Hire & Retain Your Personal Training Dream Team

A motivated personal training team can boost sales revenue and membership at your health club—but creating and fostering such a group can be a challenge.

At any club, it’s important to have fitness experts on hand to assist members with long-term workout goals. Personal trainers fit the bill. But, unfortunately, finding these experts is no easy task. Keeping them and leveraging their skills are additional feats you’ll have to tackle.

The good news for health club operators is there are steps you can take to set yourself up for success. By familiarizing yourself with the hiring process and fine-tuning your employee onboarding strategy, you can find and retain your PT dream team.

Know What You’re Looking For

Before hiring a new personal trainer, it is a good idea to take a look at the failures and successes of past hires, said Kate Golden, director of people and fitness operations at Newtown Athletic Club, in an IHRSA webinar. Evaluating the cause behind a bad resignation or a negative member experience will highlight weaknesses in the interview process or in management style, prompting the chance for a positive change. On the other end, discovering the successes of the current team or from an exit interview with a valuable trainer will lay out what qualities to look for in a new hire.

Accreditation is important, too. The IHRSA Board of Directors recommends that IHRSA member clubs hire personal trainers holding at least one current certification from an organization/agency that has third-party accreditation of its certification procedures and protocols from an independent, experienced, and nationally recognized accrediting body. You can find the full list of IHRSA-recognized accrediting bodies on our personal trainer accreditation page.

With those qualifications in mind, selecting the right applicants will be easier.

How to Interview: Think of PIE

The interview process can be extensive—for the applicant and the interviewer.

Golden said she uses the P.I.E. process: prepare, interview, and evaluate.

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Step 1: Prepare

The applicant isn’t the only one who should be ready for the interview. Golden advises interviewers to be well-versed in the description of the open position and the needed skills.

Questions should be formed in advance and aim to uncover the characteristics and skills of a potential hire. Create a list of questions that will ease the applicant into the interview (“What did you do this weekend?”), and then move on to harder questions about situational events. Think of two types of questions: “What did you do?” and “what would you do?”

Questions should suit your club’s mission. IHRSA Vice President of Human Resources Regina Satagaj said, “Make sure candidates also clearly understand this about your company and that you are asking the kinds of questions that will best determine fit for your organizational values.”

“Think of two types of questions: 'What did you do?' and 'what would you do?'”

But be sure to stay away from questions about age, weight, sex, race, religion, national origin, disability or anything that might be potentially discriminatory. Refer to the IHRSA Employment Law Basics for Club Operators briefing papers for more guidance.

Preparing questions ahead of the interview will give you the opportunity to hone in on the qualities you’re looking for in a new hire. Not to mention, top talent will want to work with an organized leader with clear goals.

Step 2: Interview

Golden recommended having two to three employees interview each applicant and then hold a debriefing session each time. After moving forward with a smaller pool of applicants, a nontraditional interview can give the applicant a time to shine—and you a chance to see their work in action.

A nontraditional interview can be customized to the job description or to the past experiences of the applicant. An example, would be to allow the potential hire to work with a client or let them lead a class for a few minutes. Many times, a client’s feedback will be more useful in the decision-making process.

Step 3: Evaluate

Once a new personal trainer has been picked, the last part of the P.I.E. process is to take a look back at what worked and didn’t, Golden said. It’s time to evaluate. Did things go smoothly? Continue to update your questions and interview requirements. Keep records so you can look back at the process at any point in the future.

How to Onboard a New Personal Trainer

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Hiring might be the most challenging hurdle to jump, but onboarding a new personal trainer can be the most important.

“Onboarding can make or break your employees. It’s really what’s going to change your employee from being successful in their first three months, six months,” Golden said.

Even before their first day, send out a welcome letter letting them know what to expect for their arrival. “You want them to feel like they’re already doing things right,” she said.

When determining your onboarding plan, keep in mind the employee life cycle, which is a continual process.

During the first few weeks, it’s imperative that you teach your new personal about your club’s history and mission. Let them meet and develop friendships with co-workers. “Having that one-on-one introduction is really what it’s all about,” Golden said.

The first weeks should be focused on integrating the new hire into the team and the club’s culture. After setting expectations and going over work protocols—including policies designed to protect trainers—have the new hire review the client experience and allow them to shadow experienced team members in all relevant departments.

You Found a Star Trainer. How Do You Keep Them?

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Kate Golden, second from right, poses with the Newtown Athletic Club team.

Losing a personal trainer can be detrimental to your club as a whole, as clients might be inclined to follow them out the door. The risk makes retention an important focus.

For Golden, retaining your personal trainers comes down to holding structured meetings with clearly defined goals, having easy-to-access training and education resources, and conducting periodical “stay interviews,” which are all about the person, not the job performance.

Stay interviews, as well as exit interviews, can both give insights on retaining personal trainers. “At the end of the day, listening to what your employees have to say is a worthwhile investment that will benefit your health club in the long run,” Satagaj said.

The meeting can also help you uncover your personal trainer’s passion, giving you the opportunity to tap into that energy, as well as making that PT happier to be working for you.

Meetings can also reveal frustrations with pay grades or benefits. IHRSA’s Health Club Employee Compensation & Benefits Report provides important benchmarks set by the fitness industry in North America, and can serve as a resource to help you retain your personal trainers.

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Rachel Valerio

Rachel Valerio is the Digital Content Editor for IHRSA. During the workweek, she is discovering exciting fitness industry news, staying on top of IHRSA's social media accounts and website, and hatching new plans to expand the association's digital footprint. Rachel's free time is mostly spent on pampering her cat, attempting new recipes, planning trips to visit her family in the Southwest (aka stock up on green chile), and exploring all things New England.