Fresh out of cosmetology school: should you assist?


Maybe you’ve been in the business for a while and this won’t resonate with you, but maybe you’re starting fresh out of school and you’re not sure which direction to take. Do you have enough knowledge and skill to jump behind a chair and succeed? Do you really know the in’s and out’s of how to build and retain a clientele? How’s your timing on those full highlights? All of this can seem really daunting. I know the fear that sets in when you’ve finally graduated and you passed state board with flying colors. You sit there and think “ok.. so now what?”

If nobody else has told you yet, or you haven’t figured it out on your own: this business isn’t for the faint of heart. As much as I wish it was, it’s not sunshine and rainbows - especially in the first few years. Sure, you’ve got enough to pass state board, but the salon industry needs you to have so much more than that in order to succeed. There are a few choices for going about this:

  1. You can work behind a chair at a salon or chain that offers classes to grow your skill as you go.

  2. You can assist somebody and learn the ropes underneath them while you gain exponential and irreplaceable knowledge of not only how to do hair - but how to serve your clients and run a successful business.

  3. You can jump on in and cross your fingers that it won’t take too much trial and error before you’re a highly successful stylist. Instagram will market for you, right?

It’s probably pretty obvious which road I would recommend, but I also understand that it’s not that easy. I was scrappy enough that I figured out how to survive in the Bay area on a minimum wage, 50-hour-a-week assisting gig that made me feel as if i’d quite literally never be good enough. I could go in to a ton of detail about this but heres the truth: I’ve seen people thrive in each direction, but I’ve also seen how long it can take when you’re going it alone, and to me it’s just not worth the pain. I suggest you assist.

But wait, theres more. There are things you need to be aware of when seeking a salon to assist for. Most importantly: it doesn’t have to, and really shouldn’t be a “Devil Wears Prada” situation. If you’re currently assisting for someone who treats you like garbage, doesn’t follow labor laws, or wants to keep you as an assistant simply to better their career and not to help you - leave. run. get out. not worth it. I’d rather have you do 1,000 botched haircuts than watch you stay in that toxic environment for one more day. YOU are worth more than that. Thats the situation I had, and though I absolutely would assist again if I had to do it all over, I wouldn’t assist in the same salon.

When you’re looking for an assisting position here’s what I want you to keep in mind:

  1. There are labor laws. Look them up and make sure they follow them.

  2. You’re there to learn, not just sweep hair. If they don’t have lesson plans and courses of action to get you going - they’re going to be a mess and in three years you’ll be wondering what the hell you’re doing there.

  3. They should have a specific time line of how long you’ll be assisting, and a plan for what happens afterwards. Is it one year, two years? Will you be a commission stylist or a renter afterwards? Do they even have room for you as a stylist?

  4. How successful is the salon? Are the other stylists busy? Use this as a gauge for your own future success. You want a thriving salon, not one where every one is on their phone competing for the next walk in.

Find a salon that matches all of that criteria? Take it and hustle your butt off in order to make it work. It might be a grueling couple of years, but I promise you that your future self with thank you.