Matthew Cain by Matthew Cain
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If you are a newly certified health and exercise professional, it can be a challenge to figure out how or where to begin your career. First, although it is important to work hard, it is more important to work smart, so you may gain experiences that truly align with your career ambitions and goals. Following are two highly effective approaches to launching your journey into a rewarding and successful career.

Informational Interview

Informational interviews are a great starting point to learn from top professionals in the fitness industry. This type of interview gives you the chance to ask a skilled, experienced professional questions about his or her career pathway, pros and cons of the field, career mistakes and specifics about his or her role within the health and fitness industry. It is a great opportunity to learn about the field in general, while narrowing down your career plan options, networking and learning how to enter the field. It should be noted, however, that the purpose of this interview is not to obtain an internship or job. Rather, the purpose of an informational interview is to obtain career advice and network, even though an internship or a job may come eventually from this interaction at some point down the road.

So, you’re probably wondering who you should interview. The best choice is to interview a professional who inspires you and whose career you would like to emulate. Take a risk and reach out through phone, in-person or messaging interactions (e.g., social media, email). Many of my  students have direct messaged top fitness professionals through Instagram for informational interview purposes and have received positive responses. Not surprisingly, many top professionals believe in paying it forward, which means they are willing to give of their time and knowledge to help upcoming professionals succeed in this industry.

After a professional has agreed to meet with you (either in person or virtually), prepare for the interview by learning everything you can about the individual through various outlets (e.g., web search, LinkedIn, social media). Knowing something about the individual’s educational background, certifications or professional appointments enables you to generate a list of potential questions that are relevant during the interview, along with other questions you may want to ask. Next, prepare for the interview by looking over the questions, arriving early for your interview and dressing appropriately. And don’t forget to keep things on the lighter side and have some fun. Following the interview, send a thank you letter and remember to stay in contact with the professional you interviewed. Staying connected with these professionals is not only essential to your development, it may also present opportunities in the future.

Internships and What to Gain From Them

Internships are another great starting point to learn from top professionals in the fitness industry, but where can you find one? In addition to web searches, try networking through fitness seminars and conferences, asking current professionals or professors you may already know, and performing informational interviews. Then reach out, apply and be willing to work hard. Just make sure your time and effort is worth it—internships, whether paid or unpaid (or considered a volunteer position), should provide value and aid in the development of a strong foundation that allows you to gain hands-on practical experience and scientific knowledge, while learning the how, what and why behind all the tasks you perform.

With that being said, any experience at the beginning is worthwhile. Through various internships, you should be able to gain the skills needed in the fitness industry, determine the pros and cons of various philosophies of your mentors, colleagues and supervisors, and realize that you need to create your own philosophy that aligns with your principles and values. Stay open-minded, try and utilize new strategies, understand what it means to use an evidence-based approach, always know why you are performing or recommending an exercise, and realize there are multiple strategies that can be used to yield similar results.

Summary

Both formal and informal education are essential as you start in your fitness journey. Do not be afraid to take risks, make mistakes, and work hard to obtain the job of your dreams. Make sure the time and effort you put into this process is worth it by gaining valuable experience that can positively impact your professional philosophy and aid in your overall development as health and exercise professional.