Ally Conley, owner of Mani Pedi Cutie in Hermosa Beach, Calif., looks for techs who are good with children.

Ally Conley, owner of Mani Pedi Cutie in Hermosa Beach, Calif., looks for techs who are good with children.

“If you’re so desperate you hire someone just to fill a chair, you might as well close your doors,” says Ally Conley, owner of Mani Pedi Cutie in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Choosing the right person for the job has always been important, but the risks are higher in today’s world, where a negative Tweet or Yelp review can be posted before a client even leaves the salon. “They don’t say they hate the nail tech in the reviews,” says Conley. “They say they hate the salon.”

To stack the odds of a successful hire in your favor, and thereby give clients a positive experience to Tweet, create your interview and hiring process before you actually need a new team member. That doesn’t mean create a thick, heavy binder filled with legalese. It means you have a good grasp on your salon’s culture, the must-have qualifications you want in your staff, and your compensation structure. Job descriptions, employee or rental agreements, and pay scales need to be clear to you before they can be clearly explained to an applicant. 

Know What You Need

As you begin to imagine the ideal candidate for the position, think of the mores, character, and atmosphere of your salon. Who are your clients? What do they expect in an experience? Are you trying to expand your business to reach a new demographic? Keep in mind an applicant may be an excellent candidate on paper but still not right for your salon. She may list experience, the start of a client base, even a natural talent for art, but even with all these selling points, the tech may not work well with your staff and clientele. “We service a lot of clients who have health issues, such as diabetes or issues related to past chemo treatments,” says Melodie Hand, owner of Tickled Pink in Clayton, N.C. “Too much pressure during a pedicure could hurt a number of my clients,” she says. “So, one thing I note during the interview is if the tech has a gentle touch.”

Conley’s salon caters to mothers and daughters, so she looks for staff who are good with children. “It’s important to us to have a person who can be bubbly and relate well with kids, but she also needs to know when not to talk,” says Conley. “Many clients want to relax quietly during a pedicure appointment, and a tech needs to be able to read body language.” Both Conley and Hand limit their pool of potential candidates because they understand the culture of their salon.

For her clientele, Melodie Hand, owner of Tickled Pink in Clayton, N.C., seeks out techs with a gentle touch.

For her clientele, Melodie Hand, owner of Tickled Pink in Clayton, N.C., seeks out techs with a gentle touch.

Start With Who You Know

Horror stories of applicants are plentiful and would be humorous if not so common. Finding qualified applicants isn’t easy. Visiting beauty schools or placing ads locally, on industry job-posting sites and on Craigslist, are a few ways salon owners try to find new techs. Most start by looking among current staff and clients. “We offer our staff a $100 reward if the person they recommend is hired and stays through the three-month introductory period,” says Danielle Lawrence, owner of Head to Toe Salon and Day Spa in Endwell, N.Y. Lauren Cawley, owner of Volpe Nails and Hair in Johnson City, N.Y., found the right candidate when one of her booth renters introduced her to a high school student who also attended beauty school. Cawley allowed the student to help out at the salon and then hired her when she became licensed.

Be specific about the type of person you hope to find. You’re not looking for a tech who is a “dependable and motivated team player.” She must be that, of course, but that’s a basic requirement for nearly all employees. If you are looking for a Zen-like nail tech who understands “the impact of personal touch, the importance of listening, and the spiritual value of a pedicure,” then say so. Your salon might want an artistic, high-energy tech who “sees a potential palette on every nail plate, believes our digits determine our disposition, yet understands bare, buffed nails can be the bomb.” Let your personality come out when you describe your ideal candidate. This way, you are more likely to attract applicants who will be cohesive with the team.

Make It a Group Decision

Lawrence understands the benefits of a cohesive team, so she includes a “hot seat” meeting as the final step of every interview process. First, potential team members fill out an application and answer questions about their goals, hopes, and dreams. On the same day, they get a tour of the spa and are introduced to the staff. In the second interview, Lawrence describes the salon ­culture and explains pay schedules, compensation plans, and policies laid out in the handbook. Finally, a hot seat meeting is scheduled where the applicant sits at a table with current staff and is peppered with questions.

“They get all sorts of questions,” says Lawrence. “How do you handle backbiting? What would you do in a certain situation? What do you do when you hear gossip?” It’s an intimidating and intense meeting, but it gives everyone, including the applicant, an opportunity to ask any question that may be a concern.

Trust Your Instinct

More than likely, you intuitively sense if a tech won’t work well in the salon. If she comes to an interview chomping gum, sporting chipped nails, or looking unkempt and sloppy, it’s a good indicator of a general attitude. Conversely, if an applicant comes in with a professional appearance, but speaks with an attitude of arrogance because her nail school instructor promised techs are hired at 50% commission, it’s likely you’re looking at a candidate who will resist training and buck the culture of the salon. Instead of hiring her out of desperation, take a deep breath, remind yourself of what you’re looking for, and wait until you find the right person for the job.   


What Makes a Candidate Stand Out?

“What stands out immediately is the way a person carries herself. However, during the interview, it’s the attitude and willingness to learn that makes the biggest impression.” 
— Pinki Shah, Footique, Columbus, Ga.

“I look for a tech who has an attitude toward wanting to grow. Whether it’s learning reflexology or art or becoming certified as a medi-tech, the best techs keep learning.”
— Melodie Hand, Tickled Pink, Clayton, N.C.

“I look for someone who loves nails, who doesn’t see doing nails as just a job.”
— Ally Conley, Mani Pedi Cutie, Hermosa Beach, Calif.

“I look for the whole presentation of how she carries herself, and if she keeps calm and cool when she meets the rest of the team.”
— Danielle Lawrence, Head to Toe Salon and Day Spa, Endwell, N.Y.

“A strong work ethic, which means the willingness to do the right thing all the time, is one of the top things that tells me the person will be a good fit.”
— Samantha Hanby, Polished Nail Salon, Yukon, Okla.


Look for the Diamond in the Rough

A common complaint among hiring managers and salons owners is how difficult it is to find good staff. In the old days, you hired what basically amounted to an apprentice, knowing you had hours and hours of training ahead of you. During all that training, you would teach technique, and talk about soft skills, appropriate behavior and dress, inappropriate conversation, customer service, etc. The introduction of certification, while an overall positive for the industry, seems to have ushered in some unfortunate side effects. Inadvertently, many graduates believe with certification comes the privilege of experience. In this idea there is immediate conflict between the hiring manager and the applicant. One has the expectation the applicant will start at the bottom and earn her success. The other believes she has already paid her dues by attending school. This conflict of expectations causes enormous frustration to salon owners, and, in all likelihood, to applicants as well.

Great nail techs are out there, though admittedly, they seem to be more difficult to find. It may help to know the problem of good staff isn’t limited to the beauty industry. Many articles have been written on the sense of entitlement seen in “millennials,” the term given to adults in their 20s. Also dubbed “trophy kids” because they grew up in a culture where everyone went home with a trophy, these adults entering the workforce often expect the boss to validate them just for showing up.

Wait a second. Are you nodding your head knowingly? Take inventory of your attitude. Do you find yourself annoyed at applicants because “they should have learned that in school”? Do you reveal frustration when you see licensed techs who still need multiple hours of mentoring? Don’t let cynicism bury your optimism. You were a diamond in the rough once, too. Many people have the patience and tenacity to work their way to success with a positive, grateful and humble attitude, they just need the inspiration. When you find one, discuss the delusional paradigm of easy success and share the reality — and rewards — of working in a salon. To the right applicant, this will be the inspirational pep talk that launches her career.

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