Joanne Zurbito

Joanne Zurbito

When salons close down or family needs change, many nail techs need to step away from the nail industry for a time. The flexibility and fulfillment of a nail career is a great reason to come back, but it can be difficult to know where to start when you’ve been disconnected from the industry. Whether you’ve been away for a year or a decade, these tips will help you feel confident and ready to return.

Keep Practicing
To refresh your skills, practice techniques and try new products on yourself, friends, and family. “I always made sure to keep myself updated on what was new in the nail industry and what the new products were,” says Burnaby, British Columbia-based nail tech Joanna Zurbito, who spent three years away from the industry after the salon she had worked at closed down. “I still make it a habit to practice, and sometimes friends will ask me to do their nails.” Eva Jenkins, a nail tech in Bellevue, Neb., who took a year-long break, found that doing her own nails and her friends’ nails became a good advertisement for her business once she returned, as well as being good practice. “Eventually friends of friends and even strangers would ask where they got their nails done,” she says.

Seek Out Education
Look for opportunities to receive education to increase your confidence. Classes at trade shows and manufacturers’ classes provide invaluable training. Online tutorials can be a big help too, but there’s no substitute for in-person education, according to Dolton, Illinois-based nail tech Tasha Norris, who took a 15-year break before finally returning to nails. “I just dived into all the classes I could because I really needed them,” she says.

Norris had let her license lapse while she was no longer doing nails, and retaking the exam to renew her license became a valuable opportunity for study as well. “It was a good refresher before going back in a salon,” she says. “You can’t just sit down and get started again.” Norris worked for a Mario Tricoci salon for a time before opening a home salon, and she appreciated their continuing education offerings. “Anything they had, I always participated in,” she says. “That’s how you stay ahead of the game.”

Find a Mentor
Getting support from more experienced nail techs can be a huge help in navigating the industry. Although Edinburg, Texas-based nail tech Julie Cantu didn’t feel supported by her cosmetology-focused beauty school, she did make a connection with a woman who was in the process of getting her nail instructor license. Cantu didn’t test for her license after completing her courses because she found her school’s lack of focus on nails demoralizing, but after being inspired by the great nails she saw on Instagram four years later, she decided to take the step of getting her license and reached out to her former classmate for advice. “She helped me a lot,” says Cantu.

Once you find a salon, your fellow techs can be a great source of information as well. Norris had the help of a veteran nail tech in her first salon after her return, allowing her to quickly gain new skills and re-familiarize herself with the business.

Ace Your Interview
To shine in an interview, conquer your nerves by focusing on being fully prepared and ready to demonstrate your skills. “If you love and know what you do, you’ll have the confidence to answer any questions that they will ask,” says Zurbito. You should also be prepared in the event they ask you for a working interview — an interview in which the nail tech is asked to demonstrate a manicure or other service. “Have your portfolio ready in case they ask for photos of your work,” Zurbito adds. “When I had my interview, they asked for some photos of my work and asked for me to do a full manicure, and right then and there I got the job.”

Find Your Niche
With so many different types of salons out there, it can be intimidating to get re-started in the nail business. The key is to focus on what makes you different, whether that’s stunning nail art, perfect pampering, or something else. Make sure your clients know that you invest in your craft and you care about their health — this will help set you apart. “It’s what your niche is,” explains Norris. “That’s what I didn’t realize years ago. I just felt like I had to compete with everybody else.” Norris focuses on the spa experience for her clients, while Cantu has become an expert in natural nail care. “My clients love telling people how long their natural nails are,” she says. Zurbito’s work appeals to the health-conscious as well: She’s a nail tech at Pure5 Wellness Hub, a holistic clinic that focuses on organic and vegan products.

Be Patient
When building a new clientele, it’s important to be patient and take advantage of every opportunity to get the word out. Jenkins says it took her two years to build up her client base after her return. She developed strategies to draw people in. “I would offer new client specials, birthday raffles, and I would even offer my existing clients a referral incentive,” she says. Social media can help too. Many nail techs post their work to Instagram with location-specific hashtags, helping clients find them. To make sure loyal clients spread the word, Norris advises focusing on your craft. “If you have three clients, be the best for those three clients,” she says. “Take some time and money to really home in on your craft if you want to be a true professional.” 

Go to to find out about nail industry careers outside of traditional salon work.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.