If your manicures are the envy of your friends, your hair is always perfectly coiffed and you spend hours learning the latest makeup styles, you might consider a career as a cosmetologist, particularly if you like to work your magic on other people. Cosmetologists spend their days making clients happy by helping them look and feel good, which makes it a rewarding job if you’re a friendly, outgoing, people person.
Paying Your Dues
You have to pay your dues to be a cosmetologist, and that includes spending up to a year in cosmetology school. Be prepared to take constructive criticism during the learning process. After you've completed school and received a certificate, you need a license to practice from the state you live in. Every state has different licensing regulations that can include taking any combination of written, oral and practical tests. If you tend to have test anxiety, gather some friends or family members and practice answering questions while doing someone's hair and makeup.
There's much more to cosmetology than being able to wield a pair of scissors or a makeup brush. You don't have to be a science wiz, but you will need to know some basic anatomy. You'll also learn simple chemistry for mixing hair coloring and other chemical treatments. Cosmetology includes skin care and you may need proficiency with tools used for facials, laser treatments or hair removal. Some cosmetologists offer massage as part of their repertoire. You will likely want to decide if you’re going to offer a full array of personal services as a cosmetologist, or if you want to specialize in a branch such as makeup or skin care.
Creativity and flexibility are important aspects of this career. You'll be giving clients a new look, staying on top of styles and trends, and trying to create your own trends to set yourself apart from other cosmetologists, all while adhering to instructions from clients. Time management skills are helpful for ensuring you book clients efficiently. Overbooking can annoy clients and too much time between clients affects your bottom line. The ability to carry a conversation can help put clients at ease, but being perceptive enough to know when someone doesn't want to talk is helpful.
Excellent customer service skills are mandatory. Giving clients what they want -- and sometimes what they didn't know they wanted -- is one of the most important parts of the job, but you often need to explain what you're doing. You have to really like people to be a cosmetologist, even when clients are difficult. Staying calm, cool and collected if a client is unhappy with your work is important. Understand that you can't please everyone and it will probably happen at least once. Cultivate tact and patience if you don't already possess them in large quantities.
2016 Salary Information for Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists
Barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists earned a median annual salary of $24,380 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $19,610, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $34,400, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 673,700 people were employed in the U.S. as barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists
- O-Net OnLine: Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists
- Beauty Schools Directory: Cosmetologist Job Description & Information
- Beauty Schools Directory: Is Beauty School Right for Me?
- The Princeton Review: Career: Cosmetologist
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists
- Career Trend: Barbers, Hairdressers, and Cosmetologists
Since 1997, Maria Christensen has written about business, history, food, culture and travel for diverse publications. She ran her own business writing employee handbooks and business process manuals for small businesses, authored a guidebook to Seattle, and works as an accountant for a software company. Christensen studied communications at the University of Washington and history at Armstrong Atlantic State University.