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A lot of applicants (particularly recent graduates) see job interviews as personal obstacles. They walk into the interview believing they have to prove themselves and sell themselves to the owner. These beliefs are partially correct, but you should be entering interviews with expectations of your own.
Employers meet with applicants because they are interested in possibly hiring them. If they weren't, the applicant wouldn't have an interview to begin with. The employer needs to present their requirements and expectations of you. As an applicant, you are at the interview to present your qualifications and experience and communicate your expectations. The two of you then decide whether your mutual terms, conditions, and expectations match.
The interview process moves both ways. You aren't the only person proving yourself, so meet the owner on equal ground. Interview them and their way of doing business.
Bring up any concerns you have and inquire further about policies or conditions that seem unfair or questionable.
Start interviewing the employer before they give you the opportunity to ask questions. Is the employer respectful? Was the owner on time or late? Are they focused on you or do they allow other things to distract them during the interview? Owners and managers are busy people, but when you set an appointment, you deserve their full attention.
Disrespectful owners will get around to you when it's convenient for them, regardless of the appointment time, and may allow other things to preoccupy them. They may also interrupt you and show other signs of superiority. Disrespectful owners typically won't ask if you have questions. If you do ask any questions, they may become defensive.
Do not overlook this behavior. Some people are just rude, but some intentionally do this to exercise their control over you and test your boundaries. They want to send a message that they are the authority and you are inconsequential. Do not tolerate that and definitely don't accept a position from someone who behaves that way.
Competent owners thoroughly evaluate applicants and take interviews seriously. They are courteous, prompt, and allow applicants to respond to questions without cutting them short. They have no problem answering questions and they do so without an attitude.
Does the tour of the facility raise any red flags? During the tour, the owner walks an applicant through their facility, acquainting them with the space and the employees. If you have already secretly visited the salon, the tour shouldn't yield much new information, but since you are being presented as a potential employee as opposed to a client, observe the reactions from the other professionals. Are they welcoming and kind or are they closed off and defensive? If a few of the employees seem less-than-thrilled at your presence, remember that this industry can be competitive and that some professionals are never satisfied. If every single one of them seems outraged that you're there, you should be seriously concerned.
Does the owner/manager seem organized? When you enter the owner or manager's office for the interview, take note of your surroundings. If the desk looks like someone emptied a garbage can on it and they're hoarding piles of miscellaneous stuff that reaches the ceiling -- beware. Clutter and disorganization indicate the manager/owner either can't manage their own time properly or can't delegate effectively. That kind of physical disorganization often translates to their business operations. Consider it a giant, massive red flag. Keep it in mind as the interview proceeds.
What does the interviewer seem focused on? Pay attention to the questions the interviewer asks. Are they predominantly asking about your experience, your professional philosophies, or your personal life? The type of questions the interviewer asks clues you in to what's important to them and provides insight into their management style.
Interviewers who ask more about your professional desires and philosophies want to evaluate how well the salon would suit you.
Interviewers who ask more about your skills and experience place heavy importance on proficiency and competency.
Interviewers who want to know more about your personal life are gauging how you'll fit in with the existing employees.
Remember this: You are a valuable professional. It might be an employer's job market, but you have standards and expectations too. You're seeking a place that suits you and respects you as a professional. You're interviewing the salon as well.
When the interviewer invites you to ask questions, take advantage of the opportunity. Start with questions designed to identify disqualifying deal-breakers:
"How do you classify staff for tax purposes?" If the owner classifies the employees as "independent contractors," get out of there.
"How is your compensation structured?" If the salon is commission-based, find out what percentage they offer and what the base hourly rate will be. ("So, you must track hours then and weigh the minimum wage against the commission to ensure FLSA compliance, right?") If the salon owner gives you a blank stare, gets defensive, or lies, consider that your cue to end the interview and find an employer who knows what they're doing.
"Do you provide detailed pay stubs?" Employers have no reason to withhold this information, as they a.) presumably calculate these totals when they do payroll and b.) are required to have copies of their records on file for the IRS and DOL for at least three to four years.
"Do you charge product fees? If so, how are those calculated and at what rate?" If the employer plans on deducting the cost of product from your paycheck, end the interview.
"Do you participate in group discount deals and if so, how does that affect any sales bonuses or commission compensation?" By now, most salon owners know better than to participate in group coupon scams but ask this question up front. You don't want to show up to work on the first day to find out the owner ran a Groupon for your services, sold 1,500 of them already, and only pays commission on the net sales (after Groupon's fees).
If the owner does participate in group coupon deals or routine discounting, explain that you expect to have your bonuses calculated based on the actual service price; not the discounted value. Discounting, like all forms of marketing, should be an expense borne by the business owner.
"Can I review your employment contract?" Most salon owners utilize employment contracts, but if the interviewer doesn't, request a written job offer or employment agreement.
Be wary of any owner who refuses to put their promises to paper. If the employer does require you to sign an agreement, ask if you can bring it to your attorney to review. If the owner refuses, consider that a deal-breaker.
"Can I see the job description?" Any owner worth their title will have detailed job descriptions prepared for all positions. Be leery of an owner who doesn't, as this indicates weak management. Job descriptions deliver a clear understanding of what the owner expects of you.
"Do you have an employee handbook I can read through?" The owner should have no problem giving you a handbook so you can review their rules and policies.
"Do you offer benefits?" How many sick days or vacation days are you allotted? Does the salon offer medical insurance or retirement plans? Not a lot of salons offer benefits, but some do. It never hurts to ask.
"Do you provide continuing education?" Salons that regularly schedule continuing education workshops deserve serious consideration.
"Do you advertise regularly?" Find out how this owner maintains their visibility.
"Does the salon have enough business to justify hiring me?" You should already have a decent hypothesis based on your pre-interview research but ask anyway. Let the owner know you are motivated to build, but you do have bills to pay. If they don't have enough traffic to ensure you'll be earning a sustainable paycheck, you aren't interested.
"What is the salon's overall client retention rate?" The salon's client retention rate provides insight into how good the salon and the staff are at keeping the new clients they obtain. If you're applying for a position at a touristy hotel, resort spa, or on a cruise ship, don't bother asking this question. The numbers will be bad, but that will have nothing to do with the customer service. (In those cases, the online reviews will provide better insight.)
"How do the employees get along?"/"How do you handle employee conflicts?" This probably isn't a question you would ask in any other industry, but it needs to be asked during a salon interview. Explain to the owner you are making a career decision. You do not want to waste their time or yours by working in a salon plagued with conflict. You are a professional and expect others to behave accordingly. Clients don't want to visit a hostile, toxic salon, so their management will be crucial to your bottom line.
If the interviewer asks, "When can you start?" Reply with, "When I've wrapped up the other interviews I have scheduled, I'll let you know my decision." Set a date to follow up before leaving. This communicates to the potential employer you aren't desperate, you don't jump into employment impulsively, and you're looking for a long-term position. Never accept an offer immediately. Take time to consider your options.
This list serves as a general guideline. Ask every question you need answered. The more you know in advance about the salon you're considering employment with, the less likely you are to be confronted with nasty, deal-breaking surprises on the first day.
Doing your research, asking thorough questions, and giving each opportunity serious consideration will ensure that you find a long-term position with a competent employer who you're compatible with.