Money Matters

How to Land a Job at a High-End Salon

There’s more to getting the best jobs than just having great technique. Personality and presentation count for a lot with high-end salon owners.

Penzone's Grand Salon is considered the largest in the country at 18,000 square feet and almost 200 employees.
<p>Penzone's Grand Salon is considered the largest in the country at 18,000 square feet and almost 200 employees.</p>

Most of the owners of high-end salons and day spas across the country are expanding their nail departments and services menus and say they would hire more nail technicians on the spot - if only they could find people who were a perfect fit for their company. The problem is a shortage of nail technicians who meet their requirements.

These salon owners are looking for professional, well-groomed, team oriented staff members with strong communication skills and enthusiasm that shines. Most will even hire you right out of beauty school if you project those qualities and a strong desire to succeed. In fact, these salon owners prefer to hire new technicians who haven’t had time to develop any bad habits. They are willing to hire experienced nail technicians, too, as long as they are flexible and open to learning new salons systems and procedures.

What they are looking for is a following. No matter what level of experience, there is a job ready and waiting for you in a high-end salon.


Your first step is the interview. Typically, the interview ranges from a personal meeting with the salon owner or manager to three interview sessions with a variety of people, including the nail department manager or the salon’s director of education.

Angela Guido, owner of two Darryl Christopher salons in Boston and Wayland, Mass., begins with a personal interview to ascertain if you’re the friendly, cheerful type of person who fits her salon. At the next interview, she will ask you to do natural nail manicure of her own hands. As a final step, she takes prospective employees out to lunch.

While the first two sessions focus on your communication and technical skills, the third takes an interesting twist when she takes you to lunch.

“Usually, this is when I make the job offer,” says Guido. “When I hire a staff member, I am bringing someone into my family and am looking for someone who wants a long-term relationship with Darryl Christopher. The lunch gives me an indication of the comfort level we feel with one another. It also gives me an idea of the types of topics the interviewee will discuss with clients.

“During lunch, people tend to say things they would never mention during a formal interview, such as, “I’m planning on moving to Florida in six months.” Or, perhaps they might make unprofessional comments about a former employee or work situation. If that occurs, I might think twice about extending the offer.”

While making small talk is necessary to show a prospective employer that yo are open, friendly, and a good conversationalist, keep your personal life personal.

At Rocco Altobelli Salons, based in St. Paul, Minn., the process begins with a group informational meeting. These are held about every two weeks for anyone who is interested in working for the company. Company president Dianne Altobelli explains basic company procedures and commitments, including the commission structure, employee contracts, and training. She also answers applicant’s questions. Then, if both parties are interested, the applicant moves on through the process.

More often than not, the high-end salon will have a nail department staff of anywhere from two to 20 technicians. One major requirement to join these groups is that you show enthusiasm and the ability to work as a team with other members of this department.

Also, whether you are just out of beauty school or have been in the business school or have been in the business for more than 10 years, you can expect to go through a high-end salon’s own training program before you actually work with clients. The process can range from two weeks to three months, depending on your level of skill, as well as how quickly you adapt to the salon’s way of doing things.

The in-salon training at Penzone’s Grand Salon in Columbus, Ohio, is typical. With 18,000 square foot and almost 200 employees, this elaborate salon and day spa features three pedicure stations and six nail stations. While owner Charles Penzone currently staffs 12 nail technicians, his goal is a team of 14,

“Today, we’re taking the nail business very seriously after virtually ignoring it for many years,” says Penzone, who says that 95% of his staff members come straight from beauty school and then go through the salon’s own three-to-six-month training and mentoring program to learn communication skills and customer service procedures. Penzone offers this advice to would-be employees: “Express an incredible desire to commit long term to the professional salon industry and your career.”


During your interview, first impressions count. Follow a few simple rules to make a good first impression:

  • Be on time
  • Be prepared
  • Dress for success from the top0 of your head to the tips of your toes. Lean toward a professional, fashion-forward look as opposed to a trendy image. Make sure your own nails represent your very best technical skills.
  • Ask plenty of questions and take notes
  • Be open, honest, cheerful, and friendly.
  • Show a desire to learn and grow.
  • Show a desire to learn and grow
  • Show a genuine love for the industry and a commitment to your profession.
  • Be confident about your accomplishments, but don’t brag.
  • Never speak negatively about a past employment situation or manger.
  • Show that you really care about people and want to help clients look more beautiful.

“Your hair, makeup, nails, clothing and accessories must represent the fashion and beauty industry,” says Linda Hamilton, education director for the nail department at the six Gene Juarez Salons in Seattle, Wash., where she supervises 42 technicians. “After all, clients are looking to you for fashion advice and will select people who look like they want to look for on the first meeting.”

Guido checks out the details, including an applicant’s accessories and shoes. “When people care about their shoes, they care about themselves and show attention to detail,” she says.

And of course, expect your nails to take center stage. Make sure they are meticulously groomed - not too long - and your cuticles are neat and clean. If you wear nail art, keep its tasteful and professional.

Adds John Melvin, owner of Jon Anthony’s Salons and school in Anchorage, Alaska, “I look for someone who beats the salon’s dress code before even reading it.”

Hamilton notes, “Our experiences shows that the nail technicians and hairdressers who look the most professional - not the most trendy - make the biggest tips.”


A smile and a kind words show prospective employers that you are someone they want to see on a daily basis. For example, Guido looks for employees with a pleasing personality that will mesh with her staff.

“Every staff member is a reflection of me and the salon,” says Guido. “We’ve built our reputation as the cheerful salon, so fitting in with our upbeat attitude is a must.”

To be a hit with Guido, she offers this advice: “be yourself and show that you care about others.” in addition, strong communication skills are a must.

“Be aware of current affairs and have a good vocabulary,” adds Hamilton. “The upscale clients you’ll be working on are very educated people, so it’s important to speak eloquently and intelligently.

“We look for professionals who are like us - success-minded with a strong work ethic,” says Hamilton. “They also must have a sincere desire to make clients happy and know the importance of saying ‘Yes.’ That means taking care of their client’s needs before their own, whether means staying late, coming in early, or working through lunch.”

At Gene Juarez, every nail technicians goes through a six-month training program before working in a salon. “During this time, we monitor applicant’s attendance, punctuality, flexibility, dependability, and availability closely,” says Hamilton. “We also took to see if they smile often and if they are ‘people people.’”

Technical skill is not the most important thing at Gene Juarez. If you don’t posses people skills and aren’t willing to go the extra mile to make people happy, you won’t be successful,” adds Hamilton.

“I look for a mature, career-orientated individual who can truly be called a professional,” says Mary Brunetti, co-owner of Next hair in Deer Park, N.Y., which recently added nail services to its menu.

“During interviews, I always ask people worked previously and why they left,” says Brunetti. “A true professional will never bad mouth a previous salon or employer. Even if the situation was bad, professionals never say more than that there was a difference of opinion and it didn’t work out for whatever reason.”

In addition, Brunetti says the client-oriented nail technician will always take the extra time and effort to pamper clients, and during an interview, she looks for nail technicians who are willing to put themselves out for clients.

“My busiest nail technicians always take the time to pamper the client with a little extra massage,” says Brunetti. “And their standard routine in less conversation and more work. They use quit time to let clients relax and enjoy the experience, and when they do talk, they talk about nails - both services and retail products.”

“A nail technician is sitting one-on-one with a client much longer than a hairdressers, so communication skills and personality are even m,ore important,” says Frank Alvarez co-owner of five Markfrank Salons in the Cleveland area. He staffs eight nail technicians at two of the salons.

At Markfrank, the training program begins with observing experienced nail technicians for week to learn the salon’s method, then demonstrating and practicing techniques on the salon’s before handling the overflow and building a clientele.

“As a result, a nail technician can start to make money much faster than a hairdressers,” says Alvarez, who prefers to hire nail technicians straight out of beauty school. For Alvarez, successful interviewees should “look good, have a positive attitude, and want to be the very best at what they do.”

Demonstrating flexibility is another key to making good impression with a high-end salon. That means you willing to learn new techniques and product lines to blend in the with the salon’s system. In addition, be ready to pitch in during any downtime to build your clientele and salon sales through in-salon marketing.

“Salons have to grow in order to survive, and the larger the salon, the more important teamwork becomes,” says Melvin. “Therefore, I look for staff members who recognize that their success is tied to the salon’s overall success. You must be ready to cross-train and become part of the total salon environment. For example, if you’re not fully booked, then you’re expected to handle retail sales, greet clients, and introduce yourself and your services to other clients in the salon.”

Currently, Melvin employs two nail technicians but says, “With the nature of our market, I could probably keep 15 nail technicians busy if I could find them.” He is more likely to hire someone who really makes the interview fun and interesting for him. “If I enjoy hearing about the person, I get caught up in the interview process and it becomes energetic for me,” he says. “But if it’s a poor match, I will end the session as quickly as possible.”

Many upscale salons are taking stands on issues, such as health, safety, and the environment, and in these instances, there’s no negotiating.

Guido, for example, has positioned her salons as clean air havens. They are smoke-free, stress-free, aerosol-free, and formaldehyde-free. No sculptured nails or even polishes with formaldehyde are allowed at Darryl Christopher.

While this situation is unusual, you need to be prepared for the unexpected and know where you stand. Research a positive employer thoroughly before your first interview, and you won’t be caught off guard.


Guido all applicants give her a manicure so she can judge their skills. “It also gives me insight into how the nail technician will relate to a client sitting across the table and what her or she will talk about,” she says.

At Rocco Altobelli Salons, applicants will take a practical, hands-on test supervised by the head of the nail department. Applicants are required to do both a natural nail manicure and a set of artificial nails. Their score will affect how fast they can move through the company’s training program. For experienced nail technicians, it usually takes two to four weeks.

At Jon Anthony’s, Melvin emphasizes technical competency when screening applicants, “Since Alaska is unlicensed, our labor pool is very diverse in training and experienced, running the gamut from someone with absolutely no training to a fully experienced licensed nail technician who has moved to Alaska from another state,” says Melvin. “It makes maintaining consistence very difficult.” As a result, Melvin has devised a nail training course in his schools in order to create a qualified labor pool.

While technician competency is important, it is also wise to keep in mind that these salon owners all place even greater emphasis on attitude, communications skills, and professionalism.

“We can help anyone with a desire to learn to develop technical expertise through continuing education,” says Brunetti. “We can’t teach someone to be caring or professional.”

Finally, show that you are willing to take responsibility for self and group management and offer ideas to help the salon or your department operate more efficiently, make more money, and grow. The key to success in high-end salons can be as simple as dressing for success, showing sincere enthusiasm for you profession and career, wearing a smile, and putting your best technical skills forward.

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