Personnel Best: Recruiting & Hiring Managers Who Will Add To Your Club's Bottom Line

Management can make or break a business. It plays a unique role in any company, acting as a nexus of long-range goals and daily operations. A solid, experienced management team can mean the difference between financial success and failure, as its actions can reflect a company’s mission, vision, and attitude toward customers and the services it provides. This is especially true for health clubs, where the company’s success hinges on the members’ customer service experience.

When recruiting for or hiring a new member of your management team, try to look for someone with experience who is compatible with your club’s business model and whose values and beliefs will help it grow. Putting time and thought into the hiring process on the front end may be a challenge, but it’s a great way to make sure your managers are a boon – and not a burden – to your business, says Shawn Stewart, operations manager for Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers (GHFC). “It’s a necessary first step to having a great staff and developing future leaders,” Stewart adds.

Assessing Your Needs
If you have a management position that has yet to be filled, it may be a good time to look at your hiring policies and make some revisions to be sure they are still in line with the goals and principles of your club. The best candidate will have both professional experience and a work ethic that is compatible with your long-term plan. For example, upper-level managers are often responsible for ensuring that a club’s annual budget is spent in a way that best meets the company’s long-term goals. When hiring for this type of position, it is crucial to find someone who has past experience with running a budget – particularly at a health club, advises Alan Cohen, president and founder of FitnessJobs.com. The best way to determine whether a candidate is qualified to work on the books is to ask pointed interview questions about past positions, including the size of the budgets and the annual payrolls they’ve worked with. “The success or the failure of a club is definitely tied to the experience of the management,” Cohen says. “With the right person in place, not only will your business prosper financially, but you also won’t risk developing a reputation as a poorly run company.”

Depending on the level of club staff you’re hiring for, you may have to consider different skill sets. Upper management positions often require from five to seven years of past work experience as well as a college degree, says Leslie Daley, vice president of team services for Florida-based Lifestyle Family Fitness. Lower levels of management and club staff often include less rigorous experience requirements, and a higher level of attention should be paid to employee/member interaction and customer service.

In addition to experience, it’s important to assess the personal and professional philosophy of a management job candidate. Because it is the managers who ensure that every working part of a club reflects the values and beliefs of the company at large, it’s vital as a decision maker to define the club’s needs as they pertain to your goals. “Our mission is to fulfill our member’s needs and build lasting relationships through a fun and friendly experience,” Daley says. “So it is critical that candidates be very positive and enthusiastic.”

Ask yourself: Are you trying to be more family friendly, or are you focused on retaining members with a high-end club experience? Have you been working to beef up your budget through cost-saving methods or by adding different profit centers? Knowing your club’s core goals is a good first step toward identifying the kind of person you’ll be looking for throughout the selection process, suggests Ian Carter, who handles recruitment and hiring at GoodLife Fitness. “We are looking for employees who will reflect the core values of our organization, and who have the appropriate work, educational experience and passion to be successful in their role,” he adds.

Finding the Right Candidates
Most clubs advertise locally for openings to get a fast response, while others go to a third-party recruitment agency or online job board. A mistake, says Cohen, is simply filling a management opening with a friend or family member who may not be qualified, as this can harm your business. “Often (owners) hire friends, family or personal confidants to manage their clubs, which can be a disaster waiting to happen. Every business requires specific expertise to ensure success, and the fitness industry is no different,” he adds.

Clubs can also use the Internet to aid them in their talent search and recruitment efforts, and there is no shortage of job boards and Web sites created to fill positions in the fitness industry. As a result, health clubs all across the nation are using these services to find the best and the brightest candidates.

FitnessJobs.com, a job board where clubs post openings for managers and staff members, gets around 40,000 unique viewers each month. “The Internet has made it extremely easy for companies to post job openings and receive resumes almost immediately for a fraction of the cost of a recruiter,” says Cohen. In addition to posting a job on your own club’s Web site, you can also look for similar sites dedicated to fitness clubs or management jobs in general. Some examples include craigslist.com, a national marketplace of regional classified ads, as well as Monster.com, and IHRSA’s “Active Careers” center at activecareers.com.

Recruiters may be the best choice when a club wishes to remain confidential or when owners simply do not have the time to conduct an extensive search. Some clubs, like GoodLife Fitness, have internal recruitment departments, while others seek help from third-party consultants. At Lifestyle Family Fitness, a third-party recruitment firm works closely with the company’s human resources department throughout the selection and screening process, and often fills senior level leadership positions. “Our company plays a very active role with these placement firms, in that we partner with them in a more consultative manner,” says Daley.

Depending on the position to be filled and the location of your club, you may also be able to promote from within. This method is policy at Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, which offers staff leadership opportunities through training and mentoring programs designed to groom employees for future management careers. “This lays the foundation, so when we need to promote someone to a supervisory or management position, we have candidates ready to move up,” says Stewart.

Making A Selection
Club managers are more than employees-they are the crossroads of customer service, finance and the overarching vision of your club. “Making sure your management team exemplifies your club’s values and beliefs can add an element of difficulty to the selection process, but it’s the best way to ensure they will contribute to the success of your business over time,” Carter says. At GoodLife Fitness, a recruiting department is responsible for hiring general managers as well as fitness managers – a strategy that allows them to have structure and control over the process.

On the other hand, GHFC fills management positions only from within the company. This ensures candidates walk into the interview with a close familiarity for the club and its long-range goals. “We are very culture driven, and the best way to protect and enhance that culture is to grow and develop your own leaders,” Stewart says. The extensive 12-week interview process includes role-playing sessions, secondary interviews with department heads and group sessions with other staff members. Because each candidate is already an employee, the questions can be highly specific to the company and test not only the interviewee’s knowledge of procedure but also their ability to lead others.

What is the best way to ensure there will be a great employee among the job candidates you interview? Joe Cirulli, owner of GHFC, suggests making sure you have a wide applicant pool to draw from-as many as 10 people for every open position. In the training manual, he advises creating a group of leaders from existing club staff to act as a hiring team. They hold group interviews, where questions are kept specific to the company’s core values, and play a hiring game, complete with role-playing cards that are related to customer service. The hiring team is made up of people who know each part of the club’s operation, so they are well equipped to make comprehensive decisions about which candidates are the best fit.

Following Up
Making a hiring decision is only a part of the process. Once a candidate is selected, it is important to make sure he or she is properly trained and introduced to the club and how it is organized. GoodLife provides all new employees with a suite of training tools for use both on the job and offsite, says Carter, while Lifestyle Family Fitness uses the online program Red Carpet to track new employees as they complete portions of the company’s orientation and training process, according to Daley. “This system has allowed us to centralize the LFF experience for all of our team members.” On the other hand, GHFC uses a system of performance evaluations between new hires and their superiors to ensure that both short-and long-term goals are being met, Stewart says. Another way to make sure new managers are living up to your club’s expectations is through regular interviews with people who work under that person. Asking other staff members about their interactions will pinpoint a manager’s successes, as well as any areas they may need to improve upon.

Recruiting and hiring the best manager for your club will take time, attention and participation from leaders throughout the facility. But once they are on board and begin contributing to your club’s success, the investment of time and resources will be rewarded with dividends as your business grows and expands under solid leadership.

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