A class just opened up on the group fitness schedule, and you want to take it over. But where do you start—and how, exactly, do you get chosen? Is there a clear, documented decision-making process for filling an open slot? Not all facilities and program directors have a standard operating procedure and, in its absence, the process may seem unclear, arbitrary or unfair. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up.
Whether you’re a fitness instructor wanting to add a class to your schedule or a manager feeling pressured to find the right personality and the best fit for an opening, knowing how others handle this decision may guide you to that “perfect match.” Fortunately, experienced program directors from around the world are willing to share their strategies and suggestions.
Jump Into the Candidate Pool
Yordi Arteaga, an FTS Functional Training System master trainer from Caracas, Venezuela, uses an extensive interview process to fill an open class (he’s also a group director). First, he creates a list of instructors who have certifications or special training for the mode in question. He then invites them to apply and requests a résumé or curriculum vitae from those who are interested. From there, he sets up a verbal interview and movement audition for each applicant.
Arteaga’s interview focuses on why the instructor wants the class; what he or she knows about the participants, club ambiance and priorities; and simple logistics like “How will you get to the gym?” and “Are you available for staff meetings and special events?”
Karyn Silenzi, a national fitness presenter and group instructor from Calgary, Alberta, takes a more fluid approach. “Sometimes the group exercise director has to pick based on availability,” she says. “It also depends on how big the instructor pool is, [the class’s] time and day, how directors track instructors’ availability, and the feedback they get on those instructors. I had to schedule over 100 instructors for 540 classes each month across four different club locations. [Directors] are not always aware that someone is looking for something.”
Mackenzie Hopkins, health and wellness director for the Santa Barbara Family YMCA in California, likes to “assign with intention.” Like many group directors, she strives to select the instructor whose skill set and personality “shine” in that slot. Her program is largely member-driven, so she considers member feedback and requests when placing instructors. Additionally, she considers what she already knows about local teachers. “Living in Santa Barbara, I luck out, and chances are I’ve already seen someone teach,” she says. Even so, she adds, “When hiring [new teachers not yet on the team], I usually try to audition them first.”
Hopkins also relies on an often-overlooked source—the outgoing teacher. “More often than not, [the outgoing] teacher knows an instructor who would like to switch or take over,” she says.
In Berlin, Beate Lemm served 8 years as program director and quality manager for Jopp Frauen Fitness. When she was looking to fill an opening—and a staff member didn’t specifically ask for the class—Lemm would “ask within the team, [favoring those who showed relevant] knowledge and reliability.” However, she concedes that budget limitations sometimes drove the process, and that presenters, well-established instructors or higher-paid instructors with seniority “were sometimes simply not affordable.”
Unlike Arteaga and Hopkins, Lemm would skip auditions, noting that most instructors are well-known in the Berlin fitness community. “Usually, there are not enough instructors available in the first place,” she adds.
Dody Benko-Livingston, a San Marcos, California–based instructor and presenter, and former director for several California clubs, combines subjective and objective criteria. “I look at who subbed the class the most,” she says. “I also consider who will be the biggest draw, based on numbers in other classes, and [I may offer it to that person if he or she] doesn’t already have too many classes. Then I might—might—throw it out to the team to see who is interested. But that in and of itself can cause trouble if unqualified instructors throw their hat in the ring.”
What Else Drives Decisions?
Given the fluidity and subjectivity of this important process, it’s not surprising that decision-makers have developed unique ways to choose a replacement teacher. For example, Arteaga reviews instructors’ social media accounts—including comments from followers—to get an overall impression of the candidate. He considers it a plus if the candidate has posted a video or can send one of a live, current class from another gym (not promo videos, publicity or event teaching).
Benko-Livingston doesn’t think every instructor can handle a prime-time class or is a “good draw for a midmorning group.” She focuses on matching an instructor’s strengths to the right class, which, in her words, “isn’t easy because some of them believe they are better than they really are or don’t recognize their strengths.”
Instructors shouldn’t assume that a lack of experience will disqualify them or that just because they’ve been teaching something for years the job will automatically be theirs. Hopkins, for example, will choose a brand-new instructor if the audition is successful. “Then,” she says, “I set up a training and support plan to get them going before sending them out onto the floor.”
Some directors also weigh participant feedback, as well as input from other staff members, which is what Lemm seeks before assigning a class. Finally, it’s important not to underestimate the power of a positive reputation. “Directors remember instructors who help them get their job done with little to no drama,” says Silenz.
Insider Advice From Managers
Even in the absence of clear selection criteria, you can improve your chances of being hired for a class by heeding the following advice from veteran group fitness directors:
“Advocate for yourself! Walk into the director’s office and let her know what your goals are. Know your value and realize that just because someone isn’t throwing classes at you, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for the opportunity!”
—Mackenzie Hopkins, health and wellness director, Santa Barbara Family YMCA, Santa Barbara, California
“Look at how many classes you currently have and how many more you want, and set reasonable expectations based on your teaching load. Share with the manager what you bring to the table and why you believe you can maintain or increase numbers.
Be honest with yourself. Are you applying for a class [because it] fits your strengths or because the time fits your schedule? Make sure you’re familiar with the demographic of the class you’re interested in, then share how your particular set of skills matches the needs of that class.”
—Dody Benko-Livingston, former director for several California fitness facilities
“Get certified and make sure the director knows you are interested. Ask again after a while so she won’t forget, and sub, sub, sub.”
—Beate Lemm, former program director and quality manager, Jopp Frauen Fitness, Berlin
“First, know the gym. Be aware of its mission, vision, values and policies. Look at the facility’s social media to understand the gym’s culture. Know the club and class target market and consider if you have the skills, desire and tools to work with that market. You need to find your tribe, too.
Second, let your interest be known. Get on the director’s radar and tell people in your current classes that you are open to teaching more classes. Send a résumé, card or text message to the director and follow up with links to photos and videos of you teaching actual classes.
Next, give a superb first impression, whether via interview, audition or social media. Avoid a messy presence—coming from a prior class and not changing clothes or priming yourself, for example. If you have an audition or test class, be confident in your skills. Avoid trying to show everything by being overchoreographed, extremely intense or too complex.
If there are open events at the gym, attend them and network. Offer to team-teach a class with a colleague and let teachers know you’re available to sub their classes, in addition to telling the director. Sub whenever possible. Finally, be willing to negotiate wages and schedule.”
—Yordi Arteaga, group fitness director, Caracas, Venezuela
“Sub as often as possible. When I first started teaching, I took every opportunity to build my experience and exposure. I subbed a lot and made myself useful when attending another instructor’s class.”
—Karyn Silenzi, national fitness presenter and group instructor, Calgary, Alberta
Pros and Cons of Various Selection Processes
While none of the directors interviewed for this article has a formal, consistent placement policy, all of them recognize the pros and cons of the process. Lemm acknowledges that the main disadvantage to her approach is that it is subjective and can be perceived as unfair. She sees spontaneity as the main advantage, in that she can “act on new information and take into account developments” as they occur. The bottom line: Her process is limited by teacher availability.
Arteaga recognizes that “a lack of standardization could create deficiencies in the process,” and he knows it is necessary to have some “consistent criteria” for staff to retain trust and morale. He points to his process as one that strives to “adapt to gym, market and teacher needs.”
Hopkins notes advantages in her multipronged approach. “Instructors know that the decision to place them was not simply to fill a spot, but because they were right for the class.”
Benko-Livingston balances reality with ideality: “A good manager will try to spread classes out, but there will always be stronger instructors who have multiple certifications and who are strong draws.”
In short, the process—at least for these managers—is a balancing act that strives for consistency and transparency, while working within a range of limits and ever-changing variables. Without a clear path, the upside is that you have some ability to create your own way, one that gets you the class you want.