Passionate about the nail industry? Do you enjoy meeting new people and working in different environments each day? You might enjoy an alternate career as a salon inspector — sometimes called an investigator or field agent.

We went looking for background on the career of the elusive salon inspector. What we found was as varied as the states they represent. While the background and requirements may differ greatly, the basic job description is the same. These agents are responsible for helping salons maintain compliance and protect the public’s safety. It is far from as simple as it seems. While not as lucrative (in salary alone) as salon work, the benefits can make up the difference, taking into account health care, education, and retirement.

There is a reason we rarely hear from those responsible for investigating complaints and carrying out routine inspections — safety. Most salon encounters proceed without incident. Occasionally, the inspector’s safety is at risk from a disgruntled member of the beauty industry. As state employees, field agents keep a low profile, deferring interviews to the state’s human resources department or professional board for comment. They are rarely photographed on the job, instead working in quiet obscurity. Another reason we rarely see them is that they just don’t have time. There are very few positions and the economy has state resources stretched thin. One administrator, who preferred not to be identified, pointed out that there were more NBA/ABA players from her state than cosmetology inspectors in her state. I did some digging and that could be right in at least one state. For example, Alabama is required by law to employ eight investigators for its 853 nail salons (plus beauty and barber establishments) and I could find at least nine current NBA/ABA players from that state. The point is there is stiff competition for the few job openings.

Being a cosmetologist is not always a prerequisite for working as an inspector, and inspectors sometimes work for more than a single board within the state. In Virginia, an investigator with the Compliance and Investigation Division of the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation may investigate for more than a dozen boards. Being flexible and a quick learner are important. In Delaware, the investigative unit provides support to 32 boards and commissions and 40 different professions. Oklahoma has at least four inspectors for 4,500 salons (with an inspection goal of two times per year).

Inspectors typically carry out compliance-related duties, which may include checking for licenses, occupancy permits, ventilation, presence of banned materials, proper sanitation, etc. Knowledge of computer skills is necessary. Reports must be filed for each inspection and in the case of any violations found there would be routine follow-ups.

Bob McKee, director for the Alabama Board of Cosmetology, helped me put some of the duties in perspective. “In addition to being a fully licensed cosmetologist with two years of experience in the field, applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, current Alabama driver’s license or the ability to get one, and pass a written examination.” McKee was kind enough to share some demographics related to the job. “Inspectors averaged 21 days of work a month in March 2010. They drove an average of 24.3 miles per salon, 117 miles per day, and inspected 5.25 salons per day.”

Oklahoma inspector Michelle Huitt-Shook has been outspoken in the need for more inspectors in the field. She has inspected as many as 20 salons in a day and is responsible for covering 1,500 salons, 25 schools, and partial coverage of a state testing facility.

Most inspectors will need to travel extensively and stay overnight at times. If you have worked as a manufacturer’s rep, you are probably already comfortable with this aspect of the job. Work experience as a rep can also demonstrate to human resource departments that you are capable of working with different people and are able to self-supervise.


Getting the Gig 

So, you are thinking this is the perfect job for you? You like to travel, want to improve the standards in the beauty industry, are good with people, don’t mind driving, have computer skills, and are up for each day being a bit different than the last. Start making connections now. Get to know the members of the state board. Attend open sessions and get involved. Explore gaining credentials as an instructor if you don’t already have them. Study the rules and codes that apply to beauty professionals. If you are in a state that requires investigators to inspect for different boards, it will help if you start studying the guidelines for the boards they cover.

Working to develop a resume that targets an inspector’s position will save you time when the state has an opening and give you ample time to fine-tune it. Start to collect letters of recommendation and update your address book of character references you will use. Sign up for continuing education in any related area, including defensive driving, workshops on dealing with difficult people, information management, etc. With stiff competition, it will be about what you can bring to the state in addition to cosmetology. The more well-rounded you are the better.

Each state has a different process for hiring. Florida has an impressive statewide website that anyone can use to hunt for and apply for jobs. Applicants can go to, register, and filter potential postings by key word, area, geographic location, etc. While keeping an eye on state human resource’s web pages may alert you to openings, your best bet is to get involved and network.

McKee says, “An inspector’s job can be demanding but most love the work and feel they are making a positive impact and are committed to professionalism.” He also points out that the job is changing. “Inspectors are not enforcers. Their main goal is voluntary compliance. We try to do everything we can to facilitate legitimate business and try not to be a burden. We have the technology available to test for MMA use in salons. We also have been able to reduce the paperwork necessary by equipping inspectors with Blackberries preloaded with software. We can cover more ground. We also have several new hires that work on Saturdays, since most salons are open then.”

Other recent changes include states’ attempts to not only help facilitate compliance but to communicate directly with the public. The Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology issues press releases to advise consumers. A call to their office was recently met with the prompt delivery of an official press release. They are utilizing consumers to help salons stay compliant. State Secretary of State Basil Merenda says, “The majority of salons work hard to stay in compliance with state laws and regulations, however, we want consumers to be aware of what salons can and cannot do so they can make informed decisions and stay safe.”

The very low turnover in Alabama is evidence that inspectors are indeed finding fulfillment on the job. Once an individual is hired into the Alabama investigation system, she must demonstrate she is in the top 10% before moving up. Other states, such as Nevada, have a tiered system for grading field inspectors, including some crossovers who work in other capacities such as an office assistant. Even though we don’t often hear directly from inspectors in the media, they are certainly working side-by-side with those who prepare official communications.

If you are dedicated to the profession of beauty, there are many avenues to pursue a rewarding career. So, go ahead, tug the ear of people in different areas of the industry and see what might be a good fit for you. Your dream job may just be a conversation and application away.


Next Steps

>Visit your state board’s website as well as your state’s human resources career page to explore job openings.

>Attend open board meetings for your state. You will have an inside track on what is going on. The contacts you make may also help you in securing a job.

>Compare your qualifications with the posted job requirements.

>Prepare a resume targeted at the position.

>Study the regulations carefully so you will be ready for the interview should you get the call.


How to Make the Inspector’s Job Easier

>Stay organized. Keep employee files and MSDS records up-to-date.

>Steer clear and let the inspector work; she will let you know if she needs something.

>Do a self-inspection several times a year to catch compliance issues before the inspector is at the door.

>Check your state board’s website for self-inspection forms or use the one at

> If an inspector brings a violation to your attention, agree to correct it immediately — on the spot if it is possible — to reduce the chance of fines.

> Visit your state board’s website frequently to keep abreast of changes that will affect your salon. You can find the link on


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