While parents and other relatives are often quick to say that tattoos will prevent you from getting a job, such attitudes seem to be disappearing from the workplace. A decent percentage of employers claim that tattoos may affect their hiring decisions, but recent research suggests that these concerns don’t often factor into real-world employment choices.
The rest of this in-depth guide will explain how workplace attitudes about tattoos are changing, and what you should consider if you are already inked and want to get hired.
Negative Attitudes About Tattoos
A Workopolis study of 327 employers found that 14% of employers claimed to be less likely to hire someone with tattoos. Meanwhile, 63% said their hiring decision could be affected depending upon the location and quantity of the tattoos, as well as what the role being interviewed for was (e.g. a customer-facing role vs. a backroom role).
In the same article, Workopolis also describes the results of a survey of almost 5,000 average people about how seriously they take people with tattoos. 49% of respondents said it wouldn’t affect how they viewed people, and only 22% said that it would affect their perspective regardless of context.
The remainder said that their attitude would change depending on either the context they saw the person in or the number of tattoos. Respondents had the opportunity to provide comments explaining their answers, and it appeared that the biggest concerns about tattoos involved tattoos on the face and tattoos that bore racist or otherwise offensive messages, such as the Nazi swastika.
It makes sense that these attitudes exist. After all, tattoos have historically brought connotations of gang activity, criminality, and violence, even though people get tattoos for a variety of reasons. You may feel less comfortable with your accountant if he looks like a member of the Yakuza. Despite these negative associations, however, such stigmas seem to have little impact on actual hiring practices.
Tattoos Don’t Affect Hiring
The Harvard Business Review reported that a University of Miami survey of more than 2,000 people found that hiring rates and earnings between tattooed and nontattooed job applicants was roughly the same.
In fact, nontattooed men had a slightly higher unemployment rate than did tattooed men. This isn’t to say that having a tattoo will improve your chances of getting a job, but there isn’t scientific evidence saying that it will hurt, either.
Based on historical attitudes about tattoos, including those mentioned above, the authors of the study suspected that their findings would indicate lower wages or greater difficulties in obtaining employment for people with tattoos.
However, after controlling for variables like substance use and past convictions, the study found no relation between the size, content matter, quantity, and level of visibility of a tattoo and any decrease in hiring or wages for tattooed people.
Disconnect Between Attitudes and Actions
How can it be that a decent proportion of both average people and potential employers have reservations about tattooed people, yet those attitudes don’t seem to affect the employment prospects of applicants who are inked in any significant way?
One of the authors in the U of M study speculated that while HR managers and recruiters have a certain preconceived notion about how tattoos might affect a hiring decision, when it comes to choosing between a qualified candidate who is inked versus an inferior candidate who is tattoo-free, the company’s bottom line guides the hirer to pick the qualified candidate, tattoos or no.
Another part of the disconnect may be due to the fact that baby-boomer employers and HR personnel are retiring and being succeeded by younger, more tattoo-friendly employers. An accountant firm’s HR manager may be older and have more a negative view of tattoos, while a younger recruiter may overlook tattoos when hiring an inked applicant.
Role- and Industry-Specific Attitudes on Tattoos
The most important rule of thumb when determining if a potential employer cares about a tattoo is understanding the specific work culture of the company in question, as well as what your role in that organization would entail.
For example, someone with a lot of tattoos may have more difficulty landing a role that involves extensive interaction with the elderly, because older people are likelier to respond negatively to receiving service from someone who has a tattoo.
Additionally, employers within certain industries may be iffier about tattoos. Take healthcare, for example. The American Red Cross requires a blood donor to wait 12 months after receiving a tattoo due to the risk of hepatitis infection. It is possible that some in the healthcare field may view a tattooed person as high-risk, even if they were inked years ago.
Because tattoos are often associated with gangs and other criminal organizations, they were once considered taboo among members of law enforcement. However, those views have softened in many jurisdictions, and some departments allow inked employees as long as the tattoos remain covered while the officer is on duty.
How to Get a Job While Tattooed
Understanding the work culture of the role you are applying for, including the dress code, is key. However, even a company that has a specific dress code may offer some leeway. Even a hard-nosed organization like the US Marines changed its policy on tattoos to allow recruits with non-facial tattoos, because the USMC didn’t want to miss out on qualified candidates just because they were inked.
Some employers are concerned about tattoos in general, but many of them only worry about tattooed employees if the markings are: