Remember your assistant days? Most young stylists start their careers as assistants and it's a job we can remember all too well—shampooing until your fingers hurt, mixing color, sweeping hair and assisting stylists with whatever they may need. Even though cosmetology school teaches the fundamentals of hairstyling, the real education begins on the salon floor.
Transitioning from cosmetology school to the floor can pose a challenge for some. It requires a great deal of confidence—in regards to conversation and skill—and the ability to stay motivated, focused and on track. We talked with several salon professionals to hear their best tidbits of advice for building a sense of confidence in assistants.
AS: How do you build confidence in assistants?
It’s important for your assistants to understand all aspects of running their own business, and the value of each facet. From retail operations to client retention and even mastering their hairdressing skills, it takes about a year for the wheels to start turning. I mentor my assistants for two years before they get a chair. This is how I learned, and what my boss did for me, and I appreciate it every day. ––Justin Frost, Kadus Professional top artist
You have to prepare them as much as you possibly can in with skills as well as “real life” problem solving salon situations. Keep them accountable on timing for applications and services. Put them in real life problem solving situations by requiring them to bring in real life models for color, cut and other services. Observe what you see when they are on their own with a guest and give constructive feedback. ––Danielle Keasling, Matrix artistic director
My assistants are trained through a routine of classes going from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced. In the beginning, I like to start them with shorter cuts such as bobs, pixies, etc. because it teaches them more technical skills and they must look at the geometry of the face. They also consistently blow-dry between beginner and intermediate. In intermediate, blow-drying demonstrates where the layers will fall, and helps the assistants learn how to read a haircut. In the advanced classes, they are taught to do any type of haircut- short, long, layered, etc. Here they begin to understand the philosophy of the face shape, the scalp, hair condition, as well as professional skills for photo-shoots. Once successfully completing the advanced classes they work closely with me as my assistants to gain an understanding of how to approach the clients and what good service entails. ––Oscar Blandi, stylist and owner of Oscar Blandi Salon
One important key to success is self-confidence and the key to self-confidence is preparation. At our salon, we prepare our assistants through education within their yearlong internship. During this course, they attend class every Monday and are tested periodically on their fundamentals to be sure they are confident in their techniques. In their final month, individual assistants will spend the full day with me, where they are part of my guest’s experience from start to finish. When their time comes to transition into a "New Talent Stylist," and if they are fully prepared, their success is guaranteed. ––Susan Ford, Aveda artist
AS: Do you have any ice-breaker tips for conversation starters between assistants and guests?
I always start with a compliment of some kind. Whether it’s something about your client’s hair, outfit or an accessory, everyone loves to receive compliments, and I find that it helps break down any walls. Otherwise, I will ask how they found me. It’s usually through a family member or friend, which is an awesome conversation starter because we already share a common bond. —Justin Frost
Ask your guest "if there is one thing you could change about your hair, what would it be?" It will lead into a open and non-judgmental conversation. ––Danielle Keasling
When you come to the client, know what you are going to be doing. Begin to understand your client more personally, and ask as much as you can about him or her. Gain a sense of their lifestyle, preferences, tastes, and always compliment them. —Oscar Blandi
In my consultations, I avoid “so what are we going to do with your hair today?” Instead, I create enthusiasm with “How would you feel about creating a new look today?” or “I have some great ideas for your hair today, but first let’s talk about how open you are for change." It immediately sparks my guest's curiosity, which leads the conversation in a positive direction. This also inspires confidence in my guests that I am knowledgeable in current hair trends and will take time to listen and collaborate with them. ––Susan Ford
AS: Do you have any standout advice from when you were an assistant?
Work hard now. Find a good mentor that will help you grow in the right direction, and absorb all the knowledge you can. Build your foundation and take as many classes as possible—especially business classes if you’re planning on being an independent stylist. Don’t worry about being a “rock star hairdresser” right away, and take the time to hone your craft and skills as a stylist. —Justin Frost
Keep busy. Work on mannequins whenever you have down time. Stay present and ask questions. Your mentor not only will see you value, they will then present you more opportunity. Build relationships with salon guests by getting involved in supporting the stylists that are experienced. The more trust you build with the experienced stylists in your salon, the more they will allow you to help, and the more they trust you, the more likely they will refer you if they are unable to accommodate their guest or a new referral. —Danielle Keasling
You have to be a good listener to your client and get a food feel for what he or she is about. You cannot be on the floor unless you listen. I also learned from being an assistant that you must have an awareness and understanding for what is happening in the world—it is a sign of professionalism. Stay on top of relevant trends in beauty, makeup, fashion, and lifestyle. They are all intertwined. —Oscar Blandi
It is the power of yes. Say yes to every opportunity, say yes to helping out, say yes to new challenges. Yes always precedes a new adventure or experience. And treat every day on the salon floor like it's showtime. Stand tall, dress with style, smile, be present, engage and listen more than you talk. ––Susan Ford
AS: What do you wish you knew back then that you know now?
Don’t be afraid to take chances and try everything. It’s okay if you’re not busy right away – it’s part of the process! Try to pre-book as many clients as possible, even when you’re starting out. I am a huge advocate for this, and only figured it out halfway through my career. Now, I always book two months out and no longer stare at an empty book, which eliminates anxiety and helps for planning. —Justin Frost
Document all of your work by creating a hair journal. Include all of your before, after and inspirational pictures from your work in the salon. Keep all your images in one digital album….it’s not only your insurance policy if you have a problem and need to reference back, but it’s your portfolio to promote your brand on social media and your website. ––Danielle Keasling
When you are younger, there are so many things you don’t know because, in this industry, your rise to success takes time. Don’t rush anything, take your time to listen and understand as much as you can. Stay humble, have patience, and work hard. —Oscar Blandi
Relax, breathe and enjoy the journey. When you doubt yourself, your skills, and question whether you are good enough, keep your chin up and know that it's part of the journey. Find mentors and study them—the way they dress, the way they talk to their guests, the way their hands move—and discover what makes them special. Know that you’re learning will never end, and that 30 years down the road, you will still be seeking out education and continue to be inspired and influenced by your peers.