Personal Trainer: An Informational Interview Report

[Thanks to A.S. for sharing an informational interview report on how to become a personal trainer and related career information.]

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Several months ago, while standing in line for my daily “Grande Drip” at a local Starbucks, I came across an old high school friend of mine. Having not seen him for the last 4 years, we both decided to pull up a chair and enjoy our coffees in each other’s company. We reminisced about days past of skating and partying together, while exchanging information about where we are in our lives currently. This is when I learned that along with a common interest in triathlon, my good friend is working in the fitness field, the same career path I am thinking about making a change to.

Over the next few weeks following our reconnection, my old friend and I began spending more time together. I shared with him my interests in a fitness career and he gave me some general information that could be helpful. When reading about this assignment I naturally thought of him as the perfect candidate to interview. I called him as I have been over the last few weeks and told him about my assignment. Without hesitation, he offered me his time. We could have done this over the phone, but we chose to meet in person during my next visit to the bay area. On May 1st, we met for lunch at a favorite eating spot.

The following is a summary of our meeting. (No recordings were made, nor notes taken, so the summary of the interview is not verbatim.)

Me: So how long have you been working as a trainer?

Him: I’ve been at the local community center for about 3 years.

Me: How long did you go to school for this?

Him: I’m still taking classes at the local university for kinesiology, but that’s not required to be a trainer. You can get some training certs online in a few months for a couple hundred bucks. I think I spent $450 for all the study materials and certifications I needed for my job.

Me: So what are you taking classes for?

Him: I want to get into high-end sports training at the collegiate level. I’m interning at another bigger local university as the basketball strength coach.

Me: How did you land that gig?

Him: One of the managers at the local community center knows somebody at the university and put in the good word for me.

Me: So being a trainer helped you to get a foot in the door, huh? I’m thinking about a career in sports related Physical Therapy. Do you think training is a good path for me to start my career change?

Him: Either that or work as a therapy assistant.

Me: Well I looked into entry level therapy assistant positions….they don’t really pay enough and most of them are part-time. I have a mortgage to pay buddy!

Him: Here’s what I would do if I were you, get a physical training certificate and exercise injury prevention certificate. These will both look good on a resume and you can get a job as a trainer in most any gym. The cool thing about training is you set your own hours, then you can find a Therapy Assistant job part-time and plan your training schedule around it. I don’t know what that pays, but I know with training, at least at my gym, I get $50 for an hour session with a client.

Me: $50 per hour. Whoa! That’s really good!

Him: Yeah, it sounds good, but I only see 3-4 clients a day. I was doing better when I first started, but I think because I was super motivated… that has kinda passed now. Also, the economy has taken a toll on my job. People are looking for ways to save, and personal trainers are one of those luxuries they are cutting out. Luckily we have a lot more wealthy clients at my gym, so things aren’t as bad as they could be. Like if I were working at Gold’s or 24 Hour Fitness, I bet I wouldn’t be able to make my car payments right now.

The cool thing about it though, is I plan my clients around my day. For instance, I’ll go into work for one or two clients early morning, get my own little workout in, then I’m off to the university for the internship from 12-4. Then I go back to the gym for 2-3 more clients in the evening. Most of the people I train are totally cool with rescheduling too, so if I wanted to skip an evening workout, some clients are totally ok with it. I think because people are always looking for an excuse to not workout.

Me: You said you’ve lost your motivation. Why?

Him: Mainly because of management. There have been some major changes at the community center in the last two years. I have to do a whole bunch of redundant paperwork now, and they’re trying to implement all these new programs to get more members to take classes and get training. We used to be treated professionally and they let us do our own thing, but now we have all these performance goals and corporate policies to follow. I swear they are turning this place into a ****hole just like 24 Hour Fitness. With the whole bad economy thing, they are making us work mandatory 2 hours of “floor time” three days a week, where we kinda walk around and offer help or guidance to gym members. We don’t get paid for floor time either. They figure it will help bring new clients into the personal training department.

Me: Well, I have plenty of ridiculous rules to follow at my job as well. I don’t think there is a way around that when working for a corporation. Are you happy though?

Him: You know, when I see that I actually made a difference in somebody’s lifestyle or when a client gets really happy that they met their fitness or weight loss goals, yeah, my job feels kind of rewarding. I guess that’s the only thing that allows me to put up with all the other cr** I have to deal with. Luckily I have the internship at the local university to look forward to. Hopefully I will get hired with them full time. It’s really cool to watch the athletes’ progress over the season and know that you helped them to get where they are. We have a lot a good talent this year and a couple of NBA hopefuls.

Me: That’s must be really cool to watch the plays on TV and be able to say you trained them. It sound like despite your bitterness, you actually like your career. If you could go back and change anything about your education or career, what would it be?

Him: Well, I think I’m pretty happy with where I am right now. I wish I was making more money, but don’t we all. I’m hoping that will come in the future. If I could change anything, I think I would have stuck with college straight out of high school and became a trainer sooner. I would choose the same career path, but do it all sooner.

Me: So do you think I am making a wise choice by switching careers from automotive to fitness?

Him: Well, people are always going to want to better their lives and health. Who knows what direction the auto industry is headed. I say go for it. You will be happy. But if for any reason it doesn’t work out for you, you can always go back to being a mechanic.

Reflection

Upon finishing our lunch and interview, my friend and I went to the gym where he works for a swim workout. While I was there, I got to meet some of his co-workers and see some of the paperwork he spoke of. I found that the people he works with are very friendly and the paperwork was not all that bad. In fact, it was no different than the numerous redundant forms I fill out on a daily basis at my job.

I was impressed with the work environment. Just as he mentioned during the interview, it is much healthier than an automotive shop. I did not take this into account when considering my career. I am around hundreds of pollutants as well as objects that can cause physical harm all day long. A fitness career not only eliminates this harmful environment, but promotes a healthy lifestyle to counteract the effects of environmental harm.

I was pleased to see that my friend finds his career rewarding. This is part of the reason I am contemplating a career in fitness. I had a thought that helping people obtain their personal goals would offer a feeling of accomplishment, but it’s good to hear it from somebody with experience in the field. I was also pleased, as well as surprised, to hear the flexibility of scheduling clients. I am a very busy person and live by a very hectic schedule. Between full-time work, school and triathlon training I rarely have any free time, and simple pleasures such as cooking dinner have become a burden. It seems possible that becoming a personal trainer while working towards a career in sports therapy can help solve my ongoing time-crunch problem. I was a little disappointed to hear that trainers work on a commission based salary, but this is nothing new to me, for I am paid by the job as it is and am no longer affected by the stress associated with it.

I already had a positive feeling about a career in fitness and my meeting with my old friend helped to reinforce that. I loved the suggestion of working as a trainer while working part-time at a therapy office, for I did not see it possible to pay the bills and gain work experience at the same time. Also, I had no idea how easy it is to become a personal trainer. Apparently just a couple of online training courses could get me the certifications I need to work as a personal trainer/injury prevention specialist.

As always, I enjoyed the time I spent with my friend. However this time I saw him as more than just a friend, but a role model as well. Despite his complaints about the logistics of his job, he is pleased with his career, enjoys going to work everyday and finds self gratification in helping others. These are all things that I value and am looking for in my career.

I am now even more looking forward to a career in fitness and have some insight on how to facilitate the process. As I come closer to my educational requirements to become a sports therapist, I am considering my friend’s suggestion of working as a personal trainer with emphasis on injury prevention while pursuing an assistant position part-time in a therapy office. I believe that this will give me the physical experience as well as the background necessary to begin a career in sports therapy.

Thank You Note

Dear *****,

I truly appreciate that you took the time to meet with me and discuss various aspects of your career. I found our interview to be very informational and gave me insight as to what to expect when choosing a career in the fitness field. As a result of our meeting, I have chosen to continue pursuing my interest as a sports therapist and am looking into your suggestion of gaining work experience through personal training. I value the time we spent together and wish the best to you in your future career with the university. Best Regards, A.S.



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