Tattoos and Employment

Articles about tattoos in the workplace have been popping up everywhere and I have received a number of emails from engineering students who are questioning how tattoos might affect their chances of getting a job after graduation.

Every time the topic of tattoos and employment is brought up I give the same answers, so I thought it was time to write a little more about it. Referring back to one of my earlier posts which is now well over 2 years old, Some Basic Tattoo Advice, I said this

Think about how tattoo placement will effect your possibility of future employment. Qualified or not, I doubt these guys are going to be hired any time soon.

The Interview

I stand by that statement today and believe that a tattoo placed in an area that cannot be covered in normal business attire will have an impact on your ability to get a job as an engineer and most likely in other fields as well. The sad truth is that there are still a lot of people out there who look down on people with tattoos.

“a tattoo placed in an area that cannot be covered in normal business attire will have an impact on your ability to get a job”

Read through some of the comments left on this blog or the articles that I link to and you will find plenty of evidence of this. I cannot count the number of “hiring managers” I have encountered in comments who like to loudly proclaim that they “would never hire someone with a visible tattoo.” Think about what would happen if you found yourself across the table from one of these people during an important job interview with your tattoos peeking out from under your shirt collar or sleeve. Maybe they won’t notice, or maybe they will and not care either way. There is also a possibility that the person conducting the interview will have tattoos of their own and see your ink as a favorable attribute.

Consider a situation where the interviewer does decide to hold your tattoos against you. It may not seem like a big deal during the interview, and may not even be mentioned at the time. But when the interview ends with, “we’ll call you” and you don’t hear back from them ever again will you be wondering why? Will you think that maybe it was the visible ink that was the reason your phone isn’t ringing? You may never know the answer to that question, but I would rather not be left wondering. An interview is a time to prove yourself and show your best to a potential employer. This means not only acting your best, but looking your best as well.

One of the most universally accepted pieces of advice for interviews is to dress well and try to make a good first impression. One of the tips on an about.com ‘Top Ten Job Interview Tips‘ is the following:

The first impression you make on a potential employer can make a big difference. The first judgement an interviewer makes is going to be based on how you look and what you are wearing. That’s why it’s always important to dress appropriately for a job interview.

You have every right to walk into and interview wearing an old pair of jeans and sneakers looking like you just rolled out of bed, but do you really think it’s a good idea? Similarly, you have every right to walk into an interview with your tattoos showing, but is this really the first impression you want to make?

Promotion Time

If you think that getting through the interview process means you are in the clear, think again. The interview is not the only place where your tattoos could have a negative impact on your career. According to careerbuilder.com, visible tattoos rank as #3 in the list of the top personal attributes employers say would make them less likely to extend a promotion, right behind bad breath and piercings. Other items on this list include wearing too much makeup, wrinkled clothes and a messy office.

“When it comes to career advancement, you want to stack the deck in your favor,” said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder. “While strong job performance and leadership skills will weigh heavily on prospects for upward mobility, employers will also look at whether the employee conveys an overall professional image both internally and externally.”

This is something that is highly subjective and I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Once you are working in a company for long enough you need to use your own judgement to determine whether showing your tattoos is appropriate or not.

Co-workers Opinions

I work for a big company and interact with a lot of people every day. When I first starting getting tattooed I received mostly positive, but some mixed reactions to my new ink. There were quite a few people who were genuinely interested. These people wanted to talk about tattoos with me, wanted to know when my next appointment was and when things would be finished. Then there were those who feigned interest and seemed to notice, but not talk much about the tattoo. Lastly, there are a few who I could tell didn’t like tattoos generally avoid any conversations about them.

I have never met anyone who had an openly negative attitude towards my tattoos in real life. Given the number of people I have encountered online who still believe in some of the antiquated tattoo stereotypes and the number of people I work with, I think it’s statistically likely that I work with people who share in those same opinions. If you walk around the office with tattoos visible, there is a chance that some of your coworkers will look at you in a different light. They might never say anything about it, but automatically assume that you are less intelligent, educated or dependable and pass you by when it comes time to assign tasks or create teams.

This is another thing I’m not troubled by on a regular basis and when the weather gets warm I do wear short sleeves to the office and allow my tattoos to show. It hasn’t impacted my career in any way that I’m aware of.

Pick Your Battles

I believe that tattoos will always be shrouded in some amount of controversy. They may continue to gain popularity and attitudes may continue to change, but I don’t see 100% acceptance happening in my lifetime or possibly ever.

If a company chooses to enforce a “no visible tattoos” policy, they have every right to do so under the same set of rules that allows them to enforce a dress code. I see quite a number of stories about people claiming they were discriminated against and not hired due to their tattoos. These people usually have no right to complain. If you voluntarily tattoo your own body in a highly visible location, it is your responsibility to know how that tattoo can impact you, both personally and professionally. A neck, face or hand tattoo requires a serious amount of thought and commitment.

There is a time and place for everything and no matter how proud you are of your tattoos, an interview is not the place to try to take a stand and make a point of showing your ink. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I will fight till the end when it comes to tattoo stigma and assumptions made about people with tattoos. But if a company has a policy about visible tattoos and you really need a job, suck it up and cover up or find a different company to interview with. I am not happy about the fact that these types of policies exist and I would love for them to be abolished, but I also understand the realities of the job market. In most cases if you do not live up to what the company is looking for, there are a dozen people lined up behind you to take your place.

The most effective way that I have found to combat stereotypes is to prove yourself to people without them knowing you have tattoos. Let people form opinions of you based on the work you do and the person you are, not based on the ink on your skin. Once someone gets to know you they will be far less likely to react negatively to your tattoos. I get told all of the time that I don’t seem like the type of guy who would have tattoos. I always use these opportunities to point out the fact that just because I don’t fit the mold of what they think a tattooed guy should look like or act like, doesn’t mean I’m not the tattoo type. It’s their definition of the tattooed type that needs to expand to include me, not the other way around.

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