Not really sure if your states do this but before I would interview a stylist I would check to see what year they got their license by typing in their name and license number. At least that way I knew when they got their license and knew for sure they weren't beginners. As for references, I would almost always ask them to include at least one of their long term clients.
I ran into a bunch of crazies at first but I later learned how to sift through them. I also went to the beauty schools in my area to check to see if they knew of any of their students who had already completed school was looking for a job. I kept a close relationship with one of the teachers at a particular school and she would let me know when there was someone good looking for a job.
I must say though, one of my best stylists is a referral from the teacher mentioned and she had just finished school. At the time, she was super excited about working, a go-getter, very reliable, and just wanted to "do hair!" Love her to death! Some times, the more experienced ones are harder to find because they are more established. You may have to branch out to find the diamond in the rough.
ETA: Just noticed this post was old.
frn - I learned by watching countless videos and experimenting on my hair first.