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5 Characteristics to Look for When Hiring a Trainer

Last month I wrote about the essentials that a person new to training needs to know first, which got me thinking about the qualities I look for in a trainer. In an article in the September TD Magazine, Hendrick Automotive Group identified the five criteria that they believe defined an effective trainer. I would agree with all five of these criteria. They are:

  • Possesses a servant's heart
  • Is a lifelong learner
  • Is self-motivated
  • Is a subject matter expert
  • Is an effective communicator

Servant's heart

I would probably phrase this one differently and say a good trainer wants to help other people succeed. When I realized that my mission in life was to help other people do their jobs better (while always getting better myself), it was like the sun rose for the first time. As simple as that mission statement is, it excited and empowered me. A good trainer will be similarly excited about helping people do better in their jobs - not just learn new things but perform better. This is a servant's heart for a trainer.

Interviewing a trainer candidate

The danger, of course, is that if my identity comes out of helping other people, I could resent it when they no longer need my help. That's taking things too far! I want the people I work with to master what is required to improve job performance and then move on. I'm not the least bit interested in remaining the person they always turn to for help. I'd rather encourage them to learn things for themselves.

To assess this quality in interviews, I will ask questions like these:

  1. Could you describe a time when you worked with someone else to improve their performance?
  2. When you are dealing with a trainee in general, what is the most important thing for you to do and/or remember?
  3. Could you list some qualities of a good trainer?

Lifelong Learner

As a trainer, I'm also excited about learning new information and skills myself. That enthusiasm can then be transmitted to people in my classes. I want people to get excited about seeing things in a new light, about learning a new shortcut or technique, and about mastering a new process or technology. For every person, that "something" will likely be a bit different than all of the other people in the class, but that's exciting. A trainer who is not a lifelong learner will struggle with change and may end up training things that are no longer relevant or helpful to the job because they are not adapting. In the modern world, EVERYONE needs to be a lifelong learner, and the trainer who is helping others cope with change has to be a lifelong learner especially.

To assess this quality in interviews, I will ask questions like these:

  1. Tell me something that you have recently learned.
  2. What would you most like to learn about for yourself?
  3. What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?


Someone who is self-motivated is looking for what needs to be done rather than waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Trainers need this quality to identify areas where improvements are needed and to address those areas - often on the fly. A trainer can't wait for a manager to tell them what to do but instead needs to be feeding information up to managers and across to supervisors and quality. What do we see in the classroom? How well did people perform? Where did they struggle? What process change might help eliminate frequent errors? That's all valuable information to the contact center. Similar information can come from supervisors and quality if they take the time to reflect on what they observe. The point is that a good trainer sees a need and reaches out to resolve that need without being told. If nothing else, they are speaking up as advocates for their classes to make it easier for them to do a good job.

To assess this quality in interviews, I will ask questions like these:

  1. Could you tell me about some new ideas and suggestion you have made to your supervisor in your current job? Which were accepted and why?
  2. Tell me about a time when you identified that a policy or process change would unexpectedly impact the customer. What did you do?
  3. What do you do differently than other employees in your current job?

Subject matter expert

Trainers have to know the content they are training so that they can speak with authority, share stories and examples that ring true (because they are true), and can address reliably the questions that come up as others are learning. Without a certain amount of expertise, trainers will quickly lose credibility with their learners and be far less effective than when they convey that they know what they are talking about. Trainers don't have to know the answer to every question right on the spot. It is okay to parking lot a question and then go and find out the answer. But if a trainer continually has to go and find out information or has to refer to another subject matter expert, then trainees begin to think they are wasting their time and that they can't trust the information that is being presented.

To assess this quality in interviews, I will ask questions like these:

  1. Tell me about the most challenging customer situation you have had to deal with.
  2. Tell me about a time when you were unable to do what the customer wanted. How did you handle the situation?
  3. What have you done to add value to your department?

Effective communicator

This one should be obvious. Trainers do a lot of communicating - verbally and in writing. We present information, we listen to what other people are saying, we identify issues, and we write training materials and reports. We often have to express complex ideas simply so that people new to the concept can grasp it.

To assess this quality in interviews, I will ask questions like these:

  1. Could you describe a time when your ability to listen helped you communicate better?
  2. Could you describe a situation where your enthusiasm persuaded a person(s) to your point of view?
  3. Could you describe a difficult employee relations issue you were involved with and how you managed it?

I don't just ask questions to determine if my training candidates have these criteria. Anyone who I think is a top candidate; I also ask to teach me something in 15 minutes. They can choose any topic, any media, and any approach. I give them a day or two to prepare and let them know that they will have a small group of 5-6 people to train. I always invite other trainers to attend these sessions (and we really look forward to them), and sometimes also invite supervisors, quality, or account managers if they are available.

These 15-minute training demos reveal a lot about the candidate's ability to train people. And I've seen presentations on how to crochet, how to cut hair, how to mix oil-based colors, people's hometown or state of birth, Medicare's "donut hole" in benefits, trivia about the Simpsons series, and so many more topics. Not all of the demos have been good, but all have been revealing of the candidate's ability to help others, to be lifelong learners, to be self-motivating, to be an expert, and most of all to be an effective communicator. The very qualities that I look for in a trainer.

Looking for resources to develop your trainers? Learn more about ICMI's Trainer Development Workshop.