Become a Hair Stylist
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 300,000 hair stylists currently working in the United States.
Are you thinking about becoming one of them? Have you been wondering if you have what it takes to be a great hair stylist?
If you're on the fence about this career path, keep reading. Outlined below is everything you need to know, from education requirements to ideal personality traits.
What Does a Hair Stylist Do?
A hair stylist or hair dresser is responsible for handling a variety of tasks. They wash, condition, and cut hair, for example. They also blow dry it, style it, and color it.
Most hair stylists can handle the basics like shampoos, haircuts, and hair coloring, but others go on to become more specialized. For example, they might exclusively work with brides who need help getting ready on their wedding day, or they might work behind the scenes at fashion shows to get models ready to walk.
The hair stylist profession is very versatile, and there are lots of ways to make a name for yourself.
How to Become a Hair Stylist
If you want to work as a hair stylist, you'll need to go to cosmetology school and complete a state-licensed program. This is the bare minimum that's required to work in a salon or to open your own.
Here's a more specific breakdown of the steps you'll need to take to get licensed:
Earn a High School Diploma or GED
In most places, you need to have a high school diploma or GED before you can get hired as a hair stylist. You don't necessarily have to be a high school graduate to start cosmetology school, though.
Many high schools have partnerships with local schools and allow students to take classes once they turn 16. That way, they can graduate from high school and cosmetology school at the same time and start their careers sooner.
Complete a State-Licensed Cosmetology Program
During a typical state-licensed cosmetology program, you'll complete a variety of classes and become a master of many different skills, including the following:
Haircutting and shaping
Hair extension application
Hair coloring methods
Tool sanitation and sterilization
Most schools also provide education in salon management and the business side of things, which is key if you want to open your own salon one day.
Pass Written and Practical Exams
Once you've finished your schooling, you'll need to pass both practical and written exams. Your results from these exams show that you've mastered the essentials and are competent enough to provide good service and work in a salon setting.
Remember, you'll have plenty of opportunities to practice and prepare for these exams before you take them, so don't let the idea of taking a test hold you back from pursuing your dream career.
Keep Your License Current
Once you graduate and pass your exam, you'll be ready to start looking for jobs as a hair stylist. However, keep in mind that you'll also need to keep your license current.
One way you do this is by attending continuing education courses and passing additional exams. This allows you to keep up with different trends and techniques, which allows you to continue providing a high level of service to your clients.
How to Choose the Right Cosmetology Program
If you want to set yourself up for success after you graduate from cosmetology school and start searching for a job, you need to choose the right cosmetology program. Here are some factors to consider that will help you get the best education possible:
How far do you want to have to travel to go to cosmetology school? If you don't like the idea of a long commute, it's best to choose a school that's relatively close to your home.
This will make it easier for you to avoid being late to class and missing important details, neither of which will work in your favor if you're trying to become a great hair stylist.
Most cosmetology tools teach the same basic skills (including those listed above). However, if there's a specific skill that you want to learn, make sure you choose a school that covers it in great detail.
For example, if you want to feel confident work with textured hair, look for a school that specializes in teaching students how to handle this particular hair type (some schools don't do a good job of teaching the differences between various hair types and textures).
On average, cosmetology school costs about $17,000. This includes tuition, fees, supplies, and exam costs.
Typically the cost of cosmetology school will be divided up over the span of the program. You won't have to fork over $17,000 all at once.
Some high schools will also cover the cost of tuition for students. If you're thinking about attending cosmetology school while you're still in high school, this is a great option that can help you to graduate debt-free and with a career.
Look for a state-licensed and accredited cosmetology school. Ideally, your school will be recognized by the National Accrediting Commission for Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS). This organization, in turn, has been recognized by the United States Department of Education.
If you're having a hard time deciding between different cosmetology schools, read reviews to see what past students have to say about their experience.
Were they happy with the instruction they received? Did they feel prepared to sit through and pass their exams?
What's the average pass rate for the school? Do most people pass their exams the first time around?
This is an important factor to consider because you may have to pay to take your exam again if you don't pass it on the first try. If your cosmetology school isn't preparing you properly for your exam, it could end up costing you a lot of money in the long run.
Job Placement Rate
Don't forget to consider the job placement rate, too.
Do most students find a job relatively soon after graduating? What services, if any, does the school have in place to help you find a job as quickly as possible?
Keep the answers to these questions in mind as you're comparing schools so you can choose the one that's most likely to help you get hired when you graduate.
Ideal Personality for a Professional Hair Stylist
There's not one specific personality type that a hair stylist needs to have to provide customers with a great experience. However, some people may be more naturally suited to this career path than others.
The following personality traits, in most cases, can make it easier for someone to appeal to salon owners and get hired for a job:
Attention to Detail
Great hair stylists are those who pay attention to detail. They're perfectionists who go above and beyond to ensure they've given their clients the specific haircut or style they asked for.
If you're not already in the habit of going over your work with a fine-tooth comb, now is the time to start. Get used to double and triple-checking your work to ensure you're not missing anything.
Good Listener and Conversationalist
The best hair stylists are good, active listeners. They know what questions to ask and what to avoid. They also know how to fill in the awkward silences and have interesting, engaging conversations with every client who sits in their chair.
If you struggle to make conversation or put people at ease when you're working with them one-on-one, start working to change that. Practice striking up conversations with your classmates, and practice being an active listener to truly hears and empathizes with the things people are telling you.
As a hair stylist, you need to be honest and direct with your clients. If they ask for your opinion, you need to be able to respond in an honest and professional, yet still tactful, way.
Get comfortable telling people things they might not want to hear. For example, if someone is considering a particular cut but you know it will be hard for them to maintain with their hair type, you should tell them that and be prepared to offer an alternative that will work better.
Hair stylists should be cheerful, positive, and optimistic. You don't need to be a Pollyanna type, but your clients should know that you like them and are happy to be working with them.
If you're not naturally a very chipper person, you may need to work on your delivery and demeanor. It may help you to land more clients and make you more appealing to potential salon owners when you start looking for a job.
Finally, good hair stylists are flexible. They can adapt and are comfortable rolling with the punches. If something goes wrong, they know how to fix it.
The best hair stylists also don't linger on the past. If they have a subpar interaction with one client, they don't let it ruin their whole day. They shake it off and try to make the next appointment a better one.
Tips for Getting Hired as a Hair Stylist
Even if you have a winning personality and get along great with others, you may still struggle to find a job as a hair stylist after you finish cosmetology school. The following tips will help you to find job openings, nail your interviews, and increase your chances of getting hired:
Write a Great Resume and Cover Letter
If you want to land a job, you need to have a well-written resume and cover letter. Be sure to include details about your education and when you received your license. You can talk about awards you won or recognition you received while in school, too.
Make sure your resume and cover letter are professionally formatted (there are lots of online templates you can use that help with this). Go over them carefully to check for errors and typos, too. You may even want to have someone else read through them, as well, to ensure you don't miss anything.
Create a Portfolio
While you're still in school, make sure you're taking pictures of your work that you can use in your portfolio. This will help you stand out when you're interviewing with the best beauty salons in your area. It also gives you a chance to show off your skills and highlight your personal style.
Use Your Network
You don't have to go at this alone. Utilize your personal network when you're searching for cosmetology jobs.
Talk to people you met in school, and ask your counselor or instructors if they know of anyone who's hiring. You can also reach out to friends or family members who work in the industry with the same question.
Practice for the Interview
Practice your answers to common interview questions ahead of time. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions to keep in mind:
Why do you want to be a hair stylist?
How do you connect with different clients?
Have you ever dealt with an upset client? If so, how did you handle it?
How do you keep up with different style trends?
Why do you want to work at this salon?
Can you multitask? Give me an example of when you had to handle multiple tasks at once.
What does good customer service look like to you?
How would you describe your personal style?
Come up with answers to these questions now so you can answer with confidence during the interview.
Find a Job as a Hair Stylist Today
Now that you know more about what it takes to become a hair stylist, what do you think? Does this seem like a good career path for you? Follow the steps outlined above and you'll have no trouble landing a job when the time comes.
Speaking of finding a job, don't forget to check out the career resources on our site, too. They'll point you in the direction of job openings in your area and will help you narrow down your search to find the perfect fit.