23 Big Questions You Need to Ask Before Hiring Instructors

Posted on 2/6/19 9:00 AM by Matt Fish

Hiring the right coaches, trainers and/or instructors is a critical part of the success of any recreation organization. You need knowledgeable, hard-working and caring staff members to ensure that all participants realize their long-term fitness goals – and it all starts with asking the right questions.

Discover the big interview questions you should be asking before hiring an instructor:


Whether you’re hiring a coach or instructor for a short-term seasonal position or a permanent, in-house job, you need to find out as much as you can about a candidate during the short time you spend with them during an in-person interview.

There’s a delicate balance to strike during this process. You don’t want to miss out on obtaining key details that someone’s resume won’t give you, but you also don’t want to grill them to the point where a candidate feels intimidated. In other words, be thorough, but not overly so.


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General Interview Dos and Don’ts

Beyond the specific questions that we’ll be breaking down in a few moments, there are several overarching job interview best practices that you, as a potential employer, should be adhering to. Let’s dive deeper into those with a list of interview dos and don’ts:

  • Do establish a rapport with whomever you’re interviewing. Use a warm, welcoming tone of voice, outline the objectives of the interview (“During the time we have, I’d like to…”) and don’t forget to smile when greeting them!
  • Don’t ask direct questions related to age, race, ethnic background, marital/family status or sexual orientation. They could be misconstrued as discriminatory and are prohibited by certain US state laws.
  • Do avoid any yes-or-no questions. These can hurt the flow of conversation and will often result in short, bland answers. Instead, focus on question that emphasize the “how” or “why.”
  • Don’t make open-ended statements in your notes that can be interpreted as biased or prejudiced. Writing about how a candidate showed up for an interview dressed “improperly” makes your reasoning feel unclear and mean-spirited.
  • Do be prepared to sell your organization to a potential instructor. They’ll want to make sure that the position is a good fit for them as well, so focus on the benefits of your organization’s culture and how they treat their staff.
  • Don’t forget to close the interview. Thank the candidate for their interest in the position and let them know what the next steps will be if they’re selected.

Of course, these are general guidelines. As a business owner or hiring manager, you should use them to inform your interviewing style instead of putting limitations on it. The questions you ask and the way you conduct yourself in so doing serve as a blank canvas upon which you can paint your organization’s persona.

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The 23 Questions You Should Be Asking

Here are my must-ask questions for any coach, trainer or instructor interview. Variables such as interview time constraints, relevancy to a specific candidate, the parameters of the position (part-time, full-time, seasonal, contract, etc.) will all influence which ones you use but, if you make time for all of them, that’s the ideal scenario.

Let’s break it down into three categories: questions about the instructor’s past experiences, current skill set and what/where they’ll be in the future.



What is your background as an instructor?

Get right to the heart of their history as an instructor. This should serve as the more spiritual part of their backstory, including details of how they first encountered the sport or recreation activity, what drew them to it and so on.

What kind of certifications/distinctions have you earned to date?

Here’s where you highlight the more technical side of a candidate’s backstory. You can determine which areas they’re already proficient and/or certified in, as well as any prerequisites they’re missing. You should also ask them about any distinctions, awards or public attention they’ve earned for their accomplishments in the field.

How would previous students/athletes describe you?

Previous clients and/or employers will have an opinion about a candidate and, through asking for references, hearing those thoughts isn’t hard. By asking a potential instructor about their perception of their own reputation, it will help you gauge intangibles like how self-awareness, how humble they are and more.


Do you have any work experience besides coaching? If so, what?

Both you and the candidate may be focused solely on the job description as written but, as many business owners know, running a community organization involves everyone pitching in in other areas. Getting a handle on other skills that he or she could bring to your business will help you separate the good from the great during the hiring process.

What recent success stories about your recent coaching can you share?

No surprises here – if your top candidate has exceeded expectations in one or more areas, give them a platform to wow you with those stories. Full disclosure: You may already know some or all of those details based on their resume or research/references but seeing how they weave the story will say a lot about how a candidate presents his or herself.

What’s been your most rewarding experience as an instructor?

This question dovetails with the previous one to a degree. However, their most rewarding experience doesn’t always equal their biggest career accomplishment to that point. Often, it’s the little things that make an impression on an instructor and informs where their true passion lies.

Can you tell me about a time you were pushed out of your comfort zone? How did you overcome that adversity?

Real, lasting professional growth is never easy to come by, which means stepping out of one’s comfort zone – the only way you can taste that kind of growth – is never a comfortable process. With that in mind, you need to know how hard a candidate pushes his or herself to overcome the intrinsic adversity that comes with the territory.

Can you describe a time when you experienced failure? How did you deal with it?

Similarly, how someone deals with failing and if/what they learn from the process. Making mistakes is normal and growing as an instructor is hopefully the end game, but beware: If someone can’t think of a time they failed or doesn’t believe they ever have, that should set off alarm bells when it comes to detecting a lack of ambition or arrogance.


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What is your coaching style?

In other words, what’s their personality like when they’re on the clock, interacting with and training participants? Anyone you hire will be a direct representative of your brand, so you need to ensure that their built-in coaching style isn’t going to clash with your business’ existing persona.

What makes you passionate about being an instructor?

You’re looking for their “why:” Why do they do what they do? Why, if they’ve been in the industry for several years working as an instructor full-time, what keeps getting them out of bed every morning?

What makes you different from other instructors?

An extension of the last question, this puts an emphasis on the “x-factor” that a candidate brings to the table. Acquiring talent that stands out will, by osmosis, allow your business to distinguish its brand from other organizations in your local marketplace. Depending on what position you’re looking to fill, you’ll know someone’s “x-factor” when you hear about or see it.

How do you give and receive feedback?

As in any other workplace, being able to give and receive feedback in a civil, productive manner is key in solidifying strong, lasting relationships between staff members and the clients they serve. Conversely, the inability to do so can hurt not only your business’ reputation but also your team’s morale.


How do you manage you’re an unfocused/disruptive class or?

This question sort of dovetails with the previous one, except here we’re dealing with how they react when they don’t necessarily have a captive audience. The great instructors can deal with any kind of participant group/class, even when things don’t go as smoothly.

How do you define success as an instructor?

Just like your organization’s definition of success and the metrics used to measure those accomplishments, potential employees will have their own individual notions of what success means to them. If those two ideas are compatible and, better yet, can help both parties grow over time, hiring them could be a perfect scenario.

How do you work with technology as an instructor?

Booking appointments, taking attendance before a class and even tracking progress are just some of the ways that recreation organizations are leveraging the latest technology to make sure they’re running as efficiently as possible. Therefore, getting a handle on how tech-savvy a candidate is can be a huge differentiator during the interview process.

How do you balance work with your personal life?

In the fast-paced, perpetual-motion machine that is the North American workforce in the 21st century, it’s becoming harder and harder to balance your work responsibilities and personal life. Asking this question can help you determine which candidates can handle stress well and avoid burnout.


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You’ve recently been assigned or hired by a new student – how would you approach building a training program specific to them?

Getting insight into a potential instructor’s start-to-finish approach with a new student is crucial during the hiring process. It will show you more about their mentality, their interpersonal skills where athletes are concerned and how autonomous they’re used to/comfortable with being on a day-to-day basis.

How would you deal with participants who are resistant to or become difficult when faced with coaching?

Once you’ve discussed how they’ve handled adversity in the past, you need to know how a candidate will tackle similar situations in the future. This includes participants and/or parents who may be (initially) resistant to the coaching being given, so you must make sure any instructor you hire will be able to acquit themselves well under those circumstances.

Where do you see your coaching career in a year from now? 5 years from now?

I’ll be honest: When I’ve been asked this question in past job interviews, part of me used to cringes inside. After all, how am I or anyone supposed to know where we’re going to be in our careers six months down the line, let alone 5 years? However, I realize that the question is more about gauging a candidate’s ambition and drive. Employees with those two qualities in spades will undoubtedly help your organization reach new heights.


Interviewing for a new position at your organization can be a time-consuming process, even more so when you can’t seem to find someone who’s the right fit. Asking the right questions that cut through the generic “yes” or “no” answers and allow both sides to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses can help streamline this process. More precise queries mean more thoughtful, detailed responses, which in turn will only yield a better ROI on that interviewing investment.

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