Employees Only


How to recruit, hire and keep the best people for your club's staff.

At the risk of sounding like Forest Gump, picking the right employees for your health club is like looking for the yummy, butter cream candy in a box of unlabeled chocolates. If you're not careful, you'll end up getting your hands messy with only a chocolate-covered jelly to show for it.

Let's face it: Your club deserves to have butter creams. Your clients deserve to get butter creams. But where are those elusive butter creams? How do you find and choose the best for your club? And once you've got the best, how do you keep them?

“Hiring is not done just when you need a space filled,” stresses Casey Conrad, president of the Rhode Island-based Communication Consultants and the national chain Healthy Inspirations Weight Loss Centers. “You've got to be always looking for good people.”

In other words, wherever you are — whether it's a conference, a seminar, working out in a club, or even a restaurant having dinner — when you meet someone who might make a good employee, offer her your business card. Let her know if she's ever looking for a job, to give you a call. Even if you don't have a job to offer her immediately, chances are sometime soon you will.

“Everybody's struggling — I mean I'm struggling to keep my centers staffed,” Conrad says. “The job market is a little tight right now.”

Because the country boasts a low-unemployment rate at present, and the fitness industry conversely claims a high turnover rate, it's doubly important that you choose your employees right the first time.

Who makes the best fitness club employees? Generally, people who already are fitness club employees.

Whether you recruit from within your own club or from within the industry in general, you're much more likely to be happy with your choice if the potential hire has fitness club experience. So ask around among your staff and other fitness contacts. Do they know someone who's thinking of switching clubs and would fit in at your facility? Better yet, is there an existing employee you can promote?

“We prefer to find [employees] from within,” explains Lauren Eller, the human resources director for the Chicago-based Fitness Formula club chain. “First and foremost, we always look from within our own company. Beyond that, employee referrals have been good to us as well as recruiting from within the industry.”

You can also look outside the box for recruiting sources. Need a great people person for your front desk? Consider wait staff. Many of these people have already been trained in public relations and customer service. It might only take a little bit of nudging from you to get them to try the fitness industry.

Internal Help

Eller, who leads Fitness Focus' human resources department in implementing employee orientation and management training programs, says her club has also successfully recruited interns, who were later hired to fill full- or part-time positions.

But just because interns work for free, or in some cases a small stipend (Fitness Focus pays about $100 a month to each of its interns), doesn't mean their labor is easy to come by. Schools are looking for quality work experiences for their students, not just jobs wiping down exercise equipment and cleaning bathrooms.

“They basically interview you to see that you're not just looking for free labor,” explains Conrad. “You have to put together a quality and very interesting [job] package for that person…. The problem is most companies don't know what to do with interns. They just go, ‘Oooh, free labor.’ You have to treat them just like employees.”

This means that once you have worked with a local school to set up an internship program, you must interview the potential interns to see if they are suited to working in your club. Furthermore, you must document your work expectations for them, give them oral and written warnings if they are performing unsatisfactorily, and even fire them if need be.

“Lay out the agreements of the job before they start,” advises Klaus Hilgers, president of Epoch Consultants Inc. in Clearwater, Fla.

If an intern requires this much effort, it only makes sense that the process becomes a little more complicated when you are hiring paid employees. Fortunately, you can lessen some of the complications early on with a carefully worded “help wanted” ad.

According to Hilgers, ads shouldn't read: “Looking for enthusiastic person. Good pay/good hours.” “I like to put in things like ‘challenging,’ ‘long hours,’ ‘good commission structure’…rather than make it seem like a Pollyanna type of thing,” he explains.

Why? Because if the ad makes the job seem too easy and too great, then you may attract applicants who are otherwise unqualified or aren't interested in working hard. People shouldn't come to a job expecting only fun experiences.

In order to get the right people, you have to experiment with different ad approaches. “You need to write interesting classifieds to attract people and you need to test your ad copy for responses,” Conrad says.

Play around with the text. Change your adjectives. Switch headlines. Decide if it's better to put the exact pay rate in the copy or just the range.

“Definitely have attributes of what you're looking for,” Conrad continues. “Like ‘upbeat,’ ‘self-motivated.’ At least use the ad as a filter for getting the candidates you are looking for.”

You also may want to play around with the job description. Liz Lashbrook, the sales and marketing director/manager for Northwest's Cascade Athletic Clubs, changed her ad header from “Membership Director” to “Athletic Director.” Because the ad fell under “A” in the classifieds, Lashbrook got much more responses from people who might not have read all the way to the “M” listings.

Besides considering your word choices, consider your placement choices. In addition to the obvious — newspapers, fitness magazines (both trade and commercial) and Web site classifieds (headhunter.com or monster.com, for instance) — you also may want to place them in areas your potential employee would come across. For instance, if you need a yoga instructor, advertise in a mind/body type of magazine or put flyers up in your local health food stores.

It's Your Call

Advertising will get your club résumés, but you will still need to conduct a telephone interview before doing a face-to-face interview.

The phone interview is a good way of determining whether you want to spend your time in an interview with the person. For instance, you can determine whether the person is able to work full or part time, or has realistic salary requirements. (Speaking of salary, sites like salary.com or healthclubjobs.com offer insight on just how much you should be expecting to pay your employees.)

When conducting a telephone interview, it's important to be consistent in your questions. The same goes for a face-to-face interview.

“If you are not consistent with the questions for that interview, you will allow the personality of the [interviewee] to dictate the questions of that interview,” Conrad says. She recommends writing down everything you want to ask the person beforehand, or sticking to a standardized form.

The questions you ask an applicant are key to the interview (for more on what you legally can and cannot ask during an interview, see “Say What?”). “Are you a hard worker?” won't tell you much. Very few people will answer, “No” — whether it's the truth or not.

On the other hand, open-ended questions like “Why do you want to work for us?” or “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses” offer you a wealth of insight if you know how to listen.

“All of these questions are asked on an open-ended basis, so they can't just give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” explains Eller.

Hilgers likes to break down interview questions into three categories: motivational, personality and results-oriented. Motivational could include such questions as “Why would you want to work for a fitness club?” or “What goals do you have?” These questions determine what the applicant wants out of the job.

Personality questions include “What is your favorite aspect of being in a club?” If the applicant's answer is “people,” obviously he is a people-oriented person, and probably has the proper personality for the job.

“Most people don't ask results-oriented type questions,” Hilgers says of the third category. These include “What did you accomplish on your last job?” or “How did your numbers compare to other people's number?”

“If a person can't tell you, that's not a good indicator,” Hilgers claims.

While you want to learn as much about the person as possible during an interview, you still want the applicant to feel relaxed and open. So you may want to save the tougher questions for later. Start off with something lighter, such as, “Why do you like the fitness industry?”

“An interview is a lot like bringing someone into your home,” Eller explains. “You want them to feel comfortable….”

And if you make them feel comfortable, you may wind up with a better interview. Eller points out that most people like to talk about themselves. As long as you ask the right questions and put people at ease, prospects will probably volunteer information about themselves.

In some cases, you can determine the things that they don't volunteer (such as what types of people they work best with, how they like to structure their work routine, and so on) through personality testing. At least, that's what Employee Selection and Development Inc.'s (ESDI) Director Bert Zinkand claims.

Through ESDI's testing systems, companies can find out what type of personality a prospective employee has (Type A, B, C or D; see “Are You My Type?” at clubindustry.com for more details), and whether it will match an immediate supervisor's personality. They can even find out how well these applicants score on a Sales Strategy Index or the Orion Core Values and Integrity Survey. Through ESDI, Zinkand says, employers can “clone” their best workers.

Sound a little creepy? Perhaps, but according to Zinkand, “We help people duplicate their best employees and we just do it through testing.”

Here's how it works. “You test your best people, and that best, if you will, becomes the baseline for that position,” Zinkand says. In other words, if a new applicant tests similarly as a successful employee in the same or similar job position, chances are she will also do well at the job (for detailed information about the testing process, or to take a sample test yourself, visit employeeselect.com).

Casey Conrad is a firm believer in Zinkand's system and has referred many a client to the company. She's even had herself tested.

Lashbrook has utilized another company's testing program in the past (The People Reading Effectiveness Program out of Oregon) and has been happy with her results. “This works if you have the people to choose from,” Lashbrook says.

Warning Signs

While not everyone has the time or the money to hire testing companies, you don't exactly need a degree in psychology to determine a few things about your potential employee, and whether you will work well with the person. Are you a revved-up, hyped-up, on-the-go type of person who runs instead of walking? Conversely, does your applicant drag her feet when she comes into the interview?

“When they walk they should look like they're going someplace as opposed to dragging themselves along,” explains Hilgers, who has written a training manual for health clubs titled, Finding the Right Person for the Job.

There are other warning signals. “If you ask [her] a simple question, if [she has] to think about it a long time, that's not a good sign,” Hilgers cautions. “[She] doesn't think fast, and in a club you've got to move fast.”

Then there are some simple tests and questions you can perform yourself to see if the applicant's personality will mesh with your club. “Ask them, ‘So is there any gossip going on at your old facility?’” Hilgers advises. “If they start gossiping — if they start coming alive and they start talking all over the place — guess what's going to happen when you get them?”

Hilgers points out that, during a job interview, a prospect will always be on her best behavior. So if she isn't enthusiastic and attentive during a job interview, she probably won't be enthusiastic and attentive on the job.

“If you want the [work] environment to be upbeat and fun, then you need to look at your hire's attitude,” Hilgers says. “Are they willing to work? Are they willing to learn? You want to hire people that are bubbly and alive because that's the environment we work in…. The emotional tone of the person is the critical factor.”

Likewise, your emotional tone is equally important. “You're not just interviewing them,” says Lashbrook. “You have to sell yourself for the interview. That means that you dress nicely, that you get there on time”

This type of behavior must carry over after someone is hired. As the boss, you've got to help employees love their job by providing the proper training, motivation and incentives.

Very few employees enter this industry because of the pay. The fitness industry, as a whole, offers a pretty low scale. According to a survey by IDEA released late last year, the average floor staff makes $8.25 an hour. Fitness program directors average $30,000 a year, and personal training directors fare at $25,000 a year.

Clearly, people stay in the industry because they must enjoy what they do, and it's up to you to make sure they enjoy staying at your club. “Our biggest perk here is the environment,” says Eller. “There's a real high and positive attitude and morale and feeling that goes on here. Everybody's accomplishing something on a personal level every day.”

The first step to happy, productive staff members is orientation and training. Starting a new job is stressful enough; you need to help your employees feel comfortable in their new surroundings. This means training them in everything from how to put a telephone caller on hold to where the fax machine is located.

“In our industry, most people don't get trained because they get hired when there's an opening,” Conrad explains. And lack of proper orientation and training can make even the most independent of people feel isolated and disorganized.

Treasure Hunt

Hilgers offers an unusual, but effective, tactic for getting new employees oriented to their work environment: a “treasure hunt.” The employee is first given a basic tour of the club, and then handed a map with the instructions to “find and locate the following.” An example could include, “Find the linen/towel rack. What sign is located directly above it?”

Hilgers reasons that most people will forget their initial tour of the club. The treasure hunt helps them to remember things more clearly.

Hilgers also recommends that every club offer a complete “how to” training manual for all employees, as well as a basic description of how their job performance is measured.

In addition to the orientation, good managers also schedule weekly staff meetings to go over performance, provide feedback, talk about upcoming club programs and events, and offer other basic club information. “Communication is just critical,” explains Eller, and adds that a communication breakdown is the No. 1 cause of dissatisfaction in the workplace.

“The biggest thing we can do as managers for our staff is to listen to them,” she continues. “Human nature is just to talk, talk, talk…. Very few of us have the skill to just listen, because it is a skill.”

Not only should you listen to employees, you should inspire them. Keep them involved. And don't overlook the power of perks.

Remember, perks don't just come in monetary form (although a little extra cash never hurt). Incentives can (and should) include free club membership, paid days off for going above and beyond the call of duty, gift certificates to restaurants or retail stores, and the like. Perks can even be something as simple (and inexpensive) as a smile and a clap on the back, or a card or cake on the employee's birthday. If your staff likes you, and wants to please you, then they've got all the motivation they need to stay and work their hardest for the club.

“Treat your staff like gold,” advises Andrea Metcalf, fitness manager for Willowbrook Athletic Club. “Give them as much education as you can.

“It's not just the payment. It's not just the dollars in hand that keeps people here [in the fitness industry],” she continues. “It's the community feeling. It's the building of a team. Those are intangibles that you can't put a dollar sign on.”

Puff Fiction

Just because it's on a résumé doesn't mean that it's true.

According to Xukor Inc., an organization that compiled a survey of 10,000 applications and résumés, 80 percent of all résumés are untruthful. Here are some specific results of the survey:

Made false claims 22 percent
Listed phony previous employer 25 percent
False education degree claims 27 percent
Employment dates altered 30 percent
Inflated job title and responsibility 33 percent
Untruthful reasons for terminations 34 percent
Inflated salary claims 41 percent

The bottom line: Fact-check all of your prospective employees' résumés.

For more information on this subject, visit www.xukor.com. Xukor Inc. offers businesses employee reference checks, background checks, and job and performance evaluation reports.

Courtesy Lauren Eller, human resources director for Fitness Formula

Say What?

While it may be obvious that there are certain questions that you cannot ask in a job interview without getting yourself into hot water (“How's about dinner tonight?” being an obvious one), other questions are not so obvious. The following is a legal guide to what you can and cannot say when interviewing a potential employee:

Legal Discriminatory
Family Status Do you have any responsibilities that conflict with the job attendance or travel requirements? Are you married?
What is your spouse's name?
What is your maiden name?
Do you have any children?
Are you pregnant?
What are your childcare arrangements?
Race None What is your race?
Religion None What is your religion?
What church do you attend?
What are your religious holidays?
Residence What is your address? Do you own or rent your home?
Who resides with you?
Sex None Are you male or female?
Age If hired, can you offer proof that you are at least 18 years of age? How old are you?
What is your birthdate?
Arrests or Convictions of a Crime Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Have you ever been arrested?
Citizenship or Nationality Can you show proof of your eligibility to work in the United States?
Are you fluent in any languages other than English?
Are you a U.S. citizen?
Where were you born?
Disability Are you able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation? Are you disabled?
What is the nature or severity of your disability?

Are You My Type?

Type A, B, C and D personalities and their traits

Type A: The Director Personality
According to Bert Zinkand, director of Employee Selection and Development Inc. (ESDI), most club owners fall under this category. This type of personality works well with B and C types, and dislikes D types.

entrepreneurial sprit
concerned with results
usually has a sense of urgency
takes action
enjoys challenges
is willing to take risks
does not get bogged down in details
usually handles stress well

can be too demanding
often dominating and controlling
lacks tact and diplomacy
has a tendency not to listen
few close personal relationships
usually stubborn

Recognition Factors
work area is typically formal, neat and often cold in appearance
desk keeps you at arms length distance
work area gives little information about their personal life
direct and to the point
bottom-line oriented

Type B: The Socializer Personality
Many sales staff fall under this category, says Zinkand, as well as Type Ds. These people work well with A types, but usually dislike C types.

creative and artistic
high energy level
stimulating and motivating
fun to work with
enjoys selling and persuading activities
excellent communication skills
flexible on rules and regulations


usually disorganized
needs direction to be consistent
often unrealistic and impractical
poor at giving instructions or directions
easily side-tracked, goes off on tangents
impulsive with people and ideas
relies on hunches
opinionated without emphasizing facts
often reacts emotionally

Recognition Factors
greets you enthusiastically
work area is typically cluttered
close physical distance is preferred
active and expressive body movements
work area contains personal information (photos of family, etc.)
leans forward when talking
likes to talk about family or personal life
friendly and open
dress is fashionable and often wears jewelry

Type C: The Thinker Personality
Administrative staffs often fall under this category, as well as type C, says Zinkand. There may be conflicts between Cs and Bs.

hard worker
organized and systematic
good at follow-through
good at planning and researching
good at following rules and procedures
good listener

can be overly critical
often lacks enthusiasm
can be overly cautious
perfectionist at details to a fault
sometimes lacks sense of urgency
difficulty making decisions
poor at communication and humor
needs structure and a sense of direction

Recognition Factors
neat, well-organized work area
greets your formally, without enthusiasm
dress and work area is conservative
shows little emotion
few facial expressions
analyzes things before speaking
writes things down and takes notes
wants lots of facts, figures and details

Type D: The Supporter Personality
According to Zinkand, both administrative and sales staff tend to be Type Ds. Usually Ds and As dont work well together.

likeable and caring
makes friends easily
good team member
loves structured and repetitive jobs
good listener and mediator
recognizes needs of others
tactful and diplomatic
excellent at creating processes and procedures
good perseverance

lacks a sense of urgency
does not take risks
does not like change
motivated more by others than self
often slow to react
conforms to others likes and needs
does not trust own abilities
avoids conflict rather than facing it
concerned with security

Recognition Factors
photos of loved ones in the work area
greets you warmly, but unenthusiastically
is interested in you as a person
facial expressions show interest
easygoing and slow paced
agreeable, wants to please you
people and service-oriented
transparent emotions and feelings

Courtesy Employee Selection and Development Inc. (ESDI) and its director, Bert Zinkand. For details, visit www.employeeselect.com

Staffing Up

Tell us how you bring out the best in your employees. Please send a letter to: Letters to the Editor, Club Industry, One Plymouth Meeting, Suite 501, Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462. E-mail: [email protected] Fax: (610) 238-0992

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