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Industry • Best Practice

Want to Be a Hair Stylist Assistant? Get the Low-Down Here

You’ll get to do a little bit of everything, but you’ll need to be quick on your feet and flexible enough to learn while you work. Here’s what aspiring assistants need to know.

For a lot of beauty professionals, getting a job as a hair stylist assistant is a first step toward solo greatness. Being an assistant requires a willingness to learn on the job and train as you go, but it also comes with the responsibility of contributing to the salon environment in a big way. 

Stylist assistants may not sit at the top of the food chain, but they’re hard-working beauty pros who are often on the fast track toward launching their own beauty careers. Here’s what you need to know about how to embark on the stylist assistant journey.

So you want to be a hair stylist assistant

Let’s do a quick rundown of common salon assistant duties and details.

What does a hair stylist assistant do?

Salon assistants make stylists’ lives easier. That might mean helping sanitize equipment, cleaning salon spaces, or interacting with clients to get them ready for the stylist’s chair. Here are some jobs a hair stylist assistant might be asked to do during the course of a day at the salon:

  • Greeting clients and making them feel welcome.

  • Shampooing or drying clients’ hair.

  • Mixing and rinsing color treatments.

  • Washing towels and other textiles.

  • Sanitizing tools and equipment.

  • Sweeping and tidying salon spaces.

One of the greatest aspects of working as a salon assistant is that you get to try a little bit of everything. Depending on the size and style of the salon, some assistants even take on receptionist duties, manage stock and inventory, or help run after-hours events and educational programs.

What is a typical hair stylist assistant salary?

Your precise salon assistant pay rate will vary depending on your level of experience, your city and state, and the company where you work. According to Indeed, the average base salary for a salon assistant in the United States is $14.66. That’s an average though, so be prepared to see salary offerings that are either lower or higher than that.

Go to beauty school and get your license (eventually)

In most cases, you’ll need to go to beauty school and get your license before you can become a proper hair stylist assistant. But there are exceptions to the rule. Let’s look at how your options shake out:

Do you have to be licensed to be a salon assistant?

Every state requires hair stylist assistants to be licensed cosmetologists. In order to sit the exams to receive your hair stylist license, you’ll need to graduate from an accredited school of cosmetology, college, or another specialized trade program. The licensing exam includes both written and oral portions, and each state has different requirements when it comes to hours. 

What can you do in a salon without a license?

Broadly speaking, the only hairdressing job you can do in a salon without a license is being a shampoo assistant. Some states allow apprenticeships though, meaning that beginners can take on certain kinds of assistant work instead of participating in a formal education or training program. Apprenticeships give aspiring beauty professionals an alternative way to rack up hours toward eligibility for the licensing exam. 

They’re also a great opportunity to learn from the best through on-the-job training; apprentices get to be up close and personal with full-fledged stylists, shadowing them and observing their work. Check to see if your state has an apprentice hair stylist assistant program, and make sure to investigate what kind of salon jobs you’ll be allowed to do before you have your own cosmetology license.

Land a real-life hair stylist assistant job

Once you’ve figured out whether you’re heading to beauty school or signing up for an apprenticeship, it’s time to hit the pavement in search of proper employment. Prepare a resume mentioning everything that you bring to the table as a working professional. Many salon assistants are just starting out in their careers, so it probably won’t be a surprise to the person hiring you if your resume is still pretty short. You should list any relevant work experience you have, and if you don’t have a lot to list just yet, make sure to highlight and detail your positive qualities, commitments, and aspirations in the industry. 

Then get ready to nail the interview. Demonstrate that you’re a team player, a hard worker, and eager to learn. You’ll also want to show off your professionalism so that the person interviewing you can get a sense of how you’ll interact with salon clients once you get the job. If you want to climb through the ranks to a stylist position, you’ll eventually need to make the case that you’re a good listener and you know how to combine the client’s desires with your own expertise.

First stop, assistant. Next stop, stylist. Or not!

Some stylist assistants stay assistants forever, and others use the job as a stepping stone toward stylist roles, management positions, or opening their own salons. There’s no one right way to build a career in the beauty industry; it has everything to do with your goals, skills, interests, and the opportunities you find along the way. 

When you do get started with your first gig, ask your manager for a salon assistant program outline or a clear job description to make sure you’re on the same page about expectations. It will also help you cast an eye toward the future; are there opportunities for growth within the role at your salon? Do you want there to be? Whatever beauty dreams you hold dear, setting yourself up for success early will help you realize your vision in the real world. Good luck!

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