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, who is 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 and 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 2016, the median annual salary was $24,260. Median hourly wages were $11.66.
  • Just over 597,000 people worked in this occupation in 2014.
  • They typically have jobs in free-standing hair salons, but some are employed in spas and hotels.
  • Employment is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2024. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies it as a "Bright Outlook" occupation because it is expected to have a large number of job openings.

A Day in the Life of a Hair Stylist

These are hair stylists' typical job duties, according to job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Provide cut & blow-dry, keratin smoothing, up style, and any other services you are trained for"
  • "Braid and weave hair"
  • "Bleach, dye, or tint hair, using applicator or brush"
  • "Demonstrate and sell hair care products and cosmetics"
  • "Proactively develop new customers"
  • "Consistently increase guest retention by building relationships and pre-booking"

    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 you determine will work out best.
    • Time Management: Managing your time well is essential since your clients won't like it if you keep them 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 evenings and 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 client'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 trade shows.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some requirements from actual job announcements:

    • "Strong professional presentation, technical ability and relationship building"
    • "Excellent customer service skills and strong work ethic"
    • "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?

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      Manicurist and PedicuristGrooms fingernails and toenails; applies polish and nail extensions$22,150State-approved nail technician or cosmetology program; state license
      Makeup Artist (Theatrical and Performance)Uses makeup to alter actors' appearances$60,970School of cosmetology

      Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited September 12, 2017).
      Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online  (visited September 12, 2017).