Thinking of Inking? The Possible Impact of Tattoos on Your Job Search
Amanda has a lotus blossom tattoo at the nape of her neck, under her long black hair. Caitlyn has an ivy vine in several shades of green curling artistically up her right leg and a dragonfly at the base of her spine. Brad, a single dad, opted for banners with the names of his two daughters, one on the top of each arm. His friend Doug has a huge and elaborate shield covering half his back. And Meg just had a pink heart with her husband’s and new baby boy’s names tattooed right above her heart.
Each tattoo has personal meaning. Each person will tell you that the tattoos are an important expression of their identity. And all of them are in the tattoo “closet.” If you met them at their jobs, you’d never guess there was a tattoo or so under their conservative dress.
You wouldn’t think they’d need to be so cautious about sharing their body art in 2013. A Pew Research Poll (done in 2010) showed that 23 percent of Americans have a tattoo. According to an article in the American Academy of Dermatology, about half of the people in their 20s have either a tattoo or body piercing (other than for pierced earrings) and the number is growing.
And yet: There are many work places that include a ban on body art and piercings in their dress codes.
It’s partly a generational divide. Every generation finds a way to make itself distinct from the one before and to make a statement to the old folks that “we’re cool, you’re not.” The flappers in the 1920s shortened their skirts and bobbed their hair. Young women in the 1960s shortened their skirts even more (remember the mini?) and grew their hair long while the young men drove their fathers wild by abandoning crew cuts for dreads and ponytails. The ’80s saw the rise of hair in new and startling hues (blue, puce, electric green) and multiple ear piercings. In the ’90s it was grunge. The 2000s seem to be about tattoos. It’s not your granddad’s simple anchor on the bicep from his Navy days, either. No. Now it’s full sleeves and multiple tattoos in multiple places. Many really are gorgeous works of art.
The grandparent generation is shaking its collective head. For many older middle Americans, tattoos are associated with convicts, bikers and gang members. As recently as 2008, a Harris poll of 2000 adults found that 32 percent of people without tattoos believe that those with tattoos are likely to do something deviant. That’s almost a third! Corporations, banks, attorney offices, retailers that appeal to the general public and public agencies aren’t likely to risk alienating a third of their potential clients by confronting them with their values about body art.
Hiring managers know that. In a recent survey by Careerbuilder.com, 31 percent of HR managers said that visible tattoos can have a negative impact on their decision whether to hire someone. Why? Because the people who own the business or company are often in the 50- to 70-year-old crowd. Even when that’s not the case, the customer base for a business may include a substantial number of those who are 40 and up. If that’s an important demographic for a particular workplace, tattoos can be a liability for getting a job there.
You may think a hiring policy against body art is discriminatory. It’s not. Companies have the right to have a dress code and that dress code may exclude tattoos. You may argue that it makes sense that a skull and crossbones or a bleeding dagger might bother people but your butterflies shouldn’t offend anyone. Maybe so. But from a company’s point of view, teasing out what is and isn’t okay on an individual basis is just too much trouble. It’s far easier to ban them all.