Articles > Business > What Would You Do: Hiring (and Keeping) Assistants
Last updated: May 06, 2018

What Would You Do: Hiring (and Keeping) Assistants

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While not every hairdresser needs an assistant—or has been an assistant—you’ve probably heard scary tales about the things assistants were made to do. What’s it REALLY like to be an assistant, and how do you find a great one that will stay with you? One member of the BTC community needed answers on how to keep assistants—read her situation, then see all the advice!


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“I work in a fairly young salon. The owner has been here for 5 years. We’ve been having a VERY hard time keeping assistants. We are an 8-chair salon open Tuesday through Sunday. Our salon is fairly busy and we try to keep at least three to four assistants so the workload is not all on one person, and they have flexible schedules. We’ve reached out to beauty schools in the area, posted on social media…everything we could think of. Assistants come in, work for a couple weeks and then just don’t show up. My boss has reached out to other salon owners and everyone seems to be having the same problem finding and keeping assistants. The busy season is upon us and we are so worried we will be understaffed. HELP!”


Find the root of the problem

“Ask the assistants! Strangers can’t tell you what wrong. Do an anonymous poll with the assistants and ask them what they need to think of this as a long-term job location.”  – Nikita Billingsley


“The best thing to do is to attempt to reach out to past assistants for feedback on their experience at the salon. That will be more telling with what needs to happen to change this than all our assumptions of the problems.” – Karissa Anne Eichenlaub


“Do you have a system in place to show measured steps of how they can further themselves? No one wants to assist forever, how do they know (from you) when it’s time for the next step? What do they learn from you and other stylists? Do you give them formal continuing education? Do you let them take an occasional client of their own? How hands on are they with services? And, ultimately, do you pay them enough for what you’re asking for?” – @camcolorshair



Listen to what assistants want—most of the time, it’s respect

“I took a step back and am assisting now. I used to be a full-time stylist but took a few years to explore other options. As an assistant, I can tell you that pay is very important. If having an assistant helps your stylists make a lot more money, then encourage them to tip well. Also, having structure is crucial in day-to-day operations. Make sure you’re utilizing your assistants for more than just laundry and sweeping. Teach them, or have scheduled education regularly. They are there to learn. Don’t allow any stylists to talk down to the assistant. Ever. And if you as a stylist are going to need an assistant’s help, you should treat them with respect for the help they provide.” – @shanedoescolor


“The main thing that kept me assisting for 2 years was my boss kept me SO involved while he was doing hair. He would always explain to me why he was doing a certain technique for color and allow me to watch a haircut and explain everything to me. Also, I got paid more than minimum wage and was promised multiple raises once I hit certain months/goals. We did classes on models twice a month. When you’re fresh out of hair school is when you’re extremely motivated to get into the industry, and feeling like a maid and underappreciated really can mess with your mind.” – @itsjustsyd


“I was an assistant before I was a stylist and honestly, if they are leaving, they are probably feeling mistreated or underpaid. When I was an assistant, I never knew when I was leaving for the day, I felt like I wasn’t tipped out by the stylists, and half the stylists didn’t know my name after being there for over a year. I felt taken advantage of and like they thought they were above me. Not saying all salons are like that, but all I’m saying is if you can’t keep staff, maybe you need to reevaluate how you are treating them. That goes for all positions in a salon.” – @schneideramanda



“I am currently an assistant and have been for a little over a year and a half. It took me some time to learn about salon reality, how to provide a service, take some more education classes, and get comfortable with taking walk-ins…Being an assistant is hard work that literally nobody wants to do. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff we do does get unnoticed and it’s a slap in the face when you’re trying so hard to prove your worth. After a decent amount of time at my salon, I had to tell my boss I felt unappreciated and wanted a raise. I gave her reasons why I was asking for one and she agreed. I think it’s important to treat assistants fairly. You have to work your way up, but provide some form of incentive. Have a contract, tip them when it’s deserved, encourage them to bring in their own clients on slow days so they can learn! Nobody wants to assist forever. Invest in your assistant and they will do right by you.” – @mesmereyezing__hair


“I have a perfect understanding that during the busy season, I’m going to be washing towels, shampooing, cleaning, etc. Come January, when it slows down a bit, I will get more one-on-one time with stylists to learn more and bring in my own models. As an assistant/intern/student who is unpaid, there are some little things that mean a LOT to me where I am. I get thanked constantly for what I do. It’s not half-hearted either. I can tell it’s meant. If your assistant helps you with a client (rinsing color, checking foils, mixing color, etc.) give them some of your tip. Even a couple of bucks shows you appreciate them. There are some people that won’t think those little things mean anything, but do you really want those people a part of your staff?” – Mandi Kaye Hill


“As an assistant, the important factors to me are knowing I’m appreciated for my work. Your assistant is a hard-working cog in your salon machine and a lot of times people don’t appreciate it. And the stylists’ willingness to teach. I don’t want to shampoo your client for 5 minutes and then go off to do mountains of laundry. I want to learn that cool cutting technique they didn’t teach us in school. I want to be able to stand there and ask questions when I don’t understand what something’s going to achieve. I spent 9 months in school and thousands of dollars. To go to a salon and be told ‘yeah, all of that is garbage, we’re going to be teaching you an entire new way to do everything because school was wrong,’ isn’t cool. Most assistants are there to learn and build on what they learned in school and become stylists. They don’t want to clean up after everyone else forever.” – Chelsi Conway



Start with the hiring process

“Focus on building relationships with fresh talent. Think about going to the beauty schools multiple times and dropping off treats so they know right where to go when they graduate.” – @megajesshair


“Making sure you are doing your part by providing the best work environment possible is important, followed by setting a standard of expectations on what the position is from the beginning. Try ‘trial run days’ so both you and the other person can get a feel for if this will be the best fit for them.” – @hellojasminn


“I have been having this problem myself over the past few months. My staff will all agree that my assistants are treated with respect, and yet some of these girls who have come along have either given me an attitude when given constructive criticism in a kind way and have blatantly disrespected the stylists and are unreliable. I have had an assistant move up to be a stylist and have another one that is excellent, and even they are dumbfounded by the behavior of these assistants. I am starting to think finding ones with no experience might be the best route. Train them with no preexisting bad habits or bad attitudes about empty promises from former employers. It’s very frustrating.” – @handstandinghairstylist


“Don’t have assistants, have associates. No one wants to be a broom b*****. If they have no future to look forward to in the salon, such as being provided an education and learning in real-time, they won’t be goal-oriented and therefore will not want to come back to work. No licensed stylist wants to sweep and shampoo forever. “ – @puttingupwithpaige


“Don’t call it ‘assistant’ when putting out an ad. Call it an apprentice. It’s all in the marketing.” – @celebrity_hair_ninja



Provide plenty of education and opportunity for growth

“The assistant and hairdresser relationship is a give and take. An assistant lacks experience and education, so they’re there to learn. As a hairdresser, you have to nourish the relationship. Be kind and polite, and make sure you’re actually teaching the assistant how to be a good hairdresser not just be a good assistant. I work in Beverly Hills and at top salons they usually have an extra day or two when the assistants can bring ‘models’ who are people they do for free or a very low charge, which goes to the salon. On that day, the hairdresser would come (on his/her day off) to supervise and make sure the assistant is doing a good job. After the work becomes consistent, the assistant can do this alone.” – @godiegogordon


“Be sure they are getting an incentive. For example, monthly FREE classes taught by in-house or guest stylists on how to cut, color, balayage, wigs, or whatever else. Be generous with tips and don’t play favorites. Each stylist should tip out the floor assistant every day, and the salon should match it…that way, if they’re making minimum wage, it’s being supplemented with a nice tip share. Also, have a clear path to advancement in place. A lot of salons have the vibe that you’ll be an assistant FOREVER. Have it be a 6-month to a year program, where they’re allowed to take some walk-ins and build a clientele slowly while assisting.” – @celebrity_hair_ninja


“Assistant programs need a solid structure to offer education and hands-on training with good pay. If you’re just hiring people and then telling them what to do every day, I can see why they would leave. If you have a structured element where every three months they achieve a different skill and can practice and work on other people, as well as assisting and help during busy times, that might be a more focused program that they would want to stay with. Assistants need to be as important as the stylist. Obviously, you’re struggling without them so they are important.” – Toni Aubuchon



Pay fairly and generously

“1I have a fantastic assistant that is paid more than minimum plus given tips and allowed to do the occasional client. She is much more than a maid. Saying please and thank you and sharing your tips if a client doesn’t tip them directly also helps. If you are that busy, try hiring a student to sweep, clean brushes, wash color bowls or anything that doesn’t involve hair. In my state, you must be licensed to wash hair. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Good people will be willing to work and stay.” – @wwfaddict


“I paid all my assistants $10 an hour, plus paid for their education and gave them all in-salon continuing education. If in 6 months it was not working, they were let go. I had employed over 100 assistants in 20 years and 80 percent became the best stylists. They all started under me, the owner, and then then moved on to the top stylist. And only the top stylist got an assistant. It encouraged all stylists to work to the top. Believe me. When you show you care as the owner, and the staff appreciate them, they stay forever. This is a formula that truly works.” – George Ritzel


“Pay them well. The two most common scenarios are that they are working toward a goal within the salon or truly an assistant without the goal of becoming a stylist. In either case, I think it’s important to place value on their role in the salon. If you pay them just an hourly wage and nothing more, they will do no more than necessary. It makes one weary to bust their butt to help someone else be successful. Make me invested in the success of the salon by compensating me for helping to create an experience for the guests. Pay above the minimum and tip out FAIRLY and you’ll see your staff rise to the occasion. If it’s just a JOB, they can get that anywhere. Find the right ones who want to serve and reward and recognize them. Make it worth it for them and they will take care of you in return.” – Renee LePine Zollo