Salon experts share how to start your hairstyling career off right with skills you may not learn in the classroom.
While you’ve likely nailed the technical skills, there’s so much more to becoming a success on the salon floor than what you learned at school. “Ten thousand hours is a sign that someone has practised at being a professional at something, but practising the wrong things for 10,000 hours doesn’t help,” says Tristan Morrison, senior creative director at Aveda Canada Salon and School Group.
Here are six ways to become a hairstyling sensation right from the beginning.
1. You need to gain confidence and competence fast.
Gaining confidence in the day-to-day aspects of working in a salon is as important as executing a cut for your clients. Stylists need to feel comfortable in the salon environment, in order to respond quickly to real-time situations. “Graduates go from a very secure environment where the teacher is there to help sort out challenges; in the salon, clients expect you to be the professional, and stylists can get nervous because they’re on their own,” says Morrison. To counter the anxiety, he encourages senior staff to help the junior ones out, and for students to pay attention to the subtleties of how the salon operates during their apprenticeship.
The lesson? At this point in your career, don’t expect to be on par with senior stylists. Be competent and take control of the things you can excel at.
2. You must always be “on.”
At the Vancouver Hairdressing Academy, Michael Levine teaches students the importance of having the right attitude. “Show your passion and that you’re happy to work, even when it’s not busy,” says Levine. “Be proactive and make things happen—it’s about work ethics with a smile on your face.” The Vancouver Hairdressing Academy offers an apprenticeship program to hair school graduates that includes an accelerated curriculum that zones in on salon essentials, including a simplified cutting system. “We teach mastery over four or five things; all of these cuts can be adapted to different lengths,“ says Levine.
The lesson? Go into each task with willingness and an “I can” attitude.
3. The experience matters more than the styling.
Think about what clients expect as soon as they book the appointment. It’s not only the service, it’s also about creating a relaxing experience — one that will make your clients want to rebook. “At the Aveda Academy, we teach students the social interaction skills to make a guest feel good for 45 minutes or an hour and a half,” says Morrison.
The lesson? Master the client experience and you will build your business faster than someone with just perfect technical skills.
4. You will need to get out of your comfort zone and do unpleasant tasks.
According to Levine, your first year on the salon floor isn’t a very busy one since you’re building your clientele. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a job to excel at. “As a salon owner, I love seeing a ‘whatever, whenever’ attitude. Say yes to everything and eventually good opportunities will come your way,” says Levine. “Sometimes it’s about getting outside your comfort zone and not always about doing hair.”
The lesson? Learn to put the salon you’re working for first, and you’ll continue to gain new experiences and be invited to participate in unique opportunities.
5. You need to volunteer.
When you’re starting out, you have more flexibility than someone with regular clients. Take the opportunity to learn and get involved. At the Aveda Academy, students are constantly volunteering as assistants at fashion shows and for platform work, and some even help facilitate advanced classes. Getting involved gives you additional exposure in the hairstyling industry, which may lead to opening more doors to explore other opportunities as you establish your career.
The lesson? Dedicate the early part of your career to finding a mentor to help give you career advice and make important introductions for you.
6. Competition can sometimes be a good thing.
Entering the Contessa Student/Apprentice and New Hairstylist categories isn’t only good for morale but it can also help hairstylists build their clientele, especially for the finalists and winners who receive accolades at the start of their career. In fact, some academies give students a taste for editorial work, which can give you a head-start on the competition. At the Fiorio Beauty Academy in Toronto students can enter a themed photo competition that helps build their portfolio. “The second semester of the program gives all students the chance to experience how to improvise and think on their feet on-set,” says Zaheen Budhwani, administrative director and recruiter for the Fiorio Beauty Academy, which focuses on European cutting and colouring techniques with industry icon Maurice Fiorio.
The lesson? Competing can help boost your skills and your career. Do your research and identify the top salons where you want to work that will allow you to express your creativity.