In the News
BEST CAREERS 2009by Marty Nemko on 1/20/2009
Oh, what a year! Since last year's Best Careers package was published, America has elected a president and Congress with a new agenda; we've begun what experts believe to be a long-term downturn in the economy; and there's been an accelerated worldwide focus on the green economy. We made sure to incorporate these major changes into the process for selecting the Best Careers 2009.
So how did we select the Best Careers of 2009? We scored hundreds of careers on five criteria:
- Job outlook, which took into consideration the above three factors
- Average job satisfaction
- Difficulty of the required training
Best Careers 2009: Hairstylist/Cosmetologist
Overview. In a recent British job satisfaction survey, hairstylist ranked No. 1. It's not surprising: It's one of the few careers in which you please nearly every client. (Save for the occasional one who cries, "What have you done to my hair!") And people tend to be loyal to their haircutter, so if you're pleasant, you can develop plenty of long-term friends or at least acquaintances. After all, there's a lot of time to chat while shampooing, cutting, and torturing hair so it curls or straightens.
Other pluses: This career is a fashionista's dream: It's one of the rare fields with good job opportunities in which you're rewarded for staying current on fashion and design. And your job won't be offshored—it may make sense to do robotic surgery from India but not a shampoo and cut.
Most men now get their hair cut by a stylist rather than a barber, and more and more men seek out related services such as facials and manicures. So, not surprisingly, the number of male hairstylists and cosmetologists is growing.
To succeed, whatever your sex, you must be a great listener so you can unearth what the client really wants. You also need a good fashion and design sense so you can offer appropriate suggestions. Perhaps most important, you must be able to translate a great hair concept into a great haircut. In short, you must be a hair artist. In addition, you must be engaging enough that your clients remain loyal and willing to buy the hair and skin potions that represent an ever-larger proportion of a hair salon's profits. With those skills, instead of having to work for low-pay chains, you can likely get hired by an independent mid-to-high-end salon, day spa, resort, or possibly even a film or TV studio, all of which tend to pay better than the average clip joint. Or, you can open your own.
This career's downsides: Especially with the slow economy, pay tends to be low until you've improved your skills and developed a clientele. You're on your feet all day (hairstylists have an above-average incidence of varicose veins) and often into the evenings and weekends, because that's when most people want their hair cut. You have to work with chemicals that may be unpleasant or worse. Most hairstylists get little or no healthcare benefits. Finally, you must react well to dissatisfied clients: Fix the problem if you can, and if you can't, take a deep breath and let it go—we all make mistakes.
A day in the life. As a stylist in a salon that charges $50 for a cut, you're especially careful to pamper your clients. So, unlike at the $15 salons, you're spending an average of an hour with each one, especially if you're shampooing, coloring, or treating the person's hair, or consulting on a major tonsorial overhaul. That leaves plenty of time for chit-chat. One of your clients today has been with you since you started cutting hair, and now, she also has you cut her son's.
On average, you do six or seven "heads" a day. A side benefit of working in a higher-end salon is that you spend less time per day using scissors, which means less risk of repetitive strain injury, common among haircutters in high-volume operations.
With the slow economy, to make a good living, the number of people willing to pay $50 for a cut are down, so you have to be a master at selling your clients potions, lotions, and notions. ("Did you see those cute pins over there?")
No matter how upscale your salon, between clients, you have to sweep the floor and clean your instruments. More pleasant, manufacturers' reps occasionally pop in to clue you in on the latest lotions, potions, and hottest looks.
Two mornings a week, you work your hair magic in a nursing home, where you pamper residents who'd have a hard time getting to your salon.
At the end of the day, you're happy to get off your feet but still are glad to know that tomorrow is a workday.
Wigs and hairpieces. You may find lucrative work building and styling wigs and hairpieces for people who have lost their hair, or even for stage, screen, and TV.
Median (with eight years in the field): $35,800
25th to 75th percentile range (with eight or more years of experience): $27,500–$55,500
Note: Not including tips or commissions. Also, this data does include employees of deep-discount salons, such as Fantastic Sams and Great Clips.
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