The following responses were contributed by cosmetologist Melanie Stancliff, owner of The Maryland School of Hair Design, Inc. Stancliff is a resident of Bowie, Md. and a 1968 graduate of DuVal High School in Lanham, Md. NATURE OF THE WORK

"Cosmetologists focus on three major areas: hair care, which includes techniques like styling, permanent waving, chemical relaxing, tinting, bleaching, shampooing and conditioning; skin care, and nail care.

"The most important thing, from a business standpoint, is to establish and continue to build your clientele. Every customer who sits in your chair represents up to three more potential clients.

"The main objective is pleasing the patron. If you do good work and satisfy your customers, your clientele can multiply and lead to more business. If your customers aren't satisfied, it won't be long before that works against you."EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS

"To be a licensed cosmetologist, you have to accumulate 1,500 hours of training, which most students get in beauty schools or vocational schools. After you've accumulated the hours, you are eligible to take the {State Board of Cosmetology} exam. The exam consists of a 1 1/2 hour written test consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions, and a 3 1/2 hour practical test, in which you must demonstrate your skills in all phases of cosmetology.

"I strongly recommend {that students} at least finish high school. It's also a good idea to take some college prep courses in business. If you are interested in going into ownership, you will need a strong business background. Having the skill isn't enough if you can't run the business.

"Base salaries for beginning operators are not much, usually around minimum {wage}. But most {operators} are also paid a commission per customer, and that is where you make your money. Depending on their ambition and the size of their clientele, an operator can make $5,000 to $50,000 a year." MATCHING YOURSELF WITH THE WORK

"You have to have some artistic ability. To be able to create the best image for a client is a talent. If there is one thing people are sensitive about, it's their looks. And no one realizes this more than we do.

"Obviously, it helps to be people-oriented because you will come into contact with so many different types of people. Your customers have to trust you, and you have to take pride in your work. Versatility is important, too, because new styles keep things changing. You have to be able to change with them."