When I was growing up, I rarely heard anything good about tattoos. Mostly, I’d just hear warnings. If anyone had visible tattoos, the adults around me would usually cluck their tongues and say “Good luck getting a job with those.” Tattoos in the workplace just weren’t as common then.
Unless you wanted to bar tend, fix motorcycles, or commit violent crimes for a living, you should avoid getting tattooed (or, at least, getting tattooed anywhere obvious). Now, tattoos are becoming extremely common – approximately one-third of young adults have at least one. So, it’s worth asking whether the old attitude still holds true: does getting a tattoo still kill your job prospects? Are tattoos in the workplace finally gaining acceptance?
We’ve made some progress, but still have a way to go
The data on tattoo acceptance in the workplace doesn’t give us a clear-cut answer about whether tattoos are frowned upon or generally accepted.
In a way, that’s a good sign, because it shows that we’ve made a lot of progress from the days when people with tattoos could only hope to work as truckers or bouncers.
Unfortunately, it also means we haven’t yet achieved full acceptance and that having tattoos (especially those you can’t hide easily) could make it harder for you to land a job.
The type of job makes a difference
Hiring managers have become more relaxed about tattoos, but there is one thing that still worries them: customer attitudes.
That’s good news if you’re interested in working the metal press on the factory floor or if you want to be crunching numbers or analyzing insurance policies in some back office, but it could cause problems if you want a job that involves interacting with the clientele.
When hiring managers staff customer-facing positions, they’ll try to avoid hiring anyone who might make customers uncomfortable or come across as unprofessional. Unfortunately, in many cases, that includes anyone who has tattoos. That’s especially the case if the tattoo is large or prominent (neck and face tattoos, full sleeves) or could be considered offensive (vulgar words or depictions of drugs, weapons, or nudity, for instance). It’s always best to pick your tattoos very carefully in order to not put your future career in any potential jeopardy.
Of course, it all depends on the type of workplace. Your neck tattoo might dash your hopes of working the reception desk at your local dentist’s office, but it probably won’t harm your chances of working at the skate shop. Establishments that cater almost exclusively to teenagers or adults under 40 are also less likely to have a problem with your full sleeve.
In fact, for certain types of positions, hiring managers might even have a bias in favor of tattoos. If you’re applying to be a social media manager or a graphic designer, tattoos might help you look the part even if the company has a clean cut, business suit vibe.
It’s important to draw a distinction between getting hired with a tattoo and being employed with a tattoo.
Convincing a hiring manager that you’re right for the job and that they should bring you in on the team is the real challenge when it comes to tattoos. Once you’re an established employee, getting a tattoo is unlikely to change management’s perception of you. If you’re a professional and reliable employee, that’s what will count.
There is one major exception, however. Some companies have dress codes and those dress codes might forbid tattoos. In most jurisdictions, bans on tattoos are perfectly legal as long as they don’t infringe on the tattooed employee’s religious expression. So, if your position has a tattoo-free dress code, getting a visible one is likely to jeopardize your employment.
There’s no predicting a hiring manager’s prejudices
Ultimately, whether or not your tattoo is frowned upon by your employer and affects your job prospects really depends on individual hiring managers and their prejudices (or their assumptions about their customers’ prejudices).
That doesn’t just apply to tattoos, however. If it’s not your tattoo that costs you a job opportunity, it might be your height, the firmness of your handshake, or the kind of shoes you wore to the job interview. Not to mention your race or gender (although, surprisingly, at least one study concludes that there is “no significant difference in perception of men compared to women as they relate to tattoos in the workplace”).
Since there’s no predicting what kind of attitudes hiring managers have, it’s often best to just be yourself – well, the most professional version of yourself, at any rate. And if that means having tattoos – or being short, wearing loafers with your suit, or whatever – then so be it.
But if you really hope to work with customers, if your dream job is in a somewhat stuffy setting like an insurance office, or you just really want to maximize your job opportunities, then your safest bet is to stick to tattoos that are discreet and easily covered by your everyday clothes.
About the Author:
Dan Hunter, a self-confessed ink addict and studier of all forms of tattooing for over 10 years, is the chief editor at AuthorityTattoo.com – a website that prides itself on being one of the most well-respected and trusted resources for tattoos and piercings on the internet. While no longer as active in the tattooing community, Dan still strives to relentlessly improve his knowledge on the various methods of tattooing throughout the world and is here to help educate, teach, and advise readers on all things tattoo-related.