest I call who could increase my personal network?"  This is a very non-threatening plea for help; most people like to help others.  I guarantee that one of the referrals you get from these 100 people will have a need that you can fill.

Work the Plan.  Take on this networking challenge as if it were part of a job.  It is a job!  You'll find that its time consuming and tedious to line up these appointments, but it's essential that you stay with the program.

Set up a War RoomThis effort has to be organized with all the artillery you can muster.  Get set up in a spare bedroom or den.  Put a phone in there along with a fax, your computer, phone books, and anything else that might help.  Formalizing the effort will make it easier to control distractions and stay focused.  Make sure the family knows that you are "at work" when you're in your war room.

Get Professional help with your resumeThere are a lot of services out there that can make a sloppy resume look professional for $35.  Resumes today stress skills and accomplishments.  They are hard-hitting and tell the story effectively.  A good resume is essential to your successful campaign.

Hit the gym.  The timing is perfect to get in shape.  Join a fitness club if you aren't in one and set up a program to shape up.  It fits with the rest of your current program to change your life for the better.  Unfortunately, many people still read the book by the cover.  You don't want to be a victim before you get a chance to show your wares.  A fitness club is also the perfect place to work off frustration and relieve the stress built up during this process.

Emphasize the positive.  This is really important.  You have to get past the issue of being downsized.  Complaining about the circumstances or the lousy company that did it leaves you wide open for questions about your ability to move forward in general.  Never run down the old company.  Make a statement that's neutral, if pressed, but don't get into criticism of any kind.  Think positively about how you can make valuable contributions to a new company.  This is so critical to success that you must take time off and do nothing until you can develop this frame of reference and have it be natural.

Read about the company before the interview.  Learn everything possible about the company you're going to visit.  Every company has a website today, but there is much, much more available to you.  Tap into every source, including professional associations and people you've worked with who have had contact with the company.

Quadruple your reading time.  Read everything you can lay your hands on about the steel industry.  Use all available sources to get periodicals.  Spend time on the Internet.  Your grasp of current trends and issues will be obvious to the people in your networking circle.  You'll sound knowledgeable and up to speed, demonstrating that you can hit the ground running.

Read a book on interviewing tips.  Review all the little details that crop up during the actual interviewing process.  This is especially important if you haven't been in an interview situation recently.  You're out of practice, and you'll probably be called on to answer more behavior-based questions -- questions that require you to quantify results and produce real-life examples.  It's essential that you leave the impression of a confident, poised professional.  Reading an interviewing tips book is all-important to the success of the mission.

Sell yourself.  The criticism that I hear the most from employers is, “We don't know if the candidate wants the job or not.”  It's as simple as saying, “I'd like to be a part of this,” or “I think I can help this effort.”  Using your own words is important, but sell, sell, sell.


The steel industry is a unique experience that can mean money in your pocket.  Use your networking ability to parlay your time in it toward improving your career path.