Updated: Nov 1, 2022
As a first-year stylist myself, I have accumulated a list of red flags, roadblocks, suggestions, and the do’s and don’ts of the beauty industry I have learned thus far.
First to be discussed should be what is suggested as a new stylist to learn the most while you are in your current program or newly graduated from cosmetology school. There are positions for Salon Assistants and Salon Apprentices. There seems to be a very grey area with assisting and apprenticing. Let’s first define which is which and why this is important when you’re looking for a position in a salon:
An Assistant: helps lead stylists with their daily tasks. This includes sanitation, setting up supplies, mixing color, shampooing clients, and general cleaning.
An Apprentice: assists lead stylists with shampooing clients, draping them for services, brushing their hair out, and finishing services with a blowout and/or style. An apprentice also follows a state board curriculum.
The main thing needed for both of these positions is to be a sponge and absorb all of the education the stylist you assist/apprentice will offer you. Typically, they have years of experience in the industry and a plethora of knowledge and tips for all types of services. Some stylists also specialize in specific services (haircuts, blonding, extensions, etc.) If you believe that a particular path is the one you want to take, it would be a GREAT idea to shadow that stylist for a day or two and see if it’s what you thought it was. When I was in cosmetology school, I wanted to specialize in bridal hair and special events. Once I started working behind the chair in a full-service salon, I realized my passion lies with hair color! I still enjoy weddings but no longer wish to specialize in them.
While being a Salon Assistant/Apprentice comes with a lot of education and perks, there are quite a few red flags and issues that need to be discussed.
Firstly, make sure you explore different salons in the area you’d like to work. When you speak with them, be professional, courteous, and ALWAYS dress for success. Respect their time and make sure they respect yours in return. Some of the red flags I’ve seen to look for as a new stylist are:
They cancel on you multiple times for an interview. Of course, life happens! But, if this is how they treat potential employees, it seems to be a trend they follow as you work there.
If a manager or salon owner is rude to their employees at your interview or your shadowing day, you are sure to be next. Sometimes people have off days, but I’ve noticed that 99% of the time, that is a daily occurrence and a part of their salon culture if it happened in the interview process.
There is no clear definition of what your role will be at the salon. Meaning: no list of duties, expectations, what you will receive, pay details, etc. It is imperative to start at a well-structured salon that has a solidly built assistant program or apprenticeship.
Secondly, we need to discuss the terms of your employment and/or your contract with the salon. If your potential salon wants you to sign a contract, make sure to read it word by word and read it multiple times. This is important to know what is expected of you, your duties, your schedule, dress code, among other things. When you are finished with your assistant program or apprenticeship, will you move to a full-time stylist? Do they have a non-compete? If you choose to leave the salon in the future, are you legally bound to them for a specific time? Will they cover educational expenses? This is also your time to see what they can offer you as a new stylist. I need a teaching style that is nurturing, incorporates positive talk, constructive criticism, and to be able to ask questions.
At the salon I worked for months, I could not ask questions with a particular senior stylist. She would have m-
e shampoo, clean up her messes, bring the client to check out, sanitize her tools, but told me I had to wait until the end of the day to ask any questions I had because she was too busy. What she wanted was a maid or just a shampoo assistant. When I was hired, I was given a contract that listed my duties and what I would receive in return. Among the list of things I would receive were weekly educational classes, an endless opportunity to learn from lead stylists in house, color courses, and a trip to New York to study at Bumble and Bumble Academy. Unfortunately for me, I did not have one class ever scheduled; I was hindered from asking the questions that I needed answering. The color line they used is still a bit confusing; I never got to go to New York, and I felt as if I wasted 8 months trying to learn from those that were not meant to be educators. I did, however, learn the stylist I did NOT want to be.
Thirdly, we need to discuss where you stand in this industry. Although you are new and virtually an infant in this industry, you are not completely incompetent. There are new techniques you may be able to show senior stylists. You may hear about how you don’t know anything because you are new, but it is simply not the truth. There is ALWAYS something to learn in this industry, which is why I love it so much. There are 100 different ways to get the same result. The opportunities are endless! However, making sure you surround yourself with stylists, owners, and managers that lift you up is imperative. If you feel you are being talked down to, torn down, or like your current workplace is not fitting you well, it may be time to move on.
You have to find your tribe in this industry.
You have to find a place with the same values and culture you want to represent. I have looked for workspaces that are big on community over competition. I do not wish to view my coworkers as competition because there is a stylist out there for everyone. If you are always worried about what the stylist next to you is doing, you will not see your full potential flourish. You are your only competition. If anything, look at what you can learn from them. I wanted a space where I could fully be myself and not feel judged, as well. I wanted a space where everyone is welcome, no matter their lifestyle, beliefs, careers, looks- anything. I also wanted to work in a space where I could ask questions! I am always looking to learn and ask the “why” on techniques. There may be different “needs” for you, and the best thing you can do is make a list. What is most important to you? You will be spending a lot of your time in your workplace, and you need to make sure it is somewhere you like to be. Trust your gut, always. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know where you will thrive best!
Be a sponge and soak up all that you can in the early days of your career! It will be exhausting at times, but it will also be thrilling. There is so much to learn! Finding your place can be difficult, as I have seen, but hopefully, some of this advice will better lead you to decide without all of the road bumps I hit along the way. And…
Welcome to the best industry in the world!