Do you remember doing your first haircut? Forty-five years ago, I stressed for two days prior to meeting Mrs. DeVry, a lovely lady with a bubble hairstyle who always wore crutches with sleeves coordinating with her dress. Upon meeting, I blurted out she would be my first haircut, hoping she would ask for a senior student.  She smiled kindly, and as she handed me her crutches to sit in my never before used styling chair said, “How wonderful, isn’t it a beautiful day?” She remained my Tuesday ten o’clock appointment for the entire school year.

A simple comment from my mentor, Mrs. Holmes, made all the difference, “Everyone gets nervous the first time. Just act like you know what you’re doing and call me if you need me.” I called her to check every section of the entire haircut. Mrs. DeVry and Holmes are both now in heaven, and if Modern Salon is available up there, know you are remembered and loved. Back on earth, mentors in the beauty industry are in short supply. You don’t think you’ve got the goods? If you are breathing, you have something to share.

 The best mentors offer support in a way that makes sense to the learner. The real value of mentoring is sharing you’ve been there, you know how it feels, and you made it, —so, go for it. That’s really mentoring in a nutshell. I call it, “buddy mentoring” or functioning more as an ally than a teacher. A buddy mentor is like the person who was on the passenger’s side when you learned to drive. It was all up to you, but someone was there.

Which core concepts to share with new professionals? Check your ego at the door because mentorship must be seamlessly humble. Mentoring is all about the learner—not about what you know. Share a few mistakes you’ve made, “When I did my first bleach, I couldn’t get the yellow out, and…” Take genuine interest in the person. If your mentee tells you they had a great weekend, don’t just move on with the program, ask got a little detail, who they went with, etc. Be a buddy.

Lead by example Don’t lecture, instead, do your work well, offer great customer service, manage your time well, keep your station clutter-free, be polite ---the list is endless. Also, admit when you feel challenged and don’t have an answer.    Other stylists are not your competition. This is such a misguided emotion—get over this! View your career as one where everybody wins. The only competition you face is to be a better hairdresser today than you were yesterday. There’s enough for everybody.

 Focus on the work--the best kept customer service secret. Stylists can be talkative and lose their train of thought. Concentrate on the work in front of you and keep distractions to a minimum. Clients learn to respect that your focus is for their benefit and quickly follow lead.  

Your reward? Don’t look for one. Wait for the end of the day when you realize the mentor was really always the learner.

 Carlos Valenzuela is as a Hairdresser, educator, ex-salon & school owner, author, of “thrive salon professional survival workbook.”  His focus today is guiding salon professionals to a more fulfilling career & lifestyle. For info visit  



For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Originally posted on Modern Salon