Business Management

Surefire Hiring Techniques

Weigh an applicant’s experience and aptitude, but don’t ignore such in tangibles as her personality and your intuition.

You’re planning to add one or two more nail technicians to your staff. How do you ensure that you’ll find someone to fit your needs? You need to look beyond a technician’s ability to do nails. You must know which employee will best fit your salon.

To start your search, you must get an applicant pool. Barbara McKinnon, owner of Champagne Images (Phoenix, Ariz.), gets a stream of applicants simply by sticking a sign in her salon window. Often, people will give her resumes even when she isn’t filling a vacancy; McKinnon keeps all resumes on hand for a year. Word-of-mouth referrals from professional colleagues also work well; McKinnon tells school and salon owners, supply houses, and sales reps of any vacancies.

Your initial impression of a potential employee can be a good guide if you’ve developed a reliable sixth sense and those initial feelings are strong. If you have two candidates, both equally experienced and talented, your choice will most likely be the one you feel the most comfortable with. Personality, willingness to learn, and attitude are high on most salon owners’ list of important employee qualifications.

Every applicant has one potential strike against her from the start. Each employer has her own pref­erences to consider when judging applicants against one another, and no applicant will be an exact match. Jackie Randolph, owner of Nail Expressions of Washington, D.C., prefers an employee with a sense of responsibility and discipline honed by work experience.

“I don’t want someone who always wants to leave work early. I want someone who wants to invest herself in her career,” Randolph says. “You can find these people out of school, but I’ve had better luck with transplants [technicians from other salons]”

Most job seekers Randolph sees have only a few months’ experience, although she prefers someone with about two years behind them. Being selective about criteria such as previous work experience can lengthen the applicant selection process for the salon owner, but the extra time and effort will be worth the wait if you find a good match for your salon.

Christine Derr, co-owner of Nail Craft/Hair Craft (Gilbertsville, Pa.), seeks the opposite and looks for newly graduated technicians to train herself. “Sometimes it’s easier to start from scratch rather than to retrain or remold technicians,” admits Derr. “Then they don’t have any bad habits. You can mold them to do applications and techniques the same as the rest of your staff.”

Derr trains her staff to be equally proficient at all skills so that they can substitute for each other. Of course, personality always plays into a customer s choice of technician, but having a staff that can serve any client helps during periods of overload or when a technician is absent.

“If someone has talent, she can learn to do whatever we want her to do,” says Derr. “It’s not that we won’t take someone with experience, but it’s not a prerequisite.”

Janet Adams, owner of Nailway Express (Baltimore, Md.), agrees. Her dissatisfaction with the students coming out of school led her to create her own apprenticeship program “It’s easier for me to train technicians to our standards,” Adams says. “With this system I’m not restricted to hiring people coming out of schools. They may do good nails, but they may not be the type of person you want for your salon.”

McKinnon places a heavier weight on an, applicant s attitude and willingness to learn than on her experience. “If they admit what they don’t know but tell me they’re eager to learn, I’m happy,” she says.

Another determining factor in evaluating applicants is their work ethic. McKinnon, who has many young employees, says, “Their work comes second to their personal lives. I have to constantly remind them not to discuss their lives so much at work. We’re here to service clients — let the clients talk.

Randolph feels that the 10 years between ages 20 and 30 make a huge difference in the way a person works. “Many young people are living with their parents longer. I’m not saying it’s bad, because I know how expensive things are, but some people take it for granted. They haven’t developed a sense of responsibility.

“They expect more from me as a boss than they should,” Randolph continues. “They haven’t developed the habit of getting up and into the shop on time. They may think that five minutes is no big deal, but it may mean that a customer has to pay for an extra hour s parking.”

Younger employees also have a tendency to be a bit impetuous, according to Randolph. They think they’re read/ before they actually are.

However, if a young technician’s work habits are strong overall, then experience, patience, and some advice may be all that are needed.

Though the slow economy has made employees more appreciative of their jobs and has curbed some of the “grass is greener” syndrome that makes some people constantly switch jobs, Adams finds that older employees are less impatient to move on.

“Older employees are more professional and they enjoy their work more and understand what is involved. The younger people get bored with it. It becomes a grind. In this area, most young people don’t have to work; their parents buy them everything. They don’t need the income,” says Adams.


The interview is a nerve-racking process for job applicants. Nail technicians often have to demonstrate their skills as well as talk to a prospective employer. Since showing that they can perform nail services is usually only required for those applicants under serious consideration for the job, many salon owners conduct two sessions of interviews to save time in the initial phase. Only those who are invited back for the second round are required to prove their technical skills. This also gives salon owners a second opportunity to evaluate applicants’ personalities.

During a first interview at Nail Craft/Hair Craft, the technician is asked to fill out an application and supply a resume. Salon owners should ensure that their applications don’t ask for information that could be seen as discriminatory (see “Unacceptable Questions”). Interviewers also need to be careful about what they ask verbally — the same rules apply.

Before firing questions at the applicant, it’s often helpful to spend some time casually dis­cussing the job during the interview. This seeming informality will help relax the applicant, and you can later ask questions that will help you determine how well she listened. Describe the position and requirements honestly and accurately. An employee should know exactly what to expect — and what not to — at this stage of the process. If anything you say makes an applicant reconsider the position, it’s best she find out now. Otherwise, it may not be long before you have to go through the whole hiring process again.

Discuss the salon’s history — how long it has been operating and how successful it has been. Tell prospective salon members about the future plans you have and how the applicant would be responsible for helping achieve them.

McKinnon has a second person help with the interviews. “I’m always looking for the best in people,” admits McKinnon, “and I can get fooled by them. I try to have my assistant manager interview them as well. She’s more perceptive than I am. I want a team player, someone who can work for the image of the group and not as an individual, and that’s hard to pinpoint. This industry can develop egos.”

Adams mentally dismisses applicants who focus only on how much money they can make. She says, “I love the people who come in and tell me they love doing nails, they think nails are a lot of fun, and they want to learn more about them. For them, the money is an afterthought.”


Are the people in your salon a close-knit group, given to socializing and planning events for non-work hours, or are the relationships more casual? Look at your employees as a group. If there are cliques, don’t sell the staff as one big, happy family. If the applicant isn’t accepted by the “in” crowd, or if she chooses not to join, she may feel die atmosphere was misrepresented.

Let the person know whether technicians work independently or are expected to function as a group. At Adams’ 12-station salon, her full-time staffers are expected to help the apprentices. Likewise, an apprentice will often take on the role of floor assistant when she has no bookings, doing such tasks as removing nail polish, filing nails, getting towels, and generally keeping the work flow moving.

“I insist that everyone work together for the benefit of the clients,” says Adams. ‘That way, we get more volume in, and we save time. As long as everyone makes money, it builds camaraderie. My staff is like a large group of sisters.”

Some technicians may be upset with a floor assistant or group work system if they’re not told beforehand that everyone takes part. In other words, don’t minimize some duties and glorify others. If a technician will be expected to help others finish their work before she leaves, or help clean the salon, tell her up front.


At the second interview, Derr asks the nail technician to demonstrate tips with wraps and sculptured nails. McKinnon requires technicians to demonstrate tips with overlay, acrylics, and, if they’ve had training, some type of gel system. McKinnon also evaluates the applicant’s technical knowledge by asking questions such as, “Why do you have to use an antiseptic on the nail plate before applying acrylic?” or “What do you know about primers? What would you do if you spilled some?”

Randolph feels that having an applicant demonstrate her skills is more reliable than checking references. “People are not always so honest about the qualities of someone’s work,” says Randolph. “You can ask someone, ‘Can you reveal to me the reasons why she was dis­charged?’ but you may not get a straight answer.”

The reason for this lack of forthrightness is often fear of a lawsuit. Many former em­ployers will only reveal strictly factual information — dates of employment, salary, and title, if applicable. As Priscilla C. Goss wrote in the September 1990 issue of Personnel magazine, “Unfortunately, some managers have intentionally given character and performance references that not only are less than factual, but are stated maliciously and with total disregard for the truth. The increasing number of defamation suits being won by employees strongly attests to this fact.”


Employers in unlicensed states have an even tougher time judging their applicants because there is no automatic criteria by which to compare everyone. Maggie Boyd, owner of Avanti Nail Studio (Barrington, IL), explains, “The technicians all want to be paid while they’re being trained. In this state, because [until now] being a nail technician takes no education, many don’t think that doing nails is a skill. And no one wants to be criticized. But clients always hear of the one bad nail before the nine good ones.”

Boyd says one reason it’s so hard to find decent technicians is that so many quit before they’ve developed their skills. “Nail technicians don’t give the business time to come’ through with its rewards,” she explains. “The reward is the issue, not the monetary goal. If the public benefits from what we do, that’s rewarding. Then there is meaning and value for the people implementing it.” Unfortunately, technicians don’t, develop their skills or wait long enough to develop a clientele.

“New technicians get frustrated because I make the work look so easy. They don’t think about what I did to reach that — practice, practice, practice. They’ll say, ‘Those little details don’t matter so much.’ I need to develop a test of their qualifications to determine how well they work with their hands, what their personalities are like. I’d be more open to hiring people if I knew what I was getting before I started training them.”


In the best of worlds, you’ll only need to hire new people if your salon is successful and expanding, not because technicians leave for another job or you are forced to fire someone. The process of finding a suitable replacement can be long and tedious, and you may be filled with doubt that you’ll ever find a match. How can you know for sure if you’re choosing the best employee possible?

Be as thorough and fair to each candidate as possible. Judge everyone to your best ability, and be sure to look for each person’s potential, not just the level she has reached at that point. Trust your intuition, and breathe that sigh of relief when your vacancy is filled and your salon is back to normal.


Examine an applicant’s skills as well as how she’ll fit in with the industry, the salon, her manager, and coworkers. Some skills you can test — for others you need to rely on her comments, answers references, and your intuition. If you question an applicant in each of these areas, you’re sure to get as clear an indication of the applicant’s potential as possible.

Technician-Specific: Test a candidate in various nail applications. Is she fast, but accurate’ Sloppy? Does she use the implements correctly? Does she know the difference between disinfection and sanitation and what she should do for maximum client and staff safety?

Conceptual: Can the applicant view a situation and see how it can be improved? Does she have a sense of how many clients she can finish in a given time for a specific service? Can she be creative and detailed?

Organizational: Your conclusions in this area will be based largely on intuition and answers to broad-based questions, as you won’t ask the following questions outright Does the applicant always have enough product available at her station at the beginning of a service so that she doesn’t waste time roaming around the salon while a customer is waiting? Can she disinfect one set of implements yet have another on hand7 Can she take clear, detailed phone messages?

Interpersonal: How does the candidate interact with you? How do you see her treating clients? Coworkers? How did she treat the receptionist when she came in for the interview?

Leadership: Could this applicant ever become a leader or manager of the salon? Can she treat everyone fairly and examine things objectively? Has she had any experience, salon-related or otherwise, that put her in charge of people?

Presentation: Could this individual give reports on continuing education classes or shows she attended? Does she have the non-technical skills— patience, for example — to be a good educator?


Ask an applicant open-ended questions such as these for an understanding of how she sees herself.

  • Please outline your career up to this point.
  • Why is now the right time for you to be looking for a change in salons or a new career?
  • What was the most difficult or uncomfortable situation you have faced at work, and how did you deal with it?
  • Why should I choose you over someone else?
  • If I called someone on your reference list, what would she say about you?
  • How fair is the assessment? What do people assume about you that is incorrect? Where do they not give you enough credit? Where do they give too much?
  • Why do you generally succeed at what you do? What makes you fail?

    The following questions or subjects are illegal to address during an interview because they may lead to discriminatory hiring practices.

    • Maiden name. However, you may ask if another name is necessary to check education or employment records.
    • Whether she owns or rents her home.
    • Age, birthday, dates of attendance or completion of elementary or high school, or any questions geared toward identifying people over 40. You may ask if an applicant is 18, if she can show proof of age if hired, or if she can submit a work permit upon being hired if she’s under 18.
    • Birthplace or citizenship of applicant or applicant’s family. You may not ask to see work papers before hiring. You can state that all employees will be expected to prove a legal right to work in the U.S. if hired.
    • Any questions about nationality, race, what language an applicant first learned to speak, or how an applicant learned any foreign languages. You may ask if an applicant can speak or write other languages if it is useful for employment (for example, if your salon has Spanish-speaking clients). Nothing may be asked regarding height or weight, and you can’t request a photograph. There may be a statement saying that a photograph is required following employment.
    • Marital status, number/ ages of children or dependents, child care arrangements, questions regarding pregnancy or birth control, whom an applicant lives with, and name or address of relatives. You may ask for the name and address of a minor’s parents or guardians. There may also be a statement about company policy regarding employment of relatives.
    • Questions regarding an applicant’s health, previous receipt of workers’ compensation, or an applicant’s physical handicaps. The following statement is acceptable: “Do you have any physical condition or handicap which may limit your ability to perform the job applied for? If yes, what can be done to accommodate your limitation?”
    • Any question regarding religion.
    • You may not ask for a person’s arrest record. You may ask if an applicant has ever been convicted of a felony, but there must be a statement that a conviction will not lead to automatic disqualification from consideration.
    • General questions about military service, either U.S. or foreign. You may ask about skills acquired from such service.
    • Questions regarding an applicant’s financial standing.
    • You may not ask an applicant to list organizations she belongs to without a statement such as the following: “Please list job-related organizations, clubs, pro­fessional societies, or other associations to which you belong— you may omit those. Which indicate your race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, sex or age.”
    • Requests for references that might indicate the applicant’s race, religion, medical condition, marital status, age, or other information that has been described as discriminatory. You may ask who referred an applicant, or for a list of references.
    • Name and address of relative to be notified in case of emergency. You may ask for name and address of a person to contact in case of emergency.

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