Becoming a Salon Stylist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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A salon stylist's mean annual salary is $27,940. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a salon stylist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Salon Stylist

A career as a salon stylist can be rewarding because you can help people look and feel their best. Read on to see a list of pros and cons to see if a career in hairdressing is right for you.

Pros of a Career as a Salon Stylist
Flexible work schedules*
Opportunity to become self-employed**
Good job growth estimated (13% increase from 2012-2022, which is about 83,300 jobs)*
Creativity can be utilized*
Can work in several industries (salons, motion pictures, nursing care facilities, trade schools)*

Cons of a Career as a Salon Stylist
Pay is low (mean hourly wage was $13.43 in 2014)*
All states require formal training and licensure*
Field is very competitive*
Extended contact with various chemicals*
Lengthy time standing during work hours*
Long hours and weekend work*

Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Professional Beauty Association.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Stylists advise their clients on hairstyles that will best suit his or her personality and lifestyle and complement their physical appearance. Hairdressers work with both men and women and provide services such as cutting, coloring and styling. They also suggest hair products and tips for styling at home. Stylists must keep their workstations and tools neat and sanitized. Additionally, hairdressers must have good customer service skills, be creative and remain current on the latest fashion trends. Staying on your feet all day also requires a level of physical fitness and endurance.

Career Prospects and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), hairdressers earned an annual mean salary of $27,940 as of May 2014. The BLS noted that positions at high-end salons were the most competitive and employers often hired stylists with tremendous experience and potential. As of May 2014, there are over 343,000 hairdressers, stylists and cosmetologists working in the United States, half of whom were self-employed. The BLS found that due to the increase in hair treatments, employment in this field was estimated to rise by 13% from 2012-2022.

Training Requirements

Hairdressers, barbers and cosmetologists must be licensed to work. Candidates can apply for licensure after successfully completing an approved training program. Each state administers its own licensing with many requiring periodic renewal. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most require stylists to have a high school diploma and be at least 16 years old. Exams typically consist of written and practical portions.

Hairstyling is included in the curriculum of standard cosmetology diploma and certificate programs. These programs focus on styling techniques, coloring, cutting, styling and chemicals. Some schools offer certificate programs especially for hairstyling without mention of nails or skin. While not typically required for employment, some salon stylists pursue an associate degree in cosmetology for advanced study.

Top Skills for Salon Stylists

In addition to having artistic talent and command of styling tools, stylists should have superb customer service skills and business acumen. They must be able to understand the styling needs of the client and translate it into a pleasing hairstyle. Having such skills can help build a steady client base, which is an indication of a successful stylist and desired by employers. Stylists also need to be effective salespeople and suggest salon products for their clients to purchase to boost a salon's revenue.

To enhance their marketability, some hairstylists seek out professional certification. While not required, a certification in a specialty area can demonstrate expertise and may attract new clients and job opportunities. For example, the American Board of Certified Haircolorists administers an exam that qualifies professionals as Board Certified Haircolorists.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Hair salons often post their employment openings on their company's website, advertise on professional job boards or recruit through online job search engines. Some positions look uniquely for hair stylists while others look for candidates who can provide additional cosmetology services. Here are a few open job postings from April 2012:

  • A salon in Minnesota is looking for a full-time stylist to work for a nationally recognized provider of beauty services. Candidates must demonstrate seriousness in their career and enjoy working in a dynamic environment. Applicants must be willing to demonstrate the benefits of the products sold at the salon to their clients. Makeup touch-ups and scalp massages are some of the duties required.
  • A salon in Florida seeks a hair stylist who is also able to provide manicure, pedicure and facial services. Candidates must be team players and have a client focus. Duties also include maintaining stock and participating in continuing education.
  • In Boston, a boutique hair salon is seeking a licensed full-time stylist willing to work weekends. Stylists should have 2-5 years of experience, be presentable, professional and neat. An established client book is desired.

Alternative Career Paths

If becoming a salon stylist isn't the right fit for you, there are several careers in the beauty industry that could be of interest. Manicurists often work in salons and spas providing care to a client's hands and feet. Like a stylist, manicurists must have good customer service skills and obtain state licensure to practice. While still exposed to chemicals from the products they use, manicurists spend more of their day sitting than standing. The annual mean wage for manicurists, however, is slightly lower than that of a stylist at $22,000 as of May 2011. The job projection for manicurists and pedicurists was slightly higher than salon stylists at 17% from 2010-2020 according to the BLS.

As an additional option, you may consider becoming a skin care specialist. Like a stylist, skin care professionals spend many hours on their feet, must obtain licensure to practice and often attend cosmetology school in preparation for their career. According to the BLS, career opportunities in this field were expected to grow by 25% from 2010 to 2020, faster than average when compared with other occupations in the United States. The annual mean wage of a skin care specialist was also higher than that of a hairstylist at $32,000 as of May 2011.

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