I Hired an Intern With an English Literature Degree and Zero Coaching Experience - It Was a Good Move

This past weekend I asked the Twittersphere for blog ideas and my buddy Sean came through with a question that sparked a great CSP memory. Let me tell you how Roger Lawson got his foot in the door of the fitness industry…


February 14, 2009

I’m sitting in the back of the room at the MBSC Winter Seminar minding my own business, waiting for Eric Cressey’s presentation to begin, when a smiling young man in his early 20’s approaches me holding a manila folder and a wrapped present.

Hey! I’m Roger Lawson. I’d like to submit an application for your summer internship program.

I’d been exchanging emails with Roger during the weeks leading up to this event answering questions about our application process and submission deadlines. As far as I knew, he was a college student from Michigan considering applying for our internship.

So I accepted the folder containing his pristinely formatted and printed application and asked the first two questions that came to mind. “Aren’t you from Michigan? That’s a long way to go for a one-day seminar. Secondly, what’s the deal with the gift?”

Roger’s answers to these two questions set the wheels in motion toward me selecting a candidate who, on paper, had no business even being offered an interview for a spot in our program.

1.    “I’m here today more because I wanted to hand-deliver my application than I am for the learning opportunity. When you read my resume you will see that I am entirely unqualified for this position as it relates to professional and academic experience. That’s a big hurdle for me to get over, so I’m starting by looking you in the eye and telling you how serious I am about pursuing a spot in your program.”

2.    “As far as the gift goes, I am here to fix something that is clearly broken in your life. I recently read in Tony Gentilcore’s blog that you have never seen the movie Friday. This is completely unacceptable. I just drove 700 miles in part because I needed to give you this DVD.”

I’d imagine that a few of my readers already know and love Roger Lawson. Those people are probably unsurprised by this story. The rest of you may be asking yourselves why I was willing to compromise on our “ideal” intern candidate and accept him in to our program. 

Here are two great reasons why you should occasionally step outside of your hiring comfort zone as we did with Mr. Lawson.

1. Quirky personalities make every aspect of a training session entertaining:

Our industry is full of robotic coaching styles and vanilla personalities.  There are a thousand fitness professionals who say “hips through” while coaching a deadlift, but only one who can effortlessly slip a Cinnabon reference in to the series of cues he uses to help an athlete conceptualize proper execution of the lift.

We tend to forget that the bulk of our clients’ time in the gym is spent recovering from brief bursts of training.  Filling downtime with positive experiences is far easier when you can tell people about that time you placed in the Top-10 at the 2008 World Rock-Paper-Scissors Championship (actual Roger Lawson fun-fact).

It is every bit as important that we provide quality fitness instruction as it is that we deliver a memorable training experience.  It is hard to find an intern that clients continue to ask about nearly seven years after the conclusion of their time with us; Roger is one of those rare coaches.

2. Under-qualified coaches know they have to work harder to achieve success:

In her TED Talk entitled Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume, Regina Hartley explained that in her role as a human resources professional, she often finds herself deciding between two very different types of job candidates: on one side of the candidate pool you have what she calls the “Silver Spoons,” e.g. the Ivy League graduates with the impeccable resumes; on the other side you’ll find a group she’s labeled “The Scrappers.”  Scrappers are candidates who’ve battled considerably different and difficult odds to get to the same point.  According to Hartley, the latter group deserves strong consideration because they are underestimated contenders “whose secret weapons are passion and purpose.” 

During the internship interview process I asked Roger why he deserved one of three spots in a program for which 20+ considerably more qualified individuals had applied. He told me that his comparative lack of experience meant that he would enter the program dying to learn and without any existing bad coaching habits.  He was a clean slate upon which we could create a coach that would thrive in our model. 

Charisma cannot be overvalued  

Roger also possessed the rare and valuable skill of charismatic optimism, which is arguably more distinguished than passion and purpose combined.

You can have too many shoulder specialists on one team, an excess of nutrition gurus, or more PRI enthusiasts than any single staff could possibly need.  What never becomes redundant, however, is the introduction of another charismatic extrovert to the training floor of your gym.  Most gyms could use less “Silver Spoons” and more Rogers.