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 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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8 Comments (+add yours?)

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  2. danielle
    Mar 26, 2014 @ 16:38:47

    I used to work with kids and I have a tattoo on my foot. And yes I do cover it, the sad part is that I had to lie to kids that my ankle hurts thats why I covered it. Some jobs don’t mind as long as you can cover it then its fine.



  3. Melissa
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 13:43:30

    I have 2 tattoos myself (one on my upper arm and the other on my back). I’ve never had an issue in the work place over them but, they are very easily covered by my clothes on a regular basis. My brother-in-law has one on his forearm and was denied a job because of it. They said it was “unsanitary.” So, in my opinion, when it comes to tattoos and work it’s all about the location. If they can’t see them then they have nothing to judge.
    Location, location, location.



  4. gary
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 12:01:46

    I’d agree with out-of-sight and no piercings. Have you thought about how the tat will look when you’re a senior. Skin will sag. Ask your grandmother if she has one.

    Visible tats will limit a professional career. The store cashier with the lime green Mohawk hair cut I saw last month will probable just be a casher, never a manager.



  5. Oscar Nuño
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 11:42:23

    I have two tatoos and some of the persons that want a tatoo ask me if is painful i say that is like if you are pulling a hair of your chin same pain….



  6. albert
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 11:21:56

    you can still have tattoos and be pro. Like me i have about 13 tattoos from my elbows down to my hands no tattoos so no matter what job im doing or interviews im going to i can go with short sleeve or long sleeve it works for me ,…..



  7. missdisplaced
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 11:05:02

    I say “go for it” and ink away, but in your case place it where it can be hidden at the office and for job interviews. It still gives you LOTS of options to decorate!



  8. LaDawn
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 09:21:06

    Tattoos are very much a personal statement. My advice is, especially since you are going to be in a “white collar” field, either wait until you have a position and see how the office regards visible tats, or get one where it won’t be seen in the course of the workday. Consider how distracting ink may be for too. I worked with a lady who had a beautiful “collar” of flowers and vines, but she always wore tips that showed it and it was VERY distracting.



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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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