You’ve done it, you’ve passed your exams and graduated from cosmetology school. Congratulations! Its time to take the next step in your career.
(And in case you’ve failed it – no worries! We have the ultimate cosmetology state board exam cheat sheet for you!)
Qualifying as a cosmetologist is an incredible achievement, but it’s not the end of your journey towards becoming a professional hairstylist, esthetician, or nail technician. No, now you need to land your first job.
You may be feeling a little nervous at the prospect of having interviews. Sure, you know you’d be an asset to their salon. But how do you convince your prospective employer that you’ll be a good fit?
Don’t panic. Interviews are all about being prepared, and we are here to help you succeed. So buckle-up whilst we go talk through the interview questions you are likely to be asked. And look at the answers employers typically want to hear.
Let’s start with the basics:
Tell me about yourself
Nearly every interview starts with this question. Not very original, right?
Well, no. But it is important. You see, it’s a great way to get to know you, and help you relax before the main body of questions begins.
So, before we look at how you should answer, let’s break down what the interviewer is actually asking.
As harsh as it sounds, the interviewer isn’t really interested in hearing about your personal life. No, she wants to know what skills, experience, and personal characteristics you have that will benefit the salon.
So, don’t talk about your partner, or how much you love to hit the club. Concentrate on what you have to offer.
Start by telling them where you went to school, and any notable achievements you made whilst there. Then talk more about what makes you a great asset to their team.
What You Can Say
- I’m a hard worker and have always loved to style hair… which is why I ____ (insert an anecdote about styling friends hair in high-school or taking on an internship etc.).
- I am a team player and a brilliant communicator who loves building relationships with clients and helping my team succeed.
- Or, I am passionate about learning and improving… and that’s why I ____ (insert extracurricular learning here)
The possibilities are endless. So, to make sure you’re prepared, make a list of your personal attributes before your interview and practice selling yourself.
What are your strengths?
This is a pretty easy question, as long as you are prepared.
Remember, you want to talk about strengths that will be useful at work. So, don’t mention your ability to horseback ride or play soccer.
Concentrate on things like:
- Good time-management
- A commitment to continuous improvement
- Customer service
- And friendliness
And don’t forget to explain how each strength with benefit their business.
What are your weaknesses?
Oh boy, now this one is a little trickier! You see, everyone has weaknesses, so there is no point pretending you’re different… But, you don’t want to say anything that will hurt your chances of securing a job.
For a long time, people have confidently said ‘I’m a perfectionist’ when asked this question. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: employers are sick of hearing it.
That is unless you can qualify your answer in a new way. Take your prospective employer by surprise by saying something like:
‘I’m a perfectionist…and I know what you’re thinking; everyone says that because they don’t think it’s a real weakness. But I’ll tell you why it is!
You see, when I started school, I wasted lots of time worrying about getting things perfect. That meant I was sometimes had to rush my work to catch up.
Quickly, I discovered that when I said I was being a perfectionist, what I really meant was I doubted my abilities to do a good job. Luckily, I worked on my self-belief and now, whilst I still like to get things right, I trust myself enough to say when I’m finished… without wasting time triple-checking every move I make’.
That example not working for you? No problem! You can use the same technique to explain any weakness. Simply tell the interviewer what your weakness was, and how you have overcome it.
What attracted you to cosmetology?
When an employer asks you this, they want to see your passion. No one wants to employ a cosmetologist who’s only in it for the paycheck: they want to see commitment.
So, tell them what first inspired you to go to beauty school. Did you want to help people feel good about themselves? Did you want to use your artistic talents every day?
Whatever your reason was, let your deep-seated love of cosmetology shine through.
Why do you want to work for us?
This question can often throw people. You see, it seems simple enough: ‘why do you want to work for us?’.
But remember, this question is not asking why you want to be a cosmetologist in general.
No, the employer wants to know why you want to work for them in particular.
So, by all means, let your passion for cosmetology show. But, know that you need to make it personal!
What To Say
Tell the employer what attracted you to their salon:
- Was it their fantastic reputation?
- Have you heard amazing things about their stylists?
- Do they offer additional training?
And remember, what they definitely don’t want to hear is:
- ‘I just want to work in a salon, so I applied everywhere.’
- Or even worse, ‘because I need money, duh!’
Of course, everyone knows why people need jobs. After all, we’ve all got bills to pay. And they know that you have probably applied to a few different salons… but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them feel special.
So, show them that you’ve done your homework and flatter them a little!
What is your availability?
In a perfect world, the answer to this question is ‘I’m available whenever you need me!’. But, life means that this isn’t always possible.
Make sure that you know the salon’s opening hours before you apply, and be honest about any commitments you may have.
If you are unable to work at certain times because of caring responsibilities or because you are hampered by public transport, it is best you let your prospective employer know straight away.
This will prevent embarrassing situations occurring after an offer of employment has been made, and you need to ask to change your shifts.
How many hours are you expecting?
Not every salon offers full-time hours to new recruits. And this question is about ensuring your expectations match the job role, so be honest!
If you need to work 40 hours per week to make ends meet, there is little point acing an interview for 16 hours per week.
Are you happy to work weekends?
Ideally, your answer to this question should be a resounding yes. Cosmetology is not usually a Monday to Friday job, and weekend work is to be expected.
However, if you absolutely cannot work weekends, be upfront in your interview. Some larger salons and franchises may be able to accommodate Monday-Friday hours, but you will need to do your research before you apply.
What are your career goals?
When an interviewer asks to hear your career goals, they want to know two things:
- Where do you see your career going?
- How does that fit in with our business needs?
You see, whilst you might want to move to Hollywood next year to become a celebrity hairstylist, this might not be an attractive answer for your prospective employer.
After all, if you’re successful, they’re likely to have to hire again fairly quickly. So, whilst lying in an interview is never a good thing, try to shape your answer to suit the salon’s needs.
Tell them that you are ambitious by all means. But, if possible, show your commitment by saying that you would like to progress with them.
If you know you definitely don’t want to build your career with the salon that you are interviewing with, talk about your goals in more general terms.
For example, you could say ‘I’d like to become a senior hairstylist’, without mentioning that you’d like to do so at a different salon.
OK, let’s move on to some of the lesser-known cosmetology interview questions:
How do you handle complaints and/or conflict?
As a cosmetologist, you’re likely to encounter some customer complaints. Unfortunately, it’s par for the course. No matter how good a job you do, not everyone is going to be happy with the finished result.
Your interviewer is not looking for you to say that you never get complaints. What they’re interested in, is how you handle them.
The best thing to do is stipulate that you would remain calm and professional, abide by salon policy regarding refunds, and try to diffuse the situation.
Now, if the employer asks how you handle conflict, this goes further than just client complaints. Conflict can come from within the team too.
So, how would you handle conflict with your colleagues?
Well, a great place to start is by stipulating that you avoid gossip. Then, you could mention that you would talk through any disagreement calmly and with respect.
If possible, include an anecdote about how you have dealt with conflict before. This could be from your time in school, a previous job, or even in your personal life. Just remember, an employer doesn’t want to hire someone who is argumentative or aggressive, so show them you’re not!
How will you build your clientele?
Unless your salon has a lot of walk-ins, you will need to build your client list quickly. When your interviewer asks this question, she wants to know:
- That you understand the importance of building a client list.
- That you will be proactive in securing clients yourself.
So, how do you answer?
Start by explaining that you understand the importance of building your list and that you will be committed to doing so.
Then give some examples, like:
- I will market myself outside of the salon. For example, by using social media to show my skills.
- I will practice exceptional customer service so that my clients keep coming back.
- And I will use my social network to bring in new clients.
Why did you leave your previous job?
Now, this question might be easy for you to answer. If this will be your first position as a cosmetologist, you can simply say ‘I graduated and wanted to start my cosmetology career’.
But, if your last job was at another salon, you need to tread more carefully.
The one thing you should definitely not do is speak poorly of your previous employer… Even if your complaints are valid.
You see, your interviewer cannot check whether what you say is true. So, even if your last employer was awful, it is unwise to mention it.
At worst, complaining about a previous employer can make you sound negative and hard-work, not something you want to display in an interview situation.
The only possible exception to this rule is if your employer has faced a conviction for illegal activity. In which case, it is perfectly reasonable to cite a difference in ethics for your quitting.
But even then, the less said the better- you want your prospective employer to remember your interview because of how awesome you are, not because of the reason you left your last role.
What achievement are you most proud of in your life?
This is another question that appears fairly simple but can be tricky to answer. Of course, you want to say something that helps your application. But whilst ‘graduating cosmetology school’ might be the best answer, it may not be true.
Luckily, most achievements can help you in your interview, as long as you explain how it relates to being a cosmetologist.
For example, you may be most proud of quitting smoking. On its own, this doesn’t seem to have much to do with cosmetology. But, if you say something like:
‘I’m most proud of quitting smoking because it shows I have fantastic willpower, and that is what helped me to give 100% every day throughout cosmetology school. And it will help me to work through any challenges I face during my career’…
Suddenly, your answer makes sense. Not only is quitting smoking a great achievement, but it’s relevant to the job in hand.
If you were an animal/tree/fruit, what would you be?
OK, these questions can be annoying. Luckily they are quite rare, but occasionally, interviewers will put you on the spot by asking a seemingly random question.
Whilst it is tempting to answer: ‘I’m not a tree, I’m a professional cosmetologist!’, humoring your potential employer is generally the best option.
It may help to understand why employers ask these strange questions…
Firstly, it is important to understand that they don’t care what kind of animal/tree/fruit you are. They’re not looking for you to guess their favorite, and you won’t lose the job by saying a dog if they are a cat person.
No, these questions are designed to see how well you think on your feet.
So, choose an answer with positive attributes useful for the job you’re applying for. Maybe you’re an Oak because you’re strong, or a dolphin because you’re a great team player?
Interviews can be scary but remember, your interviewer wants you to succeed. So, do your research and try to stay calm.
Don’t forget, it is important to think about your answers before you speak. And it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for a moment to think. But, if you are worried about asking for a minute, take a bottle of water in with you. That way you can take a sip whenever you need a short break.
Sometimes, simple psychology can help you land your dream job, so to find out how body language and hand gestures can be used for your advantage, look at resources like this.
What else? Don’t forget, cosmetologists deal in beauty. So, dress smartly for your interview and make sure your hair is styled.
And if nothing else, remember to smile!
You’ve got this.