Tattoos & Interviews

Dear, Anita,

I want to get a tattoo, but people (mostly my mother!) have been telling me it’s not a good idea because it will limit my career. I have a degree in accounting, and after putting in some time at my current entry-level position, I do plan to look for a better job in the near future. Everyone has tattoos these days; surely employers are used to this by now. Do you think a tattoo will hurt my future?

Dear, Thinking of Inking,

Adult male adjusting necktie.While 20 years ago tattoos were generally perceived as a statement of rebellion, body art is now becoming more mainstream. A recent Pew Research Study shows that 40% of adults age 26-40 have at least one tattoo. However, only 14% of all Americans of all ages have a tattoo, so there’s a good chance one of those 86% who don’t will be your interviewer!

In a Salary.com survey, more than one-third of the respondents believe employees with tattoos and piercings reflect poorly with employers, and 42% responded that visible tattoos are always inappropriate at work. Interestingly, the study found the more educated you are, the less likely you are to have (or condone) tattoos.  There are also regional biases, with the west-south-central area of the U.S. (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana) being the least tolerant of inked individuals. Hiring managers, while they themselves may not be biased, have to consider a tattooed employee’s interaction with customers, which could prevent you from getting a job.

Before you tattify, give careful consideration to the body art’s location. A tat on your lower back (known as a “tramp stamp” by the younger set) may never be seen in the course of a normal workday – unless you take a job as a lifeguard. Tattoo “sleeves,” however, are harder to cover day-to-day. If you are applying to a less-traditional company with a hip reputation, visible tattoos may not be as taboo.

To borrow a slogan from Internet marketing, “content is king.” Avoid a tattoo that portrays anything death-related (like skulls) as well as drug-related, racist, or sexually suggestive motifs. A butterfly may be more innocuous than a spider web tattooed on your neck. Check out this video from Global Image Group on preparing for a job interview with tattoos and piercings:

If you do pursue that tattoo, and later find it is limiting your career, tattoo removal is an option. But laser de-inking can be expensive. And while I surely can’t speak from experience, I hear that tattoo removal is more painful than the original process.

If I were you, I would be more concerned about boosting your skills and résumé, rather than your “street cred.”

Readers: What are your thoughts on tattoos in the workplace?

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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