What does it look like when leaders in a fitness organization get fit for impact? 24Life sat down with Kersti Valerian, head of talent acquisition for 24 Hour Fitness and mom of 2-year-old twins, to ask how she fits fitness into her busy work and home life, why fitness is important for both employers and employees, how to find your dream job and more.

24Life: What is talent acquisition—what does your role entail?

KV: Rapid-fire is what it entails. We are always hiring—and with the number of locations that we have, always hiring en masse, especially as we’re continuing to grow. It’s very invigorating because it is fast-paced and there’s a lot going on, and from an industry perspective, evolving so rapidly. I have the pleasure of understanding what the industry is doing, how people are bringing candidates to their organization, and finding the right fit with an employee and 24 Hour Fitness.
It’s part matchmaking and part failing—getting our pitch out as to why someone would want to work for us. It’s a mutual interview; candidates are trying to find the right space for them, and we’re trying to find the best person for our team.

24Life: Tell us more about you: What is your background, and how did you come to be in talent acquisition as a career?

KV: I have maybe a more creative talent-acquisition profile than most because I actually started my career as a tax accountant. I worked for one of the Big Four accounting firms. I was recruited very early on in college and went all the way up through their process, including an internship and eventually going full time.

I went through a couple of busy seasons, and I remember specifically leaving the office one day, looking around and thinking, Something’s wrong. I forgot something. Something’s missing. What is going on? And then it hit me: The sun is out and I hadn’t seen the sun in five months. I was getting in so early and leaving so late that being on the street in daylight was shocking. That was my big wake-up call. But because I had been recruited so early on, I maintained a really close connection with the recruiting team and was often spending time at recruiting events representing the professional side and being able to speak to candidates, and I loved it. So when I had that shocking moment of “This isn’t for me, but what is?” that’s what came to mind, how much I really enjoyed getting to interact with candidates and tell them about the company and what it was like to work there. So I started transitioning into recruiting. I started from the ground up and eventually evolved from there. Then I found a high level of interest in the system side of the house, so I’m a complete talent-acquisition nerd. I built my career on knowing the system infrastructure, building systems, implementing systems, and that eventually led me to 24 Hour Fitness. Here, I’ve had the opportunity to continue to grow in this space and ultimately lead the team.

24Life: Were you personally always involved in health and fitness? Was that a big part of your life before 24 Hour Fitness?

KV: I would say less so in spending hours running on a treadmill. For me personally, a lot of my fitness tends to be in the outdoors, so whether that’s skiing, hiking or wake surfing, I just tend to do more activity-based fitness, and it’s been fun for me to come to 24 and get closer to understanding and actually attempting movements.

24Life: From the perspective of a company, how should we think about the integration of wellness and work, and conversely, how can an employee take responsibility for his or her health?

KV: The employee does own that as a responsibility of how they fit wellness into their day, and it’s the organization’s job to provide an environment where that’s accepted. I think what’s unique about working for 24 Hour Fitness is, in this organization, if you’re stepping out at lunch to go to the gym or taking a class midday, it’s seen as a positive because you’re connecting with our brand and you’re connecting with our members versus other organizations. But it’s really nice to see this shift in the industry as a whole, where some of the larger organizations are even hiring personal trainers on staff to sit in their corporate offices and help their employees because they’ve been able to draw a strong correlation to employee engagement when you have a level of health and happiness involved with fitness.

24Life: And for you personally, when do you fit in workouts, because you’ve got little ones at home?

KV: It is ever changing and quite challenging to be honest. I tend to make it kind of a race against the clock. So trying to get on the road faster, and if I’m able to dodge a little bit of traffic and get to the office early, then I might spend that half-hour walking or running on the trail or visiting the small gym we have on-site to try to squeeze in the hour.

24Life: How does fitness translate to the rest of your life?

KV: It is self-care. It’s an opportunity to spend time with myself and my body and give myself a reprieve from the million other things that I have going on. There’s a nice relief that comes with spending time on it. And for me personally, fitness has evolved in my life. It’s no longer about looking great in a bikini [but about how] can I keep up with my toddlers that are running 90 miles an hour all day long. And making sure I have the level of energy that they do or at least enough that I can handle their level of energy.

24Life: What do you think people are now looking for in a career?

KV: This has been a really interesting shift, and there’s a ton of research on it. It’s no longer baseline about a paycheck. It’s about finding an organization that you can relate to and aligns with your values. And that has been more and more, over the last few years, rising to the top in what candidates are looking for in their next company.

24Life: Any tips you have for candidates for finding their dream job?

KV: I think starting to pinpoint what companies you have heard great things about or companies that align with your personal values and understanding what you may be open to—that might include relocating to get near that company. Just figuring out what those companies are and then starting to watch what they have available. That’s actually how I found my role at 24 Hour Fitness. I was looking for something closer to home to reduce my commute to have more work-life balance, and I saw where 24 was headquartered and just started monitoring their career page so that I could see when something would be a fit for me came up. And it did.

It’s a hot market, and it’s a candidate’s market. A lot of companies are hiring significant volumes right now. So I think the candidate has a lot of negotiating room, for sure. But be proactive, and when you’ve identified those companies, go on LinkedIn or Glassdoor so you can start to see who the leadership is of the company or even in your particular function and start to reach out and make connections. You’d be shocked at how many people are willing to do an informational interview or grab coffee to talk about their role, especially when they love their company. It becomes an area of excitement for people to be able to share their message. So you’ll find most people are fairly receptive, and I would highly encourage that.

24Life: Obviously, it depends on the industry and the role, but are there particular skills that every candidate should consider?

KV: Yes, absolutely. We are in the age of artificial intelligence. So adaptability and continuous learning should be top of mind for everyone. The evolution of all our jobs will change in some way as artificial intelligence gets more embedded into our technologies in our workplaces. So make sure you have that flexibility and want to be continuously learning and developing yourself so that you can set yourself up for what your future role might look like.

24Life: What about social media—what is your general advice in that space?

KV: So everything that has been posted online is available for employers to view. Certainly, you can choose to have private profiles and things like that, but I would always encourage everyone to use caution when leveraging social media because many employers do review profiles before making a determination. And social media has become a large space for recruitment. We are often reaching out to candidates on social media, so your profile is front and center when we’re doing that.

You never know who could be looking. Take Facebook, for example. You can indicate your industry and your current position, and it could be that we’re seeking someone with that exact skill set. So it could be an opportunity for you. Instead of looking at it as a limiter, I would look at it as how you can leverage it to promote yourself as a candidate.

24Life: So why would somebody want to work at 24 Hour Fitness?

KV: I think being a talent-acquisition professional, I feel incredibly blessed that 24 Hour Fitness is the brand that I’m working for because it truly sells itself. It is immensely helpful to have a company that has such a strong mission and values behind it—not just wanting to change lives but wanting to be involved in everyone’s life in such a positive place. It’s going to sound so cliché, but we are truly passionate about fitness and what it can do for people. And you feel that in the culture and in the environment; everyone is excited to be coming to work doing what they do.

24Life: What advice do you have for someone facing burnout?

KV: I think we’re all going to face that at some point. But that being said, the question is: How can you rebound from it, and what can you do to find the right balance? I think that the most critical aspect of maintaining your happiness in a company or in a position is defining what that balance is for you, and then sticking to that and being really firm on what your boundaries are so that you can maintain your happiness both in and out of the office.

Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com