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Should You Show Tattoos in a Job Interview?

How to keep prejudiced hiring policies from getting in the way of success

Tattoos in the office
GREY Journal

For a long time having a tattoo was considered something only criminals and outcasts did. Having visible tats was almost guaranteed to disqualify someone from consideration as a job candidate. However, with the growing appreciation and acceptance of tattooing as an art-form, one has to wonder if the same stigma still applies.

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Run The Numbers

Tattoo Office

To begin, let’s look at the facts. A Harris Poll taken in 2012 found that 21% of all adults are tattooed (1). Additionally, a 2018 study at the PEW Research Institute found that 40% of Millennials have tattoos (2).

What Does This mean for America’s Future?

Statistically, a sizable portion of the adult population sports ink, most of whom are from a generation that recently joined the workforce. With so many young inked workers looking for jobs, the perception of tattoos by HR professionals will inevitably play a role in a generation’s future employment.

To continue, it’s likely that Millennials are aware of this fact. USA Today reported that 72% of young people with tattoos have them in places that are easily covered (3). This means that despite only recently entering the workforce, Millennials are probably already knowledgable of possibly prejudiced HR policies.

Is This Still a Issue?

Interestingly, it turns out job seekers are right to be concerned. In 2014, Workopolis took a poll and found that 77% of employers would be less likely to hire someone with tattoos (4).

“For me looking at the miserable decorations on the skin is repulsive.”

“No matter how much meaning they have for the owner, they are just not attractive nor professional looking. It does affect my decision making process when hiring.

While we would not be concerned about hiring employees with tattoos to work on a job site, we would consider it inappropriate for our corporate office.”

A few of the negative responses to the Workopolis poll

Later, in 2016, Business Insider reported that 37% of HR Managers thought visible ink limited a person’s career potential (5). They also pointed out that no state in the US had passed an anti-discrimination law protecting people who have tattoos.

“There is a social stigma. People assume you’re ignorant or thuggish . . . People with tattoos are definitely discriminated against.”

Jenson Whitaker, Texas oil industry, in an interview with NPR
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Navigating a Job Interview

Should you cover tattoos in a job interview? The short answer is probably ‘Yes’. The fact of the matter is that if someone has a visible tattoo they are more likely to have their application denied. While the world has become more progressive and accepting towards people with tattoos, prejudices don’t disappear overnight. This is why learning how to navigate them is essential.

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Do Recon

Scoping out the company you’re interviewing with can be very helpful. Is it a startup or a larger conglomerate? Who are the HR managers? What kind of office culture do they have? Is there an office dress code? These are all questions that can help shape your image before the interview.

“If a company is hundreds of years old, and is in an established industry like medicine, banking, or law, you can venture to guess that this may be a more conservative establishment. But if you’re applying to the creative or technology department at an ad agency that opened in the last 10 years, you can assume there would be room for creative expression,”

Elena Berezovsky, Career Coach, in an interview with theMuse

Going on LinkedIn and checking out who the HR people are can be especially helpful since it’s likely you’ll be interviewing with one of them. If they’re older or seem to be more buttoned up, covering your tattoos may be a good idea. But, if they’re under 40 or seem to have a relaxed style or presentation that may be an indication that ink could be OK.

“Do your research. If you know someone at the company, just go right ahead and ask if your piercing would be considered appropriate. But if you don’t, let’s do a bit of sleuthing! Use good ol’ LinkedIn, or The Muse, or the company website itself to get a feel for the professional aesthetic of the employees at said company.”

Elena Berezovsky, Career Coach, in an interview with theMuse

Consulting a friend who works there can also really help provide insight. If you don’t know anyone there you can check out sites like Glassdoor where people review and rate their experiences at a company as an employee. This can help you gauge how other members of the office will react to your ink, not just whoever’s interviewing you.

Where’s the Job?

Figuring out if your tattoos will be fine in the office can be hard. But factoring things like geographic location may give you some hints.

States in the Southern US have been shown to have generally less favorable views on tattoos. For example, in West South Central states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana) 55% of people polled believed that tattoos were inappropriate in the workplace. Conversely, in New England (Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire) that perception drops to 36% (6). If you’re interviewing in the south you may want to take more care to cover up your ink.

Make A Game Plan

Once you have your intel you can make a plan. Lay out your clothes for the interview, practice answering sample questions, and most importantly figure out how to address your ink. If you plan on covering it up, make sure you have the appropriate clothes to do that.

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“Only you know the type of environment you’re walking into, and your own style. Be honest with yourself and gauge if the two could be a match. If you feel there could be a risk to your career or growth at this particular company, feel free to err on the side of caution and cover up or remove your piercings.”

Elena Berezovsky, Career Coach, in an interview with theMuse

Most career and image counselors recommend that you cover up your tattoos if you can. Even if the person you’re interviewing with turns out to be fine with ink, you can still distract yourself from the conversation by stressing over whether or not your tats are visible.

“Why waste any amount of focus on wondering whether an interviewer is silently (or unconsciously) judging your tattoos?”

Marc Dickstein , career coach, in an interview with Business Insider

“Job interviews are already uncomfortable, so don’t exacerbate things by having to worry about your tattoos being visible”

Kristen Foltz, author of The Millennial’s Perception of Tattoos: Self Expression or Business Faux Pas?, in an interview with Monster
Pop the Question

Sometimes it’s best to face the problem head-on. People who have tattoos in areas that can’t be covered may need to do this more often than other inked people. Additionally, figuring out what your potential employer thinks of tattoos can be helpful in determining how to act and dress if you get hired.

“You want to be remembered for your skills and your value, not for what you wear or have on your body.” 

Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, in an interview with Monster

To continue, face, neck, or hand tattoos are especially hard to cover. In these cases, you’re going to have to address the elephant in the room. The trick is to not spend too much time on it. Don’t let your ink define the way you’re remembered by the interviewer. Guide the conversation back towards your accomplishments and skills.

The Future Landscape

In the past few decades, we’ve seen the public perception of tattoos improve. Having a tattoo has become more and more common, especially among people under 30. As this younger generation moves up in the workforce to eventual managerial positions, we can probably expect more inclusive hiring policies.

“The reality is that more and more of the upcoming workforce will have body art, so employers will also have to adjust any expectations or guidelines lest they lose out on some great and essential younger talent”

Kristina Leonardi , Career Coach, in an interview with The Muse

Eventually, tattoos and piercings will be a non-issue in the American workplace. But for now, we just need to keep making steady progress towards acceptance of other people’s self-expression.

“I look for signs of character. Unique hireability comes from finding the gem. Despite what so many people think, top talent rarely fits the cookie-cutter mold emerging from business schools.”

“Tattoos are becoming commonplace within our society and that to a large extent the biases against inked persons are disappearing. There will always be someone willing to judge others based solely upon appearance but appearance is one of the lowest predictors of performance for me.”

A few of the positive responses from the Workopolis poll.

What do you think about tattoos in the workplace? Do you have any helpful tips we missed out on? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!

Madeleine Hettich
Madeleine Hettich is a graphic designer, writer, illustrator, and comic book artist. After graduating with a BFA degree (with an emphasis in Visual Communications Design) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer before being hired by GREY. She continues to develop independent illustration and comics projects in her own time. This background gives her a unique perspective when writing about any number of topics.

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