Hiring a trainer? 13 things to look out for before you sign on the dotted line
Corporate training is a huge industry. In the UK alone, there are thousands of training providers helping businesses improve the skills of their staff. Add overseas providers into the mix, and finding an external trainer worth their salt becomes a massive task.
This 13-point checklist is designed to help you quickly assess trainers — and find someone who's able to make a real difference in the training room.
1. Do they have a training qualification?
Unqualified trainers are really just 'dabbling in training' until they've learned the techniques and methods that ensure consistent training success.
Yes, some people are naturally talented. But the rigorous education that precedes gaining such a qualification is a real game changer.
2. Do they spend time getting to know your team?
Ask the trainers you've shortlisted how they'll go about training the team. The good ones will want to come see you and meet as many of the people they'll be training as possible — interviewing or shadowing them, doing pre-training exercises, or just having coffee and a chat.
Effective instruction has a human face, and it's democratic rather than a dictatorship. It's always built on relationship.
Sure, people also learn stuff when watching a video or using an app. But do they get the most out of it? Is it sufficient?
Would you be looking to hire a trainer if it was?
3. Do they 'diagnose' what people need to learn before they 'prescribe' a round of training?
Don't trust cheap, off-the-shelf courses: there is no one-size-fits-all in training.
A qualified trainer will always seek to build on the participants' previous knowledge. They'll work out a dedicated training offer that matches the gifts, skills, needs and possibilities of the group as much as possible. This means that the emotional, procedural, cognitive and social needs of your staff, as well as your company and local culture, will all find their way into the session.
The training is less likely to overwhelm (or underwhelm!) the group, and the trainer will even be able to differentiate certain parts of the workshop to suit individuals.
All this pre-work results in a better training atmosphere, less waste of time, and better outcomes.
4. Would they be able to do 'the job' themselves?
Would you hire a Spanish language trainer who's never lived in a Spanish-speaking country for an extended period of time?
A good trainer should have first-hand knowledge of what they're teaching others. When asked for advice about their subject, they should be able to offer a well founded, professional view.
Before you decide 'yay or nay', ask yourself: would you generally trust this person to do the job of those they're about to train?
5. Do they collaborate with your in-house trainers?
Many companies already have a training department and hire external trainers to contribute new ideas, add a specialist edge, or simply help with the sheer amount of required training.
If that's you, check how the trainers in question engage with your in-house team.
Great trainers are also keen learners. They usually embrace every opportunity to work with colleagues. They'll want to learn from your team's experience and find ways to help their session 'slot into' the existing training framework.
Also, if you're in the market for 'train the trainer', ask questions about what that means to the provider.
Is it a regular training session, delivered to your in-house trainers — leaving them to work out how exactly to use the material in their own training workshops?
Or is it a session specifically designed to 'up-skill' your in-house team, teaching them new facts, techniques and methods and providing materials that will enable them to deliver a new workshop almost instantly?
6. Do they take a structured approach to planning the session?
Great training uses a maximum amount of the available time to teach people new stuff.
Making this happen requires
an awareness of the environment in which the training will take place;
clarity about intended learning outcomes;
structuring the available time into a beginning, middle and end; and
Excellent training providers will ask about the circumstances and conditions in which people will be learning, and they'll offer you a draft agenda that includes timings.
7. Do they have stage presence?
Your staff will experience the trainer directly via their language and body language.
Meet prospective providers in person, or at least via video chat, and observe them: do they speak in a way that's easy to understand? Do they vary the tone of their voice and add emphasis in all the right places? Does their body language fit their words?
Whether you're planning in-person training or e-learning, this kind of communication skill is the key to a positive learning relationship with your staff.
8. Would they be able to train your team empty-handed, under a tree, if they had to?
Some trainers are nothing without death-by-powerpoint.
The good ones are able to ask deep questions and pose problems that get your teams thinking, no matter what.
They've mastered the subject, and they only use visuals for added support and interest.
If there was a power cut, they'd be able to adapt at least to some extent.
9. Do they take pride in the visual design of their materials?
This may seem contradictory to the previous point.
But brilliant trainers are expert visualisers.
Just think of how we describe good teachers: we say they can give 'vivid' or 'graphic' descriptions and explain things 'clearly'.
What is more, most people are predominantly visual learners, especially when they need to structure new information.
Designing training material is only partly about making things look attractive (which, admittedly, makes learning easier by itself).
It's also about determining how to visualise complex information — choosing what to show, in what sequence, and how — and what to leave out.
10. Do they aim higher than just for testable facts and skills?
A lot of corporate training is fantastically boring.
It starts and ends with a list of facts people will learn, and after the session there's a multiple-choice test confirming that they've actually learned that list of facts.
You don't need a human trainer to run a workshop like that.
An app, website or video series is a cheaper solution.
Anything worth hiring a trainer for is inherently built on factual knowledge plus social skills, attitudes and emotions.
The people you're considering for the job should show an awareness of that fact.
11. Do they know how to effect attitude changes and improved social skills?
Ask candidates how they'll bring about the changes that you want to see.
Don't trust slides that say 'team work' or 'be professionally friendly' — look for a better answer:
What tasks and exercises will open new perspectives for your staff?
How will the trainer select training methods that foster the group dynamics you need to develop?
12. Do they have a high opinion of the people they've trained?
Ask the trainer about previous groups they've worked with.
The best trainers remember the people they instructed, and they remember them fondly.
Sure, they may also remember the cynic in the room, or the person that didn't stop talking. But training success depends on mutual respect and openness.
If you're thinking of hiring a trainer again, ask the same question.
They should be able to point out areas that need further work in a friendly, appreciative way.
13. Do they ask participants for detailed feedback after the session?
I've said it before: great trainers are keen learners. They want to know what worked for the group and each individual so they can do things better next time.
So, ask the trainer you're thinking of hiring about the feedback they've had previously.
Whether it's a paper form or a survey, they should give participants a way to voice their opinion.
Over to you
What would you add to this list?