The Right Fit: Finding Your First Salon

by Staff Writer | June 17, 2019
 Getty Images
Getty Images

Researching and choosing your first salon can seem daunting. As you begin your journey as a beauty professional, it’s important to find the best fit for your talent, personality and lifestyle. 

Finding the right salon fit is important for you and for the salon. Salon management will be investing time and money in you and your career, and they want to make sure you will be happy and successful in their business.

Understanding the salon’s training program, the compensation structure and the culture are all key to ensuring a healthy relationship.

Training Expectations

Licensure is just the first step in building your career. Salon apprentice or assistant programs offer the opportunity to build the skills you’ll need to sustain a career. There is no shortcut to excellence: To build and grow your career you will need to invest time. 

As a new hire you should plan to work for six, 12 or even 18 months as an assistant. You will be expected to learn the salon culture, mission and values, in addition to skill sets such as consultations, cutting techniques and color theory on the salon’s color brand. Your performance will be evaluated as you master the levels of each individual program. As your skills develop and you move up the tiers of the program, you may be paired with a senior stylist who will mentor you.

Remember, during this training you will not have your own clients, and you will likely be an hourly employee. Ask yourself if you can afford to work in a salon with an 18-month or longer program. The long-term benefits might not be enough to outweigh the short-term financial ramifications.

Your reward for this time investment will be a compensation and benefits package, continuing education, paid time off, and a place to build your confidence and be part of a team. Don’t think of a training program as “paying your dues,” but rather as an investment in your future.

Compensation and Benefits

After you learn about the training program you need to ask about the compensation and benefits package. Questions to ask:

  • Is the salon commission- or salary-based?
  • What is the commission structure?
  • How will the salon help you build your book?
  • Does the salon offer and pay for continuing education?
  • Do they offer flexible schedules?
  • What are the opportunities to advance and on what time schedule?
  • Does the salon offer a comprehensive health insurance plan?
  • Do they offer disability insurance? (Note: Can you afford to not work if you injured your hand? This is an important benefit.)
  • What are the expectations and incentives/perks for retail sales, prebooking clients and client retention?
  • What is the salon’s time-off policy?

 Culture Club

Once you understand the training expectations and the compensation structure it is critical to evaluate whether a salon is a good fit for your personality, values and lifestyle. Questions to ask:

  • Is there a dress code?
  • Do they have team-building exercises?
  • Do they have team meetings every week?
  • Will you have a mentor?
  • Does the salon give back? Which charities or community events are they involved in?

The Interview Process

For your interview it is important to have a resume. This shows preparedness and can also highlight other work and life experiences that highlight your nontechnical skills.

Have you ever organized a fundraiser? That tells a prospective employer you have leadership qualities, and you’re passionate about your causes. Experience as a server in a restaurant will indicate that you bring an ability to provide excellent customer service.

After you’ve captured your accomplishments on paper, focus on how you will make a good first impression to the prospective employer.

Present yourself in a polished manner, be on time and be prepared for common interview questions by planning ahead.

Knowing how to dress for an interview requires a bit of surveillance. Visit the salon prior to the interview and look around. How does the creative team dress? How are the clients dressed?

You want your attire to match the salon. But if the salon is very casual and stylists are wearing jeans, err on the side of caution. You want to treat the interview with the respect it deserves. Jeans are not appropriate attire, but black pants with a long top or jacket with great shoes might be the perfect balance.

No one expects a new grad to be wearing designer clothes, but what is important is being pulled together and exuding confidence.

  • Make sure your clothes are neat and clean.
  • Nails should be freshly polished.
  • Your hair should reflect your style as well as the salon’s aesthetic.
  • Makeup is important. Beauty is a head-to toe-business. Balance how much or how little you wear with the image you want to present. Your physical presentation is critical but so is preparing for interview questions.
  • Know the brands the salon carries, including the color line or lines.
  • Be prepared for basic interview questions such as “Why do you want to work here?” or Why should I hire you?” Doing mock interviews with your peers or teachers will help you feel comfortable talking about your assets and what you can contribute to the salon organization.
  • Think short- and long-term. Be prepared if you are asked, “Where do you want to be in five years?” A salon will be making a significant investment in your training and they don’t want to see their investment turn around and leave. Make sure they know you are willing to work hard, learn and grow. How you look and how you respond to questions are important, but so is being yourself. Don’t pretend to be something your not—it’s not sustainable. Present your best self, be confident and the right fit will be obvious.
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