Finding and Hiring Quality Personal Trainers

More than ever we are seeing individuals interested in becoming personal trainers. Therefore, finding personal trainers is not the problem; the problem is sorting through them to locate qualified professionals you can develop. The solution? Your hiring system.

Your hiring system should contain three parts: screening, competency evaluation, interview. However, remember that the hiring process only enables you to sort through candidates and identify individuals who will make money from your development system. Don't expect the hiring process to take the place of a system for developing professional trainers.

Screening: Our industry is unregulated when it comes to minimum competency requirements, making it your burden to find quality professional trainers. But if you want to be recognized as the best, you must hire the best. And to hire the best, you must define the minimum standards for your professional staff (e.g., degrees, specific certifications, etc.). Do not compromise your standards.

Whether placing ads to find candidates or marketing to universities to attract interns, you must make it clear that you want a professional trainer who is half expert technician, half salesperson. This step alone will prevent frustration and turnovers. Why? Because candidates will understand your expectations from the beginning, leaving nothing to chance.

To maximize your staff development program, don't interview candidates who lack the minimum standards. You want to scare away incompetent candidates who can waste your time and money. Likewise, you don't want to talk to people who could potentially jeopardize the creditability of your staff. Taking a strong stance sends a clear statement that your organization is only interested in employees who realize that to work as a trainer is a privilege, not a right.

Competency Evaluation: Just as professional trainers perform assessments on clients, you must assess the abilities of potential personal trainers.

When evaluating prospects, apply a standardized system that complements your staff development program. This method of evaluation enables the manager to address the strengths and weaknesses of the potential new employee. In turn, the manager can customize the development program to the employee.

The evaluation should address technical knowledge (e.g., emergency procedures, screening, exercise prescription, scope of practice, practical application, etc.), sales and marketing knowledge (e.g., positioning, niche, consultations, closing, referrals, databases, etc.) and club knowledge (e.g., history of club, understanding of the club's mission, etc.).

If you properly screened, you know the candidate has the foundation to be trained. Therefore, don't be overly concerned with the results of the competency evaluation. It is only a benchmark to monitor his progress in your development program.

Interview: I suggest putting candidates through two to three interviews. Interviews will reveal the truth. You have probably been excited about a candidate who sent in an awesome resumé, only to interview the person and find you can have a better conversation with a wall.

In the first interview, you should primarily assess the professionalism and personality of the candidate. During the second interview, you want to assess his communication skills on the floor. If the candidate is a walking textbook of knowledge and has credentials any doctor would envy yet lacks people skills, he should look for a career in research, not in service. However, if he has the personality to deliver outstanding service and the foundation knowledge to educate and empower, then he earned the right to make a living servicing your members.

You paid enough money to get your members in the door, don't entrust them to just anyone. Have a system to hire and develop your personal trainers, and your bottom line will benefit from membership retention and ancillary revenues.

Mark J. Rullo is the director of personal training, fitness and wellness for Oxford Athletic Club. Rullo speaks regionally and nationally, as well as provides consultations on business development, sales, marketing and professionalism. Rullo can be reached at (412) 856-3930, ext. 125, or via e-mail, mrullo@oxfordathleticclub.com.


Sample Outline for the Hiring Process

  1. Potential candidate shows interest
  2. Screen candidate for minimum professional/technical qualification(s)

  3. Distribute competency exam, case study and job application, and request resumé with cover letter

  4. Schedule first interview when you distribute competency exam

  5. First interview
    a. Assess appearance/presentation
    b. Assess personality (have standardized format)
    c. Schedule second interview (only if candidate demonstrates professionalism and positive personality)
    i. Recommended dress: Semi-casual (e.g., khaki shorts or pants, colored shirt and athletic shoes)
    d. Candidate brings to first interview:
    i. Completed competency exam
    ii. Completed case study and essay questions
    iii. Completed job application
    iv. Photocopy proof of the minimum professional/technical credentials stated in step No. 2
    v. Resumé and cover letter

  6. Review competency exam and case study questions to come up with feedback at second interview, then begin business plan for the new hire

  7. Second interview
    a. Provide feedback from competency exam and case study questions, as well as provide example case study and answer key for review
    b. Administer practical tests
    c. Discuss vision and expectations, system for personal trainer, personal trainer's roles and opportunities
    d. Distribute job description
    e. Answer questions