Salon, Spa, & Shop Careers
One of the best things about being a licensed beauty and wellness professional is the number of jobs available in salons, spas, and shops. In addition to the obvious positions- stylists, barbers, estheticians, nail pros and massage therapists, there are many other jobs and niches you can carve out for yourself.
It takes a village to run a business: a team of dedicated professionals contributing to the bottom line. In addition to the creative side of the business, there is also the operational side. On the operational side, some of these positions don’t require a license, however, licensure is an asset and having one opens more possibilities for advancement.
Creative Positions in a Salon, Spa, and Shop
Internships are done while you are still in school and provide valuable insights into the day-to-day realities of working in the beauty and wellness industry. It’s important to keep in mind that each state has its own laws and regulations regarding internships, sometimes called apprenticeships. It’s a good idea to research your state's specific guidelines and speak with your school's admissions or job placement office before reaching out to a salon, spa or shop. Whether you decide to do an actual internship or not, it’s a great idea to work at a salon, spa, or shop while you’re attending school. What better way to get a true sense of the industry and give you valuable experience to list onto your resume? Because of the experience, you might even find yourself securing a job as a service provider once you have graduated and are licensed.
This position is taken post-licensure, however, if you have taken your state board and are waiting on results, some salons will hire you. You can work specifically for a senior stylist/barber or be a general assistant for the entire salon or shop. Most salons and shops have education programs for their assistants, which help hone skills and confidence. Assistant programs are typically one – two years long and most salons and shops, if you prove yourself, will map out a plan for advancement to become a junior stylist/barber.
Estheticians can begin as an assistant; though they usually jump right in and begin performing basic facials and waxing services. If they have advanced schooling and certification, they will be able to perform higher-end services right away.
Junior stylists or barbers are still considered a newbie in the salon. They are learning and earning additional certifications in their craft as well as taking soft skill classes designed to help build and retain clientele. Junior stylists and barbers also command lower prices for their work.
A full-fledged stylist/barber/nail technician has been in the industry for at least 3 years and has a good book with referrals. They are learning and growing their technical and communication skills and as they mature professionally, this is reflected in the increase in their service prices.
A senior stylist/barber has been in the business for at least 3–5 years. They have done the work and earned the qualifications to work independently. Depending on how busy they are, they may have their own dedicated assistant. These senior stylists/barbers are typically leading the assistant training program and are a great resource for new stylists.
Color Specialists specialize in color and color correction, they work in partnership with the stylists and do not cut hair or style updos. A person wanting to become a color specialist will follow the same trajectory as the stylist: Assistant, Junior Color Specialist, Color Specialist, Senior Color Specialist.
Specializing in makeup is a natural for estheticians, but many stylists find they too have a natural passion for makeup and find themselves spending more and more time at the makeup counter in their salon or spa assisting customers with picking out new eyeshadow or a new shade of lipstick. If this is a path you are considering, begin by having a conversation with your salon/spa owner or manager. The great news is that the transition to the role of a makeup specialist can be a smooth one for the licensed professional. However, it will require you to take some additional classes specializing in makeup. These classes can help you fine-tune your makeup skills and expose you to the latest makeup trends and special occasion makeup (weddings, proms, etc.)
Operational Positions in a Salon, Spa, or Shop
If you have a dream of owning your own business one day, taking on one or more of these roles will help you gain real-time information on what it takes to be at the helm of a beauty and wellness business.
Front Desk Receptionist or Coordinator
This position is the lifeline of the salon, spa, or shop and offers invaluable experience on the nuances of running a beauty and wellness business. Don’t underestimate this position, a great front desk person is coordinating schedules, upselling services and recommending product. They are skillful multitaskers with a love for people and are proactive.
More spas than salons and shops employ retail specialists and it is often the front desk person who will act as a retail specialist and close the sale for a busy technician. Talking product with clients is part of their service and that’s why they are coming to see you, for your knowledge and expertise.
The assistant manager assists the manager in all operational responsibilities. This position is typically seen in large or multi-location salons, spas, and shops. This assistant manager spends more time on the floor than the manager and makes sure everything is running smoothly. They are the first person people reach out to for resolving issues with staff and clients. Like the manager position, this person may be a working service provider, former working service provider or someone with a strong desire to run a salon, spa or shop.
The director or manager runs the salon, spa, or shop; they are the decision makers. If they have an assistant, their role is more leadership and less managerial. They create the culture, the rules, and are accountable for human resources, marketing, operations, and finance. Depending on the size of the business, they can be a working service provider or a former working service provider. Many senior stylists will take on this role before opening their own salon.
Narrowing Down Your Options
There are many positions available to you as a licensed professional. As you mature professionally, you will naturally gravitate to the work that inspires and motivates you. To help you create your short list for your perfect job, consider whether to work as a specialist or generalist.
A “generalist” is a service provider who provides a multitude of services. A “specialist” is a service provider who focuses on one specific area of his/her craft. For example, a haircut specialist will only provide haircutting services; they will not provide any other services such as color, updos, and/or makeup applications.
After some time in the working world, professionals occasionally like to choose a specialty: lash extensions, color specialist, bridal stylist, etc. while others want to remain generalists. Certainly, there are many pros and cons to both. When contemplating which course you should take, consider the differences between the two.
If you like to change things up daily or want to be a one-stop "shopping" experience for your clients, being a generalist might be a good fit. Many licensed professionals decide to operate as generalists because it gives them the freedom to offer their customers a wide range of services. It also gives the service provider more variety throughout their workday.
If you are passionate about one skill set or like to be thought of as an expert, you might choose to be a specialist. Often, specialists find they have higher demand from non-repeat customers, as today’s customer often requests a specialist if they don’t have a current service provider. Specialists typically charge a higher price point based on their expertise in that specific area because they spend a great deal of time, energy and resources on advanced training to become a “master” of their craft.
If you’re considering becoming a specialist, I would first discuss your options with your salon, spa, or shop owner/manager. Keep in mind that not all salons, spas, or shops offer specialist positions. Typically, locations that do offer specialists positions are in larger metropolitan areas and are generally larger establishments. Next, you’ll want to do your research on advanced training/certification programs available to help you ramp up your skill set working as a specialist. If you want to remain a generalist, you should also look into continuing education classes to keep all of your skills sharp. This will help you stand out amongst the specialist competitors in your area.
Want to learn about more salon, spa, or shop careers and create your action plan to land a job? Take our beauty career quiz to discover more job options and set your next career goal.