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Getting an apprenticeship at a salon

by Rosanne Ullman | July 10, 2011

"Nothing is more memorable than your first job out of beauty school. When you're fresh and excited about your new career, you're going to be very impressionable and a lot of the habits you develop there will stay with you the rest of your life. So find the absolute best environment you can find, and beg them to let you work there! Prove your value to them." Adam Broderick, salon owner and industry consultant to Clairol Professional

Getting an apprenticeship at a salon

Starting a career is exciting! With a cosmetology license in hand, you can pretty much be sure there's a job out there with your name on it. Nabbing that job? That might feel like Where's Waldo meets The Apprentice,but you're up for it!

lotsa options

"Sales, product development, platform work, teaching, photo shoots" working behind the chair is just one place you can take a cosmetology license," says Mia Liguori McHugh, director of new product development for Scruples.

test it out

But let's back up. Unless you're sure you want something else, you'll probably look first for work in a salon.

" Get a job in a salon as early as you can, while you're still in school," advises Ivan Zoot, president of Andis Corporation. " Sweep, fold towels, answer the phone. When you're a student, there isn't a salon on the planet who won't give you a tour of the salon. See as many as you can, and don't fall in love with the first one. Wait for the one that's right for you."

train, train, train

" The best thing to do when you get out of school is to go into an apprentice program," says Anita Guttierez, Clairol Professional's Design Team lead color master. " The salon doesn't have to be "˜cool'; it's more important to learn from someone who's been doing good hair for years." David Guerin, global artistic director for Oster Professional Products, agrees. " Look for a mentor who will help you build your reputation," suggests Guerin, who owns The Cutting Room in Albany, Oregon. " Pick the brains of everyone on everything they do. The more knowledge you acquire from your coworkers, the quicker you'll improve."

Getting an apprenticeship at a salon

The Institute of Courage, an advanced academy in Topanga Canyon, CA

McHugh gets onboard with that. " You get better and better with practice," she notes. " It's like playing the piano,you can take lessons, but you have to practice. I've had cosmetology students look at me with fear in their eyes because they're graduating in a week, they have a job and they don't know what they're doing! When you get out of cosmetology school, you're really not a master of your craft. You get that only through on-the-job training. So seek out a place that is big on education. Apprenticing somebody for a year or two will help you when you begin to build your own clientele, and a good salon will have a way of doing things; every stylist there will deliver a cut in a similar way."

Frequently students coming out of school want to make money right away and may not have the patience to apprentice. That's shortsighted, according to Kenny Gibson, vice-president and COO of Toni&Guy Academies.

"If you're an assistant who's really observant and sees what the clients are experiencing, the assisting will go by quickly," Gibson says. "You'll have a good time, and it will knock years off your learning curve. The first time you experience a client coming unglued, wouldn't you rather have that happen to someone else and watch how he or she handles it? Learn from people who are doing it right, who have a high percentage of repeat clientele, whose clients are happy and positive."

An independent salon's training program may consist of apprenticing for up to 18 months before you get your own chair, but by then you'll have a solid clientele. The bigger chains will have you on the floor after several weeks of training and, typically, build your business with a steady supply of walk-ins. Good salons of all sorts offer ongoing opportunities to get product knowledge, take advanced technique classes, go to trade shows and meet with industry leaders. Manufacturers, distributors and non-affiliated advanced academies all hold advanced education classes.

" The big shows are fun and get you excited and inspired," McHugh comments. " The funky styles with the big sticks are exciting to watch! Sign yourself up for a couple of cutting classes, too. You'll bring back a lot of tangible information you can use in the salon."

more considerations

Other factors to think about include:

1. Size. The range is broad. You can work in a two-chair salon, be part of a huge chain salon organization or anything in between. Multi-salon companies tend to have structured systems that employees follow in order to deliver consistent service across all the salons. Independent salons may have less structure, although that's not always the case. When you visit salons, make sure you sample both big and little and both independent and chain.

2. Trendiness. You may feel comfortable in a "family" salon, where you'll work on toddlers, teens and grandmas in addition to the more typical 25-60 age range. Or you may feel that the hippest urban salon is your best match. 

3. Career path. Larger organizations tend to offer advancement by climbing a specific ladder, with the top rung being salon manager, training director or artistic director.

4. Surroundings. One thing about salons they're everywhere. Uptown, downtown, small town, suburbia, farm area, work area.

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