Budget cuts after 9/11 meant the end of Eileen Kalim's federally-funded job setting up scientific agency training sessions around the country. "I had worked as an executive assistant for corporate and government agencies most of my professional life – and I still have the suits in my closet to show for it," says Ms. Kalim.
As she looked for career options that used her skills and experience as she worked as a temp, she decided the time had come to explore her interest in fashion and beauty. She enrolled in the Antoine du Chez Academy, a private beauty school operated by a popular high-end Denver salon chain. She completed the required instructional hours for nail technician state licensing exam eligibility, received her license and joined the chain as an employee at the Antoine de Chez Salon in Cherry Creek North, an exclusive Denver shopping district.
After nearly a year, she switched to another Denver spa. "My new spa isn't in a fancy neighborhood – and that affects my tips. But I really like the people who own the salon, my clients and the people I work with," said Ms. Kalim. "The best part is that I am never bored – and I have control over my life."
Tell us about your career. Where did it start? How did you discover your talent?
I work as a nail technician, which means that I do manicures and pedicures on clients – mostly women, sometimes men. I began by attending a beauty school where I studied the art and completed the required number of hours to qualify to take the state board examination to be licensed. I wasn't really aware of any talent. My thoughts were more about finding something I could do that would not be boring, where I would have some level of control over my work, and where I would not face age discrimination.
How has your career unfolded?
Immediately upon receiving my license, I went to work for a spa that was owned by the school I had attended. I worked there to get the work experience I needed, for eight months, and went to work for the spa where I am now.
What do you enjoy most about your nail technician career?
Some of my clients and most of the people I work with.
Who were the biggest inspirations for your nail technician career?
My career was built entirely on blind trust in myself. I had worked as an executive assistant for corporate and government agencies most of my professional life – and I still have the suits in my closet to show for it. I signed up with a lot of temp agencies while I looked for work in my field.
What has been your personal key to success?
What awards and/or successes have you had?
Because of the type of work that I do, cash in the form of tips is the reward and mark of success. I know I'm good at my work and am gratified when my co-workers tell me I am. Tips make the difference between making a good living or not. However, I've come to realize that the amount of money I make in tips depends on the tipping habits of clients and the culture of the salon, and is not a reflection of my work.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
I want to work at a spa where I receive a greater portion of the profit from my work than I do at the moment. In time, I might want to rent space at a spa, which is what some nail techs do when they have a solid client list.
What exactly do you do?
I perform manicures and pedicures.
Describe a typical day of work.
It's preparing for the days' schedule, setting up my work area, performing my work, cleaning up after each client, rechecking the schedule, doing huge amounts of laundry, mopping the floors and keeping the area very clean.
What are the tools of the trade that you use the most?
Water, soap, files, clippers, polish, acetone, cotton, lotions.
What's your favorite gadget?
What are some common myths about your profession?
That it is very easy, and that anyone can do it.
How do you use computers?
To check my daily schedule.
Are there specialty software programs for your profession?
Yes. Envision is a client-scheduling program.
What is the average salary for your field?
It solely depends on where you work, whether you are paid hourly or on commission and the amount of tips you receive.
What are the best ways to find or get a job?
By checking want ads.
Does graduating from a prestigious school make a difference in landing a good job?
How available are internships?
What kinds of jobs are available for graduating students who specialize in your profession?
There is a shortage of nail technicians in this area, so the field is open.
How does working for a prestigious organization make a difference?
The salon or spa's location is the key factor. A wealthy neighborhood will attract wealthy patrons.
Tell us about your education. What degrees/certifications did you get?
I attended beauty school and took a rigorous test to get my nail technician license from the state of Colorado.
If someone has the talent already, should they go to school (or get professional training) and why?
It is mandatory to do the required number of hours at school in order to qualify for examination by the state licensing board.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school?
I would recommend a school that is part of a city-sponsored program rather than a private beauty school. In Denver, that might include Emily Griffith Opportunity School.
How did you find a school?
In the phone book. Then I visited some schools. What tipped the scale toward the one I selected was the idea that I could probably work at one of its salons when I had my license.
How is the job market now in the profession?
How do you think it will be in five years?
Depends on the economy in five years.
How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?
Tremendously. People look for salons online, make appointments, buy gift certificates. We use it to order supplies, schedule appointments and look for work opportunities.
What topics are emerging as hot issues in the field?
Avoiding nail fungus, especially for people with acrylic nails.
Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself, your career, or the nail tech profession that would be interesting or helpful to others aspiring to enter and succeed in your profession?
People need to know that this is a demanding job that requires focus, dedication and physical endurance.