Preparing to start a professional career in massage therapy may seem simple enough—especially since the demand for massage therapists is expected to continue growing. In 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the number of massage jobs in the U.S. will increase by 23 percent by the year 2022.
Even if you have a top-notch education and there's plenty of demand for your services, you might encounter a few surprises as you venture into the professional world.
Massage Job Surprise #1: It Pays to Be an Employee
Many new massage therapists expect to start their own practices and be self-employed, which is a terrific goal. However, working for an employer has many benefits and can be a great starting point for those new to the massage field. Managing a private practice requires business and marketing experience to ensure success and secure regular clientele. I encourage therapists to gain a deep understanding of the industry before launching their own practice.
Working for a well-respected employer, either in private practice or at a franchise, can help massage therapists develop professionally, hone techniques and gain hands-on experience—which goes a long way toward making up for a per-massage payment that will be less than what you would earn working for yourself. Your focus can be much narrower at these establishments, since the employer is responsible for marketing and other business logistics, giving therapists the opportunity to learn a lot that will, down the road, make them more successful as businesspeople.
Massage Job Surprise #2: On Resumes, Less Is More
When it comes to resumes, massage job seekers often think that the more they have listed, the more employable they look. When I talk to therapists who are developing and building their resumes, I tell them the exact opposite. If an applicant has reflexology listed on his resume, during an interview the employer will expect the applicant to answer questions about and be able to perform this technique. If the applicant has only taken a limited number of hours in reflexology and is unable to answer questions about it, the employer will—with good reason—doubt his competence. It is important that massage therapists can confidently speak about—and perform—all the skills and techniques on their resume.
Massage therapists should also look prepared at the interview. In the field of massage therapy, we are first and foremost professionals, and employers will expect therapists to wear professional, appropriate clothing and shoes both in the interview and on the job.
Massage Job Surprise #3: Thinking Outside the Back Makes an Impression
Interviews for massage jobs are typically two-fold; there is a verbal portion and then a hands-on portion in which the applicant is asked to massage one or two people. This allows employers to get a good feel for the applicant's technique and style, and determine whether she is going to be a good fit for the practice.
In many cases, employers interview a number of applicants. In the past, I've seen interviews where employers talk to more than 50 applicants in the span of three days. In my experience, it is also very common for therapists to focus on the massage recipient's back during the hands-on portion. If you are the interviewer, that's a lot of back massages.
I advise massage job-seekers to wow interviewers by choosing areas of the body that aren't usually focused on. Applicants sometimes only have 15 to 30 minutes to make an impression. Rather than massaging the same area as others, typically the back, I encourage therapists to concentrate on head, neck, arms and hands, or the legs and feet. This allows therapists to showcase the breadth of their abilities and techniques, while showing diversity and mastery in areas that take more thought. This can make a lasting impression.
Prepare to Search for Massage Jobs
Working in massage therapy can be challenging, rewarding and full of surprises. To avoid being caught off-guard, massage job seekers should prepare for the search by talking to colleagues, instructors and other professionals who can share the in and outs of the field.