There are lots of tools available these days that can help you find a good stylist.
My biggest suggestion is to find someone with curly hair in your area, and ask who they go to. Word of mouth is still the best way in my opinion to find a stylist. It's a win-win, because you're probably going to make that curly's day by asking, and you get a helpful tip on who to see.
If you can't do that for some reason (big city, shy, whatever), start by looking for curly haired stylists who have special training. Look for Deva trained stylists, or Ouidad trained stylists. They have been through additional training specifically geared toward curly hair. Remember, beauty schools focus on straight hair almost exclusively. You want to find someone with extra training.
I've personally had a lot of experience with Deva stylists. Deva is a company founded on the principles of the Curly Girl method (no harsh shampoos, encourage curls, etc). Deva has its flagship salon in NYC and the company offers training and certification to hair stylists so that they can learn how to cut curly hair. They use a dry cut method, which means that you show up with your hair curly, and they cut it without wetting it, curl by curl. They then wash it, restyle it, and make adjustments to the cut. It's definitely a unique process.
One thing to keep in mind though is that just because a stylist goes through the Deva training, that doesn't mean that they are going to be great curly hair cutters. I could go get certified to do accounting, but that doesn't mean you should trust me with your funds, because I just don't get math. Some stylists just don't get curly hair. It's a different beast than straight hair, and needs different techniques.
Supplement this training info by checking online reviews
Check out the salon's Yelp page. Google the stylist's name. You know the drill!
Stay away from chain stores
The stylists in chain stores generally have quotas for the number of clients they must see in a given time period (hour, shift, etc). Cutting curly hair is a unique thing and it takes time for the stylist to really develop a plan for what to do with your unique hair. A standard cookie cutter haircut at a chain store just doesn't translate well to curly hair. Most curlies are surprised when a Deva cut, for example, takes around an hour and a half to two hours to complete.
Don't ask the salon if they have someone who is good with curly hair
This is so silly, but so many people still do it! Of course the receptionist is going to tell you they have the Curl Whisperer in their salon! It's their job to help bring clients in.
Instead, ask what kind of additional training the stylists receive in cutting curly hair
Like I said, beauty school focuses on straight hair. You want to know if a stylist has gotten additional education about cutting curly hair. Ask the salon receptionist what curl-friendly products they carry. If they don't have a curl line but offer to tell you all about their straightening products, what does that tell you?
2) Once you've found someone promising, schedule an appointment for a hair cut, but think of this first appointment as a consultation first, hair cut second
You need to let the stylist see and touch your hair, but importantly, you also need to make sure they're going to cut it in a way you feel comfortable. I personally have a rule that I prefer a curly stylist to actually have curly hair herself, so I generally ask her if her hair is straight that day whether she has naturally curly hair herself. It's hard to explain your curly concerns to someone who has never lived with them!
Do not be afraid to get out of the chair if you are not comfortable. You're a paying customer. You might offend the stylist that day, but you have to live with your hair however they were going to cut it! I've gotten out of a chair before when the stylist pulled out the thinning shears. I said that I didn't want her to use those on my hair, and she said I should trust her. I said I wasn't comfortable continuing in this appointment, and I left. You have to be comfortable with what they are doing, first and foremost
3) Curly hair cut tips and tricks that you should know
- Be specific. Don't say you want a trim. Tell your stylist that you want 1/2 an inch off. But even that isn't specific enough! You need to specify whether you mean 1/2 inch when your hair is wet/stretched out, or 1/2 inch off of the curly length. Half an inch on wet or straight hair can translate to a totally different length when dry and curly
- Curly hair needs some layering, but this is dangerous territory! Tell the stylist that you want long layers but to keep the angle at 45 degrees. They should not raise you up to 90 degrees. This refers to the angle at which they cut the hair. This is how you avoid triangle hair
- Get up out of the chair and leave if they want to use razors or thinning shears. These generally are very bad for curly hair. I'm sure there's an exception to every rule, but I've yet to find one for this rule
- Ask your stylist to avoid giving you stringy ends by leaving you with a solid base.
- Tell your stylist how you style your hair. Do you wear it curly every day without fail? Do you occasionally straighten? When you style, are you trying to elongate your curls? Encourage them? Get more volume or less volume? All this info should be valuable to a stylist who knows how to work with curly hair.
I hope this is helpful for your next hair cut! Remember, you have the control over the hair cut. Stop the stylist if you're not comfortable.