Before the Ink is Dry

Navigating the job search as a tattooed person

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If it’s okay to start off a little philosophical, why did you get your ink in the first place? To consciously define your identity? To become part of a broader community? To demonstrate your commitment to a cause? These are all traits valued in the working world, and yet job seekers with tattoos may face headwinds.

With 45 million Americans, and over 40% of millennials boasting ink of some sort, body art in the workplace is clearly no longer relegated to the armed forces, construction, and other roles that are manual or out of sight. Unfortunately, no laws on the books prevent discrimination against the tatted by hiring managers, and company policies often prohibit employing individuals with visible tattoos or piercings. But let’s get beneath the surface and figure out how your employment strategy can overcome the misconceptions of the unadorned.

This part might get under your skin

· 37% of HR managers say a tattoo is the 3rd most likely physical attribute to limit career potential

· Only 3 in 10 HR managers felt bad breath and piercings were bigger red flags than tattoos

· 42% of workers feel visible tattoos are inappropriate at work

In addition to these sobering statistics, hiring managers often enter with the perception that tattooed individuals are impulsive, defiant, show little forethought, and may turn out to be partiers with poor attendance. This creates a precedent for the next question – should you keep your designs under wraps?

Hide or pride?

Annie Spratt, Unsplash

The perennial advice to “dress for success” becomes complicated when permanent body art enters the equation. 70% of Millennials make sure their tattoos can be hidden from a boss. Generally, concealing tattoos is your best bet; long-sleeved clothing and makeup offer a solid recourse as it eliminates the risk you’ll be screened out due to anti-ink bias.

But what if you can’t, or don’t wish, to conceal your paintjob?

If your tattoo is in a place too prominent to be hidden, dressing conservatively to interviews may help counterbalance the perception that you lack professionalism. Recent research suggests that grooming and business attire have more influence on hiring decisions than the presence of tattoos anyway.

In addition to cleaning up your look, proactively discussing your tattoos and your understanding about them in the workplace displays maturity, which can ease any lingering apprehension.

The most surefire way to break through the ink barrier is to prove you’re the best candidate for the job – if you’re a great fit, most managers are willing to look past the tattoos to the talent under them.

Recently published research in the journal Human Relations suggests that in the US, wage and employment discrimination against people with tattoos may no longer be an issue!

If the tattoo fits…

Different companies, lines of work, and locations can vary in their attitude toward visible body art on campus. Typically, more conservative industries, like government and finance tend to frown on tattoos more than creative disciplines like hospitality or media. Google and other progressive tech companies, as well as the manufacturing sector are known for hiring many inked professionals. Oftentimes, how significantly your tattoo will affect your job prospects depends on how client facing the role is. Some companies have a tacit Jekyll-and-Hyde system that lets you sport your style most days, and only cover up for clients. Being flexible about this will increase your odds, as will locating back office positions that have less direct interaction with customers.

If a job seems like a great fit, don’t let your tattooed status deter you – reaching out to employees responsible for hiring to learn if they have a policy regarding tattoos is a way to help you identify viable prospects and minimize the chance they’ll be unpleasantly surprised when you appear.

This useful infographic details some locations and industries that are more receptive to candidates with a little extra artwork, including San Francisco, Austin, Pittsburgh, New York, and LA.

No ragrets

If you’re early in your journey to becoming a human canvas, be warned: Some tattoos are safer than others. The New York Times released an article titled Want attention? Get a face tat, but head, neck, face tats have biggest stigma in the hiring market[xii]. They’re called “job stoppers” for a reason. So if you’re job seeking, don’t rush out to get that your countenance inked unless you’re already CEO, or a Soundcloud rapper with a dedicated fanbase. In the worst case, you can always fall back on your inked brethren: 94% of people with tattoos would hire other tatted people.

Stay positive and remember: you are a masterpiece that any employer would be lucky to have!

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