3 Questions to Ask When Hiring Your First Team Member

by Michael Keeler

One of the most important decisions you will make when you are starting or growing your business is who to hire as your first team member.

While hiring the right people for your team is always important, making your first hire as a new business is uniquely critical. For fitness companies founded by a personal trainer, the first hire is typically another trainer to help take on more clients. In which case that new trainer will set the tone for your team culture and have a huge influence on the services and experience you are creating for your clients. It’s an important moment.

Equally valuable to recognize is the cost of making a bad hire. 41% of people surveyed by Careerbuilder.com said that a bad hire in the last year cost them at least $25,000! What?! That’s a ton of money, and it’s just tip of the iceberg.

Those same companies surveyed also reported a measurable loss in worker productivity, lost time spent on recruiting and training, a negative impact on employee morale, and a decline in the quality of service to clients.

All of that from one bad hire!


Have no fear, my friend. I’m here to help you avoid that path to doom and gloom. With a few simple interviewing techniques you can drastically minimize your chances of hiring the wrong person for the job. (For more tips on hiring see my blog The Ultimate Hiring Guide).

While no hiring system is foolproof, I can promise that the strategies I’m going to share have helped us tremendously when building our team at Mark Fisher Fitness.

In our first three years, we skyrocketed from just one personal trainer to a team of over 30. So, I know a few things about the dos and don’ts of hiring, and am dedicated to helping you learn from my mistakes.

Here are three questions you should ask during the interview process when making your first hire (or really, any hire).


1. Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond to serve a customer or client. What did you do and what was the result?


Most interviewers ask a question like this, but it is usually phrased as a hypothetical — What would you do to provide great service to our customers?

That isn’t wrong, but rephrasing the question in the way I’m suggesting is called behavioral interviewing. Instead of asking candidates to speculate about what he/she would do in a particular situation,  you are asking the candidate to recall a specific time in their past when they exceeded a client’s expectations. The premise here is that past behavior is a much better indicator of future behavior than answering hypotheticals.

If your candidate can demonstrate a track record of specific times in the past when he/she has been a star performer, chances are he/she will continue to perform at that level in the future.


2. Describe a time when you had a conflict with a boss or coworker. How did you address it and what was the result?


In this question, we’re using the same behavior interviewing approach, but we’re specifically probing into your candidate’s ability to manage conflict.

As a new business managing conflict is a big deal. Even if you are a small team of 2-3 people, new businesses have countless opportunities for miscommunication and clashing personalities. A team that is constantly mired conflict in year one of business will never make it to year two.

If your candidate can demonstrate a track record of specific times in the past when he/she has handled conflict well, you are on the right track to hiring someone who will likely handle conflict well when it arises at your business.


3. If I was going to call your boss from your previous job, what would [Insert name of boss] say is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?


This one is my favorite. So many businesses ask candidates for references, but never call them (We have made this mistake at Mark Fisher Fitness). This is a huge missed opportunity.

Not only should you ask each client for references, then call those references. You should also ask each candidate what he/she thinks their references will say about him/her when you call. This one question tells you so much about a potential new hire — how honest they are about their strengths and weaknesses, how self-aware they are about how other people perceive them, and how valuable they were to their past employer. This question is interviewing gold!

If your candidate can accurately predict what their last boss would say about them, you probably have a fantastic potential teammate on your hands. They are likely a high-integrity individual with great self-awareness. If they struggle to come up with an answer or suddenly ask to change the names on their reference list, you might want to rethink hiring this individual.


Interviewing is a crucial skill for every business owner and manager to learn.

Particularly when you are just starting a new business consider the advice hire slow, fire fast. It’s not my favorite saying (more on that in a future article), but there is some real truth to it. Take your time thoroughly getting to know candidates before hiring them, and act quickly to fire (or develop) any staff member who is not meeting your expectations.

Our job as business leaders is to help our clients live their best lives and that starts with building a team worthy of that challenge.

What are your favorite interview questions?

Share in the comments below. 



  1. Jonathan Goodman

    So valuable Michael. I remember years back when we did a big survey of the PTDC audience and one of the top frustrations that we found was that gym owners couldn’t find (or keep) good staff. I thought then, and still feel now, that there’s a gap in knowledge in finding, hiring, and retaining amazing trainers. It’s awesome you’re producing material like this.

    Also, my favourite question when hiring trainers back when I did it was, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be, and why?”

    I didn’t care about the answer, I cared about how the trainers handled being made to feel awkward and caught off guard thinking that composure was an important trait that’s hard to teach. If the trainer mumbled and made stuff up and stuttered, how would they react when asked about the newest celebrity workout, for example. But if they closed their mouth and said, “good question”. And thought about it before answering, they’d probably be hired.

    • Mark Fisher

      I love that animal question.


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