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What Do Employers Want?

Riebe, Deborah A. Ph.D., FACSM

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e31829754f9
COLUMNS: ACSM Certification

Disclosure: The author declares no conflict of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.

Deborah A. Riebe, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Riebe is a past president of the New England Chapter of ACSM and is the current chair of ACSM’s Committee on Certification and Registry Boards. Her research focuses on promoting physical activity in special populations, with an emphasis on obesity and aging.

Searching for a professional position is not an easy task. Whether you are looking for your first professional position, seeking a new more challenging position, or looking for advancement within your current place of employment, the process can be stressful. In most cases, you know exactly what you are looking for: a position that you love and affords you the pleasure to work with great colleagues. You have likely considered the type of clients or patients that you want to work with, the physical setting, the day-to-day job tasks, the salary and benefits, and the opportunity for advancement. Although you may spend a great deal of time thinking about your own career trajectory and the factors that are important to you, did you ever consider what employers look for in potential employees? If you don’t know what an employer is looking for, you can’t properly communicate why you are the most qualified person for the position.

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A successful job candidate must be able to demonstrate that he or she has the knowledge and skills necessary for the position. Earning the appropriate certification demonstrates that you have the competency to successfully complete the tasks associated with the job and that you’re keeping your expertise current and up-to-date.

To be a successful professional, you also need attributes and skills that are pertinent to the position. Attributes are talents that you are born with; in other words, you have them or you don’t. You may not realize all of your attributes at a certain point in your life, but if you have the potential for something, then you have the attribute for that talent. Skills can be learned even if you don’t possess them and can be lost if they are not practiced. Attributes and skills often are related. For example, you may have a natural ability (attribute) to be energetic in front of a crowd, but unless you practice the art of teaching group exercise, you won’t develop or improve the skill. Being able to identify your attributes and skills is important in planning your career, but it also is crucial in securing a position. Throughout the recruitment process — in networking, developing your resume, applying for positions, and interviewing — you will need to identify your attributes and skills and communicate them effectively to potential employers.

What are the knowledge, attributes, and skills that today’s employers deem important? Certain attributes and skills that have traditionally been, and remain, important for exercise professionals include written and oral communication skills, intelligence, a strong work ethic, leadership, and a deep knowledge of exercise science. Exceptional interpersonal skills, the ability to work well with a variety of individuals, and enthusiasm also are essential for success in our field.

In this new world of instantaneous knowledge and the fast pace of today, other factors also are cited often by employers as being very important.

* The ability to handle a high volume of work in an organized fashion. Many people mistakenly refer to this quality as multitasking or the act of doing multiple tasks at once. Scientists have discovered that it is not possible to concentrate on more than one task at a time. When an individual tries to do that, the quality of the work often suffers because of split attention. However, having the ability to be agile, so you can focus all of your attention on one task and then move it rapidly and intentionally to the next, is an important quality in today’s fast-paced work environments.

* Having a strong online presence. If you’re searching for a new job, it’s safe to assume that some prospective employers will run an Internet search before they call you. Being part of a professional network such as LinkedIn, creating a great Web site, or being an active blogger may help promote yourself and your career. Just be sure that all of your online information presents you in a professional manner.

* Willingness to accept change. Today’s world changes quickly, and employees must be able to change with it. Being flexible and demonstrating a willingness to take on new responsibilities are more important than ever.

* The ability to motivate others. Understanding and being able to apply the science of behavior change to promote the adoption of and adherence to regular physical activity as part of an overall healthy lifestyle are critical.

* The ability to work independently/autonomouslyand cooperatively within a team. In many clinical and health fitness settings, interdisciplinary teams of health professionals from diverse fields work in a coordinated fashion toward a common goal for a patient/client. For example, a team consisting of a physician, registered dietitian, and an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) health fitness specialist might work together in developing a plan for an individual with type 2 diabetes.

We asked two leading employers in the field what they think is important in hiring today’s exercise professionals. Brad A. Roy, Ph.D., FACHE, FACSM, ACSM-CES, is the executive director of The Summit Medical Fitness Center in Kalispell, MT, a large certified medical fitness facility. Dr. Roy suggested that internship experience is extremely important and valuable for those just beginning their career, especially when undertaken in a variety of settings/facilities. He also stated that understanding behavior change and how to coach people through that process also is critical and is a weak area for many job applicants who have instead been trained to “tell” people what they should be doing. Dr. Roy expects his employees to stay abreast of current research and practice trends and encourages young professionals to align themselves with a more experienced individual who can mentor them. Dr. Roy described the optimal job candidate as someone with a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, exercise science, or related field, National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)-accredited certification relevant to his or her area of work (ACSM certification preferred), exceptional communication skills, especially verbal skills, and strong listening and coaching skills.The ideal candidate also will have achieved wellness coaching certification or have a background in behavior change. The clinical areas of the facility require licensed professionals (physical therapist, occupational therapist, registered nurse) and/or ACSM-certified professionals (clinical exercise specialist,registered clinical exercise physiologist).

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Dino Costanzo, M.A., ACSM-RCEP, FACSM, is the administrative director ofThe Center for Metabolic Health at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. The Center for Metabolic Health consistsof the departments of Health Promotion(primary and secondary prevention programs such as cardiac rehabilitation, medical fitness services, and community wellness), Diabetes Services,Medical and Surgical Weight Loss, and Clinical Research. The clinical team consists of laparoscopic surgeons, nonsurgical weight management physicians, endocrinologists, physician extenders and nurses, certified diabeteseducators, clinical psychologists/behaviorists, registered dietitians, clinical exercise physiologists, and exercise instructors. Mr. Costanzo reported that clinical exercise physiologists are required to have ACSM-RCEP or -CES certification. Exercise instructors are requiredto have ACSM-cPT certification,but ACSM-HFS is preferred. He stated that “ACSM certifications provideimmediate validation of minimalcompetencies for the skill sets neededfor the job. Our job descriptionsfor ourexercise professionals have been constructed specifically around the knowledge and skills identified within the ACSM credentials. Additionally,candidates who have taken theinitiativeto acquire ACSM credentials (aswell as other industry-respected credentials) have demonstrated a level of professionalism that is an exampletotheir investment in professional growth and development that separates/distinguishes them from others.”

If you anticipate searching for a professional position in the future, plan ahead. Think about your knowledge, skills, and attributes and create a plan to 1) effectively communicate them to a potential employer and 2) improve on weaker areas. Familiarize yourself with what today’s employers are looking for so that you may present yourself as a highly desirable job candidate. Finally, earn certifications and/or certificates that are valued by employers. For example, if you seek a position in corporate fitness, it may make you more marketable if you have ACSM-HFS plus ACSM-GEI or a health and wellness coaching certification.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine.