As a salon owner, maintaining a great staff is no easy feat. Indeed, experts agree, staffing has become more difficult in recent years. The reasons are numerous, say human resources professionals, who point to globalization, increased automation and advanced technology as having raised the bar for much of the labor market, while a lack of training and education—trade-specific and otherwise— provides no alternative for many others.
For employers seeking skilled people, the damage is real. So-called “bad hires” cost businesses untold amounts of revenue every year in the form of wasted time and lost customers. “Recruiting can be a draining and expensive process for business owners,” acknowledges Christy Hopkins, a licensed professional in human resources, who has been working in the recruitment arena for seven years, primarily with small businesses and startups.
It’s no wonder that some nail salon owners are skittish when it comes to committing to a new employee. “It’s very difficult to find good nail techs, especially in our market,” says Carla Hatler who, as owner of Lacquer nail salon with two locations in Austin, Texas, is responsible for 27 employees, none of whom are independent contractors. “We’re a team-based salon, and we have to find people who are into being part of a bigger ‘family,’ so to speak,” she says.
Whether your challenge is finding team players, elevating the skill level at your salon or some combination of the two, experts say there are ways to tip the hiring odds in your favor.
Identify Your Ideal
It sounds simple, but many employers don’t give much thought to exactly what they want in an employee before they start their search. Not only does this lower the odds of finding the person they need, it sharply decreases the chance of even attracting the right applicants.
“You need to start with a solid, well-thought-out job description,” says Hopkins. “This should include duties, responsibilities, qualifications and your business’s work environment.” Lisa Suarez-Brentzel, owner of Lacquer Gallery in Columbus, Ohio, favors very simple ads with job descriptions that “cover the basics, including how much experience and what specialty I’m looking for,” she says. “I ask them to email me directly with a resume, mini bio and social media links.”
Not surprisingly, human resources professionals suggest a somewhat more complex approach that includes making a list of traits you’d like to see in an employee. Use a current or past high-performing employee as an example. Perhaps a tech came in with customer service experience that benefitted your salon, or one had a calm personality that had a positive effect on your team. Use this information to create a targeted job ad that will attract desirable candidates.
Tracy Dungan is co-owner of the ProFiles franchise, with eight locations throughout Florida and more than 100 nail techs. She counsels franchise owners on how to employ and keep people happy. Dungan is “always in recruitment mode,” as she puts it, and is very clear about what she wants. “I look for people who are eager, excited and passionate about the nail business,” she says.
Widen the Pool
Once you’ve crafted an appropriate job description, it’s time to start your search, and that starts with ensuring an optimal candidate pool, notes Leigh Branham, a Kansas City, Missouri-based expert in employee engagement and retention, business consultant, speaker and author. “Most employers end up interviewing a very reduced number of people because of lack of outreach,” he says. “Remember, the more candidates you have, the pickier you can be.”
Your outreach efforts may include everything from participating in career days at local schools to talk up the advantages of working in a nail salon (“you meet interesting people, become part of a growing business, make your own schedule”) to consulting your own clients and staff for leads. “I ask the people currently working with me if they know of anyone,” says Ruth Kallens, owner of Van Court Nail Studio in New York City. “It’s a good idea because, as with any environment, you want people to stick together and make the culture a super-positive one.” Hatler offers employees a referral bonus. “I don’t think it’s the money that drives them, though, so much as the desire to refer people who will be a good addition to our team,” she reflects.
When inner-circle suggestions fail, Kallens branches out. “I call my contacts at the local schools and see if they have any recent or soon-to-be graduates. I think scooping them up right out of school is helpful because
you’re able to really train them to your liking,” she explains. Dungan agrees, noting that these candidates “don’t have any bad habits yet.”
Placing an ad is an obvious and conventional choice. Where and how to place it, however, depends largely upon your salon’s particular market. For instance, print ads may seem antiquated, but if your neighborhood’s newsletter or circular is especially popular, it may be the way to go. Do a little research, suggests Branham. “Ask your top employees what they read, what websites they visit and what they do in their leisure time,” he says. “Target your ad outlets based on your current pool of people.”
Hatler notes that in Austin, the favored ad post choices are the city’s Craigslist listings and the aggregate job board site Indeed.com. “Job boards allow [low cost and] free job postings so you can’t lose by posting your ad in several places,” Hopkins points out.
The Screening Process
Small business owners often turn to their own social media to bolster their recruitment efforts, counting on their targeted audience to spread the word—but results are mixed. Obviously, you need to have highly engaged social media followers to raise the odds of finding new employees in this way. There’s another important role for social media here, however, and that’s in the screening process. “I check all social media now before hiring,” says Dungan. “I actually didn’t hire someone because I looked at her social media and didn’t like what I saw. She was pretty miffed at me but I thought, ‘How can you think an employer isn’t going to check your social media?’”
Similarly, have you ever been so desperate to hire someone that you ignored a little something the applicant did or said that bothered you—and then were sorry later? You’re not alone. It’s tempting to just pull in a fish on the line when you’re hungry, but part of successful recruiting is knowing when to say no. Hatler learned the hard way to pay attention to small things, such as the candidate who arrived for her interview 10 minutes late with no explanation. “I had one interviewee who, right out of the gate, listed what she would and would not do. I told her, ‘You know, you may not be the right fit for us,’” she says.
To avoid wasting time, Hopkins suggests a phone interview to screen the candidate first. “This way, you can assess basic qualifications before inviting someone into your space,” she explains. “Evaluate the candidate’s preparedness. For instance, did she research your business?” Failure to do so indicates a possible lack of initiative and commitment. Kallens keeps her eye out for a certain “can do” attitude. “I’ve had people come in and say, ‘I can do this or that, so maybe you can use my skill set and add it to your menu.’ That’s the hustler mentality I’m looking for!”
Set up your applicant for a successful interview by letting her know what to expect in advance. If you plan to ask her to demonstrate her skills, let her know. “We ask our candidates to do one nail in a French, a red and a white,” says Hatler. “If they have good polishing skills, we can teach and train anything else.”
Recruitment pros advise employers ask consistent interview questions for each candidate so you can “compare apples to apples” when making a hiring decision. And before you make an offer, be sure to check references. “You may think it’s a waste of time to check references because the people [candidates] give you are only going to say nice things, but there’s a lost art to checking references,” says Branham. “For instance, leave a message for the reference that says, ‘If you have anything good to say about this person, give me a call.’ That way, if they don’t call you back, it may be a negative recommendation.”
When it comes to making a final decision, trust the process: Know what you’re looking for, cast a wide net and screen accordingly to help you choose the right hire for you and your salon.
Before you sit down with a candidate, be sure to familiarize yourself with federal and state laws about which questions you can and can’t legally ask a job candidate. Here, more ways to make the most of your limited time with a potential tech-for-hire:
• Appoint peer interviewers from your salon so you can get their impressions.
• Ask open-ended questions, i.e., “Tell me about your last job.”
• Be sensitive about potential language or cultural barriers.
• Try to put the candidate at ease so you can see her at her best.
• Ask hypothetical, “What would you do if … ” questions.
• Pay attention to body language and other nonverbal cues, such as eye contact and posture, that speak to attitude about the job.
• Give your candidate a chance to ask questions.
• Take notes.
• If you’re interested in the candidate, tell her why she’d be a good fit.
What’s your best advice on hiring new nail techs? Let us know in the comment below!
-Linda Kossoff is a health and beauty writer in Los Angeles.
[Image: photo (Getty Images): Mladen Kostic/E+]