top of page

6 Hairstylist "Assistant" Horror Stories

Yesterday I was talking to a Cosmetology School student that was ready to graduate and look for her first job as an assistant.

She asked me, “What are some things a Hairstylist does NOT want in an assistant”?

That question floated through my mind, along with the many faces of assistants that I have worked with and, well, fired over the years.

I have been a Hairstylist for 35 years now, and have worked with more assistants than I can count. Now mind you, most are fantastic, but over the years, there have been some horror stories.

Horror stories happen when fully capable adults become defensive and unteachable ...and here is why:

1. Stephanie - I hired Stephanie, and quickly the problem arose. Stephanie, who had her hair and makeup done beautifully for the interview, immediately started showing up with wrinkled clothes, wet hair, and makeup still in her makeup bag. When I talked to her about her appearance, she told me she didn’t know how to style her hair (what?) and she didn’t have time to put her makeup on at home. Instead of holding on to her interview professionalism, she chose to show up for her career in an unprofessional manner. It bummed me out, but after plenty of tries and disappointments, I had to let her go.

“The fastest route to where you want to be is full dedication to where you are now.”

2. Aimee, Yvonne, Sarah - These three all had a problem with getting sick on Tuesdays. (The first day of the week for Hairstylists.) Long weekends, staying up late, partying, and over-medicating make for unpredictable work situations, and a last-minute scramble for a substitute assistant for me. Unlike corporate jobs where taking a mental health day is to be expected, working an Assistant schedule for a busy Hairstylist with a full book of clients is very different. Taking care of yourself is just a part of the job. As a Hairstylist, or an Assistant, you get your sleep, limit your alcohol and drug usage, and you push through cramps or allergies, and come to work.

3. John - John “drowned” my clients at the shampoo bowl. Water sprayed all over their face, got into their ears and their makeup no longer existed by the time they got back to my chair. The 'shampoo' is the part of the service that most clients look forward to, instead with John, they were irritated and unsettled. The shampoo service ends with a towel being wrapped around the head into a turban, and John couldn’t get the turban right. As my client walked back to my station, inevitably their towel would come loose and fall off their head. I totally get it, and as Hairstylists we all have made our share of mistakes. The worst part with John was that he didn’t improve. He was friendly, but not detailed and when the problems were pointed out, and mini-lessons given, they weren’t used. No matter how many times I reviewed and showed him how to correctly shampoo, wrap a turban, apply color, he just couldn’t get it right and I had to let him go.

“Once you learn a new skill, they can never take it away from you. Remember that and then apply it.”


4. Sam - Sam was intelligent. I liked her. She was great ...until she wasn’t. I hired her on her intellect and personality. She was bright and I figured she could pick up on the Assistant Training quickly. One week into her career, she started questioning everything I asked her to do and took to giving me dirty glares. As the tension was building, one of the other assistants pulled me aside and told me Sam was not doing her part in the back room (folding towels and washing out color bowls), and she was talking bad about me to the other Assistants. I brought these issues up to Sam and asked her to come to me directly if she had concerns or needed to talk, and when she wasn’t busy keep up on laundry and the bowls in the sink. She stared blankly at me. (What I should really say is, she stared me down.) She upped her game, by being sullen and moody with my clients, we finished out the day, and I told her it wasn’t working out and not to return.

5. Donna, Judy, Joe, Sarah - All showed up for their first day of work, realized how much work was involved, and never showed up again. No phone call, no warning, just didn’t show up.

6. Aimee - Aimee was a lousy listener and loved to give unsolicited advice. Her work with my clients consisted of awkward moments and her dominating the conversations. She was ultimately creating more work for me, my clients were unsettled and off-kilter by the time they were in my chair, and felt like they had been subjected to a ridiculous amount of verbal diarrhea. When I pulled the assistant aside and explained to her listening techniques and the importance of not giving advice that is not asked for, she absolutely couldn’t hear it. Not defensive really, more certain she was right. I was certain she was not the right fit, and let her go.

It is imperative that you recognize your role and your opportunity if you are lucky enough to get a job as an Assistant. A Hairstylist who is busy enough to need an Assistant, who is busy enough to be able to pay for an employee, is a Hairstylist who has worked incredibly hard to get to where they are in their career. They have put in the time, the hours, the hustle to get clients, and to have their clients keep coming back. Their professionalism and talent for business is what makes them able to pay their bills and their Assistant.

As an Assistant it is critical that you see your role, not as an hourly employee, but as an apprenticeship.

It is your opportunity to work up close to a Hairstylist who has developed both hard skills (Haircuts and Color) and soft skills (Communication and Sales) and learn, practice and grow your own skills and abilities.

“A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can’t give you a formula for that.”

Chet Atkins

I hope this blog on Hairstylist “Assistant” Horror Stories was helpful, and gives you a perspective or insights into the world of Assisting. That being said, I also know there are plenty of Assistants that have their own salon or Hairstylist horror stories! Stay tuned for my next blog post on Assistant's “Hairstylist” Horror Stories. If you have any of your own, I would love to hear from you!

Elevating The Industry,

Karen Spinelli


Cosmetology Students and New Hairstylists My intention with every post is to give New Hairstylists all over the world the tips, shortcuts, and tools they need to quickly achieve success. I would love to hear from you! You can reach out here, on my site, Instagram, or Facebook. Sign up for my newsletter to receive my weekly blog sent to your inbox.

Cosmetology Schools and Teachers I would love to talk to your students! To book Karen as a speaker at your Cosmetology School, click here.

Karen Spinelli is from Pasadena, California. She was behind the chair for thirty-five years, as well as Salon Director of Education for New Hairstylists for the last twenty years. Karen loves Hairstylists! She loves to be a part of “AHA” moments and to watch New Hairstylists grow in their confidence and skills.

bottom of page