Best Hiring Practices

February 9, 2017


By Mike Matheny

Mike Matheny, MS, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Ithaca College. He can be reached at:


I believe one of the most critical things a head athletic trainer may be tasked with doing is hiring staff. There is a certain excitement generated by the opportunity to hire a staff member, whether the vacancy came about because of someone leaving or the creation of a new position. A new hire represents the opportunity to add to the skill set of your staff, create a better staff dynamic, and generate excitement and energy within the ranks of your students. Conversely, a poor hiring decision can create significant challenges for the head athletic trainer and existing staff. Personality clashes, athlete and coach dissatisfaction, and a myriad of other problems can arise from making the wrong choice.

Since it’s so important, how do you make the most of a hiring opportunity? Here are seven tips:

1. Carefully craft the position announcement. For example, if you want to hire an experienced athletic trainer, your “Qualifications” section should list work experience as a requirement for consideration, thereby eliminating new graduates from your pool. Generally speaking, the more specific the position announcement, the smaller the pool of applicants. You’ll need to weigh the pluses of a more manageable applicant pool versus the minuses of limited options.

2. Use your network. At Ithaca College, we definitely want our alumni aware of an athletic training opening. Former students are a great resource for spreading the word about your position to as many potential candidates as possible.

3. Do your due diligence. In my opinion, the best way to determine the quality and suitability of an applicant is to talk with previous supervisors. If you have a relationship with one of their supervisors—they could be a former colleague or student, for example—that is even better, since they probably have a feel for the culture of your work environment.

4. Look for potential red flags. None of these are definite deal breakers, but each should prompt you to dig a little deeper.

• The applicant has work experience but hasn’t stayed long at any one job.

• The applicant appears to be moving backward in terms of job responsibility. For example, they’ve moved from a head athletic trainer to an assistant to part time.

• The applicant is a new graduate but doesn’t list any of their athletic training preceptors as references.

• The applicant’s cover letter and resume are poorly written or contain errors or typos.

• During the phone or in-person interview, the applicant has no questions about the position.

5. Involve varied stakeholders in the interview process. We like to involve students from our athletic training education program, athletes, coaches, and administrators and gather feedback from all of these groups. This is important because, for example, an applicant who seems acceptable to your athletes may make a poor impression on coaches and administration.

6. Structure the interview so you see the applicant in varied situations. We try to include a formal interview with the search committee, a slightly less formal individual or small group session with students, coaches, or athletes, and more relaxed sessions involving lunch or dinner. All of these can give you insight into the person you’re thinking about hiring.

7. Don’t discount your gut feelings regarding “fit.” It’s tough in the limited time typically involved with the interview process, but try to get a sense of how the candidate will fit in as a member of your staff. Do they share similar philosophies on items such as patient care, interacting with coaches, and student education? Is this a person you and the rest of your staff are going to be happy working closely with each day? If the answer to either of these questions is “no,” maybe that particular candidate is not the best choice.

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