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The Strength Coach's Ultimate Guide to Hiring

Josh Bullock
Apr 22, 2018

Hiring the right coaches is a critical part of any effective strength and conditioning program.

Regardless of whether your search is for a specialist in a certain area such as technology or physiology, an assistant who will be working with one or more teams, a graduate assistant, or an intern for your strength and conditioning program, the due diligence process requires substantial investment. The person you hire has the potential to impact each and every program, coach, and athlete in your department.

 I’ll say that again, the person you hire has the potential to impact each and every program, coach, and athlete in your department. 

Clearly, in this situation you want a big return on your investment. My experience with hiring comes from multiple areas. First, I suppose I have the unique background to have two post graduate degrees; one in Kinesiology and one in Business Management. I have studied different methodologies or schools of thought on hiring as well as applied the method that I will share with you many times over during the course of my 15 years as a practitioner. In addition to applying this method to my own hiring needs I have also used similar questions as a member of search committees for sport coaches, administrators, and sports medicine personnel.  No method is fool proof but using values-based hiring gives you a tremendous opportunity to hire a person who aligns well with your core values and can have a profound impact on your department.                 

Foundation

Before we go down the rabbit hole there are two very important things to understand: First, the field of strength and conditioning is flooded with qualified candidates for any number of positions; and second, before you undertake a values-based hiring process you should have clearly defined the core values and outcome goals for your department (Stock, 2013). Here is the Brown University Program's mission and core values should you like to see an example.

Once you have established your core values there are three main areas you need to concern yourself with, skillset, talent, and cultural fit.

According to Laura Tyson, former Dean of the London Business School, “…it’s very important for the people at the head of organizations not to be afraid of having the smartest people in the room – and indeed, people who are smarter than they are” (50 Lessons, 2008, p. 35). This is a very important point to consider when evaluating skillset. Skillset can be looked at as two components: education and experience; education consisting of both formal in informal education and experience being a combination of both professional and personal experiences. Hiring managers should consider which degrees, certifications and lifelong learning processes your prospective candidates have obtained on their professional journey. Experiences might include internships, shadowing, free reading, cross education with a related field, or a personal story that has shaped the applicant. My good friend, Al Jean, would call the combination of education and experience - wisdom. 

Secondly, Talent, or aptitude, is something very different than skillset. Managing coaches should seek personnel that have an innate ability to bring something special or diverse to their staff. Some candidates may have proficiencies in mathematics or writing and those areas, as well as others, should be considered as part of the hiring process. For example, I once hired a graduate assistant who had a bachelor’s degree in art simply because he thought about things in a much different way than I did. The way he approached challenges and tasks in the weight room as an undergraduate student was so incredibly insightful that I knew he could help us win. That candidate went on to become a head coach at the collegiate level and today owns a very successful performance center. I am not saying you should go hire the nearest art major but rather consider the needs of your staff. Does your team lack in areas technology, nutrition, science, creativity, or collaboration? Think outside the box; it might be the best move you ever make.

Finally, and most importantly, you need to hire a person who fits your core values. In strength coach terms, they fit your current culture or the one you are trying to create. Let’s consider the value of teamwork. Would you say that is one of your core values? If you value teamwork on your staff and within the teams you coach you may not want to allow the lone wolf into your organization. The lone wolf is concerned with individual performance or accolades. I have personally allowed this person to enter my team in the past and it cost us on the biggest stage. I told myself how talented this person was, how much some of my athletes needed them, and no matter how much I tried to bring this individual into our culture no amount of work was going to change what is truly most important to them.

Step #1: Drafting a Good Job Description

Now that a strong foundation and the needs of your program have been established you need to start the process of attracting and screening candidates. The first step in that process is drafting a good job description. There are a number of key elements you need to include in a good job description; they include: A values statement, qualifications (skillset & talent), wages or salary, performance expectations, management or support structure, professional standards and physical requirements (Bates, 2008). I also like to include potential advancement opportunities. Sometimes the best hires are made from within and promotion, in many cases, allows you to retain good coaches. I strongly encourage you to take your time on your job description. It should be unique to your program and is curb appeal that will both attract a good candidate and deter a questionable one.

For the purposes of this post the focus will be on the values statement. Drafting a values statement attracts applicants who share your cultural values and discourages those who do not (Stock, 2013). If the job description is the curb appeal, then the values statement is the front door to your program. This statement sends a clear message about the type of coach you are looking for. It will save you time on the back end when you have more serious and qualified candidates who share your programs core values.

A values statement might read something like this, “Excel in a program that values a positive attitude, relentless effort and meticulous attention to detail. The University of Teambuildr is seeking highly ethical, team-oriented applicants who have a passion for the pursuit of excellence and love to help student-athletes achieve at the highest level both on and off the field.” What type of person do you feel this statement will attract? Can you tell what the core values of this organization are? 

Step #2: Assemble your Search Committee              

Assembling your search committee is a very simple task but does require that you complete your staff needs analysis to determine the characteristics you are looking for in an employee. I recommend that you include the following personnel in your search committee: (1) one experienced hiring manager – whether that is you or someone else, (2) one to two assistant coaches or interns, (3) the sport coach or coaches who could potentially be involved, (4) a member of the sports medicine staff and (5) one or two student-athletes. You may choose to include others in this process depending upon the position you are hiring. I have colleagues who have used faculty members in certain instances where a content expert is needed such as a physiologist or statistician.

One area that is often questioned is the inclusion of inexperience coaches such as interns or assistant coaches. I view the hiring process both as an opportunity to develop your staff by adding an excellent employee but provide an incredible educational experience for those younger coaches on your staff. Members of your staff already share your cultural values and can therefore, assist in the evaluation of new team members.

Step #3: Draft your Interview Packet and Matrix       

Prescreening

As you begin the process of developing your interview packet I would strongly advise that you screen the candidates you are interested in interviewing. A background check can take place with your final candidates prior to hiring but failure to perform your own preliminary can turn into a nightmare as your search process enters its later stages. 

In my career I have had one noteworthy experience with preliminary screening.  I was a member of a search committee that involved a candidate who had no criminal record. The candidate would have come back clean on a background check but did have NCAA violations which banned him from coaching for an extended period of time. We were able to find that information using a simple google search. You never know what you might find.

The other benefit of scanning search engines and social media sites is the opportunity to filter those candidates that don’t align with your core values. It is advisable to screen out applicants who post pictures or make statements that portray questionable judgement. You may not want to hire an assistant who bashes their former head sport coach on their Facebook page. 

Formulating your Questions and Hiring Matrix

There are two primary types of interview questions, situational and behavioral.  Both should revolve around your core values, the skills, and talent you are seeking. Situational interview questions are job-related questions that focus on how your potential coach would behave in a certain situation (Dessler, 2011). For example, you might ask a coach how they would respond if an athlete showed up late to work out three days in a row.

Behavioral interview questions are job-related questions that focus on how the candidate actually reacted to situations from their past (Dessler, 2011). For example, you might ask a coach if they can think of a time where you had a disagreement with a sport coach? How did they handle that situation? Answers in both situations require the candidate to tell a story and should reflect the skillset, talent, and/or value you are seeking!

As you are developing your questions you should simultaneously be developing your hiring matrix. The hiring matrix is a simple scale for grading the candidates and a subsequent radar graph. See the image at the right for an example of the grading scale. As the candidates answer the questions that you have labeled for each of the components you are evaluating you should begin to quantify their responses. Clearly, each of the members of the search committee will evaluate the candidates answers somewhat differently. This creates great opportunity for discussion amongst the group, and each search committee member should still submit their own final evaluation.

Once all interviews are completed you will take some time to convert the search committee’s evaluations into a radar graph. At this point you know where skillset, talent, and cultural fit align with the categories is your grading scale. For example, initiative (circled above) would be converted to a score in the cultural fit category.  Armed with this information you should assign the following point values to each scoring category:

Outstanding = 4 points

Good = 3 points

Fair = 2 points

Unsatisfactory = 1 point

Once competed, plot those totals on a radar graph. In the example on the left the candidate scores high in skillset and talent but above average in cultural fit. These graphs really spur the conversation when it comes to making your final selection on the combination of characteristics that you are getting in a candidate.

You now have your hiring matrix and interview questions completed but the act of asking the questions can require some restraint on the part of the search committee members.  All too often search committees sabotage themselves in the interview by leading the candidate to the desired answer. As the leader of the search committee, your goal should be to keep the interview on track, probe for more information when necessary, and ensure that questions are answered succinctly (Bates, 2008). Sir Mark Weinberg states, “One way to determine whether people possess high ethical standards is to ask them questions and keep your mouth closed. The more they talk, the more you’ll learn” (50 Lessons, 2008, p. 55).

Finalize and Background Check

One of the easiest ways to avoid making a hiring mistake is to do a background check prior to finalizing your process. Background checks are inexpensive and typically required by your human resources department. According to Dessler (2011), “One survey found that 23% of some 7,000 executive resumes contained exaggerated or false information (p.210). 

Finally, the process of developing your interview questions and hiring matrix can be great way to develop teamwork amongst your staff and I encourage you to involve them in this process. You will find your buy-in with regard to the hiring process is much better. Once you have accumulated and analyzed all this information it is time to make your selection!

Step #4: Extending the Offer           

It is likely that the institution in which you are employed will have this process already defined for you. However, if you are a business owner, I recommend you extend an offer in writing. “This form of job offer usually stipulates certain conditions such as the candidate’s ability to successfully pass background or drug and alcohol tests” (Bates, 2008, p. 58). Once completed, you are ready to provide your new employee with an onboarding packet which integrates them into your team prior to arrival making for a more seamless transition.

REFERENCES

50 Lessons. (2008). Lessons Learned, Straight Talk from the Worlds Business Leaders. Boston: Fifty Lessons Limited.

Bates, M. (2008). Health Fitness Management. Champaign: Human Kinetics.

Dessler, G. (2011). Human Resource Management. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Stock, P. (2013). Values-Based Hiring. Paul Stock.

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