Author of "Your Journey from Fired to Hired"

Tattoos & Job Interviews...Rejection Letter or Job Offer?

Three or four years ago on a steamy, hot July day, I interviewed Amber..not her real name of course!  Amber had all of the characteristics hiring managers look for.  She was professional, well dressed, had great practical and applicable work experience and a personality that I knew would gel well with my other team members.  I had just one concern the day I interviewed her….a 2” x 4” bandage that ran across the arch of her foot.  I felt confident it was covering a tattoo. And I also realized that I had interviewed her in the winter months, chances are good that I would have had no idea as her shoes would likely have concealed it.

As a manager in an extremely conservative Corporate America environment, the decision was initially more difficult than you might think.  But when I considered my candidate pool, the skills I wanted in my team member, her qualifications and the bandage, the answer came easily to me.

Individuality is far more widely accepted today than ever before in our business environment.  The “uniform” of the previous generation admittedly allowed for little (ok no!) expression of personal style or taste as the men all wore dark suits, white shirts and skinny ties.  And the dress code for the few women that worked outside the home wasn’t much different as they embraced the cultural expectation of dresses, heels and pearls.

But it isn’t 1950 anymore and in many business environments, dress codes are all but out the window.  With the growing popularity terms like “business casual” comes the realization that anything goes at the work place.  Interestingly enough while you can almost wear your PJ’s at the office; tattoos remain a source of difficulty for many employers.  Yet with "1 in 5"Americans sporting “ink art” somewhere on their body, it’s a topic that isn’t going away anytime soon.

While I realize that ink on your skin has absolutely NO impact on your ability to create good work, I do understand that not everyone shares my beliefs.  And so in fairness, hiring managers simply must consider the culture of their internal and external customers before extending a job offer to someone with a tattoo…even if they personally appreciate the art form!

But at the end of the day, do tattoos really make a difference in their hiring decisions?  Based on numerous studies like the one recently published by Career Builder, I would say the answer is a resounding yes!  You see,”31% of employers list visible tattoos as a primary reason for not extending a job offer.”  Incidentally, this characteristic was third on the list only behind offensively bad breath and body piercings.

Some of the most successful people I know (and yes in non-creative positions!) have ink, yet it’s tough to deny numbers like those shared above.  So I was curious how managers “justified” the ink based rejection.  Turns out I wasn’t alone in my curiosity.  J.T. O’Donnell a frequent writer for AOL Jobs asked several hiring professionals their reasons for passing on an otherwise qualified candidate with a tattoo.  Some excerpts from her conversations are below:

  • "They show the person is impulsive."
  • "It's a sign of someone who is defiant and a rebel."
  • "To do something so permanent shows a lack of forethought and consequences."
  • "They are free to have a tattoo, but I shouldn't be forced to look at it."
  • "The person is most likely a heavy partier and may be an attendance issue."
  • “They make people look less educated."

With manager responses like those above, it can be tough to deny the obvious implications.  As a candidate in an insanely competitive job market, having “ink” isn’t a death sentence, but it is something that should be considered and planned for in your interview prep.  A few options are below:

Cover up.  The simplest move for dealing with your tattoo during a job interview is to simply make it a “non-issue” by covering it.  Keep in mind, while this certainly removes the potential objection during the interview, it does pose the risk of making your new boss feel that they were tricked during the interview process.  Bottom line:  If you aren’t willing to cover it up throughout your employment, play this card carefully.

Find the Love.  In some business environments, tattoos are actually embraced. If you are proud of your tattoos and the thought of covering them is offensive to you, then you may want to focus your job search on less traditional opportunities.  Positions with technology or start-up companies can be a good option as can those that are driven by creativity. And of course talking to friends and colleagues regarding the acceptance of “ink” in their work place is a great way to identify potential employers.

Have it removed.  A recent article in the Huffington Post shares that tattoo removal could easily become a $10 Billion dollar industry. While the reasons for removal vary, "17% of people with tattoos are in the process of figuring out how to get rid of them."  We all make decisions we regret…it’s just that some are tougher to reverse than others.  Unfortunately, tattoos fall in the latter category.  If you regret the decision they can typically be removed; however, the process is lengthy and can be quite expensive.  But for many, it seems a career investment that will pay big dividends.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, about Amber…she handled the entire situation flawlessly.  She graciously accepted the job offer and arrived with the same energy, enthusiasm and polished professionalism for her first two days at the office.  On the third day, she asked if we could chat for a minute.  She explained that she had a tattoo and would be more than happy to cover it up on a daily basis if she needed to, but wanted to get my insights.

Ultimately, tattoos are a personal choice.  But for now, they remain a decision that can damage and certainly limit your career.

Do you have a tattoo?  If so, is it an issue for you at work?

Article written by:

Kathi Miller-Miller is a sought after career specialist and author of “Your Journey from Fired to Hired.” Kathi draws on her 25+ years of success (and failures!) to offer her readers advice on topics ranging from dealing with a boss that drives you crazy to managing millennials...all in a light-hearted and easy to read style.

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