it is more than just setting your sights on a goal, you must plan and prepare accordingly.

the ability to request information or assistance is not indicative of being worthy to receive it. a capable learner is a student by profession. mercenary in their approach to the acquisition of the knowledge they desire. an individual like this is an asset to any organization. to demonstrate your worth, demonstrate your willingness to listen, to experience, and to work. asking for responsibility, information, or attention without first demonstrating what you are bringing to the exchange is tantamount to announcing that you will probably end up costing more than you contribute. 

there is a way to ask, and a way to offer. it is important to try and see yourself from the other side of the table, to not just have empathy but to demonstrate it. realize that as a student, an employee, or even a client – you have a cost. realize also that the person across the table from you is just as selfish and self-serving as you are. wanting something is easy, and if someones initial contact speaks only of what they want and not what they are willing and able to bring to the process, all a reasonable employer will see is a draw on resources. small scale selfishness. the key is to appeal to large scale selfishness – to convince an employer that you will make them so much money or save them so much stress that they will pay you more to keep you around.  to convince a mentor that you are familiar with their work, that you have, at minimum, specific and informed questions, if not insight and new ideas. 

no one owes you a job. no one owes you access to the information that they have acquired, or even a chance. time is precious, and busy peoples time doubly so. 

this is actually going somewhere specific.

i own a gym. i train people there. i even have a few other coaches whom i used to train and now they run their own clients out of my facility. i will often get requests for my opinion on certain pieces of equipment, diets, or training structures. i do my best to reply to each of those requests. i consider it part of my job and am happy to share some useful bits of information that i have acquired over the years. not knowing is scary, and i owe where i am today to people who responded to my honest ignorance with kindness and grace, so the opportunity to continue that chain is welcome. however, interspersed with the direct requests for tips or opinions there is one recurring request that i can’t seem to fully understand – every 3-4 months i will get an email asking me if i have any job opportunities. it usually reads as if it was sent to a number of gym owners, often addressed “to whom it may concern”, often has a few vague compliments before the author offers to be “part of the team” if only i contact them and accept. 

now. i am fully aware that i am characterizing the authors unfairly, or at least unflatteringly. i have always had a hard time with these emails because of a visceral reaction that seemed disproportionate to the ask. i am not exaggerating when i say that it kept me up at night and distracted during the day. with most of the emails i never brought myself to respond because i felt that i had already thought about it for longer than the author had, and was told by people that i respect that i needed to let it go. the problem is that too often in this world we only get feedback from our successes. the clients who decide not train with me rarely tell me why, and even if they do, i figure they are giving me the nicest possible version of the truth…

so here is my answer. a form letter in response to a form letter. i have chosen to make this absolutely public because i don’t think i am special, and i dont think those who wrote me emails were special either. i think the “it doesn’t hurt to ask” mentality is being misapplied and ill considered. with a truly level playing field, it is up to the individual to stand out by doing more. by being more. by being better… 

or by not.

to whom it may concern:

you asked about employment opportunities and to that i have to simply say no.

what you did not ask for is advice, but if you are open to it – i may be able to offer a small piece: 

the email you sent me may be perfectly fine if you are addressing a general manager of an equinox or any chain fitness club, not good by any means, but not problematic. from the standpoint of a small gym being run by the individual that built it – that email will probably close more doors than it will open.

i would ask you to try and imagine that ask from my end, from the individual reading it. it is difficult for me to find the appropriate language to convey these ideas because i know it will come off like i am angry and offended. i am not. 

or at least not as intensely as it is about to seem… 

every few months i get an email asking if i am hiring. most of them lack any credentials or referrals. all of them are demonstrations that the person writing wants something. none of them has demonstrated that the person writing has anything significant to offer. none of them has highlighted the individuals want to keep learning. none of them have asked questions as to how the business is actually run or how a new trainer could possibly be brought on. in communicating so little they communicate much. 

social media is a thing. the internet. my feelings on many aspects of this business are in black and white on the website, in podcasts, and in hardcopy.

I built a gym in my garage in 2007 and began training friends and friends of friends. i traveled to train with other coaches, read and trained and questioned incessantly, and eventually signed my first commercial lease in 2010. since then i try and travel to at least one other gym per year to work with a coach and experience a unfamiliar approach to fitness. i try and stay abreast of anyone doing interesting things in the industry and have also invested roughy $200,000 in equipment as well as purchased the building that i now occupy. i have trained 4 of my clients into my current coaching staff who work as trainers full time. i do not say this to boast, i say this because the job of a trainer is, in my mind, to acquire, assess, and transmit information. the job is to communicate pertinent information to a person in a language and tone that they will resonate with – usually on the fly. sending this email was a best case scenario for you: you had all the time in the world to do research, to craft your message, shape your ask to the audience. you had an opportunity to showcase your sensitivity and attention to detail, your ability and willingness to do research and go the extra mile, your understanding of psychology in properly reading your mark and presenting your request appropriately. 

and despite all that, you chose to approach me with the business equivalent of a dick pic.

from my end of this, what i see is a total stranger asking for not only the keys to the business that i have sweat and bled and wept for, but they are also asking, without even suggesting that we meet or speak first, that i should put the full weight of my reputation and my network behind them. 

they are highlighting what they want from me without asking questions of what i would like or require, without offering assistance, or usually even credentials. the request about job opportunities without any prior interaction makes me feel that the individual is thinking only about themselves. about their wallet, and often times nothing beyond that. again, if my concern with my business was having a stable of personal trainers working under me – that may be enough, but this gym has been the main focus in my life for a decade, and while i can’t expect anyone else to care about it as much as i do, i can’t help but feel offended by a flat request. 

i actually have a couple followup questions for you: what do you want, big picture? a paycheck? to open your own gym someday? what were you expecting in response? how long did you spend researching my gym? what did you know about me before you wrote that email and how did you alter your “ask” because of that information? 

as you may have seen, we have an application process for new clients. the point of it is to meet people and find out a little about them. this will first make sure that i have something to offer, and second that the person understands what is expected of them moving forward. this assessment is a precursor to training at my facility. again, to be clear: to enter this space as a paying client, the first step is to meet face to face, have a conversation and decide if it would be a productive relationship for the both of us. the process of change is the focus of our project and many of the seemingly small decisions are meant, deliberately, to put the process first. when i have to explain to a client that they can’t have the results without doing the work, i kind of expect it – but can you see how asking for a job without an introduction, without offering to meet or asking questions about the process feels like a client telling me that they want to have a six pack and 600 pound deadlift but they don’t understand why they should be expected to work out or change their diet… 

one other aspect of the application is that it gives the myself and the other coaches a chance to research potential clients – or in your case, hopeful employees. with social media what it is i expect people to put their best face forward, to highlight what is important in their lives. one thing i look for in someone who i want to coach me is a focus, not on their own movement, but on their clients. i have know many gifted athletes who were poor instructors. i have known coaches who need so much recognition that they would steal the spotlight from their client. if i see a professional trainers business instagram feed and it is nothing but pictures of themselves lifting, it puts a very bad taste in my mouth. i expect that you are highlighting the parts of yourself that make you the most proud, or that would at least communicate your talents most clearly. if you are focused on teaching people i would expect pictures of clients or how-to videos. if you seek to educate or inspire i would expect thought provoking ideas. if it is pictures of yourself lifting, flexing, or generally messing around, the message i get is that you are an aspiring “influencer” – an amateur model holding a “will work for discount codes” sign. you may have some skill at coaching, but i wouldn’t know by looking at exactly what you want me to see. “you can’t judge a book by its cover” is only relevant when the book doesn’t work so goddamn hard making certain that everyone sees the cover it made. this may be a small thing, and honestly i don’t know how many potential employers would notice, its just something that i pay attention to when choosing a coach to train me, and if i was ever in a position to offer a paycheck it is something that would give me pause. 

i understand if you need a paying job and were looking for that first – and there is an honesty with leading with that, but in doing so you may be missing out on other opportunities. i know a lot of people will respond with “it can’t hurt to ask” and all i have to say is yes, actually. it can. the approach… your approach and attention to detail can shift things so fast.

and you only get one chance to make a first impression.

now, if your email opened up with you saying that you were leaving your current gig and wanted to explore other gyms and training models, that you would like to meet and maybe swap best practices. i would have said yes in a heartbeat. if you wanted to train, or even just get coffee and talk – i would have made time. i will almost never pass up the opportunity to sit down and talk shop, and there is little i enjoy more than the chance to be a student of someone else experiences. nothing would change the fact that i don’t have a business model where i directly hire trainers. all my coaches trained with me for 3-5 years as clients before i spent another year helping them build up their skills as instructors and then provided them with a space and began to help them build a client base. i do this because i love it, i respect it, and i value it. that, and i want to be surrounded by people who take it as seriously as i do.

i understand that it is challenging because in this business we so often only hear from our successes, and it is difficult if not impossible to improve without the opportunity to explore our failures – to understand exactly what went wrong, and try and understand why. i have perpetuated this by simply ignoring pitches that fell flat, by refusing to offer the type of constructive feedback that has been a cornerstone of my learning. i have learned the most when someone took the time and energy to explain to me why i failed, and eventually, after the sting wore off – was able to appreciate the favor for what it was. 

i am the first to admit that i take this very seriously. probably more so than many, but i have spoken to other small business owners and the sentiment seems to be more or less universal. if you actually got this far, i hope you can take this as unsolicited advice from a stressed out overworked gym owner, and that my tone did not get in the way of what could hopefully be useful information. 

all the best. honestly.

-burkey
owner/operator
www.station515.com