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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 a 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 presentable, 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.

I am not saying that it is OK to judge someone by whether they have a tattoo or not. What I am saying is that it happens, and we want to avoid this judgment in tough economies when we are early in our career. After we are established and have a track record of success, hiring managers will come to us. In the meantime. . . 

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. 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. When she became more established in her career, life got more peaceful around the HRNasty household for HRNasty. 

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 we don’t know if they appreciate it or not. 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.

See you at the after party,


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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