Personality Matters

It's easy to be friendly and calm when everything is going well. But when you're booked solid, short-staffed, and a late client makes a scene about getting his or her full hour, you want someone at the front desk who will stay friendly and calm. "The things you fake go away when stress is applied," says Victoria Gulikson, spa director at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Las Vegas Spa (Henderson, NV). "We want to hire people who have the natural qualities we're looking for."

To make sure they get the real thing—not just people on their best behavior during an interview—The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company uses personality assessments for all of its hires. "Not everyone in the service business has the service personality," says Kimberly Rath, managing director of Talent Plus, an international consulting firm that works with The Ritz-Carlton as well as other hotels with spas, including The Watermark (San Antonio) and St. Julien Hotel & Spa (Boulder, CO). Breathe Spas, which have two locations at Daufuskie Island Resort (Hilton Head, SC) and The Hyatt Pinon Pointe (Sedona, AZ), is another client.

Hiring the right person in the first place also helps reduce turnover. The Spa at the Breakers (Palm Beach, FL) has used personality assessment tools since it opened in 1998. "We haven't hired an esthetician in three years," says spa director Mark Mantegna. "Obviously, we're hiring the right people in the first place."


Finding Star Performers


Talent Plus works by identifying the outstanding performers in various positions—everything from locker room attendants to the spa director—and the talents that make them successful. Then it helps clients identify the job applicants who share the same talents as the best current performers. "You can look at a résumé, but it doesn't tell you anything about a person's ability to build relationships with customers or whether he or she takes pride in his or her work," says Rath.


The talents, or inherent qualities, that are most desirable vary by position. Talent Plus has found that the best spa receptionists rank high in self-esteem, persuasion, and friendliness. Massage therapists rank high on qualities like caring and love of learning, but they are also highly organized and good team players.

So how do you find out if a job applicant has what it takes? You administer a questionnaire in which people assess themselves and follow up with a precisely scripted interview, either in person or on the phone. Look for congruence: if someone says he or she is a good team player, that person should be able to give you an example.

Ultimately, each applicant is represented by a chart that shows how he or she compares to star performers, as well as average performers. "Hiring based on talent results in better, happier workers and that translates into guest satisfaction," says Rath.


Predicting Job Performance


Another popular personality assessment tool, the Predictive Index (PI), seeks to predict job-related performance. "It's not a test, because there is no right or wrong answer," says Mantegna. The PI is a simple two-page survey that provides a series of adjectives like "sophisticated, persistent, earnest, and outstanding." On the first page, applicants check off the qualities they believe describe how they are expected to behave. On the second page, working from the same list, they check the adjectives that describe how they really are. "We're measuring four things: dominance, extroversion, patience, and structure," says Pat Conway, president of PI Associates, who consults with The Breakers. The answers go into a computer program that creates a profile of each person, which is matched against the ideal profile for the available position. "The goal is to put people in a role where they can use their strengths," says Conway.

Finding the One
Finding the One

The qualities that management of The Spa at the Breakers looks for varies by position and are excellent examples for any spa to consider when hiring:

  • Spa managers should be strong decision-makers.
  • Front desk staff members need to be detail-oriented, energetic, warm, and welcoming.
  • Therapists should be nurturing and committed to creating a calming, healing experience.
  • Locker room attendants need to be detail-oriented, thorough, and enjoy repetitive routines.


Mantegna points out that it takes all kinds of personality profiles to build a cohesive team, and the PI is a good tool for achieving that. It doesn't, however, replace the traditional principles of good hiring—prior experience, the personal interview, practice treatments, and references. "We look at all those elements," says Mantegna. "I would never just look at a PI and say, 'this profile doesn't work for me.'"


Putting It Into Practice


Spas currently using personality assessment tools are primarily large operations affiliated with hotels or resorts that do a lot of hiring. But a smaller spa can apply some of their techniques as well:

  • Think about the key characteristics you're looking for in each position.
  • Ask the interviewee about that characteristic: "Do you consider yourself a caring person?"
  • Ask for an example: "Tell me about a time when you were caring."
  • Listen for congruence. Taking time off from school to tend to an ailing parent is caring. Working hard to get through school may be admirable, but it's not the heartfelt caring you asked about.


Liz Hutto, spa director at The Watermark, has another simple technique for identifying therapists who are truly passionate and committed. "I always ask why they decided to study massage or esthetics," she says. One therapist who particularly impressed her said his mother was a massage therapist and had given him a massage as part of his bedtime routine when he was a young boy. "I'm looking for some kind of story, a personal connection to their work," she says. "I don't want people who just say, 'I heard you can make a lot of money.'"'s guide to spas, Anitra Brown is also a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in Gourmet, New York, Robb Report, and more. For more of her spa coverage, check out