If you’re thinking about cosmetology school, or just about to graduate and take your boards, you might be wondering how you will get a job at a salon out of school – especially if you have no prior salon experience! Well, most salons require you to demonstrate your skills in a technical demonstration to show you know what you’re doing when it comes to cutting, coloring and styling hair. (By the way – we’re writing this article from the standpoint of a hairstylist’s audition, but the same principles apply to nail tech, esthetician and makeup artist auditions too!)
Applying for the Job at a Salon
Typically when you apply for an opening at a salon, you may be asked to fill out an application or questionnaire, and some salons require you to submit a portfolio. If you don’t have prior salon experience, make sure you have a cosmetology portfolio of the styles or makeup designs you did while in cosmetology school at the student salon. You may go through a phone or in-person interview with the salon, and if you pass that step, you may be asked to do a technical demonstration or “audition” for the job. Salon owner after salon owner has told us that they look for strong listening skills, attentiveness, positivity, and the ability to take constructive criticism well when they’re choosing who moves on through the salon job interview process. They also expect you to ask relevant questions, like the scheduling, pay arrangements, and what opportunities there may be in the salon for growth as your career progresses.
What to Expect on the Salon Audition
You are usually expected to bring in a model with enough hair and a complicated enough hairstyle challenge to really demonstrate your skills. You are also expected to provide your own kit and supplies. You may be asked to consult with your “client” (the model) to show you know how to communicate with salon clients. Mandy, a hairstylist in St. Louis, says to “bring a model that you’re comfortable with and don’t over-think it.”
From there, you will launch into your hair cut, color and style. A simple 1-inch trim isn’t going to cut it here, folks. That won’t be enough for the grader to get a feel for what you’re capable of. The salon or grader may or may not provide you with specific criteria to guide you through the demonstration, but in most cases, you’re the one leading the way here. The grader may ask you questions periodically throughout your cut and style.
Some stylists even do multiple rounds of salon auditions, and say to expect to be called back. Sometimes the decision takes a few returns or additional demo. Regardless of how many auditions you do for the salon job, Mandy emphasizes that you should always “just be yourself.”
How to Ace the Salon Technical
When you arrive, ensure you are dressed, styled and made up like a professional stylist should be. Dress the part! As for your attitude, smile and be likeable, confident and professional. Show that you’re excited to be there and eager to be a part of the salon’s team, but be mature and poised about it. Channel all your enthusiasm into performing an awesome style for the grader. Choose a haircut, color and style that you are very familiar with, confident in and have practiced to a point you’re completely comfortable doing it in front of an audience, and be ready to answer questions as to why or how you’re doing something during the technical demonstration.
Salon owners and hiring managers have told us repeatedly that the hiring process can be very intense and challenging for them. It requires a lot of patience on their part as they give stylists their valuable time to watch them perform in a salon technical demonstration. But there is also a lot that goes into choosing who to hire and put behind the chair to represent their salon. It’s about more than just the skill you demonstrate in your salon audition – it’s also about your personality and professional demeanor. Candidates must show enthusiasm and interest in growing and evolving with and in support of the salon. They must go beyond hiring someone “on the premise that they dress cool, they have a common interest with you, or they are the best you’ve seen,” salon owner Salvatore Minardi in New Jersey told us. “Selection is because they’re a good fit.”
A Few Pieces of Advice from People Who Grade and Hire:
- “I can and have taught a monkey how to cut hair. Most important for me were the people skills. By the time you wind up on my stoop looking for a job you are at least 18 years old. If your mama did not teach you to treat people right it is too late for me to try.” – Ivan Zoot, a.k.a. Clipper Guy
- “Be punctual, present yourself professionally in attire, listen closely to the employer’s description of the role and salon position, interact in the interview but don’t interrupt, show an enthusiastic want for the opportunity to be employed at the salon, and ask relevant questions.” - Salvatore Minardi, Salvatore Minardi Salon in Madison, NJ
- “I look for potential, a positive attitude, the ability to listen and learn, and to take constructive criticism, the desire to do hair, and the will to be great in this industry. The candidate doesn’t have to be the greatest haristylist or barber in the world, but if they possess these qualities, they could be a good prospect for hiring a Master Stylist or Barber in your salon.” - Craig Damon, Craig Damon Salon in Hiram, GA
- “I ask where their strong and weak points are. I ask questions and b ring up scenarios that relate to their strong and weak points to hear their responses. They must be a team player, have positive energy and personality, good attitude, some salon experience, and you must be able to accept criticism to better your craft.” - Latasha Jones, Luxurious Looks Hair Studio in Pittsburgh, PA
- “Timing, technique, professionalism, dedication and trustworthiness.” - Melody Council, Christian Styles Studios in Raleigh, NC
- “I choose to pick apples off of the tree rather than take them out of the barrel. I go to a local school and volunteer as a guest artist and I find the cream of the crap. I require weekly mandatory advanced education. I have found that not only do I keep them, they blow the ‘seasoned’ out of the water. I also start these stylists at a higher price point. These stylists are our future! If we engage them from the start, they stay engaged in the future. Everyone wins.” - Brent Hardgrave, Quest Women’s Spa & Fitness Center in Alpharetta, GA