Life after cosmetology school: how to start your career as a newly licensed cosmetologist

Cosmetology school is an adventure that starts the moment you enroll in your program and continues until the day you receive your license. But, when you’re in the bubble of beauty school, it can be easy to lose sight of what comes next.

Of course, you know that you’ll need to build a career once you gain your license. That’s why you enrolled in the first place… But you might be wondering, ‘where do I start?’.

And that’s a great question. To start your new career, you’ll need to decide what kind of salon you wish to work in, and you’ll need to find a job. 

But that’s not all. A good cosmetologist never stops learning, so even after you gain your license, you’ll need to look for opportunities to grow.

If you are still at school, you might be tempted to put off thinking about the next stage in your career. Look, I get it, cosmetology school is hard! You’ve got classes and homework to think about.

Plus you’re probably spending a lot of time preparing for your licensing exam. But, it’s never too early to start planning for your new career.

So, as graduation looms closer, it’s time to start thinking about the type of salon you’d like to work in.

And hey, if you need some extra help prepping for your cosmetology state board exam, get our ultimate cosmetology exam cheat sheet!

A franchise, private salon, or renting a booth?

Before you start applying for your first cosmetology position, you’ll need to decide whether you want to work in a franchise, private salon, or whether you’d rather rent a booth.

This is a big decision as choosing the right first job is key for springboarding your new career. Plus, you’ll be spending a lot of time in your salon, so you deserve to find somewhere you’ll be happy!

So, to help you decide which option is best for you, let’s have a look at what each type of salon has to offer.

Life After Cosmetology School

Starting your career in a franchise

Franchises are everywhere. You’ve got your Supercuts, your Smart Styles, your Fantastic Sam’s… the list goes on.

Of course, each salon is different, but here are some common things you are likely to find in a franchise:

  • A franchised salon usually pays its staff an hourly wage – a huge plus when you are just building your client base, especially when you consider that some new cosmetologists leave the industry because they don’t have enough clients.
  • Many franchised salons offer benefit packages to their staff.
  • Most clients are ‘walk-ins’. This means that you are likely to gain experience working on many different customers, but you might not build up a good relationship with individual clients.
  • Most offer access to further training and development, perfect for new cosmetologists keen to improve their skill set.
  • Extended opening hours are common. This means you could find yourself working late, but shift patterns mean you are likely to get some weekends off.
  • Services can be limited. This means that you may not have the opportunity to practice some of the skills you learned at school.

Working in a private salon

Private salons are diverse. They can be high-end and full of glitz and glamour, or have a more ‘Mom and Pops’ type vibe. Some specialize in cutting children’s hair, some offer a full range of beauty treatments, and some are even on cruise ships!

The possibilities are endless. But, with so much variety, it is important that you do your research before applying to any privately owned salon.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Pay scales and opportunities for promotion vary considerably between salons. Some owners pay per hour, some per client. It is therefore important that you ask plenty of questions before accepting a position.
  • Training opportunities can vary, so ask lots of questions at your interview.
  • Clients often expect more from cosmetologists at private salons, particularly if they are high-end.
  • The services offered by private salons can vary. Make sure you understand and are comfortable with what’s expected of you before committing to a job.
  • You are likely to have your own clients at a private salon. This will help you to grow your client base and improve your earning potential. Business hours tend to be shorter than those kept by franchise salons, but this means that weekend work is more likely.
  • Depending on the size, you may be able to gain an insight into how private salons are run, or even help with some of the business admin. This could be very helpful if you plan to open your own salon one day.

Renting a booth

Renting a booth in a salon means working for yourself. This is an attractive prospect for many people: who doesn’t dream of being their own boss?

However, being self-employed can prove tricky.

Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from booth rental:

  • As your own boss, you will be responsible for earning enough money to pay yourself a wage, as well as paying rent.
  • You will need to quickly build a client base to ensure you can cover rent each month. Walk-in rates vary, so it is a good idea to ask questions about how walk-in work is allocated before deciding to rent a booth.
  • You will probably have to source and pay for any additional training yourself.
  • It is likely that you will need to purchase all the equipment and supplies you need yourself.
  • You often have the freedom to set your own hours and pay rates, though it is best to check any salon limitations before signing a contract.

OK, so you know what type of salon you’d prefer, now, how do you land that perfect first job?

Landing your first job

How To Land a Job After Cosmetology School

Finding your first cosmetology job is an exciting and nerve-wracking process; suddenly, it all feels real. You are actually going to be a cosmetologist!

But where do you even start? Well, the first step to finding your perfect first job is to find salons that are hiring:

Looking for a job

For the newly licensed cosmetologist, choosing where to work is an important decision. First and foremost, is location; where do you want to live? How far are you willing to commute?

These practical questions are important as they shape the range of salons you can work in. Some rural cosmetologists choose to relocate to a big city, others choose to stay in their local community. (And if you are thinking about moving, check out this list of the 20 highest paying cities for cosmetologists.)

For some, a long commute is acceptable for the right job, whilst others want to work on their doorstep.

But whether you are planning to travel or want to stay local, you’ll need to find job openings.

Often, cosmetology schools have their own job boards and this is an ideal place to start your search.

Alternatively, if you are looking for work in a franchise, check company websites for available jobs in your preferred location.  Plus, if you’ve exhausted your school’s job board, local job sites like craigslist can be a fantastic place to search for private salons and booths for rent.

In addition to searching online, you might also wish to tell your friends and family that you’re job hunting; you never know, the salon they frequent may be looking for a new member of staff!

Resumes and applications

Once you’ve made a shortlist of jobs, you’ll need to put in an application. However, all salons are different and their application processes vary.

For some, you’ll just need to drop in your resume, whilst others will require an online or paper application form. To kick things off on the right foot, make sure you follow their preferred method of application.

Next, it’s time to sell yourself.

Sometimes, newly licensed cosmetologists can underplay their skills. Don’t fall into this trap. OK, so you might not have as much experience as someone who has worked in a salon for 10 years…But, remember all those classes? All the skills you’ve built throughout your cosmetology program?

Well, they are important and valuable, so write them down and show your potential employer what an asset you’ll be to their team.

And don’t forget to mention your personality. Being hardworking, punctual, and great with clients are all important qualities to have in a salon environment; make sure your potential employer can tell how great you’ll be to work with!

Now, before you hand in your application, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to proofread it for you. Sometimes, a second pair of eyes can catch mistakes you might not notice yourself.

Acing your interview

OK, so you’ve applied for your dream job and gotten an interview! Fantastic, you’re nearly there. There’s just one little thing you need to do now, and that’s ace your interview.

But… how do you ensure that you wow potential employers?

OK, interviews can be scary, so being prepared is key. The first step is to do your homework. Find out what services the salon offers, and who their main client base is. This will help you tailor your answers to their interview questions.

After all, there is no point in concentrating on your amazing skills as a nail technician if they only offer hair care services.

But, what if you’ve never had an interview before? Well, sometimes practicing with friends or family can help build confidence in answering interview-style questions. If you want to give this a try, you can find common interview questions on sites like Mockquestions.com.

When it comes to the interview itself, dress smartly and smile. It’s important that you act professionally and show that you’ll be a great member of their team.

Remember, as a cosmetologist, a huge part of your career will be interacting with others. So, use your interview as an opportunity to display your fantastic customer service skills.

Don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Growing and developing

Cosmetology Career After School

Once you’ve found a job, you might think ‘that’s it! I’ve started my new career as a licensed cosmetologist’, but getting your foot in the door of a salon is only the beginning.

Once you have your first position, to properly kick off your career, you need to think about how you’ll grow and develop.

Speak to your new manager about what further training is available, and make friends with your new colleagues. Those experienced cosmetologists will be able to give you plenty of tips for building your new career.

Remember, the best cosmetologists continue to grow and develop throughout their careers.

Now, what are you waiting for? It’s time to plan your exciting new career.

Good luck!