Best Jobs 2012: Hairdresser

As one of the Best Jobs of 2012, this profession should see significant growth over the next decade


The Rundown:

Keeping up with the latest beauty trends is important to many of us, and it’s a professional necessity for a hairdresser. Also known as cosmetologists, these trained professionals offer a wide range of beauty services, but are particularly capable at shampooing, cutting, styling, and coloring hair. Some are also trained and licensed to give manicures, pedicures, skin treatments, and to apply makeup. Those in the profession often advise and collaborate with their clients on the best hair care and skin practices. As such, it’s important for a hairdresser to have good interpersonal skills, in addition to an adeptness for and familiarity with the latest style trends. “There’s so much more to what we do than cutting hair,” says Scott J. Buchanan, president of Scott J. Salons in New York City and the vice chairman of the Professional Beauty Association. “We also get to change people’s lives and make them feel good about themselves.” Barbers are a type of cosmetologist, trained specifically to style the hair of male clientele. And general hairdressers and/or cosmetologists are trained to style the heads of both male and female customers.

[See The Best Jobs of 2012.]

The Outlook:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 15.7 percent employment growth for hairdressers between 2010 and 2020. In that time period, nearly 98,400 cosmetologist positions will need to be filled.


According to the Department of Labor, hairdressers made an average salary of $22,760 in 2010—including tips. The best-paid 10 percent in the profession made approximately $41,540, while the lowest-paid made approximately $16,350. The most experienced tend to receive the highest pay, and building a loyal client base is crucial to a stylist’s earning potential. The highest-paid in the profession work in the metropolitan areas of Santa Fe, N.M., Sherman, Texas, and Boulder, Colo.

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Hairdresser Salary Range:

75th Percentile Wage: $30,490

Median Wage: $22,760

25th Percentile Wage: $18,320

Education and Preparation:

Most states require hairdressers have at least a high school diploma or GED to obtain a cosmetology license. You must also complete courses with a state-approved barber or cosmetology school—where programs usually last a minimum of nine months—before you can take a licensing examination. The exception is shampooers, who do not require any license to work. Some states have reciprocity agreements, so licensed stylists who move will not have to complete additional training to practice in new states. And many cosmetologists take advanced courses to stay up to date on the latest trends.

On Landing a Hairdresser Job:

Buchanan suggests that cosmetologists-to-be align themselves with a good beauty school. “That’s going to give you some great foundation,” he says. “And I call it ‘graduate school’ to work in a salon for at least a year after you graduate [from beauty school], because that’s when you get to hone your craft.” It’s also the time when you can learn the most about relating to people, which Buchanan says is tit-for-tat in the trade. “You have to have an outgoing personality and be ready to serve the customer. The biggest headache is when you find people who are technically great but don’t deliver great service.”

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What is a Hairdresser Job Like?

Hairdressers are charged with making clients happy with their personal appearance—no small task. So there are times when the job can be more stressful than others, particularly if a patron is displeased with the final results. Conversely, that also means the job has substantial rewards. “When I say to someone, ‘let’s enhance the shape of your face with this type of hair cut,’ and then to watch their face light up and see how grateful they are when they see the outcome—I still get goosebumps,” says Buchanan. Happy clients also translate into larger tips and more referrals for business, which could eventually lead to a high water-mark in the career of a hairdresser: the chance to own their own salon. Full-time hairdressers work a minimum of 40 hours a week, and more often than not have evening and weekend hours to accommodate the schedules of clients. And stylists should try to stay in good physical shape, since they stand for most hours of the day and are often surrounded by or exposed to strong chemicals.



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