As an ambitious exercise entrepreneur, you know you need great staff for your fitness business. However, finding top talent can be a real trial. Moreover, in today’s troubled economy, many would-be employees send off stacks of resumés without strategic focus, potentially wasting your valuable time.

But the unique challenges of hiring in an employer’s market can be overcome. Discover tactical and time-efficient job interview strategies, and learn to easily separate the diamonds from the duds.

Part 1: Determining the Candidate’s Motivation

“The diamonds tend to be those people who have already decided that they want to work for you and won’t be talked out of it,” says Karen Joy, an experienced fitness industry executive. Begin the interview process by using the following tactics to weed out less ambitious applicants in an efficient way:

The Application Review
First, a manager or owner should “begin by thoroughly reviewing a candidate’s application and resumé (print and video). This must be done before a face-to-face interview, not during it,” says Fred Hoffman, MEd, a fitness business consultant, 2007 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and author of Going Global: An Expert’s Guide to Working Abroad in the International Fitness Industry (Healthy Learning 2011).

The extent to which candidates tailor their applications to your specific business and brand shows their real intentions, says Joy, who is also director of sales and marketing for Total Woman Gym and Day Spa, a successful chain of clubs in Southern California.

Resumés with a vague career goal and a generic (or no) cover letter are likely just part of a resumé “blast,” she says, and should be treated with caution.

The Phone Call
If the applicant looks good on paper, the next step is to schedule a phone interview, says Hoffman, who works in Paris. “This can be conducted in either a formal interview format or as a conversation.”

This step saves you precious time, since a percentage of applicants won’t even “show” for the phone interview (won’t call in or won’t answer the phone), therefore putting themselves out of the running, Joy says.

For applicants who do follow through, use the phone conversation to determine if they have studied your company’s brand by reading your website, visiting your facility and so on. This proactive research, coupled with their demeanor and skills of persuasion, will tell you a lot about their motivation to work for you, Joy says.

The Proactive Follow-Up
Next, require a specific follow-up step from each candidate to weed out less-than-serious job seekers, says fitness business consultant Rick Mayo, owner of North Point Fitness, a personal training gym in Roswell, Georgia.

For example, Mayo has all prospective hires visit his gym and pick up an orientation quiz before any face-to-face interview. “The quiz is not really anything more than a few questions about the club, which are easily answered by checking our website,” Mayo says. “The point is to create a layer of effort, if you will, that will weed out ‘tire kickers.’ Surprisingly, this will eliminate around 80% of candidates and save you loads of your valuable time.”

In the same vein, Joy suggests:

  • End the phone interview by telling the candidate to sleep on it and call you back if he or she is interested.
  • End the phone interview by suggesting the applicant come into your club to take a class (or if more appropriate, to tour or work out at your facility). Ask the job seeker to call you afterward with feedback on the experience.

If you require this proactive, candidate-driven step, a percentage of applicants will again drop out by not following through, Joy says, leaving only the most motivated applicants in contention.

Part 2: Deciding Whom You Want to Hire

Now that you have a pool of proactive, eager applicants, only a few steps remain to find the true gem.

The Reference Check
To get a “stamp of approval for the remaining viable candidates, contact the professional references they have provided ” Hoffman says.

Calling a job seeker’s references is important for your credibility and research, Joy says. “Sometimes the references tell you information that helps you make a better decision. And if they won’t tell you anything—that tells you something,” she says.

The Right Questions
You now have some final, face-to-face interviews scheduled with your top-tier candidates. To maximize your time together, “employers should prepare in advance for the interview by writing questions that are specific to the applicant,” says Hoffman.

“Every business should have a set of principles and values upon which they base all of their decisions,” says Mayo. “Your interview questions should be centered around those values.” These kinds of questions reveal much more about your candidate than the traditional “tell me about your strengths” format, Mayo says.

Joy suggests including these behavior-based queries:

  • Ask about a difficult situation. For example, Joy might ask: “Tell me about a time when you realized that you had made a mistake with a client or a staff member, and explain whether or not you corrected that mistake and why. If you did correct it, explain how.”
  • Contrast the interviewee and another prospect. For instance, Joy might say, “Tell me why you are a better choice for our business than other candidates I am interviewing that have more experience in (x), more skills in (y) or more successes in (z)?”
  • Put the interviewee in a vulnerable situation. Joy’s examples: “Tell me about the mistake you’ve made that cost or lost your company the most money,” or “tell me about the worst decision you have made.” Look for candidates willing to share their vulnerabilities, she says. “Job seekers [whose answers] skim the surface or who say they haven’t experienced what you are asking about are cautionary tales waiting to happen,” Joy says.

The Face-to-Face Interview
By the time one-on-one conversations take place you will have done your homework and are already very close to hiring the right person, says Hoffman.

Still, consider getting a second opinion, Mayo says. In addition to the interview between you (the manager or owner) and the candidate, he recommends a second sit-down interview between the job seeker and another trusted member of your team. “Plan to split the interview questions between the two of you and then compare notes later” to ensure you have a well-rounded view of the potential employee, he says.

Discovering Diamonds

Skipping straight to the face-to-face interview is a thing of the past, our experts agree. With so many job seekers today, “a systematic approach is essential for finding the right person for any job,” says Hoffman.

Besides saving time, a solid interview structure saves you from problems down the road. “I always say that the best way to retain employees is to hire the right people for the job in the first place,” Hoffman says.

The “right person” is most easily found when you implement an effective job interview system. Allow candidates to show their true colors in words and deeds, and your final decision will become a smooth and systematic discovery.

Looking for a job in the fitness industry? Use the IDEA Job Board to find the perfect job for you. Want to post a job? Click here.

SIDEBAR: The Job Seeker’s Guide to Acing the Interview

You know you are supposed to be on time, look good and be enthusiastic. But how can you stand out from the crowd in an employment interview? Here is our experts’ go-to job-getting guide:

  • Research the company. If you don’t, “this sends a message that you really just want a job,” and that you’re not necessarily interested in the particular company where you’re applying, says industry consultant Fred Hoffman.
  • Visit the facility. “Work out in the club before the interview so you can share some positive information from a member’s perspective,” says fitness executive Karen Joy. “If you have a negative experience to share, share it as, ÔÇÿa suggestion that I would make is . . .’ ”
  • Be ready to write. Come prepared with copies of all required documents as well as a notebook and pen or an electronic tablet to take notes, Hoffman says.
  • Target your appeal. To really stand out from the crowd, have a compelling reason that you should be hired based on your skill set, the needs of the company and the company’s specific brand, Joy says.

Megan Senger

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