// Our biggest hiring mistakes in fitness

by Paul Wright

In the last 20 years I have interviewed hundreds of health professionals, read many more CVs and made a multitude of both terrible and very good hiring decisions for my healthcare business, Get Active Physiotherapy.

Here are some of the biggest and most common mistakes that many health business owners make when looking for new team members. These mistakes can be found in all fitness and healthcare businesses including personal training studios, fitness facilities and more medical-based businesses such as physiotherapy and chiropractic clinics.

Mistake 1: We hire based on technical skill

This is one of the most controversial mistakes and raises much discussion, especially from the highly technical business owners. However, I fundamentally believe that while studying for our fitness qualifications many of us have been indoctrinated to be so technically excellent that we neglected any significant study in the essential area of people skills and rapport-building.

You just need to look at the number of health professionals attending technical updates as opposed to those attending a ‘Developing people skills’ or an ‘NL P’ program – assuming you can even find these courses – to see what I mean.

I have conducted employment interviews with health professionals who have many years of experience and completed every seminar ever held (one applicant had attended nearly 80 courses in less than eight years and presented a CV that was nearly 20 pages long). However, many of these ‘technically excellent’ applicants could not maintain eye contact, stared off into space, and when questioned about issues outside of their technical knowledge, seemed vague and vacant. I’m sure that some of your own hiring nightmares are returning to your mind as you read this.

That being said, I am not for a moment saying that we can just employ anybody. You do need a high level of competence to perform the tasks required in your fitness business, but I would employ a newly qualified applicant with great people skills (and often do), any day of the week over a highly experienced health professional who failed to ‘connect’ in an interview, because I know technical skill is much easier to train than ‘people skills’.

I remember something I once read which relates well to the overwhelming majority of our patients and clients, and you could do worse than have this little saying in your staff rooms: ‘People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care’ – I think it puts things into perspective nicely, don’t you?

Mistake 2: We waste time on duds

Sorry for the harsh reality of this, but we have to face the fact that there are a large number of job applicants who are just not suited to our individual businesses. Whether it is the overseas-trained professional without current registration, the new graduate with no people skills or the inactive trainer looking to work in a sports studio, many people do not have a great concept of reality and as a result, we spend too much time on applicants who are not suitable.

As a fitness business owner your most important asset is your time, so you should treat it like gold – be more ruthless in your interviews and culling procedures. If the candidate doesn’t feel right when you speak to them on the phone, then politely say ‘I’m sorry but I just don’t think you would be the right fit for our business’ – you don’t have to go into any more detail or waste any more time.

This is not a personal attack on the applicant but a simple statement of fact. There is, no doubt, a position out there that this person would be much better suited to, and to continue any further with the application process is not only wasting your time, but stopping the applicant from finding the right position for them.

For applicants who do ‘pass’ the quick chat phone call stage, it could also be wise to tell them to drop into your facility at their leisure and have a look around. If they are still interested in applying after this visit, make a formal time for an interview. Once again, you don’t want to waste your time on applicants who may not be serious – make sure they are pre-qualified and like what you have to offer.

Mistake 3: We hire too fast

This is one of my specialities (and why I made so many mistakes early on in business). The hiring process can be so long, drawn out, expensive and draining that often we just want to get the position filled and will take the first vaguely qualified applicant that comes along – even though they are on a three-month visa, don’t have a car to get to your business which is not near public transport, has just got out of hospital with chronic fatigue, can’t work past 5pm or lives more than 90 minutes away.

One of my business mentors told me years ago to ‘hire slow and fire fast’ and I still believe this is one of the best pieces of business advice I have ever received – I suggest you try and do the same. Take your time, for the right person will always come along and filling a spot with the wrong person just takes up the spot that the ‘right’ person would have filled nicely. Murphy’s Law dictates that the ‘right person’ will always call the day after you have hired the ‘wrong person’. I can hear your groans of recognition from here.

Mistake 4: We get too close to our team

This is another interesting concept and will again raise some controversy from those employers who believe they can be ‘friends’ as well as employers. From my experience this is a very delicate balancing act and one better avoided. I do my best to get to know my team, but am always aware of keeping a respectful distance.

It is very difficult to enforce discipline and rules when you have positioned yourself too close to your team members, and it is also easier to gradually release the ropes of discipline than it is to reign them in. A very experienced and well-respected school teacher once told me that he ‘did not smile until November’ as he felt that it was only at this late stage of the school year that he could release the controls a little and be more relaxed with the year’s new intake of students.

So, be firm and in control with all new employees and always try to keep your distance. This makes it much easier to enforce discipline in your team and to make those difficult decisions that we all face as business owners or managers at some time of our working lives.

When you do finally fill a position with a great candidate it is easy to look back and laugh, but if they then resign (because their spouse has been transferred to Tanzania) the smile will disappear from your face as the ‘employment shuffle’ starts all over again. In the fitness industry, as with many other businesses, it is simply a fact of life that you will always be hiring, so just accept this reality and do your best to enjoy the process.


Paul Wright, BAppSc (Physio), Adv Dip (Business Management)
Paul is one of Australia’s leading health business educators and founder of the ‘Million Dollar Health Professional’ program. Visit www.getactivebusiness.com.au to see details of Paul’s latest seminar series where he covers the areas of staffing and marketing in health care businesses. You can also download his free e-book Why Health Professionals Operate Poor Businesses and What to Do About It. For more information call 02 9966 9464 or e-mail hq@getactivephysio.com.au