Personal training is about more than correcting clients’ form and guiding their exercise routines. It’s about understanding their goals, keeping them safe, and motivating them through moments of ego-busting vulnerability. And according to Professor Jennifer Myers of Concordia University, St. Paul’s Exercise Science program, the personal side of personal training can be just as important as the training itself.
“Personal training sometimes turns into one-on-one psychological counseling,” she said in an interview with PersonalTrainerEdu.org. “Whether you like it or not, you’re a life coach for people.”
Gym and health club hiring managers often have this in mind during personal trainer interviews. So over the course of maybe an hour, they expect new trainers to establish credibility, authority, and trust. With such rigorous expectations, it’s no wonder personal trainers have a reputation for being a little intense.
Fortunately, Professor Myers shared some insights into hiring practices with us. With a diverse career that’s included being a coach, educator, and health program director, her interview tips for personal trainers come with the kind of depth and wisdom only an experienced professional can provide.
Five Tips to Help with Your Personal Trainer Interview
In some respects, a personal trainer interview is similar to any other kind of interview. Applicants will want to craft stellar resumes, show up on time, dress professionally, and collect a handful of glowing references. But because personal trainers often have their clients’ health in their hands, hiring managers vet new trainers with greater scrutiny.
1. Research Your Potential New Employer
Every gym, health club, and physical rehab center is a little different. Before jumping blindly into a personal trainer interview, take the time to find out what the facility is actually like. This way, you won’t waste time and energy on facilities that just aren’t a good match.
Prior to a personal trainer interview, try to find out:
- The typical client demographic (age, ability, experience, etc.). Will you enjoy working with this population?
- If the facility employs other health experts like nutritionists, physical therapists, or health coaches. You may be expected to work closely with them.
- What the community’s mission is. Are they focused on providing accessible fitness services or more advanced physical training?
- What the work culture is like.
- If the facility is part of a larger company or locally-owned.
- Whether they expect trainers to conduct training exclusively on-site or at other locations like clients’ homes.
After reading up on a fitness facility, you’ll have a better idea about the responsibilities of a personal trainer at their location. If some duties are a little outside of your scope, ask about training opportunities that could open doors for you later in your career.
2. Be Realistic About Time Commitments
Finding the right job is all about marketing yourself. But in Professor Myers’ experience, new trainers have a tendency to overcommit in personal trainer interviews.
“I can’t tell you how many personal trainers I’ve hired who have said, ‘Yeah, I want to work 30 hours a week. I’m really excited about it,’” she said. However, trainers who don’t follow through can damage client relationships, their employer’s reputation, and their own credibility.
“If they can’t count on you, there’s no way that they’re going to trust you with their fitness,” Professor Myers told us. “So if you are a client, who has paid sometimes triple digits for a one-hour personal training session, and your trainer doesn’t show up two times in a row, guess how much longer that’s going to last?”
In a 2022 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, about 28% of coaches and personal trainers reported work-related burnout. Some overworked participants even said that if given the opportunity, they wouldn’t be a fitness professional ever again. Having an honest conversation about workload limits during the interview process can help you protect your own health and long-term goals.
3. Highlight Your Own Fitness Journey…
Talking about your own fitness journey is vital to any personal trainer interview. In doing so, you establish yourself as someone who has a deep passion for fitness — the kind of trainer who will love coming to work each day and creating a positive work environment.
But don’t just talk about your love for marathon running or bodybuilding. Talk about how your interests fueled your drive for professional development. Bring up any certifications you have and talk about specific fields you studied like endurance training, strength training, or kinesiology. Tying your personal interests to your academic background can be a great way to present yourself as a great employee and a sound investment.
4. … But Show You Understand That Everyone’s Journey Is Different
Your experience as an ultra runner or a high-intensity training fanatic may be impressive, but it won’t necessarily wow hiring managers. They’re more interested in how you can use that knowledge to help clients. In your personal trainer interview, don’t let your own goals overshadow clients’ needs.
“You have to not let those lines blur,” Professor Myers said, “so you definitely need to be able to differentiate: ‘What is my own personal fitness journey? How do I separate that from that of the people that I’m working with?’”
Being able to answer those questions for yourself involves thinking about what your new clients will need and what resources they have available to them. For example, people who go to lower-cost gyms may not be interested in expensive workout supplements or nutrition programs. And training seniors is more likely to involve endurance exercises than recreational kickboxing.
Understanding Client Needs: An Exercise in Empathy
Very few clients come to training sessions with nothing but motivation and a water bottle. Packed deep within that gym bag are everyday worries: family issues, health concerns, and work problems. And as Professor Myers points out, personal trainers who truly understand their client’s needs have a lot of room to succeed.
“[Personal trainers need to] have an understanding of the sociological and economical implications that might be happening in the neighborhood that they’re working in,” she told us. “These are things that really will help you stand out and help you manage your time and feel successful.”
For instance, if you’re planning on working in a facility located in or near a senior center, consider the fact that about a quarter of people ages 65 and older are socially isolated. They may get as much out of friendly conversation as they do mobility training.
Or if you’re eyeing a position in a busy urban fitness center, your new clients may be part of the 59% of working adults who feel burdened with work-related stress. The encouragement you provide during intense sessions could very well carry over to their day-to-day lives.
Keeping these non-training-related things in mind could help you cement your reputation as an approachable, effective fitness trainer no matter where you find a job.
5. Assistant Professor Myers’ Top Tip: Demonstrate Resourcefulness
A lot of things can get in the way of a successful training session like sore muscles, broken equipment, bad weather, tight schedules, and so on. According to Professor Myers, being able to overcome these obstacles is a huge selling point to fitness facility administrators:
“What a hiring manager is looking for is resourcefulness, number one. You need to be able to work on the fly and make it look like it’s effortless. Like you had 10 plans in the back pocket of your pants whether you did or not.”
Think of times when you helped teammates or gym buddies get in a workout under less-than-ideal circumstances. Did you hit the local park when the power went out in the gym? Maybe you changed up your workout so you wouldn’t irritate an injury. Either way, stories like these can make your personal trainer interview stand out to administrators in any number of fitness-focused companies.
Personal Training: A Growing (And More Competitive) Market
As more people make fitness a priority and seek the help of experienced fitness professionals, personal trainers can lead the charge into a healthier, more active future. In fact, fitness training as a whole seems to be growing a lot quicker than many other industries.
The average growth for all industries through 2031 is about 5% according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, fitness training is expected to grow by an astounding 19% in the same timeframe. But with this explosive growth comes more competition and a growing need to stay ahead of the curve.
So whether you’re trying to find a job at a gym or start your own personal training business, you’ll likely have to use Assistant Professor Myers’ last tip: be resourceful. That could mean finding new ways to stand out in interviews, staying up-to-date on the latest fitness research, or coming up with new ways to market yourself. As Assistant Professor Myers says, “You’re never going to have a normal day for sure, especially with personal training,” a statement that rings true in more ways than one.