Education and Training Requirements

High School

Many states require that barbers be high school graduates, although a few states require only an eighth grade education. High school students considering a career as a barber might find it helpful to take courses in health and business. Involvement in theater can provide you with opportunities to practice working on hair and attempting to create different styles as well as give you the opportunity to develop "people skills" you will need later when dealing with the public.

Postsecondary Training

Generally, a barber must complete a certain number of hours of barber school (ranging from 1,000 to 2,000 hours, depending on the state). Most states offer programs that include classroom work, demonstrations, and hands-on work and can be completed in nine to 24 months. The barber must then pass an examination that includes a written test (and sometimes an oral test) and a practical examination to demonstrate that skills are mastered. A health certificate must also be obtained. In selecting a barber school, a student should be sure the school meets (and preferably exceeds) the state's requirements for licensing. Some schools have waiting lists, so it may be prudent to apply early.

At one time, a one- to two-year apprenticeship was required in many states before a barber was "full-fledged"; this practice is becoming less common as formal training is increasingly emphasized. In a few rural states, an apprenticeship can take the place of formal education, but this is an uncommon and difficult way to acquire sufficient skill and knowledge.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

All barbers must be licensed to practice in the state in which they work, although the requirements vary from state to state. Some states have licensing reciprocity agreements that enable barbers to practice in another state without being retested. Some states require that barbers be at least 18 years old in order to be licensed.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Obtaining experience via a part-time job at a barbershop or beauty salon will be useful for aspiring barbers.

Barbering requires good finger dexterity and stamina, since barbers are required to be on their feet most of the day (although work environments can often be adapted to accommodate workers with disabilities or special needs). Barbers should themselves be neat and well-groomed because they work in close proximity to their customers. Tact and patience are important characteristics, as is being a good listener. The ability to easily carry on light conversation is important, as well.

To be successful, barbers must understand the importance their customers place on their appearances and seriously strive to provide a look that pleases their customers. Barbers are in the business of making people happy. Barbers should have a sense of form and style in order to determine what looks would be most flattering for individual customers. A barber must also recognize when a style desired by a customer isn't suited to the customer's features or hair type in order to avoid customer dissatisfaction. These situations require firmness and diplomacy.