Head start

It can be tough making the transition from college to work. Get up to speed with these expert tips to propel new therapists to the top of their game

1. Find your niche
Before you choose the route you want to take as a therapist, do your research. “Visit spas and salons and speak with other therapists and managers to work out what environment would best suit you,” suggests Helena Field, spa director of The Spa at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London. Meanwhile Lorna Fagan, owner of L’s Boudoir in Hither Green, London, recommends deciding which treatments you enjoy most then training further to help you specialise. “That way you can go self-employed, or apply for jobs in that field,” she says. “I’ve just completed Environ training, and I really wish I’d done it earlier, after I trained, as I can now specialise in anti-ageing treatments.”

2. Get on-the-job experience
It’s hard to hit the ground running in a busy salon or spa if you don’t have real salon experience. “Try to get a Saturday job in a salon while you’re training and be prepared to help with any job – including cleaning the sticky tanning machine or making clients’ tea,” says Vanda Tanner, owner of OMG Hair & Beauty in Swindon. Fagan agrees, adding that even working for free at first to get some experience can be worth it in the long run. “Think about it like additional training; you weren’t being paid while learning at college,” she says. Even if you intend to set up alone rather than taking a salon job, getting salon experience can set you up for success. “You need a couple of years in one place to gain all that knowledge of different types of clients and skins and how to interact with different people,” says Christopher Finch, owner of Wellington Sreet Day Spa in Manchester. “Experience before you do it on your own is really important. Start from the bottom and work your way up. Don’t try to do it all at once.”

3. Be prepared to retrain
“Getting a qualification does not mean you’re qualified to work on clients,” says Fagan. “You may have passed a practical exam once in college, but you now have to reach that standard several times a day on every client you do.” Sara Shoemark, owner of three Glow salons in the North West, agrees. “Many new or trainee therapists who have been through today’s education system are not used to criticism and can find it difficult to take on board,” she adds, explaining that some struggle to be told the mani they perfected in college is simply not good enough for a highend salon or spa. “I explain to all prospective employees that we will help anyone achieve the standards necessary, giving them the time and knowledge they need to succeed, but they have to be willing to put in the necessary time themselves to improve.”

4. Work on real clients
Whether it’s in a salon or during college, get experience working on real clients as well as other students or friends. “We take students to the Ideal Home Show exhibition to do treatments,” says LCBT principal Eileen Cavalier. “If you have a queue of people in front of you, and when one gets up the next immediately sits down, and you have to talk to all of them, it becomes more like a typical work environment – it’s all about overcoming the fear of working on a real life client.” Elizabeth Bell, a therapist at Skin & Tonic in St Albans, agrees that junior therapists often fear contact with clients, “especially for waxing and other intimate treatments”, but adds, “the more you can practise to iron out mistakes before you get to the salon the better.”

5. Look the part
“Focus on your appearance. Don’t turn up for an interview or to drop off a CV with unkempt hair, bitten nails or smelling of cigarettes. This happens a lot,” says Tanner. Once in a salon, think about how you want to be perceived by your client, suggests Field. “Consider your hair, make-up, grooming standards, the way you speak and your body language.” Emily Leach, co-director of Rejuvenate, Kidderminster, also suggests keeping a spare uniform in the staff room in case you spill any product on yourself.

6. Keep it relevant
When applying for a job, tailor your CV and your interview answers to make them relevant for the role. “In interviews, we have so many therapists saying they most enjoy doing make-up, waxing and lashes but at SenSpa we don’t provide those treatments so it’s likely that therapist will be unsuccessful,” says Sarah Soffe, therapist at SenSpa at Careys Manor in Brockenhurst and winner of Professional Beauty Therapist of the Year in 2014. “We also really like therapists to research us prior to interview – things like the history of the spa and facilities it has – this shows an interest in the job they are applying for.”

7. Stick to time
“New therapists find it very difficult to work to time but when they have a full column it’s essential,” says Maria Mason, owner of Beauty Time in Bristol. She says that while many students work in a college salon, they are never given back-to-back clients because the college builds in time for any mistakes. “But that’s not a real commercial situation so expectations can be unrealistic,” she adds. Practise sticking to precise timings to speed up your treatment delivery and turnaround time.

8. Stand out
“Be creative with your CV; use a different coloured paper, attach a photo or add in personal testimonials,” suggests Tanner. “Or create a window mood board for the salon you are interested in joining. Present it to the manager and offer to come in and help them set it up.” She also suggests creating an Instagram account of your best nails and make-up to show future employers what you can already do.

9. Be a team player
College courses are about individual achievement but in a salon or spa you are part of a team, all of whom help each another for the success of the whole business. “New therapists usually don’t think to offer to clean up if another therapist overruns, for example, as they never had to do that for other students,” says Mason. “And you should never walk past a client without saying ‘hello’ or smiling, even if it’s not your client. You’re part of team.” She always gives new therapists an extra role in the salon – something small such as stock count for one brand – so that they have to interact with other therapists and build bonds.

10. Act professionally
“Only get your phone out on your break. The rest of the time you’re being paid to be a therapist,” says Mason, who also has a strict policy that therapists at Beauty Time cannot be friends with clients outside of work if they met them in the salon first, and that includes accepting Facebook friend requests from them. Leach agrees it’s important to remain professional outside the salon walls, including watching what you post on social media. “Remember, clients have Facebook too!” she adds.

11. Look after yourself
“Therapy is a physically and mentally demanding job so it is important to look after your body and mind,” says Helena Field, adding that many new therapists underestimate the impact the work will have on their posture and energy levels. Soffe agrees that poor posture is a common problem among therapists starting out. “Most don’t know how to avoid injuries,” she says. “We spend the first few days when new therapists start their in-house training teaching them how to position and use their body to avoid injury when performing treatments.”

12. Find a mentor
When joining your first salon, Bell suggests finding someone in the team who you can work closely with so they can mentor you from the beginning. “Ask questions and get tips from them,” she adds. “You can always learn from other therapists and also learn more about other products.” Field also advises new therapists to seek support early on. “When you start a new job ask your manager if you can buddy up with a more experienced therapist and learn from them,” she says.

13. Be personal
When therapists are new, there is a danger of “going through the motions” rather than really listening to clients. “Make your customers request you by tuning in to their concerns and taking a real interest in them,” says Leach. “Remember your client’s name and use it a few times during treatment to make them feel valued,” adds Field, while Martine Jarman, owner of SkinGenius in Warrington and winner of the Professional Beauty Award for Aesthetic Therapist of the Year 2015, suggests, making a note on the client’s record about personal things they mention. “When they come in again you can bring it up in conversation; they always like that personal touch,” she adds. Mason also stresses the importance of tailoring your language to match the client. “Often therapists only know how to deal with clients of their own generation. It might be fine to greet a 20-year-old with, ‘hiya, come on up’, but a lady in her 70s expects to be addressed more respectfully,” she says. “Think of how your grandparents or parents were brought up.”

14. Take initiative
“If you’re not with a client, be prepping to impress the next client – either improving your knowledge with industry reading, finding out the latest treatment or product trends, cleaning the salon, or practising on another therapist,” says Leach. “Offer to do extra and be flexible with your hours, eager to learn, shadow your boss and help in any way you can. Impress your team mates, your clients, your boss and others in the industry.” This also applies to speaking up if you’re not confident performing a treatment. “Tell your manager if you need further training, otherwise it could compromise the treatment and client safety,” says Jarman. She also suggests taking the lead and investing in yourself: “Don’t always rely on the salon to invest in training. Use your initiative and invest in your own further education.”

15. Ask for feedback
While you need to make efforts to get to know a business, Shoemark says your employer also needs to take responsibility. “Employers should let prospective staff or trainees know what will be expected of them then let them make the decision as to whether the salon is for them,” she says. “Be honest about whether you both want to achieve the same end results. It will save a lot of wasted time and energy.” Mason reminds salon owners not to treat new therapists like children. “It’s easy to do but you have to treat them with respect because that’s how you want them to treat you,” she says. She suggests salons get the receptionist to ask every client about their treatment as they leave then use the feedback to encourage new therapists as positive comments increase.

16. Be commercial
Remember that once you’re in a salon or spa environment, you’ll be expected to bring in your own retail sales and repeat bookings so think about what more you could do to boost those. “Recommend the best homecare to every client,” says Leach. “Selling retail makes money and keeps you in a job!” Recruitment company Linda Hill has just launched a Masterclass course to teach therapists exactly that and business manager Jackie Kearney suggests that new therapists, “think of running their column like running their own little business within the salon”. The best therapists, she says, don’t just wait to be told what to do, but use any time between treatments to recommend, rebook and up-skill.