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Recruiting the Right Trainers

Set up your recruitment process in a logical, structured and consistent fashion.

Traditional personal training systems tend to focus on day-to-day management, which is often reactive as opposed to proactive. Unfortunately, a reactive approach to problem solving can lead to contractual breaches or drawn-out performance counseling, both of which can be avoided by taking a more proactive approach during the screening and recruitment phase.

In my experience, the recruitment process is the most critical aspect in driving an effective, stable and efficient personal training system. If you recruit the right trainers, then you as a manager can sit back and “drink cappuccinos,” as you have effectively minimized risk at the get-go. Your role should focus on three things–recruiting new trainers, managing all identified risk elements and keeping the current base of trainers stable and successful.

If the recruitment process is structured, sound and systematic, then the end product—recruitment into the team—should be successful. In theory, this makes sense, but if the focus is more on personal training’s contribution to revenue than on the quality of the staff, the long-term risk may be higher. For example, a lack of focused recruitment can lead to a high attrition rate, which in turn can create instability for staff and members alike. So how do you go about maximizing the recruitment process in order to minimize your risk?

Structure Expectations

Ensure that you have a great screening protocol in place. The interview should include both theoretical and practical assessments, and questions should address real-life scenarios as opposed to hypothetical ones. Follow a template approach that will build on the essentials you require, such as a range of skills from basic knowledge to rehab work, financial acumen or program design. Ensure that you focus on areas like motivation, business management, the ability to engage strangers and more. Think how often you have come across highly qualified “walking textbooks” struggling to get their businesses going. Having certifications or degrees is essential, but it does not guarantee success.

Make sure your screening document also looks at the short-, medium- and long-term goals of each applicant, as well as relevant job history. It’s important to scratch beneath the surface and ask specifically how a potential recruit has dealt with financial pressure, how he or she approaches business management, what motivates the trainer and so on. The more information you gather, the clearer the picture you will piece together. Don’t get sidetracked by good looks, buff bodies and lengthy qualifications; you need to find the right fit for your club.

Match Recruitment With Member Base

A common recruiting mistake among personal training managers is using the interview and the trainer’s performance as deciding factors without considering the needs and requirements of the member base. This can lead to a situation in which you have 10 trainers, five of whom focus on bodybuilding, when the demand for bodybuilding makes up only 20% of your facility’s needs. Do an effective analysis of the members’ requirements, and don’t be shy about turning away a trainer who is too specialized or will compete with other trainers for market share. All you are doing by taking that trainer on board is creating an uncomfortable competitive environment. You could end up with dissatisfied trainers who undercut and fight one another for market share. When you make the tough decision to turn away a solid trainer in order to avert competition, you will gain respect from your current base of trainers, as they will see the calculated approach you have to the system. You will also allow the rejected trainer to find another position that will be more conducive to his or her success.

Check Financial Fitness

In my experience, it’s not physical strength or technical ability that creates a solid, stable and successful trainer; it’s the mental toughness and business acumen that allow the trainer to convert theory into practice. That is what makes a personal training business a reality. Certain employee-oriented business models take some pressure and responsibility off the trainer, but in contractor or franchise relationships mental fitness is a primary consideration during recruitment. Challenge applicants on both body and business dynamics; if a potential recruit is strong in both, you will be on the right path.

Don’t Interview; Audition!

Personal training is about building trust and developing a relationship. This takes effective, clear communication, a high level of motivation and good technical competencies. It’s important for these attributes to come through clearly in the recruitment process. Holding an interview in a sterile office or offsite coffee shop will not afford you the chance to see a trainer in action. Think smart about the characteristics and qualities you’re looking for, and choose a space that will allow you to challenge an applicant, whether it is on the gym floor or in a group exercise studio. It’s important to see the aspects and attributes you expect of a solid trainer; for example, engaging a complete stranger, selling some sessions or promoting an event or activity. Whether you accomplish this via role-playing or by actually sending the applicant onto the floor among members, this quick exercise may just show you whether a trainer who has the gift of gab in an interview can also perform well under pressure on the floor.

Go With Your Gut

As discussed earlier, the screening protocol is critical in determining the type, profile and character of the applicants you encounter. Your thought process must focus on the needs of the member base as well as the personal trainer team. However, at the end of the day your “gut feeling” is a key element in an industry that does not have a consistent method of regulation. There are far too many “green mushrooms” popping out of the woodwork after weekend and online courses and calling themselves trainers. As the personal training manager and the catalyst in the hiring process, you need to analyze all the information you receive from the screening and evaluation process, including what your intuition and educated guess tell you–and then decide.

Remember, once a trainer is signed, sealed and on board, it can be a lengthy process to move that “rogue trainer” out of the system. Not only will you get “burned,” but the members, club and other trainers will, too. To avoid such destructive situations, make hard choices and stick with them. Rather than taking a chance on a trainer, make an informed, well-calculated and firm decision. This will minimize your risk and maximize your success exponentially.

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Darren Jacobson

Darren Jacobson is the innovator of the franchise personal training concept for Virgin Active South Africa, where he manages over 750 personal trainers in 88 health clubs. He holds a bachelorÔÇÖs degree in human movement science and is a featured writer for numerous industry publications. In addition, Darren sits on the IDEA Personal Training Committee and has presented at fitness conventions across South Africa, Canada and the United States.

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