What is It Like to Be a Hair Stylist

Job Description

Young man with buckled hair and hairdresser
Matthias Tunger / Digital Vision / Getty Images

A hair stylist, sometimes called a hairdresser or beautician, shampoos, cuts, colors, bleaches and styles hair. He or she may also use chemicals to straighten or curl hair, or apply extensions to lengthen hair. Before working on a client, a hair stylist analyzes her hair, recommends a style or service, and may even provide instructions and sell products that will let the customer get the same look at home.


Quick Facts About Hair Stylists

  • In 2014, the median annual salary was $23,120. Median hourly wages were $11.12.
  • Approximately 611,000 people worked in this occupation in 2012.
  • They typically work in free-standing hair salons, but some work in spas and hotels.
  • Employment is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

How to Get Started in This Career

  • To become a hair stylist, you will first have to attend a state-approved barber or cosmetology program. Programs are usually at least nine months long, and you may earn an associate degree upon completion.
  • You may also need a high school or equivalency diploma.
  • Once you graduate from barber or cosmetology school, you will have to get a license from the state in which you want to work. In addition to providing proof that you completed a training program, you may also have to take a practical exam to demonstrate your skills.

What Soft Skills Will Help You Succeed as a Hair Stylist?

  • Active Listening: You must be able to understand your clients wants, needs and concerns.
  • Customer Service: Your customers should be satisfied when they walk out the door. That will be based not only on the service you provide but on how they feel you treated them.
  • Interpersonal Skills: To provide excellent customer service, you need the ability to not only listen to your clients, but you must also be able to understand their body language.
  • Critical Thinking: You will be called upon to help your customers make decisions regarding their hair styles. Strong critical thinking skills allow you to weigh alternative solutions so you can choose the one that you determine will work out best.
  • Time Management: Managing your time well is essential since people dislike being kept waiting.

The Downside of Working As a Hair Stylist

  • You will have to spend a lot of time on your feet.
  • The chemicals and dyes you use may damage your skin and clothing.
  • Since many clients work during the day, hair salons are open in the evening and on weekends.
  • Many jobs are only part-time.
  • Some salons pay a commission rather than a straight salary. If you don't have a lot of work, you won't earn enough money.
  • In some salons, stylists must pay rent to the salon owner.
  • To get hired by many salons, you must have a following.

Common Misconceptions

  • You won't have to do anything except cut, style and color hair all day: In addition to putting your skills to use, you will also have to tend to other tasks. They include cleaning your work area and tools, taking and confirming appointments, keeping records of services you provide to clients, processing payments, and ordering supplies.
  • Every client will love you and the work you do: No matter what you do, there will be times your customers won't be pleased with the job you did. You may have to redo a style or fix a customer's color.
  • You can show off your beautiful clothes: If you don't want your clothes to get damaged, you will have to cover them up when working with dyes and various chemicals.
  • You won't ever have to attend school again once you graduate: Some states require continuing education to renew your license. Even if you aren't subject to that requirement, you will have to keep up with hair styling trends by attending workshops and tradeshows.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements:

  • Coordinates with management and salon staff to provide assistance for the sales and introduction of products and services
  • Commitment to providing outstanding client service
  • Willingness to grow and continue education to maintain knowledge of the current trends
  • Flexibility regarding work hours; ability to work nights, weekends and some holidays.

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Related Occupations

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2014)Required Education/Training
    EstheticianTreats people's skin to enhance its appearance$29,050State-approved esthetician program
    Funeral DirectorIn addition to making funeral arrangements, also prepares bodies for burial$47,250Associate degree in mortuary science
    Manicurist and PedicuristGrooms fingernails and toenails, applies polish and nail extensions$19,620State-approved nail technician or cosmetology program; state license
    Makeup Artist (Theatrical and Performance)Uses makeup to alter actors' appearances$44,310School of cosmetology

    Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 (visited October 14, 2015).
    Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online  (visited October 14, 2015).

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