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How To Interview Hair Stylists, Attract Your Dream Team & Avoid Drama

If you've been hanging with me for a while, you may have heard me say a time or two that I'm a little bit obsessed with interviews.  I find them to be completely fascinating, I love the process, I really enjoy the psychology behind the questions being asked and I truly believe I've cracked the code on how to successfully interview hairstylists and potential salon assistants.

Most salon owners and managers are thinking all about the money when they are looking to hire a team and I get it.  At the end of the day it's all about the money, but when you hire the wrong team you'll end up with no money and plenty of drama which is a recipe for disaster.  It is really tempting to hire the gorgeous girl who comes in with a big smile, promises that she built a clientele effortlessly at her last salon or in school who seems to be able to charm the pants of anybody.  Even worse is when you are in the position where you just need to hire and hope that it works out because you can't afford to waste time looking for the right person.  

In both of these situations you run the risk of poisoning your existing team by hiring impulsively and hoping it some how all comes together.  Let me tell you from experience, it doesn't.

The problem is that the majority of us know how to BS our way through an interview.  We can dress nice, say all of the right things, smile and appear eager.  What if there was a way that you could see through all of that.  What if instead of somebody promising that they had a booming clientele, you made them really prove it to you (and I'm not talking about record books because to me, anything like that can be enhanced and falsified).  What if you could cut through the BS and really find out who the person is.  I've cracked the code and I'm sharing the secrets with you today.

For me, it does start with the resume.  I do expect somebody to show me a kick-ass resume and application package when they apply.  I will rarely interview somebody if their resume has spelling errors, comes addressed to "dear salon owner", is formatted poorly or doesn't look well presented.  Click here if you need help writing your resume. 

When I do come across a really well done resume, I will go ahead and schedule the interview.  The interview starts from the moment the stylist walks through the door.  My receptionist lets me know if they smiled, how they introduced themselves and if they were playing on their cell phone in the lobby or if they were observing the salon.  These little things matter to me!  An interview is when an employee is showing us their best.  If they are cold to the receptionist and sit in my lobby texting while they wait for me, they don't want a career with me, they just want a job and I'm temporarily filling that void for them.  No thanks!

When I do come up to greet the stylist I am the nicest person you've ever met in your whole life.  I'm fun, chatty and almost playful.  I usually make mention of what the person is wearing or tell a quick funny story about something that happened in the salon.  My goal here is to break down the BS wall and become their instant bestie.  This is where the magic starts to happen.  I've gone from being an intimidating future boss to a super cool, fun boss who just wants to get to know you.  Bingo!  The reality is that I was a good leader, but not a super cool kick back manager, I just wanted to appear that way to break down the walls. 

I always start by having the stylist tell a little bit about themselves.  I encourage them to share a bit about their personal and professional life.  Now, you can't directly ask a person about their personal life at all, but I find if I say "I'd love to know more about you.  You can start personally or professionally", generally the person opens up and shares as much as they are comfortable with.  Even a little 30 second description really gives me a sense of who a person is.  I find that people become more comfortable when given the chance to speak about their personal life instead of just professional topics as well.  I like to know if somebody has family in the area or if they are out here alone.  I need to know if your boyfriend just got transferred to work in another state because I have to wonder if you'll end up going with him.  If you've got young kids, I want to ask about your childcare situation.  These are all things I like to be prepared for on the front end.  In an interview I do feel its inappropriate, and to some degree illegal, to grill somebody about their personal life, but if you ask questions correctly, you'll find the process happens very naturally.  Note that in California we aren't able to ask questions related to age, gender, ethnicity, marital status, etc and these laws to extend throughout the United States.

I then start asking about their experience as a stylist.  I want to know what they enjoy doing and what their strengths are.  If I interview somebody who says they love doing all clients and all hair, they are out.  Nobody truly feels that way.  I ask them to share with me their weaknesses as a stylist and what they hope to improve upon while working for me.  I ask how they've build their clientele thus far and three techniques they plan to use to build clientele while working for me.  I make them prove to me that they know how to build a clientele by the answers they give.  If the say referrals and walk-ins only, they are out.  That is unrealistic when you're moving to a new salon or fresh out of school.  That will only get you so far and I need to see more hustle than that.  I want somebody who isn't shy and can get out in the world and learn to market themselves and their business.

I also like to ask the applicant to describe to me what they know about my salon, my team and their role.  I want to know what they envision themselves doing on a daily basis.  You'll find that some people will admit they picture doing hair services and relaxing during the down time "getting to know the team" or working behind the chair and trying to market themselves as the job.  That person is lazy and shouldn't be hired. I want somebody who promises to do whatever services they are doing, help the team, help with cleaning learn during downtime and build clientele.   I want somebody who is industry obsessed and is wiling to do whatever they need to do to support our team.  For me, it's emphasis team.  Even in a booth rental salon, you want to hire somebody who isn't interested in being a one-man-show and really does want to become a part of your team.  

I also like to ask them to describe their dream client.  I ask how they will market to that clientele and how they will educate themselves to stay sharp for these clients.  Can you see what I'm doing here?  I'm getting a sense of the kind of stylist they are while also expressing what my expectations are.  When I say "how do you plan to educate yourself to stay sharp and cater to this dream clientele", I'm also saying "education is important here.  Are you committed to educating yourself".  This is the key to being a good interviewer.  I am also trying to get a sense of it they'll fit with our existing or desired tribe.  If in my salon our clients are fairly traditional in their 40's and 50's and the applicant says they are more interested in hair-painting on 20 year olds, we may not be a match.  Don't get me wrong, I truly believe salons need to evolve and attract a fresh clientele always, but if your target market is more into traditional hi-lights and root touch ups, you'll need a stylist who appreciates a bread-and-butter-basic clientele while doing more modern techniques here and there.  Some stylists do well in that environment and some don't.  We need to figure that out in the interview.

Now comes the fear factor.  I know, I know, that sounds terrible but I really believe that it's important that the applicant knows you run a tight ship from the start.  I let them know that they will be evaluated monthly or quarterly (whatever your system is) on their performance.  They won't receive any walk-in clients until they achieve a certain goal and I will expect them to grow a clientele at a certain pace.  If they can't meet the goals there will come a time when they'll be let go.  Now here comes the hard part...if they don't meet the goals, you do let them go.  I will say that I know I've scared some potential new hires by sharing this and I'm totally okay with that.  It's better to share tough expectations up front and weed out those who aren't willing to work for it than hire somebody and explain the rules of the game later.  It's a recipe for disaster and both you and your new stylist will end up frustrated.

I then go into my training program, benefits, expectations and basically sell the salon.  I want the applicant to walk away thinking that my salon is the best place on the planet to work.  A newly hired stylist with that kind of feeling will come in as a happy, positive, motivated teammate and that's what I'm looking for.

Here's another great question: "Do you have any questions".  If they say "no, I think you've covered it", red flag.  If they say "how do I call in sick" or "is it possible to work part time instead", those are red flags for me too.  Now if you are looking for a part-time person, that might be no problem,  but I've hired people who are more concerned with vacations than working in the past and it always bit me in the butt.  I realize that Millenials put a huge focus on time off and I'm actually okay with that, but I don't want somebody in an interview already planning their sick days.  I want somebody asking about how they are reviewed or how price increases work.  Somebody whose questions lead me to believe they are career minded.

I generally end the interview with a tour of the salon, hand the applicant my business card and say that I'll be in touch in the next week or so.  I let them know that I do have some other interviews lined up so that they don't walk away thinking this was a slam dunk.  I  think there is something to be said for letting an applicant sweat a little.  It allows them to decide if what I'm looking for as a commitment is worth it to them.  I then wait and see what their next move is. I love it when they send me a thank-you letter or email, but that isn't a deal breaker.  I personally think when an applicant interviews today and gets the job tomorrow, it came to easy to them and they'll take it for granted.  Been there, done that. 

 You may have noticed I didn't include a technical assessment in the process.  I am a firm believer in hiring personality and work ethic and training for skill.  If you are bringing on a commissioned stylist, I might test for skill, but for a newly licensed cosmetologist, it doesn't matter to me if you can do a great haircut at this point.

Now, I realize I just painted the picture of the perfect applicant which rarely exists.  I've certainly hired people who didn't answer every question perfectly, but having guidelines and a system really helps me to weed out those who really won't make the cut longterm.   Above all else, promise yourself that you'll always be a great leader and commit today to providing an exceptional environment for your team to succeed in and you'll both thrive.

XOXO