What Skills Do You Need for Cosmetology?

Cosmetologist is using their skills to clean and condition a clients hair.

Cosmetology is a rewarding career for students with a passion for beauty. Salons across the country are hiring, demand for beauticians is high, and for entrepreneurs, the business potential is boundless. But it takes more than talent with combs and shears to succeed, it takes quality education and the right blend of hands-on and people skills.

Skills for Cosmetologists

Cosmetologists need practical skills for success in today’s competitive marketplace. From traditional cosmetology skills like cutting and styling to soft skills like time management and problem solving. With this set of hard and soft skills, you can become a successful cosmetologist. Don’t have all of these skills yet? The good news is you can learn them during a cosmetology program and working your first job in the industry. Let’s start by examining the hard skills of working in cosmetology.

Skill #1: Cosmetology Skills

Salons offering a wide range of services are more likely to attract customers, so they prefer to hire graduates with practical abilities including hair cutting, styling, hair coloring, manicures, pedicures, men’s grooming, and cosmetics.

Cutting and Styling

Haircuts are a salon’s bread and butter, so proficiency with top styles from bobs to pixies is a must. Some customers prefer a wash-and-wear look, but most look to their hairstylist for everyday styling advice and custom updos for special occasions.

Hair Coloring

Seventy-five percent of women admit they color their hair regularly, it’s the second most popular service in the beauty business and a value-added opportunity to pad revenue.


Americans spend billions on manicures and pedicures. Requiring little floor space and low-cost supplies, they’re profit boosters for full-service salons.

Men’s Grooming

An increasing number of men are turning to salons for a professional, well-groomed appearance. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry and growing.


It takes skill to apply make-up. Shifting trends and evolving product lines are a challenge for customers to keep up with. From sunset eyes to extreme-volume lashes, style aficionados are increasingly turning to cosmetologists to help them perfect their application techniques.

Skill #2: Good Hygiene

Cosmetologists must keep their clients safe. Shared tools and equipment should be disinfected between appointments and workstations kept clean to avoid the spread of disease. State boards set the sanitation requirements for salons, but individuals are responsible for adhering to them. Good hygiene habits are helpful.

 Skill #3: Manual Dexterity

Speed and coordination with combs, scissors and make-up brushes is a must for cosmetologists, but studies suggest that manual dexterity is a skill primarily determined by genetics. Instruction can help overcome awkwardness and practice makes perfect but having a natural level of manual dexterity is an advantage.

Skill #4: Physical Stamina

Cosmetologists spend most of the day on their feet, bending, twisting and reaching is required. Styling hair and doing nails isn’t as grueling as working in a coal mine, but strength, flexibility and endurance make long days less strenuous on the body.

Skill #5:  Time Management Skills

Owning a salon is an entrepreneur’s dream, but it’s also a serious time commitment. Serving customers generates revenue and pays the bills, but not deferring the mundane tasks associated with maintaining a business is also important.

Paying invoices, calculating taxes and ordering supplies takes time, and properly managing time is the key to avoiding burnout. Knowing how to use downtime between clients effectively helps limit the after-hours time cosmetologists must spend managing their businesses.

Skill #6: Problem-Solving Ability

The number one rule in business is, find a way to say yes. When problems arise, stay positive and look for creative solutions. If a client wants a unique hair color, order it. If they need an off-hours appointment, negotiate a time that works. Making customers happy is the easiest way to earn their loyalty.

Skill #7: Commitment to Learning

Cosmetology is continually evolving. The general concepts remain the same, but styles and techniques change by the year and season. When clients want the latest Hollywood look, they expect cosmetologists to be trained and ready to offer it. Keeping pace is only possible through attending regular continuing education, courses and seminars offered through professional organizations.

Skill #8: Communication

The last thing a cosmetologist wants is a dissatisfied customer. But most clients aren’t familiar with the beauty industry jargon, so requests for a radical new look may come with little more than a vague description. As a trained professional, it’s up to a cosmetologist to take the lead in the conversation, beginning with active listening.

Active listening is a skill professionals use to explore clients’ needs by clarifying what they say. Paraphrasing a request for a “Whole new look” by saying “So, you’re thinking about a new style and color?” helps determine what the customer wants. People are individuals, so the definition of a “whole new look” can vary wildly. Communicating effectively before the first snip eliminates misunderstandings.

Skill #9: Compassion

Medical, financial and body image concerns are all issues that keep people from going to salons. A sense of compassion helps cosmetologists overcome these physical and emotional barriers.

Serving people of all needs is not only fulfilling, but it also helps a cosmetologist establish a good reputation in the community. It’s a necessary skill for working with the public, especially children and seniors.

Skill #10: Attention to Detail

Cosmetology is both an art and science. Attention to detail is required for the safe use of chemicals, such as hair color, nail polish removers and disinfectant agents. Details are also critical when communicating with clients about their needs. Hair and nails grow back, but cosmetologists who make too many errors have few repeat customers.

Maximizing Success

With education, anyone can be a capable cosmetologist, but why settle for less than the highest level of achievement? Take success to the next level with some profitable skills including creativity, a flare for sales, a professional appearance, a can-do attitude, trust building, customer service, business savvy, and social media sense.

Skill #11: Creativity

Tomorrow’s looks are created today. While cosmetologists are well-trained in tried-and-true techniques, a little creativity with the shears is a skill that sets top stylists apart. It’s the key to building demand for services and a profitable client base.

Skill #12: A Flare for Sales

Only part of a cosmetologist’s income comes from services, the real money is in product sales. In some salons, the profit margin on shampoo, conditioner and accessories is higher than on cuts and colors, and no one is better equipped to sell them than a trusted stylist.

Many salon customers say they expect their cosmetologist to recommend suitable products. The same customers are also willing to pay a premium for quality brands, as long as they are a genuine fit for their lifestyle. While selling is a skill that doesn’t come easy to everyone, it’s an earnings-booster for cosmetologists who know their products and are willing to go the extra mile. And if clients are pleased with their selections, repeat sales make themselves.

Skill #13: A Professional Appearance

A cosmetologist’s appearance is like an audition, it’s critical to look the part. Aesthetic specialists can promote the latest products and services just by sporting them in the salon. A professional appearance is also necessary to convey expertise. A cosmetologist who wears the same hair and nail styles they recommend is a live demonstration of their craft and a confidence-builder for clients.

Skill #14: A Can-do Attitude

Cosmetologists do more than cut hair, they help clients look and feel their best, inside and out. A friendly, approachable demeanor makes an excellent first impression and sets the stage for a positive experience, but there is often a significant gap between what clients want and what cosmetologists can deliver.

Giving someone Hollywood hair on a dime is unrealistic, but there is usually a middle ground that can be both satisfying and affordable. The closer a cosmetologist comes to fulfilling their clients’ wishes, the more successful they will be. Keep the focus on what can be done.

Skill #15: Trust-building

Personal appearance is an important but sensitive topic for most clients. To get the results they want, they need to feel comfortable sharing intimate thoughts about how they look with their cosmetologist. It takes time and effort to nourish these personal connections and build a sense of mutual trust, but the reward is a loyal customer base.

Skill #16: Customer Service Skills

Surveys of cosmetology clients show that getting good customer service is the best predictor of loyalty. While attracting new clients is essential for a growing business, retention is even more vital. Losing just ten percent of existing patrons to a competitor can reduce revenue up to 30-percent. Why?

Cultivating new clients is costly, professional relationships take time and attention to establish. But regulars are in and out, and they spend more money than first timers. On average, regulars pay more for the same service delivered by someone they trust. They also tend to schedule their next visit in advance, helping cosmetologists better plan their schedules.

How do clients define “good” service? Punctuality and a positive attitude top the list of musts, offering convenient hours, competitive prices and multiple payment options is a plus. Across the board, poor communication is clients’ biggest pet peeve, followed by surprise charges and lack of personal attention. At its core, cosmetology is a wellness service, so the best way to retain customers is to make them feel valued.

Skill #17: Business Savvy

Almost a third of new businesses fail in the first year, not for lack of effort, but because of poor money management. Making the wrong financial move can cost a cosmetologist both their income and their initial investment. Self-employed cosmetologists need a healthy cash flow to pay expenses on time and stock their shelves. While an accountant can help, cosmetologists are still responsible for making ends meet. It pays to be prepared.

The good news for salon owners is that help is rarely more than a phone call away. If accounting, taxes, budgeting and other issues are confusing, organizations such as SCORE and the SBA offer online classes and live webinars covering a wide range of business topics. They also connect small business owners with volunteer mentors, and the aid is always free.

Skill #18: Social Media Sense

Many people shop online for cosmetology services, so building a social media presence is a critical part of any modern marketing plan. Ads on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, have a distinct advantage over traditional forms of marketing, they offer a multidimensional experience. Clients can view photos of a cosmetologist’s work, learn about their services and get feedback from existing customers.

Stylists can then use social media to connect with customers, answering questions, booking appointments and reaching out with customized promotional offers. It’s the new mobile way to communicate.

Final Thoughts

Cosmetology is ranked among the country’s most satisfying careers. It’s financially rewarding, personally gratifying, and it gives people who are enthusiastic about beauty an outlet for creative expression. There’s never been a better time for students to turn a knack for style into bona fide skills and a job to be proud of.

Do you have a passion for beauty and wellness? Looking to get the cosmetology skills offered in a cosmetology program? At Minnesota School of Cosmetology, we are dedicated to helping our Cosmetology program students develop a solid foundation and a flair for style through hands-on training in basic and advanced industry techniques. You will learn how to cut, color and style hair, give manicures and pedicures, provide spa treatments and perform various skin care techniques from industry-experienced instructors in a professional salon setting. We keep our class sizes small to make sure you get the individualized instruction you need and attention you deserve. You will graduate with everything you need to be a versatile artist in an exciting industry, including a cosmetology diploma from a respected college.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a cosmetologist and starting a rewarding career in the beauty industry.

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