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Tattoos and the interview process


Tattoo have meaning to you, but how about the recruiter and hiring manager?

Tattoo question from reader


My daughter wants to get a wrist tattoo before going to college. I trust my daughter and am personally OK with it.  I am wondering how it will affect her as she looks for a job when she graduates. The tattoo is symbolic for her, small, and will be placed where most people wear a watch.

Ohhhh, this one gives me shivers and makes me physically cringe, especially in this economy. I don’t have children, so I am not going to answer this from the perspective of how to explain to your child the impact of body art.  I am just going to give you my unfiltered response on how this can affect the interview process and the career moving forward.  INTERVIEWS AND CAREERS.

Since we probably aren’t going to be able to convince her NOT to do this, just CHOP HER ARM OFF RIGHT NOW!

  • Is Jessica Alba sexy? Yes
  • Is Dwayne Johnson “the Rock” a stud? Yes
  • Megan Fox?  Yes! Yes!
Yes, Tattoos are cool and can be sexy.

The difference between Alba, the Rock, Megan and “us” is that we need to apply for jobs and their work comes to them. They pick and choose their work, don’t have to work as often and get paid a heck of a lot more than the rest of us.

Body art to one person may be body torture to another. In the world of HR and hiring managers, there are a few topics that will FORCE private opinions which are kept to oneself and of a DIFFERENT, public opinion which is shared.  Gay marriage and abortion are just a few topics that come to mind that also fall into this category. What one thinks in the privacy of their own home is very different from what they will say in public. Everyone has opinions, but depending on the circumstance you may or may not get the real opinion. The real opinion is the one that has influence during your interview and you may never hear or see it.

No one in HR wants to admit that they hold prejudices of any kind. Looking down on a tattoo or piercing is an indication that someone has a closed mind.  It is the prejudiced mentality that some will think is the equivalent of racism and HR is supposed to be the neutral enforcer of the law, not the hypocrite.

I don’t know what your daughter is going to be studying and at this point, the chosen major will probably change a number of times.  But even if she is going into the entertainment or hospitality industries where tattoos are generally acceptable WITHIN the industry, you still need to GET IN the industry. I would make the recommendation to skip the tattoo. If she plans on going to prison or the Japanese Mafia, she will probably fit right in.

Managers may personally be open-minded when it comes to tattoos but managers are paid to think about their customers and what those customers are comfortable with. What does a tattoo represent to your potential customers?  Hiring managers and recruiters aren’t thinking about all of their customers, they only need to worry if a single customer will think twice. Do customers want to hand over their money to someone who mutilated their body?

Body art can be looked at as a permanent decision. As corporate America makes decisions on whether to give you more responsibility, a bigger budget, a larger client, a bigger territory, a lot of factors come into play including what kind of decisions you have demonstrated in the past.

I have said it before, there are a number of HR folks that live in their own Pollyanna reality. They are “naïve”. You think they appreciate tattoos?

When I first read this question, I tried to figure out if there was some way this could work.  I thought, daughter is probably 17, and she will graduate when she is 21.  Hiring managers at that point in time will be about 31 and department heads will be 40-50.  That puts their birth year between 1984 -1965.  I still think that the decisions makers in this generation will still have some prejudices.  Not everyone, but remember, it just takes ONE hiring manager to give you the Julius Caesar thumbs down dooming your fate like a gladiator in the Colosseum.

Example Given:

I interview someone who is attractive, articulate, clean-cut, well dressed and has a great resume.  I meet them 2 times as the candidate goes through the interview process and each time I like them more and more.  On the 3rd time I meet them I see a tattoo or and additional piercing, or they drastically change their hairstyle, my entire perception of that person changes and I start to question everything I was basing my decision process on.  Instead of looking forward to meeting this person, I am now wondering what other surprises should I looking for.  What potential surprises will the hiring manager discover that I didn’t?  Am I going to say anything?  No.  Am I going to cut the interview process?  No, but the grease on the wheels has just been washed away and now the shiny wheels are getting rusty.  If you are going through the interview process, especially in this economy, you want to make it as EASY as possible for folks to push you to the next level.

True story:  My wife wanted to get a tattoo.  Thankfully it was a passing fancy like a bad pair of boots at a Nordstrom shoe sale.  (Women!)  Fortunately, she could take the boots back.  I haven’t put my foot down on many things, but I put my foot down on Tattoo Girl.

To put this into perspective, I am allergic to dogs, and 12 years ago, the “Future” Ex brought home two hairy mutts.  Claritin and I are now best friends.  Mrs. HRNasty wants to work and likes to work. I may only wear a size 8.5, but I brought it down and through the floor when she wanted to get a tattoo.  NO FRICKEN TATTOO’S. I don’t know if I would actually walk out on her over a tattoo, but I would be more pissed than I was when two dogs greeted me in the kitchen.  (We didn’t talk for a week when the dogs came home)  I know how tattoos can be viewed behind closed doors.  You can think you know your manager but you don’t know their peers and colleagues.  You certainly don’t know their boss.  Getting a tattoo is a decision that cannot be retracted.

I think there are a lot of companies that are cool with tattoos, but depending on what industry you are going into, you will be surprised how many folks frown upon them.  Corporate America may not say anything, but they won’t appreciate it.  I am fortunate enough to work in a tech company and we embrace body art.  As we hire more Sr. execs, (more experience usually comes with age) I hope we can keep an open-minded attitude across the enterprise.

Regardless of how small, simple, or symbolic, it is a tattoo.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not everyone will understand your symbolism.

Good Luck,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something.  “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Clemency R.

    Um, it seems pretty obvious to me that as long as your tattoos are in locations that are covered by professional clothing, it doesn’t matter a whit in terms of looking for jobs. I’m assuming that if you’re going for an interview in a professional environment, you’re going to be wearing full length pants, a collared, long sleeved shirt and/or a jacket. The only bits of skin that can’t be covered in a professional environment are your face, neck and hands. I don’t believe the advice to just skip the body art is good advice, everyone has a right to express themselves, and anyone who wants a tattoo should get one (Honestly, take it easy on your wife dude, it’s her body and she has a right to do what she likes with it. If you’re seriously not sure that you wouldn’t walk out over such a thing, your marriage needs some serious re-evaluation, ’cause that’s just fucked.)! Obviously people have prejudices, and visible tattoos are not going to do you any favours in a job search, so don’t get tattoos on your face, neck or hands. If no one can see them, they’re a non-issue.

    I feel like this article was written in a prejudicial tone, which I was offended by as a mature, responsible, employed, young adult who is partway through a double honours undergrad degree and on my way to grad school, and who also happens to have about a dozen beautiful pieces of body art. I understand that everyone has their own opinions on body art, but this: “Do customers want to hand over their money to someone who mutilated their body?” is offensive. Tattoos are not self-mutilation, they are an art form. It is offensive to suggest that someone who has worked with an artist that they admire, saved up the money and gone through the physical pain of the process in order to enjoy a piece of original, personal, one-of-a-kind art has “mutilated” themselves. Customers at my job are perfectly happy to hand over their money to me; young, old, professional and ragamuffin alike love to see my tattoos and ask about them. I believe that this would be a more helpful and informative article if you lost the prejudicial tone, and acknowledged that there is plenty of skin your employer will never see that is yours to do what you like with!

    • Clemency,

      Thank you for your very thoughtful response. I do agree with you that this post went “over the top” and did a retrospective on this post here. I got a lot of feedback on this post. My goal is to provide the no none sense, no bullshit perspective on what goes on with HR and hiring managers. I don’t endorse HR’s behavior, I am here to decipher and provide advice to maximize the odds to a successful job search and then a career. You are absolutely right, to increase the chance of getting a job, hide and cover all tattoos and body art. When you go to the summer party, cover up, because no matter how stellar an employee you are, whether we want to believe or not, chances are, perceptions will change. Appreciate your perspective and your honesty.

  • Santa Fe Claus

    Is it discrimination if someone comes into an interview with purple hair and you do not hire that person? I rest my case. Like it or not , tattoos are appearance. At least the hippies were able to cut their hair. Might I suggest temporary tattoos. Before you people all go high and mighty on me; we all judge appearance, whether it is who we choose as friends or as a romance partner or even a business partner. You make your bed you have to lie in it

    • Santa Fe Claus, thanks for stopping by. I am in complete agreement with you on “judging by appearance” and in the end, visible tattoo’s no matter how tasteful will probably have an effect on the interview process. There are places where Purple hair may not effect the outcome, but for the vast majority of “careers” out there, (not all, but the vast majority) hair color will make a difference. Thanks for the support,

  • HR Rep

    I do not agree with this statement. I current work HR for a world wide company and while we do have some ignorant people that “get offended” by flowers on a girls neckline it is discrimination to not hire them based on that. If they are the most qualified person for the job they are applying for a good HR Representative would recognize that and not base thier judgement on a tattoo.

    • HR Rep,
      thanks for stopping by and I AM IN YOUR CAMP! Yes, it is discrimination, and yes, any good HR representative would recognize and not base their judgement on a tattoo. . .HR has the opportunity to be “trained” and “educated” to be open minded towards this. What applicants are not able to count on is the opinion of a hiring manager or a peer / individual contributor that conducts the interview and has input on the final decision. These hiring managers are not just worried about qualifications but perception of customers and their reputations if they hire outside the box. You are fortunate in the fact that you work for a world wide company. Companies this size usually have the resources for interview training. Smaller companies do not always have these resources and training can be non existent.

      Again, thanks for stopping by

  • PMDude

    I am going to have to agree with you here.  While I like to think that I am open minded, and that it is the person that matters, the truth is, anything that redirects the attention from the skills of the candidate I am interviewing is something that lowers the subconscious score that I am assembling.  It may not DQ a candidate, but it is always going to be a factor.

    Although, if Jessica Alba ever wants to be a PM…

    • PMDude,
      thanks for the comments.  You summed up a hours work and 1200 words perfectly in less than 20 words and probably 40 seconds.  “Tattoos lower the SUBCONSCIOUS SCORE, it may not DQ but IS going to be a factor.”  Well said!