Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When Passion is the Only Qualification

Over my career, I have conducted at least 100 interviews with potential personal trainers and group exercise instructors. Of those 100 (give or take a few), I may have hired under half of them. It all starts with an ad somewhere on the Internet. The next step is I receive a resume electronically. Often times, people simply send me an email with their interest and forget that a resume is needed. Other times, I will get an uninvited prospect hand-deliver their resume without phoning me first of setting up an appointment. Word to the wise: Although this method may work for some, personally meeting with your potential boss and showing your interest is a great way to be remembered...its also a way to be disregarded. Why? In the fitness industry, time is of the essence and when you are meeting with clients, crunching numbers, writing programs, and returning phone calls and emails, your time becomes very limited. Your time is ruled by the calendar. So, walking into a busy day for your prospective boss is not always a great idea---but, it depends on the situation.

Over the years, the interviews seem to always become more and more similar. What I have found from my own experience is passion is a common denominator with prospective fitness professionals (albeit trainers of group exercise instructors). I have interviewed all ages. From the twenty-something fresh out of college, or still in...to the baby-boomer finding a new niche in life. Certain personality traits and characteristics are familiar in each age group:

Baby-boomer novice fitness professionals:
  • High anxiety levels entering the job market again
  • Not quite sure if they "fit in"
  • Caring and passionate
  • Low skill level
  • Well-mannered
  • Cite textbook verbiage when asked technical questions
  • Certifications are newly obtained
  • Little to no continuing education accomplished

Baby-boomer experienced fitness professionals:
  • Comfortable in gym setting
  • Confident
  • Compassionate and highly empathetic
  • Well-mannered
  • Skilled and experience backed with testimonials
  • Typically have a following of clientele
  • Certifications are current or they have expired despite employment
  • Continuing education completed or none whatsoever

Younger novice fitness professionals:
  • Eager to enter field
  • Little to intermediate knowledge
  • Cite textbook verbiage when asked technical questions
  • May cite fitness publications (magazines) when asked technical questions
  • Little to no compassion and empathy
  • Unsure of future in 5 years
  • Under 3 years of working out experience
  • Newly certified with no sense of significant fitness resources

Younger experienced fitness professionals:
  • 3 to 5 years in the fitness field
  • Intermediate to advanced knowledge
  • Ability to express background using real-world application indicating experience
  • Cites credulous resources for fitness (ie: PubMed, PTontheNet, IDEA, etc)
  • Empathetic towards target clientele
  • Future is in fitness industry or management
  • 3-5 years experience with client testimonials
  • Specialization in certain type of clientele, programming, or philosophy
  • Observant and problem solver
I know this post will probably anger many readers, however, I want you to know that my experience doesn't mean it is the norm. Your experiences may be different than mine. This is always true. What I do see in many job searching trainers is the emphasis on "passion" as their main qualification. Sometimes, passion is misconstrued as the primary qualification among fitness professionals. Albeit, passion for helping others and seeing clients transform is what GETS you started in the fitness industry and KEEPS you in the fitness industry; nevertheless I am more intrigued by what is in between the inception of passion and the sustainability of it.

There are many new fitness professionals that expect their passion to outshine their ability to create a sound exercise program. Passion will only take you so far in pursuit of personal growth. If you want to be the best, you have to work hard and learn AND apply as much as you can.


  1. Great article John. Like you I am not swayed by "passion". We all have it or you wouldn't be working in the industry. Over the last 10 years I have, as you, interviewed a lot of prospects. Very few I would actually hire. Quoting something from M&F or Men's Fitness gets you a walk to the door. Showing up dressed by a hip hop artist gets you an invite to the door.

    Sad to say the younger generation (Under 30) have a sense of entitlement. They don't really want to work too hard, but feel they are entitltled to high pay with kiss my feet attitude. Doesn't fly for me, I'm sorry to say.

    I always tend to lean toward the older individual; someone that may be onto a 2nd or 3rd career. I will take the less skill set if there is a desire to learn and study. Empathy, compassion and a non-judgemental attitude wins hands down. You can teach skills, you can't teach attitude.

    Keep the great articles coming!

  2. John,

    Having managed and interviewed my share of trainers, great article and you're pretty much spot on.

    I've kind of noticed something else, though. I think that people don't really understand what "passion" is. To me, being passionate about fitness is not just caring about your clients and bringing energy, although that's important.

    True passion is becoming the best you can possibly be. If I have a new trainer that is truly passionate (a rarity) then I'm excited because I know that even if their level of expertise is currently low or intermediate then it will become advanced. These are the ones that study for an hour a day, without fail, even after they're certified and busy.

    Where as Narina leans towards the older individuals I like the younger trainers, fresh out of school. I am, however, VERY harsh at this point in my hiring. Her statements of entitlement and laziness in that generation are spot on, so I only seek the truly passionate ones and invest a lot in making them great.

    Great stuff, man.

  3. Thanks for posting Narina and Isaac! I agree with both of you 110%!!

  4. I love how this article touches on what TRUE passion for the industry is. I am at the point in my training career where I want to start to venture out on my own and eventually bring in other fitness professionals to work with me. Passion for fitness and working out is one thing but to truly make the most out of this industry one must be dedicated to education and self-improvement in all aspects of this industry. I find that there has to be a real sense of hunger and eagerness to move forward along with a solidified skill set to progress in this field. There is no room for laziness either. Though I have had my share of lackluster performances by way of training over the years, I have also excelled by leaps and bounds. Planning ahead by programming and re-evaluating clients goes so far and not only will it get you clientele it will help you keep them due to the fact that you are showing how much you truly care about them and value them.

    I do remember being a young trainer and the things I've done which did not make me look professional at all. Experience is a great teacher and so is formal education. With these two things much is possible and passion should be the driving force behind it all.

  5. "I do remember being a young trainer and the things I've done which did not make me look professional at all." Maurice I could tell you stories about what I used to do that would make your hair stand on end. Yet behind my ignorance was a deep desire to excel. I kept an open mind and had my nose up every experienced trainers butt asking questions. The older trainers helped, guided and advised me. That was 20 years ago when personal training was in it's infancy. Sorry to say I don't see that in the younger trainers today, I know there are some great one's I just don't see them. This is a fast food society, today trainers within one month of getting certified are talking about making the big bucks. I believe many are passionate, passionate earning potential and I'm not sure that's enough to sustain a career.


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