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  • Writer's pictureLindsey Nelson

The Inside Scoop on Salon Apprenticeships with Carly Zanoni

There has been a lot of buzz around the topic we will discuss today. The new Cosmetologist should hear different perspectives before making an essential first decision out of Cosmetology school. Knowing all sides of the argument will help you make the best decision for yourself and set you up for future success. Remember, everyone's path looks different, and there is no wrong decision, just uninformed decisions.

The first decision a graduate must make is to become an apprentice or an assistant to a master stylist or immediately start working behind the chair as a hairstylist. Let's discuss the differences between these three positions in the salon.

What is an Assistant/Apprentice?

The role of any apprentice is to learn the trade from a skilled employer, having agreed upon a set wage, duties, and time frame. The experienced employer teaches the employee what must be done to complete the task, while the employee benefits from this on-the-job training program.

In the salon world, assistants learn many essential topics, including technical skills, client interaction, time management, salon policy, and business skills. Cosmetology schools teach their students very little to have a successful career. That is why becoming an assistant to an experienced hairstylist is the best path for a new Cosmetologist.

I attempted to become an apprentice under a well-known and talented Cosmetologist early in my career. You can read more about that interesting story here. My initial path to learning everything I could under the guidance of a skilled master hairstylist quickly took a detour. I learned early on in my career that not all that glitters is gold, and sometimes people are not who we think they are. My first experience in a salon as a new Cosmetologist was disappointing!

Now that we established what an assistant or an apprentice is and who teaches them let's hear first-hand from the master hairstylist. It is always interesting to listen to another perspective on this topic. We often hear the assistant's opinions but rarely hear from the "Jedi Master."

From Carly's Perspective.

I have written about mentors and how finding the right mentor can change your life. In my case, my mentor changed my career. You can read Claiming Your Confidence as a Hairstylist here.

I interviewed one of my mentors, who has taken on several assistants in her 16 years as a licensed hairstylist. Carly Zanoni ( @the.blonde.chronicles ) ensured that she was teaching her assistants every part of her process. Her goal was to get the assistant to feel comfortable taking their own clients when they started working behind the chair.

Carly said, "Each assistant has been different regarding how much training and time they wanted to spend assisting me. We gradually assessed their progress and confidence along the way, and when they felt ready to start taking models with my help, we slowly moved them through the process of practicing on models."

I asked Carly what she looks for in a potential apprentice, and her reply was, "Someone who is a self-starter with a good attitude. Timeliness and being open to learning are really important as well. You can teach skills but can't teach how to have a good attitude and be pleasant! Someone who is willing to learn and be open to learning new things. Also, always foreseeing what's coming next and preparing for it is super helpful!"

Carly goes on to say, "School typically teaches you very little, so assisting is a great way to learn very usable skills without the pressure of being thrown into taking clients right off the bat."

Carly explains that she jumped into taking clients and needed to gain experience. She made plenty of mess-ups along the way because she had no clue what she was doing! She learned a lot of things the hard way and fried some hair along the way too! She remembers one particular client wanted lowlights on her blonde hair and had no clue what to use for lowlights, so she grabbed permanent level 5 and put it on her client's level 9 hair in a foil from roots to ends. It ended up almost looking black, and it was a nightmare.

Carly suggests having guidance or watching someone do the services before taking on your clients will be helpful.

Carly can dive into the technical reasons why her lowlight experience went sideways on her online education platform, @the.bcu. She now teaches hairstylists how to gain confidence and work more efficiently through simple blonding techniques. Carly takes the confusion out of color formulating and provides valuable tips that help hairstylists no matter how long they have been in the industry. What sets Carly apart is that she is just like any other stylist. She has all her experiences, good and bad, and turned them into teachable moments.

After being a member of BCU, I have discovered that Carly and I have a shared purpose. We both are 100% candid about our struggles during our early years as new Cosmetologists. We agree that beauty school teaches you only the basics and what you need to know to pass the State Board test. After that, you're on your own! We have decided to use our past struggles as our calling and purpose to help flatten the steep learning curve. Will new Cosmetologists still struggle? Absolutely, but if we can support and guide those who walk the path behind us, then the trek up the mountain might be more manageable.

Fresh out of Cosmetology school, Carly said she never assisted. She went straight from school to a commission salon. She states that it is one of her biggest regrets as a stylist because if she had assisted someone out of school, she would have had much more confidence in taking clients and knowing how to run a business.

One of the biggest things she missed out on by not assisting was learning the simple ins and outs of running a business behind the chair. Day-to-day tasks like scheduling clients, how to properly charge clients, and what price to set all seem very simple, but jumping into a new business with no experience feels overwhelming.

Can you relate?

Hearing Carly say that she, too, felt overwhelmed as a new hairstylist gives me comfort because I was once there. I, too, felt overwhelmed with all the decisions that go into running a beauty business. Hearing that one of my mentors had a similar experience triggered an empathetic feeling in my soul. I can 100% understand where she is coming from, and I know that we are not the only two who have felt this way.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs; my father and brother owned and sold their own businesses they started from the ground up. I had no idea that when I became a licensed Cosmetologist, I would now walk into the world of being an entrepreneur. I needed more education or experience in running and marketing a business. I didn't know that I had to be a CEO, have a college degree in Marketing, and be a phenomenal hairstylist.

I just wanted to cut hair and sell highlights!

Can a newly licensed Cosmetologist make it in the hair industry without being an assistant?

Sure! Carly and I did, but we also faced challenges we were not prepared for. Graduating from beauty school and becoming licensed is only the beginning of the journey. There is still much to learn about hair, business, and marketing. Now it's time for Grad school!

You can learn more about Carly's online education subscription at You can access over 90 tutorials via a private Instagram account, a website, or an app with unlimited access to her private messages through Instagram. Plus, monthly giveaways and guest educators.

There are 3 subscription options:

  • $18 per month (6-month commitment)

  • $90 for 6 months

  • $165 for 12 months

Use my code at checkout to save $5 on your first month!

code: Lindsey5

**I am a BCU ambassador and I am earning a commission.

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