By Mike LaBella
---- — It was a bit like a TV reality show.
A group of local salon owners recently interviewed students from the cosmetology program at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. The owners included one woman who graduated from Whittier and became a successful business owner.
The students were nervous, but they were ready. Eight of them had already passed the state test to earn their cosmetology operator’s licenses. They knew color, cuts and curly updos. Now, an impressive group of salon owners was in a conference room waiting to interview them.
After a quick pep talk from their teacher Carolyn Williams, the first students to be interviewed checked their makeup, smoothed their clothing and then walked into the conference room to introduce themselves.
Senior Alyssa Payos of Haverhill was exuberant when she returned from her interview.
“The owner of Zephyr wants me to do make up with her for her son’s play,” Alyssa said of the salon in Haverhill. “She’s a colorist, so I can pick her brain while we work!”
Joining the students for two mornings of interviews were salon owners from Zephyr of Haverhill, Amelia’s of Merrimac, Salon Forza of Andover, J. Mari Hair Design of Bradford, Spani’joli of Methuen, Essence of Amesbury, Runway of Newburyport, Ocean Zen & Sea Spa in Newburyport, Bliss Salon and Spa of North Andover, The Black Daisy in Methuen, Family Affair in Groveland and Crown Salon & Spa in Merrimac.
Student Aly Krisandra of Merrimac interviewed with Crown Salon & Spa.
“I couldn’t think of any questions,” she said. “I think I did okay, though.”
School officials said the girls waiting for their turn in a back room asked questions of those who went first, such as “how was it?” and “what did they ask?”
“Once you get in there and start talking, the nervousness goes away and you can answer their questions,” said Meghann Hailson, a student from Haverhill. “And they asked the same questions Ms. Williams has been going over with us.”
The salon owners handed out business cards and collected resumes from students they were interested in and asked them to be in touch later.
“It pushed them to get their portfolios ready,” Williams said. “They are really comfortable with me interviewing them. But, this is a touch of the real world.”
Whittier was familiar territory for Belinda (Gosselin) Juan, who graduated as a cosmetology major in 2001 and now owns Bliss Salon and Spa in North Andover.
“The students seem very ambitious,” she said. “Ms. Williams does a great job with them. It’s nice that I can give back now and help educate them about the business.”
Among the tips she offered the girls was that they should further their education.
“Some think they just want to work in a salon, but it’s not enough anymore,” Juan said.
After graduating from Whittier, Juan went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business management. She urged students to create a career page on Facebook and provide a link to photos of their work. The days of carrying around a portfolio are over, she said.
Student Dallas Bailey of Haverhill, who has worked as an assistant at William Robert’s Color Group and Salon for a year, said she appreciated meeting so many salon owners in one place.
“I like this,” she said. “It’s exciting to meet new people and talk about our futures.”
Student Kellie Lynch of Haverhill said her interviews with Amelia’s and Runway salons made her feel more confident.
“Once I got into a conversation, my nerves went away and everything flowed fine,” Lynch said. “I’m less nervous about my future now.”
Two other Whittier graduates were also on the salon side of the interview table. Chelsi Berube of Merrimac, Class of 2011, was part of the interview team with Essencia salon, where she works as a stylist.
“I wanted to come back and help out,” she said. “It’s an incredible help to be prepared for an interview at a salon. If you’re not prepared, it’s over.’’
Ceara Brooke Gallagher, Class of 2010, also conducted interviews for Salon Forza, where she works as a stylist.
Marie Santos, owner of Essencia salon, said she enjoyed meeting the students. Santos encouraged them to pretend they were talking to a friend during interviews.
Jodi Bevelaqua, owner of J. Mari salon, said she could tell the students were passionate about the work they had done.
“They are definitely prepared,” she said, adding the students were very honest about their strengths and weaknesses, what they love and what they still need to work on. “It’s been great. It allows us to see the up-and-coming talent.”