How to Become a Mentor

Paying it forward in the professional beauty industry.


I was blessed with a spectacular mentor. She made me the professional I am today and without her, I would have burned alive during the “baptism by fire” so many recent graduates suffer through after passing their boards.

Far too many licensed professionals have been thrust into the industry without guidance and have given up several months into their careers.

Too few schools adequately prepare their students for the realities of the business and even fewer schools teach them how to navigate the job market. As a result, these new graduates are frequently taken advantage of by bad owners, enthusiastically taking jobs at poorly managed salons, and struggling to develop their skills with little to no assistance.

New graduates need mentors to show them the ropes, help them develop their skills, and keep them on the right track. They need someone to encourage them and help build their confidence during those rough, shaky beginning years when it seems like they can’t do anything right.

If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, but haven’t functioned in that capacity before, this post will not only tell you how to become a mentor, but how to become an amazing mentor.

How to Become a Mentor

1.) Know your craft and your industry. Obviously, mentors require several years of experience before they attempt to guide anyone, but that experience shouldn’t be limited to your time spent in beauty school and the position you’ve held at the same salon since graduation. Branch out. Expand your skills by taking advanced workshops, try your hand at session work, go out on your own for a year, make mistakes, and–most importantly–fail. Fail over and over again. Watch other people fail. Learn from those experiences.

2.) Share your knowledge. Volunteer to speak at cosmetology schools, arrange classes in your salon, start a blog, host webinars, make video tutorials, be active in local and online professional networking groups–get out there.

Make people remember your name.

3.) Select the best. Mentoring aspiring professionals takes a lot of time, energy, and patience. Don’t waste yours on someone who isn’t worthy of it. You’re doing something tremendously generous, so be very selective.

Not every professional who asks for your time will appreciate it or deserve it.

As a mentor, you’re essentially a volunteer, providing something immensely valuable. Never forget that. Only choose motivated professionals with outstanding potential and work ethic to match.

How to Become an Amazing Mentor

1.) Be patient, but don’t tolerate bullshit. If you’re allowing your mentee to slack off and disrespect your time, or not providing stern corrections when necessary, you are failing them.

Shaping someone into a successful professional isn’t always a fun, heartwarming process.

Periodically, you will have to express disappointment in your mentee, give honest criticism, and (sometimes) pull their heads out of their asses. People avoid tough conversations to maintain their own comfort level. Recognize right now that your refusal to endure that momentary discomfort is a selfish decision–and selfish people make terrible mentors.

2.) Give them everything you’ve got. Some professionals refuse to give themselves fully to their mentees because they fear creating a competitor. These professionals want to help, but they also want to protect what they perceive to be their competitive edge.

Amazing mentors withhold nothing.

When you make the decision to mentor another professional, you accept the reality that this professional will one day be just as capable and competent as you are. If that isn’t something you can handle, then why would you ever consider mentoring someone in the first place? 

Let me answer that for you: You were drawn to mentor others because you have confidence in your capabilities as a professional. If that is actually true, then what do you have to fear from another skilled professional? (If you’re still feeling that insecurity, it’s very possible you actually were not ready to step into that role–so please, do your mentee a favor and step out.)

You aren’t creating a rival. You are giving another professional a hand up into an extremely competitive industry, where guidance isn’t easy to come by. You’re creating an ally and giving them the opportunity to succeed with you.

Give them everything, especially if you’re planning to transition into a career as a professional educator. When you perform your craft on clients, your signature is stamped on their hair, skin, or nails. When you mentor a professional, your signature is stamped all over their career. It shows in their technique, their professional philosophies, and their overall success. Professionals trained by industry greats will often reference their tutelage under them before they’ll think to mention their beauty schools. If you aspire to become one of those industry greats, don’t be stingy.

3.) Throw them to the wolves when necessary. Yes, you read that right.

Exceptional artists are built on the backs of patient, generous clients who are willing to be cut, burned, experimented on, and generally abused by an inexperienced professional, but exceptional artists are also built by mentors who have the ability to let them make mistakes–lots and lots of mistakes.

My mentor knew when to hold my hand and when to let go. “There are some things that I can’t teach you,” she said to me, “Things you have to learn on your own through trial and error.”

A good mentor knows when to back off and let their student achieve independently.

When I started in this industry, clients would sit at my desk for four long hours while I struggled to apply a truly horrendous set of sculpted bricks nails. They would leave with bleeding cuticles and ten pounds of misshapen acrylic on their fingertips. They would be back the next day when all ten of those bastards popped off, ready to sit for another four hour set.

I spent the better part of my first years in this industry sweating bullets, my heart pounding, terrified to let my clients and my boss down. At the end of a rough day of apologizing profusely and replacing bad sets, when I was ready to hang up my brushes for good and burst into tears, my mentor was there to encourage me and to help me work through my mistakes.

That trial and error period taught me far more than the videos I watched and the courses I took.

I was forced to not only troubleshoot my technical issues, but to develop outstanding customer service skills to keep those clients coming back despite the fact that my work truly sucked. Learning our craft, whether it’s hair, nails, or skincare, requires countless hours of hands-on experimentation–on real live clients. As a mentor, you can provide guidance, but you can’t step in and grab your student’s tools every time they’re close to screwing up.

Amazing mentors know that mistakes are an important part of the learning process, and will stand back and allow their students to make them.

In Conclusion

We can’t afford mediocrity anymore. Now more than ever, this industry needs spectacular professionals–and spectacular professionals need guidance.

Increasingly, we’re seeing our industry decline. Many schools aren’t doing more than the bare minimum and many salon owners aren’t either. The support systems many of us previously enjoyed decades ago (employer benefits, opportunities for promotion, continuing education provided by employers and manufacturers, retail exclusivity) are falling apart as our industry becomes shattered by independence many professionals didn’t want and weren’t ready for.

We may not be able to right those sinking ships, but we have always been stronger together. Team-based salons may be disappearing, DIY may be luring clients away, and our manufacturers may be chasing retail profits and (in some cases) working against us now by trying to keep clients out of our chairs, but we don’t have to lower ourselves by becoming warring factions.

It is more critical than it has ever been that professionals support one another.

This job has never been easy, but in many ways, it’s far more difficult for newer entrants to find their way. If you feel called to make that journey even a little easier for another professional, reach out and give them a hand up.

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Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of the book The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and the blog This Ugly Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.


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