Have you noticed? The fitness job market is growing rapidly, yet our industry is still a relatively tight-knit network. Your supervisors and/or the company you work for might be affiliated with other fitness businesses and organizations in your area or around the world. How does that affect you? The way you handle your resignation at one job could influence your ability to get hired at another.

With ever-expanding gym chains, multiplying fitness franchises, global telecommunication and alliances between associations, it pays to exit a job gracefully so you stay on good terms with everyone involved. Learn how to leave a positive impression on your boss, co-workers and clients—and their network of friends and colleagues—when it’s time to move on from your current employment.

Rounding Up References

You’re ready to update your resumé and contact potential new employers. Is it okay to use your present supervisor as a reference? The answer may depend on your reasons for wanting to step away from your job.

“Let’s assume you are leaving your current position because you are ambitious. You are seeking a job at another gym or location that offers more career development and expanded opportunities for personal and financial growth,” says Curtis J. Crawford, PhD, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of XCEO Inc., a consultancy for high-potential executives in Santa Clara, California, and Chicago, and author
of Corporate Rise: The X Principles of Extreme Personal Leadership (XCEO Inc. 2005). “Any employer or supervisor worth his or her salt will cheer you on and be there to help advance your career in the form of references and even networking,” says Crawford. “If you have been an excellent and valued employee, this should not be a problematic issue.”

However, if relations between you and your boss are strained, or you don’t want your employer to know that you’re actively seeking work elsewhere, you might decide to go with past references. Just be prepared during interviews to tactfully explain why you’ve chosen to do so, and avoid badmouthing your current employer to a prospective one.

Finally, follow important job-exiting etiquette: request permission to name supervisors and/or co-workers as references before you start job hunting. Most managers will be put off if you drop their name without first seeking consent—
especially when they are caught off-guard by your prospective employer calling to check up on you!

Time to Resign

You’ve found a new position, and it’s time to submit your resignation. How you handle this communication can have a lasting impact on your relationship with your current employer.

Should you deliver your news by letter, by e-mail, by phone or in person? “In person,” says Crawford. Make an appointment with your supervisor, then steer the discussion in a positive direction. (Note that many employee contracts stipulate written notice of resignation, so bring a brief document you can leave with your boss.)

“Come [to the meeting] armed with positive statements about your future-oriented ambitions, dreams and personal and professional goals,” says Crawford. Talk about how you have benefited from the culture, learning environment and professional camaraderie of your job.

To ensure you leave on the best terms possible, follow this step even when all you feel like saying is, “Good riddance!” You might even open doors for future opportunities. “Suggest to your boss that you’d like to keep the professional channels of communication open,” advises Crawford. Who knows, it might lead to a favorable business referral or consulting position for you.

Smooth Client Transitions

Preparing one or more staff members to take on your job might be all you have to worry about before you leave your position. But if you are a company-employed personal trainer, you might also be charged with the task of referring your current client base to other trainers, either with the help of your supervisor or on your own.

The best way to handle transferring your clients, says Crawford, is to ask them about their preferences. What do they look for in a trainer? What do they avoid? You should already have a clear picture of your clients’ goals, needs and abilities. Use this knowledge to carefully select the best stand-in trainer for each client. And make clients feel part of the process.

“Letting your clients know that you are trying to find a great fit for them goes a long way to helping their adjustment—and boosting your reputation,” says Crawford. “Try to give clients more than one option, and explain your choices.” Don’t forget
to hand over the relevant background information and client documents your
replacement(s) will need to continue programming safe and effective sessions.

When Clients Want to Go, Too

Of course, you might discover that
some people simply don’t want another trainer—they want you. It can be awkward when dedicated clients—who are members of the facility that you are leaving—want to follow you to a new gym or company, effectively taking their business away from your current employer. How can you please these loyal clients without damaging your relationship with your present boss?

“This is a common issue, and it need not be a dilemma,” says Crawford. “It is perfectly ethical to tell clients that a very public defection will only harm your reputation and that of the gym. Tell them that you do not want to burn bridges and do harm to a valued employer.”

Still, some devoted clients might insist on making the move with you. “If they want to follow you, ask them to please be discreet, and thank them for their loyalty. When clients see you as honorable, it inspires them to behave in the same way,” says Crawford. One caveat: check your employee contract for noncompete clauses that might limit or prohibit you from training your current company’s members at another location for a specified time.

Your Reputation Will Precede You

If you handle your resignation with professionalism and sincerity, quitting your job can be a pain-free experience for all parties involved. Since social and business circles in the fitness industry often overlap, your effort to stay on good terms is a smart career strategy. “Leaving on a note of excellence could benefit you later on, as you never know which colleagues may cross paths with you in years to come,” says Crawford. “Your reputation will almost always precede you, so keep it good.”

Looking for a job in the fitness industry? Use the IDEA Job Board to find the perfect job for you. Want to post a job? Click here.

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA, is a fitness professional and the owner of Active Voice, a writing, editing and consulting service for fitness professionals. She writes for IDEA, Health, Prevention, and Self, and has co-authored books on postnatal fitness and yoga. With a master's degree in human kinetics, Amanda has worked in the fitness industry for more than 15 years, including time spent as a program director and vice president for a chain of all-women clubs in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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