Makeup had always been foreign to me. Aside from being likened to a doll in high school for my porcelain Mac liquid foundation look, which thinking back doesn’t seem like much of a compliment, I didn’t know what to do when it came to makeup. The one time I attempted to draw in my eyebrows because I’d accidentally shaved half off with a razor, I used black pencil eyeliner. I looked like I belonged in the next Hollywood blockbuster…horror film.
In my youth, I only bought drugstore makeup products and didn’t even know that your skin type mattered when it came to skincare products. My face moisturizer was the same lotion I applied to the rest of my body.
So when I was recruited to work at Sephora from my comfortable food service job in the mall, I was confused and extremely anxious. I only went to Sephora to buy my Kat Von D liquid eyeliner and Bare Essentials Bare Minerals starter kit. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I started as a seasonal cash wrap employee, which is just a fancy word for cashier. Seasonal hires typically work for a few months during the busy holiday months and there are swarms of them. They are temporary, but if the managers like them, they’re asked to stay past December. My positive attitude and coordinated Sephora-playlist dance moves led me to work at Sephora for two years.
Here’s the inside scoop of what they don’t tell you about being a Sephora cast member:
You have a secret language
Well, sort of. At Sephora, the world is a stage. Literally. The back room is called “off-stage.” When you’re on the floor, you’re “on stage.” Employees are called “cast members” and their managers are called “directors.” The black and red Star Trek style required clothing is considered“costume.” And each designated part of the store displaying different kinds of products is called a “world.” There’s the Color World, Skincare World, and Fragrance World. The vocabulary seems pretty weird, but once you are a part of it, you start to speak the language, too.
You get free makeup!
Everyone who works at Sephora exists purely for gratis. Gratis means free or complimentary, and mostly full-sized products are provided by a specific company or brand that Sephora carries. Most brands offer gratis to the cast to generate excitement for their products, or, so cast members can learn more about them. After a few months of working there, you obtain enough makeup to flood your bathroom cabinets and drawers.
It’s been eight months since I worked at Sephora, and I still have unopened makeup brushes, a back stock of various mascaras, and more than an acceptable amount of lipsticks. It’s cool to get the opportunity to try different things that you might not ordinarily have tried. By sampling the products, you really do get to form more accurate opinions and selling points about them. Gratis becomes the best and most anticipated part of your month.
Education is a huge part of the company
You go through basic trainings at Sephora when you first start, but your learning never stops. During “touch bases” (which are meetings before your shift to get to know the day’s numbers and any other pertinent information about your shift), you are sometimes required to watch a video on Sephora University. There are hundreds of brand videos, stories, how-to’s, and guides on SU. You also go through separate trainings in Color or Skin, depending on the area in which you want to specialize.
To become a certified makeup artist, you complete an additional training, which basically means you’re allowed to give a full makeup consultation or in many cases, apply makeup on clients for special occasions. Sephora loves to develop their cast and a lot of employees started there like me: inexperienced. They teach and coach you based on your personal goals within the company. There is a huge opportunity for growth at Sephora, you just have to take advantage of it.
You’re required to wear makeup
Of course you are! You have to wear foundation, lipstick, and some level of eye shadow. As Sephora carries many different brands, it doesn’t matter what brands or products you use to get ready for work. And yes, after a while, it does get kind of tiring achieving a full-face look every day, but it is important. You are selling makeup and a lot of the clients will inquire what you used to highlight or where they can find the lipstick you are wearing. Some people will even seek your individual help based on how your makeup is applied.
Though you have to wear makeup, it doesn’t mean you have to wear a lot. It simply means you can’t roll out of bed and skip your foundation routine. There are some days where your store will pick a look of the day to challenge you and your artistry skills. They’re usually fun and creative, requiring a little bit of extra work. I’ve glued sprinkles to my face, dusted bright colored eye shadows all over my forehead, and intricately arranged fake jewels around my eyes. I’ve even done looks ranging from mermaid to cheetah print. I’ve never pushed my makeup limits as much as I did when I worked at Sephora. It allowed me to hone my craft and try new things.
You don’t get paid commission
Though the employees at Sephora don’t get paid a commission for their sales, there are other benefits. If a client completes a survey and provides good scores for the person that helped them and the store as a whole, it raises the store’s percentages and the store might receive a bonus. The store also receives a bonus for their sales being met or surpassed.
You do get gratis and individual stores hold contests to further incentivize the cast members. I’ve received things like a $100 gift card and first pick of gratis. During the holidays, Sephora even provides meals for everyone working. Sephora tries to make the environment fun and I always found myself as an active participant in their various contests and activities.
Sephora is actually for everyone
A lot of clients who came in to the store felt like they didn’t belong there. After sitting down and playing around with skincare and makeup with them, they would often open up about feeling insecure about being in the store because they don’t wear much makeup or know a lot about it. But Sephora is for everyone! For the people who love to try new trends, for the bold people who wear crazy shades of lipstick, for the ones who just want to try to wing their liner for the first time, and for the ones who come in for the same foundation they’ve been using for the last five years.
Sephora is a place where people come together to learn, employees and customers alike. It made me sad that people didn’t feel welcome, but no one there is actually judging you. We all know there are people with varying degrees of makeup knowledge, and even interest. The Sephora team is not an exclusive club, they are all eager and willing to help and they are genuinely passionate about teaching.
Sephora makes people feel beautiful
Sephora is the place where I’ve felt the most love. Cast members go out of their way to compliment each other daily. The Sephora I worked at was full of the most kind, generous, and caring people that I’ve ever met. They were always supporting each other and one another’s dreams, even if they weren’t Sephora-related. Everyone is so lovely and uplifting, and it was the best environment I’ve ever worked in.
I truly think that the attitudes of the cast reflected on everyone who walked in the door. Of course there were rude and upset customers, but for every negative experience, there were always more positive ones. There were many clients every day that left feeling a little bit better about themselves. Every question was answered with patience and care, even if the cast member’s day was filled with putting eye shadow on twenty ten-year-olds on a scavenger hunt.
In my experience, I’ve had clients who have cried and hugged me after I put makeup on them. I’ve had people tell me their personal struggles with skin or makeup insecurities. But after an hour, they left feeling heard. They left feeling confident, and in a lot of cases, they left feeling beautiful.
Ariel is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, click HERE