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How to Become a Hairdresser

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Introduction | Training and Development | Apprenticeship Programs | Essential Skills | Job Opportunities | Entering the Business | Hours and Income | Working Life | FAQs & Essential Links

Hairdressing can be a hugely rewarding profession, both creatively and financially. In recent years the profession has been gaining popularity. This is because there is always a consistent demand and, therefore, steady employment opportunities. Creative jobs that offer an income are 
hard to come by, and as the fashion industry adapts and evolves more and more artistic people are beginning to realise that hairdressing can be a very satisfying creative outlet. 

Job satisfaction is a crucial element of having a long and fruitful career and according to City and Guilds hairdressers are among the happiest workers in the UK.  One of the primary reasons for this is that hairdressers get to meet people from all walks of life on a daily basis, ensuring the job constantly remains engaging, challenging and rewarding. 

With so many options available to you entering the business can seem daunting at first. In short, there are two routes into the industry; private courses and apprenticeships. Each have their pros and cons and what might work for one may not work for another. This article will help you decide which route to take and whether or not you’ll feel suitable for the job.



While an eye for detail, good people skills and a knack for style is a necessity, academic qualifications are crucial. In the UK certain standards must be met before you are deemed fit for service and capable to deliver in a professional work environment.

There are several industry recognised qualifications for hairdressing and barbering which can be taken full-time, part-time or in a “learn on the job” format. Accreditations include certificates, diplomas and even degrees.  

Hair Professional Diploma & National Vocational Qualification Pathways
A Level 2 Hair Professional Diploma (hairdressing) or a National Vocational Qualification at Level 2 or 3 (NVQ) is the standard accreditation in the UK and must be achieved in order to be recognised as a competent hairdresser. Depending on the pathway you study you will be required to undertake a certain amount of tests both theoretical and practical. Your coursework, theoretical tests, are usually online and are Multiple Choice Questions [MCQ].  Your practical tests will be through summative assessments during your learning and additionally on the Level 2 Hair Professional Diploma you must be able to demonstrate practical skills under a controlled examination setting and you will cover specific hairdressing techniques in a more concise manner, such as styling, colouring, cutting and other essential creative skills.    

BTEC Diplomas
Edexcel are one of the most highly respected examination awarding bodies in the UK and offer a wide array of BTEC Diplomas in hairdressing, barbering and related fields, and like NVQs, each qualification has various levels. BTEC diplomas are generally more theory based and require coursework and written examinations. In addition, they are recognised by the UCAS tariff and, therefore, can be used as an alternative to A-levels to gain entry into universities.

Degree Programs
While foundation degree and degree courses are generally not essential, they can be highly beneficial if you plan on running your own salon. Undergraduate programs in hairdressing and salon management can be undertaken at university level and often cover specific sub-topics in greater detail. For example, your place of study may run modules in hairdressing for film and television. Other related topics such as business and entrepreneurship can also be highly beneficial; however, practical skills must be gained on the side in order to partake in hairdressing.  

Combined Courses
Qualifications can often be split into more than one category to give you a broader understanding of hairdressing. For example, educational establishments may provide hairdressing courses that cover other parts of the beauty industry such as make-up and nails. This can lead to even more employment opportunities after completion. 


Apprenticeship programs allow you to work and gain formal level 2 and 3 qualifications at the same time. In order to partake in an apprenticeship you must find out what schemes are available in your local area by checking the Apprenticeships page of GOV.UK.

Fundamentally the best route for you depends on your own circumstances and preferred method of learning. What’s available in your area and your personal finances is also a huge factor that must be taken into account.




Apprenticeships are great for those who prefer more practical methods of learning as they allow you to work whilst simultaneously obtaining your level 2 qualification. Rather than developing your skills in a classroom or college environment, apprenticeships allow you to develop most of your skills directly in the workplace. Most barbering apprenticeships take between 15 to 24 months to complete. You can find more information on Apprenticeship programmes in your area by visiting the Apprenticeships page of GOV.UK.

Apprenticeships are also really useful means of making industry contacts for potential jobs after your training is finished to obtain your ideal job.

Learning Approach
Many apprenticeships will see you working with a split timetable. For example, you may spend four days a week in the salon and one day a week at a college or an academy. This can be an effective way of learning and will ensure that you constantly develop practical skills and gain a better understanding of hairdressing. 

Entry Requirements
Entry requirements for hairdressing apprenticeships can vary; however, you are usually required to have a minimum of 3 GCSE’s at grade D (including maths and English) or above and be employed in a salon for a minimum of 30 hours per week. Salons often see the benefit of employing an apprentice because it gives their permanent full-time staff more leeway with regards to their workload and schedule; therefore, finding work shouldn’t be too difficult.
An apprenticeship will follow a curriculum that runs over a set period. There are different levels of apprenticeship as well and these dictate the difficulty and length of the program.  As a new hairdresser you are likely to attend an intermediate apprenticeship, which should take approximately a year to complete. Once you have completed your apprenticeship you are likely to receive a NVQ. You will also be required to complete functional skills and qualifications in maths and English.  

Apprenticeships are great for those who prefer more practical methods of learning as they allow you to work whilst simultaneously obtaining your level 2 qualification. Rather than developing your skills in a classroom or college environment, apprenticeships allow you to develop most of your skills directly in the workplace. Most barbering apprenticeships take between 15 to 24 months to complete. You can find more information on Apprenticeship programmes in your area by visiting the Apprenticeships page of GOV.UK.

Apprenticeships are also really useful means of making industry contacts for potential jobs after your training is finished to obtain your ideal job.

Apprenticeships are perfect if you prefer learning in a practical working environment. As a hairdresser you will not only benefit by developing basic hairdressing skills, you’ll also make useful contacts and potentially set yourself up for a job when you apprenticeship is complete.



At the core hairdressers may cut, shape and colour hair, but creativity and a flair for style isn’t the only requirement. There are also many social and physical demands that are just as important.  

Manual Dexterity
The ability to use your hands and fingers well is paramount. All it takes is one minor slip to completely ruin a client’s haircut. At the same time you’ll be working against the clock. Performing well in under such intense conditions is a skill that can be learned and improved upon; however, that doesn’t make it any less stressful to begin with.  

The importance of trustworthiness in a social sense is far more apparent than you may expect.  People often trust their hairdressers as much as their closest  friends and confide in them when they want to discuss intimate details of their life. While it’s certainly not your job to take clients under your wing and offer them psychiatric advice, remember that many will use your chair as a medium to vent. Being a good listener is crucial. 

Service/Social Skills
Hairdressing requires excellent customer service – perhaps on an even deeper level than most other service oriented jobs. This is because friendships with clients will inevitably develop over time. If you’re someone who actively invites people into your life and enjoys the company of others, hairdressing could  certainly be a hugely satisfying profession. 
Even when you’re working in a salon you will be left to your own devices. Depending on the business model you pursue this will have a direct impact on your earnings. For example, you will probably be expected to book follow-up appointments and organise your own schedule to a certain extent. 

Willingness to Learn
Just like any other sector within fashion the hairdressing industry is constantly adapting. Keeping up with the latest trends is one thing, but practical application is something else altogether. You’ll never stop learning, even after you gain the required formal qualifications. 

Like an actor envisions the thoughts and opinions of the characters they’re portraying, at times you must be able to put yourself in your clients’ shoes and not allow your own opinions to get in the way of their personal preference. While it’s okay to advise a customer and point them in a certain direction with regards to their haircut, you must always remain impartial, even if you don’t like what they choose. 

With a little perseverance and open mindedness these essential skills can be learned over time. While most will be covered during training, it’s up to you to assess your strengths and weaknesses and determine where you can make improvements. 




As a hairdresser your skills will always be in demand. This security can be highly beneficial during recessions and times of economic turmoil. In addition, with the rising popularity of full-service salons and spas employment for hairdressers is set to increase by roughly 20% within just a few short years, meaning entry-level jobs will be in abundance. Population increase and the growing interest in other hair treatments, such as colouring and perming, are also contributing to this significant rise in job openings. 

Salon or Barbershop
Work in salons and barbershops are almost always available. While competition in upmarket establishments can be fierce, if you have the skills and qualifications you’ll never find yourself short of applications. 
Travel and Leisure
The travel and leisure industry has the widest selection of available jobs. Hotels, spas, resorts and cruise ships often contain in-house salons and struggle to acquire full-time staff. Working in this sector can be highly satisfying as you’ll meet people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds and ways of life and mighteven get the opportunity to travel yourself at no personal expense. 

Film and Television
The UK is one of the most popular destinations for filming in the world, especially in and around London. Getting work cutting and styling hair on film and television sets isn’t as competitive as you might think, especially on Hollywood productions that require large amounts of extras. If you have training in makeup or specialist qualifications your chances of securing work will increase tenfold. While films don’t offer steady employment, – stints usually last for around three months – once you’re in it’s fairly easy to start networking lining up your next job. 

When it comes to hairdressing the fashion industry is probably the most competitive. As a professional hairdresser you may prepare models for photo shoots, work with magazines, style the rich and famous and could potentially work on many different projects around the world.

As a freelance hairdresser, there are four main ways to conduct business, so it’s important to consider what would work best for you before you take the plunge. These options are as follows:
• Opening your own salon. • Renting a chair in an existing salon. • Running your business from home. • Travelling with clients’ homes (mobile hairdressing).  
The latter two options are more appropriate if you want complete flexibility; while with the first two options you’ll most likely have to work set business hours. 

Working from Home
Working from home may require substantial overheads. You will need to set up a specific space for hairdressing (which includes suitable décor) and will have to invest in all the necessary equipment and supplies. In addition you will require public liability insurance to cover your clients if there’s ab accident. However, it’s definitely the most versatile freelancing option that can lead to a very rewarding way of life. 

Mobile Hairdressing
Mobile hairdressing is generally not as expensive as the other options, as you won't need to pay rental fees or mortgage payments. However, you may need to pay for permits, licenses and insurance. When working in other people's homes, you should also be aware that the working environment will be very different – kids running around, little space, etc. Focusing on specific niches could be more beneficial if you don’t feel comfortable in certain situations, so think about what kind environment you want to work in, – nursing homes, family homes, and corporate offices, etc. – your options are numerous and sometimes going niche will help you acquire more business. 
Renting a Chair
Working as a hairdresser is not always glamorous. Days can be long and tiring, especially if you’re moving around hauling equipment from house to house. If you would rather stand on less risky ground, renting a chair in a salon is almost always good option. By working this way you would be responsible for your own bookkeeping, appointment setting, accounting and self-promoting to increase your clientele. 

Opening a Salon
Opening up your own salon is without a doubt the most costly and risky option. As a self-employed hairdresser you will be responsible for hiring staff, making appointments, and ensuring all the legal regulations are being followed. Opening a salon comes with great responsibility and is only recommended for experienced professionals. If this is your goal consider taking a more conventional approach to begin with. 

There are an abundance of job opportunities for hairdressers and the industry is only getting better. With so many options in different sub-sectors, securing work isn’t an issue, the real problem is what to choose!




Writing a CV for a hairdressing position is similar to writing one for any other service job; the main difference is simply how you sell yourself as a potential employee. A CV is often the first thing a recruiter will read, so it is vitally important that you highlight and promote your skills and experiences. A really good resume can, therefore, take you further in the application process and be the key to your dream job.

A CV should include the following information:
• Contact details • Personal statement • Education and qualifications  • Related experience  • Work history • References

Tailor you CV so that you clearly display the qualities and essential skills that a hairdresser should have and use your personal statement to give your potential employer an idea of the kind of person you are. Your goal is to convince them that you can perform professionally and will be a joy to work with for long periods of time.

Educational qualifications and extracurricular activities – regardless of the topic – display a willingness to learn and develop. If you have participated in any shows or events, gather your work in a binder or create a blog where you can showcase pictures and descriptions that show off your skill set. This will give the interviewer the opportunity to see your work and allows you to firmly support the statements in your CV. 
Always include full details of your work history; limit it to three if you have had multiple jobs. Include previous employer contact details and a brief description of your role. Any previous work – even if it’s unrelated – will help you to highlight your positive work ethic and demonstrate that you are a hard working individual. If this is your first job you should include any work experience or voluntary work. 

You should include the contact details of your referees; people who can support your CV and tell the interviewer what you are like as an employee. Try to use referees who have either employed you in the past or who currently work in an authoritative role, such as managers, teachers and policemen. 
Your cover letter is an accompanying letter that is posted with your CV. It should introduce you as a person and outline why you wish to work within your chosen profession and, most important, with that specific company. Keep it short, concise and no more than half a page in length. Should your potential employer wish to know more, they will give you an interview. 

The following websites offer a variety of templates for both CVs and cover letters:  •

If you manage to secure an interview you’re already on the right track. Practice your interview technique with friends and family and prepare answers to common questions in advance. This will help boost your confidence. Remember that the interview is your chance to engage with potential employers on a human level, so don’t be afraid to showcase your unique personality and individual quirks. 




The National Careers Service states that the average starting salary for a hairdresser in the UK is approximately £14,000 per year. Fully-trained hairdressers can, however, make up to £20,000 or more per year. Top-level professionals in the film, television or fashion industry often make upwards of £30,000 per year. 
NOTE: These figures are only intended as a guideline 

Full-time Hours
You can expect to work up to 40 hours per week from 9am until 6pm. This often includes Saturdays. Hours may have some flexibility, but this depends on the salon and upcoming schedule.  Some salons may also stay open late on one or two evenings during the week. 
Part-time Hours
Part-time work is readily available in salons. Freelancers often work part-time in order to have more control over their schedule and finances. This could be beneficial if you have other commitments and would like to make a little money on the side. 

Temporary Work Placements
Temporary work placements are commonly available in film and television, cruise, and fashion industries. This could be a more suitable option for you if you’d like steady full-time employment, but only for a short duration of time. 

Freelance Hours
While freelancing gives you complete freedom with regards to hours and income, if you choose to rent a space in a salon you will still be confined to certain hours and probably won’t be allowed to charge more than their standard rate. This doesn’t apply if you work from home or commute to clients’ houses. 

Trainee Income
Trainee hairdressers usually get paid the National Minimum Wage. This can vary depending on your age. For more information visit the Minimum Wage Rates page at GOV.UK. 

Unlike most other careers hairdressing offers plenty of flexibility; from standard shifts to one-off appointments, you’ll be in control. While competition can be highly competitive when working in high-end establishments or fashion, there are certainly plenty of opportunities to earn a comfortable living between jobs.  


The responsibilities of a hairdresser extend far beyond the cutting of hair. As a service profession it is important that you enjoy working with a close knit team and engaging with customers. This is a crucial aspect of providing a tailored service. Clients will often view their trip to the salon as an opportunity to develop self-confidence and engage in conversation about life, so understanding their therapeutic needs is paramount. Many will also see you as a “style consultant”, so the ability to assess your clients’ personality, style and face, and then offer practical recommendations is highly important. 

Just like the fashion industry the hair industry is influenced by different styles that change rapidly; therefore, it’s important that you keep up-to-date with all the latest fashion trends. Attending frequent workshops, seminars, and participating in competitions will make it easier to develop skills follow what’s going on in the industry. 
As a hairdresser it’s important to have or develop following qualities:
• Creativity: An interest in the creation and appreciation of form and style.
• Social skills: Ability to interact with people and provide excellent customer service.
• Salesmanship: Ability to sell the salon and its services as a product.
• Strong physique: Hairdressers spend most of the day standing and walking, so it’s important to have good shoes and retain the correct posture. 

On a day-to-day basis you will be expected to perform a variety of tasks, including:
• Opening and closing the salon and checking the facilities.
• Working with clients to cut and style hair.
• Maintaining a high level of cleanliness throughout the day.
• Checking stock levels and ordering the required products.
• Operating the till and answering any incoming phone calls.
• Booking appointments and organising your future schedule. 

While hairdressing can seem like an excellent creative and social outlet, it’s also highly important to remember that it’s a business. You’ll need to sell yourself, the salon and the products in order to reap the financial benefits the profession has to offer.


Q: Will I be left with student debts?
A: This depends on what route you take. If you don’t have the funds you may be entitled to a student loan if you learn through a college or university. Apprenticeship programs will pay you a salary as they’re more like work placements, which allows you to throw yourself right in the deep end and come out without any long-term debts. 

Q: How long do apprenticeship programs take?
A: It depends. Most apprenticeships take around 18 months to complete; however, if you have previous experience, such as an NVQ level 1, they could be shorter. 

Q: How much can I realistically expect to earn?
A: It’s really up to you and how hard you work. Hairdressers who open their own salons can eventually earn upwards of £100,000 per year. If you have a desire and passion there’s no reason why you can’t achieve the same results. 

Hair and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA): The official council for the hair and beauty industry.

Hair Council: Organisation dedicated to raising standards across the hairdressing industry. 

Association of Hairdressers and Therapists (AHT): National network of like-minded specialists in the hair and therapy subjects.

National Hairdressers’ Federation (NHF): The largest trade association for hairdresser, barbers and beauty salon owners. 

National Careers Service: Government run organisation that provides free practical advice on CV writing and interview techniques.  

GOV.UK: Information about UK government services, rules and regulations.   

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