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Will Tattoos Hurt Your Chances of Getting a Job?

Girl with tattoos
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Whether you’ve seen the ink or not, you probably know someone with a tattoo. One in five Americans are sporting a tattoo somewhere, be it tucked away on their shoulder blade or right in the middle of their forehead. Millennials make up 40% of the tattooed population – and with my soon-to-be half sleeve, I’m one of them!

My first tattoo was a small planetary symbol on the inside of my wrist, one that can be easily hidden with bangles or a watch. My second is a peony planted on my right shoulder, and I have a visible diamond etched on my lower bicep. While planning my first tattoo, I was an English education major and my primary concern was whether or not it would prevent me from getting a job. But once I dropped the “education” bit from my degree and focused solely on writing, I became a little more carefree. If you’re debating on whether or not to go under the needle, hire-ability is on your mind. Will a tattoo keep you from landing a job?

Yes…and no.

According to this New York Times article on tattoos in the workplace, 61% of human resource managers would have to think twice about hiring someone with tattoos. Despite the surge in popularity, tattoos carry the old, negative connotations of gang association or rebelliousness. And with the exclusion of religious tattoos (that you get due to cultural custom, not because you like the aesthetics), tattooed people aren’t a federally protected against discrimination.

There are certain industries that have a more old-school approach to tattoos. If you want to enter the medical field, you’ll need to have your tattoos covered by makeup, sleeves, or bandages. Any job that involves working with children tends to lean on the conservative side when it comes to dress codes, as do many office jobs. Customer service jobs are a toss-up.

Many retail jobs are lenient, but companies with a strict look policy may require you to cover up unless your tattoos fit their “image.” Working at TJ Maxx or Target? You’re fine. Are you an Abercrombie & Fitch sales associate? Don’t be too edgy. Tattoos are least likely to be an issue when you’re pursuing a creative job. Whether you’re applying for a creative position in a comparatively corporate setting or you’re interviewing at a job in the arts, looking the part of the hip designer/writer/whatever may work in your favor.

Do you know what will cost you the job?

Offensive tattoos. If you have a photorealistic portrait of Paris Hilton flipping the bird immortalized on your forearm, hide it. Actually, consider getting a cover-up or having your tattoo removed, but if you’re stuck with Paris then you’re stuck with sleeves. Even if you’re interviewing at an ink-friendly workplace, vulgar tattoos will severely hinder your chances of being hired. A dainty piece on your foot won’t be an issue; a pot leaf on your forearm will.

Regardless of what you’re sporting, you should absolutely conceal your tattoos for the interview, if only as a precaution. You don’t know what to expect. I’ve always worn a light cardigan or long-sleeved blouse to an interview because I wasn’t sure what the company policy on tattoos were. Once I received an offer, I was sure to ask if there was anyone else at the company who had tattoos; thankfully I’m not alone at my workplace. If the tattoos aren’t easily concealed, disclose that you have visible tattoos. Honesty is the best policy, especially when your ink might be breaching the policies in place.

What’s the big deal, anyway?

Social stigma. My parents, who are likely the same age as your potential boss, don’t really understand the popularity of tattoos among our generation. Although the tattooed population has increased over the years, public opinion is taking a little while to catch up. If you’re a qualified candidate and you carry yourself professionally, your tattoos will be less of an issue. Worry less about what’s under your sleeve and focus on crafting a knock-out resume. And if you’re considering any more radical changes, such as a very visible piece or a hoop through your septum, hold off until you’ve secured your spot.

Last modified on November 9th, 2016

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