What to Expect in a Salon Job Technical Demonstration or Audition

When you apply for beauty jobs, you may have to do more than show a portfolio and interview well. You could have to audition. Many salons require a technical demonstration to show your skills meet their needs.

Read on to learn how to apply for jobs in beauty, prepare for your auditions, and what to expect from the process.

Applying for the Job at a Salon

When you apply at a salon, you may be asked to fill out an application or questionnaire, and some salons require a portfolio of your work. Though some may still want physical portfolios, much of this is now done online. (Hint: Consider including a technical demonstration video in your online portfolio!)

You may go through a phone or in-person interview with the salon. If you pass that step, you could be asked to do a technical demonstration or “audition” for the job.

If you’re invited to do a salon audition, ask the salon what they hope to see you do in broad terms if they don’t clarify. For instance, do they want to see you perform a drastic haircut and highlights, or are they more interested in a basic cut and full dye job? If you’re a barber, do they want to see you perform a beard shaping, total shave, or something else?

Why Salons Are Looking for in Technical Demonstrations

Many salons require cosmetologists, estheticians, and other beauty professionals to undergo auditions, so they can ensure the interviewees fit their business’ needs.

Some things they look for include:

  • Technical Skills: They will evaluate how well you perform the task.
  • Soft Skills: This could include how you interact with customers and coworkers, your ability to take criticism and direction, and how well you “read the room.” For instance, is this a chatty or quiet salon?
  • Understanding of the Salon: They may look at how you dressed for the technical (i.e., is it in line with their dress codes and reasonable for spending hours on your feet?). You could also be evaluated for the type of work you do. For example, if this salon primarily serves customers who want simple haircuts and you come prepared with a prom-type hairstyle, they may be concerned.
  • Resume Accuracy: Your resume could be put to the test. For instance, if you stated you speak a moderate amount of Spanish, they may talk to you in Spanish to see what “moderate” means to you.

This means you probably don’t have to be perfect at every aspect of your technical skills. Many salons provide additional training. This is a great thing to ask about during your interview.

Remember: You’re interviewing the salon as much as they’re interviewing you. If any part of the technical audition makes you feel like this is a poor fit, you’re allowed to turn down a job offer or withdraw from the interview process.

What to Expect in a Salon Audition

Chances are, your salon audition involves the entire process of providing services. Even if you bring your own model—often required—you need to treat them like any other customer.

The audition will likely go like this (though the order may be different):

  1. Prepare your station.
  2. Greet your model in the waiting area and bring them to your station.
  3. Consult your client to find out precisely what they want. Provide feedback and suggestions as needed.
  4. Begin your work, maintaining open communication with your client as you go.
  5. Complete the work and check for client satisfaction.
  6. Make any adjustments the client needs.
  7. Potentially go through the checkout process (even if it’s simply pretending so they can see how you handle that part of the interaction). Don’t forget to ask them to book their next appointment!
  8. Clean up your station.

Your interviewer may ask questions or provide suggestions throughout.

Do I Get to Choose What I Do in My Audition?

You don’t always get to choose what you demonstrate for a salon. There may be times when your audition involves a stranger rather than a model you know. In these cases, you need to be prepared for anything, and every step from consult to checkout will be real.

However, you should be told whether to expect a hair, nail, skincare, or another type of treatment beforehand. Those who audition for full cosmetology jobs may need to demonstrate more than one treatment, but most salons won’t surprise you with the type(s) they want to see.

Are Salon Technical Demonstrations Always in Person?

No, salon auditions aren’t always in person. If you’re moving to a new state or city, for instance, you may be allowed to submit a video audition.

You may need to come to the salon for a second round. This could be on your dime or the salon’s, particularly if it’s part of a large chain.

For example, Ulta Beauty opened their Design Team jobs to outside candidates in 2019, and candidates sent in videos. Those who made it to the next step were flown to Chicago for a live audition, which lasted three days and involved learning all aspects of the job.

These Design Team positions weren’t typical, as they involve things like public speaking, so this process was unique overall. But, video auditions can happen for other types of salon jobs.

What to Bring to a Salon Audition

Almost universally, you must bring your supplies and a model to your audition.

When it comes to your supplies, bring everything you think you may need for the job—and then some. Don’t expect them to supply anything unless it’s been agreed upon ahead of time. If you need something extra-large, like a hooded dryer, ensure they have one available before deciding on a style that needs it.

As far as your model goes, Mandy, a hairstylist in St. Louis, says, “Bring a model that you're comfortable with and don't over-think it." They don’t need to be a professional model, but they should be willing to make a big change!

Unless you’re auditioning for a job at a location focused largely on short hair, bringing a long-haired model is advisable because the changes may be more evident and the job more intricate.

What If I Can’t Find a Model for my Technical Audition?

Finding a model may not be easy, particularly if you’re new in town. If you can’t find someone, ask the salon what they suggest.

Some salons allow demonstrations on mannequins. Others may have an easygoing patron or staff member willing to help.

If you use a mannequin, according to user haylbug on Reddit, you probably need to “talk to the mannequin as if it was a real guest.”

How to Ace the Salon Technical

Above all, be sure you’re ready to perform the task. If you get to choose your demonstration task, pick the one you feel best about. If you don’t get to decide, practice a good deal ahead of time.

When you arrive, ensure you’re styled as a professional stylist should be.

As for your attitude, be likable, confident, and professional. Show 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. Be ready to answer questions about why or how you're doing something during the technical demonstration.

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 demos. Regardless of how many auditions you do for the salon job, Mandy emphasizes you should always "just be yourself."

Do All Beauty Careers Have Technical Auditions?

Though not every business has technical auditions, every field may have them. Whether you’re a hair braider, esthetician, barber, nail technician, or full cosmetologist, among any others, you should expect to demonstrate your skills.

How Do Salon Owners Feel About Technical Auditions?

Salon owners and hiring managers say the process can be intense and challenging for them. It requires a lot of patience as they give stylists their valuable time to watch them perform in a salon technical demonstration. Plus, they’re under pressure to make their salon appealing to potential workers.

A lot goes into choosing who to hire 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.

One thing many interviewers like, according to Aveda Institutes, is for interviewees to ask for feedback. After your audition, if the interviewer seems like the type to provide feedback, don’t be afraid to ask how you could improve for the next time you work with a guest at their salon. Do they do things differently than you did them? Was there an aspect of your performance they particularly liked or concerned them?

A follow-up note thanking them for their time is also often appreciated. Be sure to get this to them quickly, as they may have a limited time to decide. That extra step makes them feel valued and may help you get the job.

Salon Audition Preparation Checklist

While planning your salon's technical demonstration, you must keep several things in mind. Here’s a checklist to help you stay on track.

What to Wear to a Salon Audition

Interviewers 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." Some tips include:

  • Dress in a fashion mirroring the salon’s style.
    • If they have a uniform, wear something similar but not identical.
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes you can easily move in.
  • Ensure your hair, nails, etc., are suitable for your job.

Supplies to Bring to a Technical Audition

Salons supply little to no materials for you. Assume it’s on you to bring everything you may need, such as:

  • A fully-stocked, professional-grade kit (include extra items in case the salon wants to see something you didn’t plan for)
  • Photos of what you plan to do
  • Unless told otherwise, a friend or relative to serve as your model

Do You Have to Audition for Promotions Within Salons?

Some salons may have you audition if you want to be promoted. They could, however, be looking for different things.

In this trainer audition example from Ulta Beauty, an interviewee shows their knowledge of an existing customer’s needs, including explaining the reasons for their choices, and clearly indicating what they’re doing.

Other salons may use your previous experience and reviews to determine promotions.

Salon Technical Audition Advice from Industry Experts

Show kindness: "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

Show professionalism: "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

Show personality: "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 hairstylist 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 Austell, GA

Michelle Reid-Angell told us her Beauty Brands salon looked for customer interactions and knowledge of their in-house products more than anything else. Though being perfect at everything is a bonus, it’s not essential. She also clarifies that this shouldn't be too scary as you have already passed the state-required practical exam.

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