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The visible tattoo in the workplace

Visible Tattoo

Personally, I love this look. I’m just not sure about the hiring managers and VP’s.

HRNasty’s stance on the visible tattoo 

If you have read this blog for any time you know where I sit on the topic of the visible tattoo in the workplace. They call them job stoppers for a reason and as much as I think about getting a tattoo myself, working behind the HR kimono, I know what I know. I increase the chance of limiting my career with a visible (visible in work clothes) tattoo. When the economy was weaker and the job market was bleak, I blogged about the visible tattoo here and here.) My stance then and now is specifically around the visible tattoo. What I mean by “visible” is that is if your manager or VP can see your tattoo during work, after hours or at a company picnic, I believe their impression of you will change.

Disclaimer 1

In Seattle, it is a candidate-driven market and with the right skills and presentation layer, a tattoo isn’t going to get in the way of an offer when the role of interest involves little public interaction (E.G. Software developers typically have little outside customer facing interaction). If the market were to turn where employers have more candidate choices, candidates will want to create the best possible first impression. 

Disclaimer 2

I and Mrs. HRNasty just spent the 4th of July weekend with a family we like and respect. The father is the CEO of a technology company and the daughter is one of the smarter social media marketers I know and employed by a market leader. I am generally not a tattoo person, but she rocks the ink. If I could get her help on a social media campaign for this blog I would do it in a minute. She is an exception not a rule, so I know success and the visible tattoo can coincide. The below is for the rest of us mere mortals.

Visible tattoo insight:

I recently attended a luncheon and I don’t say the following to brag, I say it to make a point of reference. The table consisted of:

  • Two C – level execs/founders of successful technology companies
  • 1 business owner of a successful boutique marketing firm representing national brands
  • 1 older gentleman who makes a living in equity markets
  • 1 older gentleman who looked like a blue blood banker

To give you some more perspective on how they represented themselves, the 2 C-levels were in high-end jeans and graphic t-shirts. If you saw these two guys on the street with a tattoo, it would not have surprised you. The owner of the marketing firm specializes in representing progressive technology companies and he was in dress jeans and a button-down with no tie. The two gentlemen wore blazers, button downs, and cashmere sweaters. These last two gentlemen represented what this HR guy would stereotype as “Blue Blood”. There were no visible tattoos at this table. 

Riding coat tails

Again, I don’t mention the above to brag because I don’t know how the f#&! I happened to be at this table. This was a table of Sr. business leaders who make hiring decisions and in most of the cases have the final say on promotions and raises within their companies. They also have the final say on whether or not someone is going to be given the thumbs up to join their executive ranks within their respective companies. Our table conversation was wide and deep ranging, from politics to the climate of venture capital to sports. Interestingly, the topic of tattoos in the workplace came up, and I didn’t start it. I literally just sat back and listened because I wanted the unfiltered version of what these guys thought. It wasn’t their opinions that surprised me. I was surprised by the passion shown on this topic. Heels were dug in deep, and I don’t think any minds were going to be changed.

The boutique marketing firm dude talked about interviewing a nanny for his child. The thought process that these execs held was fascinating to me, and I felt worth sharing because this is a rare glimpse into an actual discussion that takes place behind closed doors. Picture a group of Sr. leaders in the executive bathroom who think their conversation is private. This is the fly on the wall stuff and the kimono is being pulled wide-open.

Marketing exec and tattoos

Boutique (marketing) Firm Dude found himself looking to hire a nanny for his little one. He and the Mrs. BFD had heard great things about a particular nanny, met the candidate in person and both really liked her. They ended up declining here because she had a shaved head and a piercing in her lip. Yes, there was a visible tattoo.

The decision was made because they didn’t want their little ones growing up with this particular nanny and wanting a shaved head or face piercing. If you were like me, you are asking, why would a 2-year-old want a shaved head or a piercing? Mr. BFD gave specific examples of how he and Mrs. BFD came to this conclusion. When Mrs. BFD wears her head in a bun, the kid points to her hair and wants a bun. When Mrs. BFD wears a braid, the kid points to her hair wants a braid. He didn’t want his two-year-old taking a razor to her head and trying to pierce her lip. I get it, monkey sees monkey do.

C-Level technology leader and tattoos

After this C-Level Number 1 added to the conversation.

He and his S.O. attended a wedding. They saw the groom and liked him, and said he was a very personable guy. The thing with groom boy was that he sported a Mohawk, a piercing in his face, and his last name was tattooed on his forearm. My immediate question was tres fold:

  1. Mohawk to a wedding?
  2. What level of intelligence needs a reminder of your last name?
  3. Short sleeves on your wedding day?  

CEO #1 went on to explain that later that evening he turned to his 15-year-old daughter and explained:

  1. “If you meet someone with a Mohawk, you need to wait 1 year before you marry him.”
  2. “If they have a piercing in their face, you need to wait 2 years.”
  3. “If he has a tattoo of his name on his arm, you need to wait 4 years.”

Technology founder and tattoos

C level #2 doesn’t have kids, but in a prior life was a bartender and in a band. Very high odds this guy sports ink (a prison tat isn’t out of the question here) but it wasn’t visible and even he joined in on the Mohawk beat down. He then went on to say “Don’t people realize that they are going to live a destitute life and limit their options if they have a tattoo that can be seen in street clothes?” This rant surprised me coming from a brilliant software architect and CTO of the startup community. 

Executive banker and tattoos

One of the Blue Bloods brought up the fact that he saw a bunch of lifeguards that had tape on their bodies and then learned that these were covering up tattoos. I realize that Pamela Anderson has tattoos and is a lifeguard. Of course, I would totally be down if she were the one to bring me back to life. The point is that this guy took notice of the tattoos and leaned more to the disapprove vs. “approve” side of the fence.

I don’t want to be all negativity and mayhem. If you were planning on going into the hospitality, entertainment, or the food industry, I would say that these industries have not only accepted the visible tattoo, these industries embrace it. Starbucks recently gave the OK for their barista’s to sports ink. A few more verticals where I think the visible tattoo in the workplace are acceptable are positions where work is done online and there is limited interaction with the public. Ink is becoming more acceptable within the developer and maker communities and I am to the point where if I don’t see dyed hair, piercings or ink when interviewing a UX or UI candidate, even I will raise an eyebrow. Bloggers and a number of marketing verticals would fall into the same category. Tattoos are an extension of this individualism and brand.

First impressions

Again, I know a number of successful individuals who rock the ink very well. They are also VERY good at their jobs, have incredible reputations within their communities and are not ass holes. My point is that the visible tattoo can make a first impression in a job interview and stacking the odds in our favor can be accomplished by getting a tattoo in a discreet location.

People will tell you how they really feel when you remove the tattoo. This one is temporary.

If you are thinking about getting a visible tattoo and worried about impression in the workplace, look into temporary tattoos like the one above. You will have the option of finding out how your manager and VP really feel about your tattoo when it is later removed. 

Thanks for listening

If you are still with me, thanks for your patience. I wanted to share what I thought was a unique discussion that I would imagine would only happen in the executive bathroom or dining room. This is exposure that candidates may not have the insight to. This was a private conversation amongst peers and outside of the workplace. I am pretty sure if you were to ask any of these individuals within the confines of their workplace if the visible tattoo had any influence in their hiring decision, they would say “it did not have any influence on my hiring decision”.

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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