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Interview tips to land a personal training job

This is an excerpt from NPTI's Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training by Tim Henriques.

When you go into an interview, your goal is to sell yourself to the prospective employer. Keep in mind that the interviewer doesn't know you at all. He or she doesn't know whether you are a good person or not, whether you are honest or not, whether you are hard working or not, whether you know what you are talking about or not. The list goes on and on. Making an important judgment about a person based on a conversation that lasts a half hour or less is difficult, so the interviewer must read into the answers that you give. Therefore, you want to give the "right" answers during the interview.

Before you go for the interview, you should try to analyze yourself. Try to think about what strengths you have, either relating to the fitness profession specifically or just to your strengths in general. These strengths can be broad. Do you know a lot about bodybuilding? Did you raise your baby sister when you were 12? Are you a single parent? Are you hard working? As you analyze yourself, try to find at least five qualities that you are proud of and that you think would benefit a prospective employer. Make it your mission to have the interviewer be aware of those five qualities at the end of the interview.

The key to a successful interview is understanding what the interviewer is really asking. Interview questions can take many forms. Some questions are direct; some are not. Here is an example: "Do you handle responsibility well?" This direct question does not require a direct answer. What you must ask yourself after every question is what the interviewer really wants to know. Here it is clear. The interviewer wants to know if you handle responsibility well. Now you must provide examples to him or her that show how well you handle responsibility. Answering yes or no will get you nowhere here. You need to give specific examples, such as that the boss in your past job gave you a task and then left you alone because he or she knew that you would complete it on time.

Another example might be a question like this: "What do you think of resistance training for weight loss?" Again, when you hear the question, ask yourself what the interviewer is trying to discover about you. Here, it seems as if the interviewer is trying to assess your knowledge of resistance training versus cardiovascular training. The question has no right or wrong answer, depending on the evidence that you provide, but saying "I think it's good," doesn't tell the interviewer much. Instead, you need to say something like "Resistance training is effective for weight loss because it burns calories during the workout and builds muscle, which cardio doesn't do. Every pound of muscle burns about 12 to 20 calories per day, so resistance training is the only way to change a person's basal metabolic rate. Thus it is effective for long-term weight loss."

A more abstract example is this question: "What is your favorite animal?" Again, you hear the question and ask yourself what the interviewer is trying to learn about you. Here it seems that the interviewer is trying to learn something about your personality, so now you want to answer accordingly. If you say, "I would be a cat because they are cute," the interviewer learns nothing important about you, so you waste the opportunity to promote yourself. If you say, "I would be a cat because they get to sit around all day and everything is provided for them," you would be telling the interviewer that you envy laziness and that you would like to do nothing all day if you could. If you say, "I would be a cat because they are clever. It seems that my cat can eventually figure out any problem or challenge that I give her. Now she can go around and open doors in my house. I really respect something or someone who faces a challenge that at first might seem impossible but sticks with it and eventually figures it out. I would like to think that I have that quality myself. I know my cat does, so I would like to be a cat if I could." Now you are telling the interviewer that you respect hard work and that you are someone who doesn't quit if you fail the first time you do something. Now you have told the interviewer something valuable about yourself.

The final thing to think about when answering an interview question is this: You have to say what you mean to say. This means that you have to explain to the interviewer what point it is that you are trying to get across. Don't expect the interviewer to infer anything positive about you. For example, if you are asked whether you are hardworking, don't say, "Yeah, I am a roofer. I am hardworking." You may be thinking in your mind that roofing is surely hard work, but don't expect the interviewer to infer that. You need to tell him or her that you get up at 5:00 a.m. in the morning every day, that you carry heavy things up and down ladders, that you work in the hot sun or the cold weather all day long, and that you still smile and look forward to work and generally make any job fun. Now the interviewer has some idea that you are a hard worker when before he or she didn't. If you are asked whether you are responsible, don't just say, "Well, I have a daughter and I am a single parent," and assume that the person will infer that you are responsible. Tell the interviewer about what you have done for your daughter and how much you have learned about yourself while raising her. Then throw in the fact that on top of all, you worked a full-time job and didn't miss any days. Now you have impressed the person even more by saying that you are both responsible and hardworking!

Remember, follow these steps for every question that you are asked:

  • Listen to the question intently and alertly.
  • Ask yourself what the interviewer is really trying to learn.
  • Provide an answer that addresses what the interviewer is really trying to learn about you.
  • When possible, provide specific examples and use the question as an opportunity to tell the employer about one or more of the five qualities that you want to convey.
  • Remember that you have to say what you mean to say.

After asking all of his or her questions, the interviewer will give you an opportunity to ask questions of your own. You should have spent some time beforehand to come up with several questions that you want to ask the employer. Write these questions down. Many of them will be answered during the course of the interview, but some of them will not. Even if most of your questions have been answered, take the time to ask a few questions of the interviewer. When the interviewer asks you whether you have any questions, you do yourself no favor by sitting there and saying no.

Below is a list of questions that you might want to ask a prospective employer. The list is not comprehensive, so feel free to develop your own questions.

  • What are the hours expected of this job?
  • How flexible is the schedule? Who determines the schedule?
  • Does the staff work well as a team here?
  • What kind of manager are you? Are you hands on, or do you take a laissez-faire approach?
  • What type of employee excels in this company?
  • What is the biggest challenge that most of your employees face?
  • Does this position have a high turnover ratio?
  • How will I be evaluated, and who will perform that evaluation?
  • If an employee works hard for one year and has a positive evaluation, what kind of compensation might he or she expect to receive at the end of the year?
  • Does this position offer any insurance or benefits?
  • How does sick leave or vacation time work?
  • How does the cancellation policy for a personal training session work?
  • What kind of employee are you looking for?
  • What is the biggest challenge that you as the manager face (what keeps you up at night)?
More Excerpts From NPTI's Fundamentals of Fitness and Personal Training