Hairstylist/Cosmetologist: Executive Summary

It's one of the few careers in which you please nearly every client.

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In a recent British job satisfaction survey, hairstylist ranked No. 1. It's not surprising: It's one of the few careers in which you please nearly every client. (Save for the occasional one who cries, "What have you done to my hair!")

People tend to be loyal to their haircutter, so if you're at all pleasant, you can develop plenty of long-term friends or at least acquaintances. After all, there's a lot of time to chat while shampooing, cutting, and torturing hair so it curls or straightens.

Other pluses: This career is a fashionista's dream: It's one of the rare fields with good job opportunities in which you're rewarded for staying current on fashion and design. And your job won't be offshored—it may make sense to do robotic surgery from India, but not haircuts.

Most men now get their hair cut by a stylist rather than by a barber, and more and more men seek out related services such as facials and manicures. So, not surprisingly, the number of male hairstylists and cosmetologists is growing.

Whatever your sex, to succeed you must be a great listener so you can unearth what the client really wants. You also need a good fashion and design sense so you can offer appropriate suggestions. Perhaps most important, you must be able to translate a great hair concept into a great haircut. In addition, you must be engaging enough that your clients remain loyal and willing to buy the hair and skin potions that represent an ever larger proportion of a hair salon's profits. With those skills, you can likely get hired by a high-end salon, day spa, resort, or possibly even a film or TV studio, all of which tend to pay better than does the average clip joint. Or you can open your own.

This career's downsides: Pay tends to be low until you've improved your skills and developed a clientele. You're on your feet all day and often into the evenings and weekends, because that's when most people want their hair cut. You have to work with chemicals that may be unpleasant. Finally, you must react well to dissatisfied clients: Fix the problem if you can, and if you can't, take a deep breath and let it go—we all make mistakes.

But few hairstylists find this career a mistake. Indeed, you'll have few bad hair days.

Smart Specialty

Wigs and hairpieces. You may find lucrative work building and styling wigs and hairpieces for people who have lost their hair, or even for stage, screen, and TV.

Median Pay

National: $33,700. More pay data by metropolitan area

(Data provided by PayScale.com)

Training

Usually, you have to graduate from a state-licensed barber or cosmetology school. Full-time programs generally last nine to 24 months. After that, you usually start as an apprentice, which means a lot of cleaning up in exchange for watching a senior stylist and then having the stylist watch you. Continuing education classes are offered, sometimes free, sponsored by a hair product manufacturer. Classes are typically about fashion, hair techniques, or product use.

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