How to benefit from today’s huge pool of prospective employees—while it’s still plentiful!


Unemployment remains near double digits, meaning there are nearly five unemployed or underemployed workers competing for each available job. To take advantage of the best market for hiring in several decades, start by unearthing the best candidates. The days of simply placing a “want” ad in the local paper are long gone, but there are many good (and some free!) ways to attract potential team members.

Tamara Friedman, owner of Tamara Spa & Wellness in Farmington, Michigan, successfully hired three new employees, and reports that Craigslist is a solid free option. Others have had more success with low-cost recruiting sites like and

Friedman has also allowed prospective employees to apply directly, via her spa’s website, but warns that filtering these responses can be a time drain. “We can get a hundred emails a day; it’s so easy to apply with just one click,” she says. (Recruiting sites often require applicants to create an account or jump through a few hoops before clicking ‘Submit.’) Also, the applications often paint a false picture. “The resumés make everyone sound so wonderful, but then in reality I usually find them to be different,” says Friedman.

So, before seeking general solicitation, Friedman recommends recruiting through two familiar constituencies: clients and employees. “I always send out an email to clients, and spread the word among my employees to see if they know of good candidates,” she says. She also offers her employees a monetary bonus for successful referrals, because “I think it’s always a good idea to hire based on recommendations from people you trust, because applicants will be more honest.”

Ann Emich-Patton, owner of Savvy Spas Consulting in Scottsdale, Arizona, agrees that word-of-mouth often nets the best fish. “Get the word out to industry colleagues who are well connected through university programs, social media and industry networking organizations,” she says. When candidates inquire about compensation, Emich-Patton encourages spa owners to be prepared with creative compensation packages stipulating quarterly incentives for goal achievements, and providing a clear articulation of the values and culture of your spa business. “Knowing [and communicating] where you’re going and how the team will operate to get there is most important,” she says.

The Hot Seat

Now comes the hard part: the interview process. It’s important to establish an interview environment that allows you to conduct an objective assessment of the qualifications of the candidate, while presenting your spa in a very positive light.

“Remember that the interview, like every other touch point in the selection process, is a marketing opportunity for your company,” notes Peggy Wynne Borgman, a longtime spa owner and head of consulting firm Wynne Business Solutions. Borgman does not recommend high-stress interviews; she’s a proponent of open-ended questions and allowing the candidate plenty of time to respond. “Have questions prepared, but don’t be afraid to follow an interesting lead into further questions,” she advises, adding that it’s important to conduct the interview in a quiet setting—”your office, not a busy coffee shop”—without interruption.

“Knowing [and communicating] where you’re going and how the team will operate to get there is most important.”

Another key component to successful interviewing, however, is consistency. Failure to be consistent can result in poor hiring decisions, according to spa consultant Skip Williams, owner of Resources and Development in Las Vegas. “Script your interview so that all candidates get the same questions, and you are able to compare apples to apples,” he cautions. “Don’t fall prey to your own ego and vanity by hiring people you personally like or see yourself in; hire those who complement your skills and fit within your culture.”

Friedman advises starting with a phone interview to narrow down potential candidates. She follows up with a one-on-one meeting and always checks references. Emich-Patton abides by the following rules for the interview process:
1. Have at least two people on staff interview each prospective candidate.
2. Provide a clear job description for detailed discussion during the interview.
3. Create an inviting atmosphere to attract the candidate (they are interviewing you as well!).
4. Include open-ended questions such as, “What is the most important quality one should have for teamwork?” and, follow this with, “Tell me about a co-worker who didn’t have it, and what you did to enhance the situation.”
5. When evaluating management candidates, consider using common professional behavior assessment tools such as DISC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance).

Gauging the Market

If you haven’t hired in a while, you may have lost touch with market pay levels for certain positions, in which case Emich-Patton suggests conducting a simple survey. “Just check your competition to find out how much it might take to attract a new employee,” she urges. “You’d be surprised how many people will share this information if you’re willing to share yours with them.”

Borgman has another approach. She believes you should focus internally when determining pay rates. “We are far less concerned about market pay than about determining a pay plan that works for our company and our business model,” she says. “You must understand what you can afford to pay, and the balance between your costs, your overhead and your pricing strategy.” Borgman describes her pay system as a “treatment rate system” that is based on fee for service rather than straight commission. Williams too has seen a movement away from a commission-based pay system, with many spas finding success with hourly based pay practices, which allow a staff to create goals as a team, and often also boost overall cross-promotion and cooperation.

Not surprisingly, most markets have seen a reduction in compensation these past few years, so be careful not to overpay. “From what I am seeing, spas are adjusting their pay rates down, particularly for new hires,” confides Emich-Patton. “Spa owners are getting more creative with compensation too, including incentives for everything from retail sales to repeat guest ratios.”

Remember, it’s the best time in decades to make your dream team happen. Follow these basic guidelines, and you’ll soon have much praise to dole out at staff meetings.Your spa will also be much better poised to stand out from the pack once economic recovery picks up full speed.

J. Tol Broome, Jr. is a freelance financial writer.

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