What to Look For in a Valuable Employee

4 min read
Mar 5, 2024

The old adage for hiring practices has always been, “Hire slow, fire fast.” That’s a great idiom that would look great on some kind of weird, niche business-related T-shirt. If one does hire slowly, what do you need to be looking for in a candidate during the hiring process? There is no hard and fast list of winning traits. In this blog, I wanted to offer some patterns that I noticed in my successful hires during my time as a gym owner.

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Before I get into the winning traits, it’s important to define what a valuable hire is. Knowledge in strength and conditioning or an Exercise Science degree is a good start. For the sake of argument, let's set educational background aside. I want to peel back the layers when it comes to evaluating candidates.

What is the defining characteristic of a quality hire? I would posit that a quality hire is someone who adds value to the business. Defining how someone can add value will be specific to your business. I would encourage you to determine how you define what adding value looks like for your own business prior to evaluating candidates. Having established what a valuable hire is, let's get into specifics.

A good place to start evaluating a candidate is the genesis of their interest in health and wellness. I want to emphasize that this is a starting point. This isn't necessarily as strong of an indicator as the remaining ideas I will present. There is nothing wrong with someone who needs a summer gig or needs another line item on their resume. I would, however, make the argument that the majority of candidates with interest in the field will bring more to the table.

A personal experience with fitness can add a unique context or a natural desire to excel. Maybe they’re an ex-collegiate athlete that has experience with poor coaching and is on a mission to offer their own expertise. Maybe they’re someone who has had a radical weight loss journey and wants to take what they learned and pass it on to future clients. Someone with a life experience that spurned them into a career in health and wellness can provide an edge over another candidate who just needs a paycheck.

Another trait of successful hires is a thirst for knowledge. Find me someone who is constantly striving to learn, and I’ll show you someone who is worth every penny of their salary. I'll even give you bonus points if they have an interest in a broad assortment of subjects. At the risk of sounding like a grizzled old veteran, I find that younger generations don’t value knowledge accumulation as highly as their predecessors. This is not an indictment on everyone who graduated after 2005. This is just an anecdotal experience that I have had and is not universally applicable.

New hires should be seeking to grow their coaching toolkit. This doesn't have to be in the form of a formal certification. Simple things like diving into a subject matter expert's material on their Instagram is a sign of a curious mind. If you find a candidate who displays a thirst for knowledge, that’s a tally in the right box.

While my next point of interest will require some extended time with a potential hire, it is arguably the most important indicator of a qualified candidate. In any employer-employee relationship, there is going to be a need for feedback. In an ideal scenario, you would have an internship or probationary period. How your hire handles this feedback can provide valuable insight into their character. Do they get defensive and find excuses? Do they lean into the feedback and ask how they can improve? Feedback is the fastest way to grow in a profession. Pay close attention to their body language and any follow-up questions to see what kind of employee you have on your hands. At the risk of painting with broad strokes, you can't go wrong with a hire that handles feedback well.

Staying in the realm of personal qualities, I would encourage you to observe their personal standards. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion of, “How you do anything is how you do everything." That is almost never the case. Human beings naturally display a passion for projects or tasks that excite them. Holding human nature against someone who doesn’t perform a backflip when you ask them to clean a toilet isn’t logical. To pull on the toilet cleaning thread further, how they perform the task (timeliness, attention to detail, etc) are things we want to note.

Another hot-button topic is professional attire for coaches/instructors. If you have a uniform policy for employees, they should consistently show up in clean, tidy clothes that meet your standards. Showing up in a wrinkled shirt isn't a mark against their character. This speaks volumes about the standard they hold themselves to though. An excellent display of personal standards is their professionalism when interacting with clients. Be it email, text message, or in-person, are they making their best effort to portray your business in a positive light? They don’t need to know the answer to every question or be an extreme brown-noser. Observing how they display professionalism with your clients is of the utmost importance.

Look, hiring is not an easy part of running a business. You will strike out more often than not. There will be a promising candidate that ends up having issues showing up on time. There will also be candidates that you pass on that will go on to do great things. What is important for you as a business owner is to define what makes someone hirable. None of the ideas above are hard and fast rules of business.

My hope is that it gets you thinking about your hiring standards and maybe you even borrow some of my ideas. Give yourself the opportunity to evaluate a candidate over an extended period of time. Consider setting up scenarios that will allow you to observe them for desirable traits. Most importantly, avoid hiring out of desperation.

Best of luck with the growth of your business and make sure to call those resume references.

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