Whether they’re forming beehives or braids, dreadlocks or ducktails, ponytails or pompadours, hairdressers are maestros of styling. Although we usually associate them with the technical aspects of their job, “there’s so much more to what we do than cutting hair,” says Scott J. Buchanan, president of Scott J. Salons & Spas in New York City and the 2013-2014 chairman of the Professional Beauty Association. “We also get to change people’s lives and make them feel good about themselves.” Hairdressers are licensed cosmetologists who have been trained in a spectrum of beauty styling techniques, such as giving manicures, pedicures and skin treatments, but they concentrate on hair services specifically, counseling clients on proper hair and skin care and learning to tiptoe around the Achilles’ heel we all share – vanity. The best stylists adeptly juggle these tasks, and in the process, earn both our tips and our trust. And just like many of the professions on this year’s list of Best Jobs, hairdressing is more than a career. It’s a calling.
Although growth rates vary by specialty, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in this “calling” will grow by 12.7 percent. Demand to receive extensions, hair color, straightening and more could translate to 77,600 new cosmetologist positions by 2022.
Hairdressers aren’t typically salaried employees. The majority are self-employed and many work part time. The BLS reports the median hourly wage for hairdressers in 2013 was $11.12, which translates to $23,140 a year. The best-paid earned approximately $44,220, while the worst-paid made about $17,010. If you’re looking to make styling a lucrative profession, consider working in San Francisco or Seattle, where hairdressers earned more than $39,000 in 2013. Also keep in mind that cosmetologists working in the performing arts earned an average of $72,580 in 2013, which was the highest of all sectors.
Most states require hairdressers to have at least a high school diploma or GED to obtain a cosmetology license. For the license, a hairdresser has to complete courses with a state-approved barber or cosmetology school – where programs usually last a minimum of nine months – before taking a licensing examination. Some states have reciprocity agreements where licensed stylists who move will not have to complete additional training to practice in new states. Many cosmetologists take advanced courses to stay up to date on the latest trends.
Although job prospects are good, there is fierce competition to receive a place in a prestigious salon. For the best chance, Buchanan suggests that cosmetologists-to-be align themselves with a good beauty school. “That’s going to give you some great foundation,” he says. At the same time, Buchanan also advises going to “graduate school,” which means working in a salon for at least a year. “That’s when you get to hone your craft,” he notes. Gaining salon experience also enhances people skills. “You have to have an outgoing personality and be ready to serve the customer,” Buchanan says. “The biggest headache is when you find people who are technically great but don’t deliver great service.”