Hiring Headaches

Finding quality therapists is becoming more of a challenge for the industry as standards slip. Suzanne Braithwaite gets the lowdown on where to recruit good staff. 

Recruiting good staff in the beauty industry appears to be a nationwide problem, and entry-level therapist positions are the hardest to fill. There are regular discussions posted to professional networking sites such as LinkedIn about where to find good therapists. For example, Clare Rogers, owner of The Treatment Rooms in Brighton, says she knows of at least two other salons within the city, as well as her own, struggling to find good therapists. She posted in the Professional Beauty LinkedIn group, “We have a stack of CVs but not quality."

Kirsty Jewson, head of beauty and a franchisee for Saks, believes the problem stems from a lack of work ethic among new therapists, which is “absent compared to the old-school therapist,” she says. It appears there is an abundance of therapists out there but with a severe lack of skills when it comes to customer relations, communication and even passion. So how can employers tackle this problem?Head

Target market

The recruitment agencies advise broadening your search area to find more, and better, candidates, rather than just staying local. Last month’s Insider survey revealed that spas, beauty salons and nail salons all rely on word of mouth, local press advertisements or their own websites to fill job vacancies. Miranda Allard, chief executive of agency Spa Staff, says that businesses should stop looking for the ‘easy hire’. “Their priority should be ‘I want an excellent therapist’, and to achieve that they need to look further afield,” she says .

Jewson suggests using a variety of communication channels rather than sticking to just one method. She advises advertising, not just on your own website and social media pages, but in your business’s window, at local colleges and via LinkedIn, where you’ll find more professional networkers and senior candidates job-hunting.

Veronica Butler, director of Red Hot Careers, says that when it comes to finding staff, the old methods still work best. “Asking your contacts and existing employees for referrals gives you a greater chance of attracting loyal and suitable candidates,” she says, but also agrees that social media is proving an effective resourcing tool along with traditional job boards such as hairandbeautyjobs.com or professionalbeauty.co.uk/jobs.apply


The big issue

The whole recruitment process can be very time consuming, especially for employers who choose to take it on themselves, says Angela Stott, managing director of recruitment firm La Source. “Job boards can be excellent but they take time to sift through. After choosing potential candidates, you generally need to carry out two interviews and even a trial shift, which all takes away time from the running of your business” she says.

“Starting the process with an initial phone call to the candidate before the interview can help you figure out if they are really worth meeting,” she advises. Salons and spa owners need to also think about the cost implications of filling a job position. “Job boards are often cheaper than using an agency, but not in the long run,” says Michelle Ryan, managing director of Spa and Beauty Connection. She says using a specialist agency means “most of the candidates you see will have already been interview by the agency”.

While some businesses may have little or no budget for recruitment, Allard implores businesses to stop trying to recruit for nothing, adding that it is very difficult to employ good staff without spending any money. “Spending money on recruitment agencies gives you access to a large database of therapists,” she says.

Skills gap

One of the biggest concerns is that standards in general are slipping, and not in practical skills. Stott finds it shocking that therapists still apply for a job with spelling errors and no covering letter. “And when you do call the candidate they don’t have any idea who you are. These are basics that should be taught while they are in college,” she says.

However, while the recruitment process is still reliant on looking through CVs and experience, Alison McAlister, business development consultant at 4Leisure Recruitment, advises that it is easier to develop a candidate’s technical skills than to change their character to fit the business. “This is magnified at senior levels,” she adds. “As much as qualifications and experience can be important, we should place equal, if not greater emphasis on behaviours.”

Salons or clinics recruiting a new therapist should look for candidates who have sought to further their training through ongoing CPD and postgraduate qualifications, suggests Sally Durant from Sally Durant Training and Corporate Services. “This indicates not only advanced ability and knowledge but also commitment to excellence and their professional progression.”

Liz Holmes, spa director at Darlington’s Rockliffe Hall, says employers also need to take more responsibility for bridging the skills gaps, especially at more senior levels. “A real focus is required on developing our people with more investment in management training and career enhancement,” she says. “The industry needs to offer long-term career opportunities for the spa professionals of the future.”

Passion over experience

It would seem the biggest demand from business owners when recruiting is to find staff that show motivation, enthusiasm and passion for the industry. “As a business owner I can develop their skills but in an interview process I want to suss them out as an individual, identify their work ethics and communication skills,” says Jewson.

One of the questions Jewson asks at interview is, “How can you convince me that I should take you on without industry experience and can you give me examples of how you continue to expand your knowledge?” The kind of answers she is looking for are, “I’ve attended trade exhibitions”, “I’ve worked for free to gain salon experience”, “I’ve signed up to new courses to expand my knowledge”.

The next stage is to do a trade test to find out which areas need immediate to long-term development. “Then you can identify which issues and skills need addressing straight away and what can be worked on,” says Jewson. “The quality of their work is not necessarily important because, providing you have the time, you can work on this, but you need to look for customer care and consultation skills,” she recommends.

Good communication skills are key for therapists who want to work in a salon environment, but likewise business owners should be developing and communicating with their staff in order to retain them. “Praise is key to success; it takes nothing to say thank you to a member of staff; slip a card in their tray to thank them for a hard day’s work, do staff awards for best therapist, highest retailer, most developed or even biggest smile,” says Stott.Coins


Headhunting is not illegal but should be dealt with sensitively. If you hear of a good therapist working for another salon in your area then you are well within your rights to speak to them about other opportunities, but it is not advisable to annoy your competitors in the process.

Some salon and spa managers have told us that they go about headhunting by booking a treatment with a nearby therapist who they have heard good things about, to see what they are like in practice and to speak to them privately about a potential job opportunity.

If you find out that one of your staff is being headhunted, how you deal with that can reflect on your reputation with your staff as well as other businesses. One salon owner told us that after she offered a job to another salon’s therapist, the manager rang her up screaming down the phone without even talking to the therapist first. A better way of dealing with this is to talk to the staff member privately about what they’ve been offered and, if you want to keep them, ask if there is anything you can do to help support them or develop their career within your business.

Another way to retain staff is to develop your reputation locally so that your business is seen as the best place to work. Jewson says you should use social media to show what training you provide staff and “make sure you put a value on it”.

Showcase the benefits of working in your salon; add excitement to a job advertisement by showing you’re an award-winning, driven salon that attends awards, training and exhibitions. Jewson adds, “No doubt staff will leave over time, but don’t take it personally. If your salon is renowned for being a good employer, people will want to come and work with you.”


Professional Beauty’s annual salary survey of spa and salon jobs in the UK market...

The overall consensus from the recruitment agencies is that salaries have remained quite flat in the last year. McAlister says we’ve seen a marginal increase, predominantly in London and the Home Counties. Likewise, Stott says she has seen a slight increase at therapist level for the southeast, which can be attributed to increased competition and skills shortages.

McAlister advises, “Businesses should resist the temptation to overpay for mediocre quality – the legacy

of employing the wrong people will far outweigh any short-term losses the business suffers.” Interestingly, she has also seen a huge increase in demand for temporary staff from salon owners who are not finding good-quality permanent therapists.

Veronica Butler, director of Red Hot Careers, says 2014 was a positive year for the spa and beauty industry, resulting in more job opportunities. However, she agrees that many companies have found it difficult to recruit quality therapists because an increase of jobs at lower levels has led to more competition, meaning salary levels have been pushed up.

Table view


Salaries have notably increased among therapist positions with London and the South East rising to £20,000 and £19,000 respectively, an increase of almost £2,000 on last year. However, Ryan says that while salaries have increased in recent years, most have risen slower than the rate of inflation.

Allard still believes employers are underpaying staff. “To live independently on less than £20k is almostimpossible.” She adds that while every employer wants the best therapist, “you get back what you put in”, so you need to spend time and money on the recruitment process and offer reasonable and sustainable salaries.

Salaries for management positions have also increased, especially at assistant spa manager level. Both London and the rest of the UK saw an increase of over 10%, which gives assistant managers an extra £3,000 on last year.

Linda Hill, who runs an eponymous spa and beauty recruitment agency, says that they often provide hands-on treatments as well as have operational responsibilities, which warrants this increase. The only decrease appears to be among spa manager and director salaries. However, the agencies tell us that management roles have stayed on a par with last year and that the table only represents average salaries. Spa directors, in fact, could earn up to £65k a year in London. PB