will tattoos prevent me from getting hired?

by Ask a Manager on November 10, 2009

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A reader writes:

I have a couple tattoos, 2 that are visible, one on my wrist and another on my forearm. They aren’t large or obscene. I also have my nose pierced with a small stud. I do have a good job, that I’ve been at for 6 years, and I got these “decorations” while working here. I am currently looking for a new position and wondered if having visible tattoos will hurt me from getting hired, although they can be covered up by long sleeves. What do you think?

Depends 100% on the company. Some won’t care, some will. Some industries would see right past it or even welcome it, and some would frown on it.

Unless you’re in a very creative field, I’d cover the tattoos up during the interview and definitely remove the nose ring — just as part of dressing appropriately formal for an interview.

But, on the other hand, if it’s very important to you to get a job where things things don’t matter, then you can always keep them visible and assume that it’ll be a good screening mechanism for ensuring that you end up in the culture you want. Do you want to work for someone who would have a problem with your tattoos and piercing? If not, take that into account.

{ 41 comments }

Anonymous November 10, 2009 at 3:52 am

As a recruiter, I once had a hiring manager who thought a candidate was brilliant – but couldn't get past the fact that she had a small hole where she once had a nose piercing. The candidate wasn't wearing a stud – in fact she hadn't worn one for years – but the HM couldn't stop staring and didn't think she could work with her. Odd. I stayed in touch with the candidate and moved into an internal recruitment role, became team leader – and hired the candidate a couple of years later. She was awesome.

Anonymous November 10, 2009 at 6:48 am

I once interviewed a candidate who had a tattoo above one breast. I wouldn't have known that, except her scoop-necked, silk-blend shirt kept sliding down during the interview! I was thinking, if you know you have a chest tattoo to cover, go for a top with a very shallow scoop- or v-neck, or even wear a button-up shirt. The candidate was a total dud anyway (she had the thousand-yard stare of someone who's been in a terrible job for 20 years, and this was just a half-hour interview!), but even if she was really amazing, I'm not sure that my boss would have approved her, because the slowly-revealed tattoo was too distracting. I'm glad my only tattoo is on my back — no worries about hiding!

HRD November 10, 2009 at 8:00 am

Totally agree that it depends on the sector, although my number 2 has tattoos and she has worked with me in a couple of companies in different sectors. But then I knew her and her capability, so it didn't worry me.

Krissy November 10, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Thank you for the comments, I do plan on covering up my tattoos for the most part, but I would like to be in a company that does "welcome" openness. Great comments Thanks again!

Jonathan McLeod November 10, 2009 at 3:46 pm

I have an eyebrow ring, and have contemplated whether or not to remove it. For the most part I haven't.

Early in my career, I interviewed at a small web company. I showed up in a suit with a fairly "normal" hair cut. My interview took place at a picnic table nearby the office. Months later, my boss said that if it hadn't been for my eyebrow ring, he wouldn't have hired me (I'm not sure if this was true or not – it might have been).

It is a tough call. Nowadays, I tend to remove it for interviews, but I'll generally try to get a feel for the environment of the company with whom I'm interviewing. Sometimes, it seems appropriate to keep it in.

Anonymous November 10, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I have a few tattoos and only one is visable (on my ankle). For interviews I make sure I cover it up with a large bandaid and stockings. The situation however is different since on a daily basis it is not a tattoo you will notice so for me it is not even a matter of the company culture.

Anonymous November 11, 2009 at 3:29 am

It really depends on the culture of the hiring company. My current employer will not hire anyone with visible tattoos or piercings that are outside the ear. I have been considering getting a tattoo on my shoulder that would only be visible if I wear a tank top or short sleeve shirt, not my work clothes. If it were in a visible spot, I'd get fired.

I personally feel that that sort of rigid policy is unfair. My employer doesn't fire or reprimand employees who have hair colors that don't look natural, who go tanning and look extra crispy, or long elaborate nails. To me, those are as much a distraction as a tattoo or piercing, especially the nails. It also seems like a policy that targets younger employees at the expense of protecting the older ones.

Dataceptionist November 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm

I have pink hair and I make sure its extra pink when I'm going somewhere like an interview, because I don't want them to think I'm going to change it, or that its a once off thing. I've been asked if its for breast cancer and stuff, I just say I like pinK!

Sean December 2, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I am a former manager and I wouldn't hold that againist you. In fact, I once had an employee with blue, red and yellow hair! I have two sort of visibile tattoos and my district supervisor never said anything either, in fact he liked seeing stuff like that and he was in his early 60s!

I personally believe it should be againist the law to not hire someone because they have tats. It could be a religious part of their life as well as their own choice. It shows what kind of crappy place to work for they could be if they are that picky!

Tattoo Cover-up Sleeves February 12, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Tough call – likely depends on the company, the job you’re interviewing for and the person interviewing you. even though tattoos have nothing to do with your ability to perform on the job. The issue is often perception, and along with that comes all the stereotypes.

Perception can be a powerful influence in the decision to extend a job offer, and denying that this exists could be limiting your career.

Right or wrong, it’s a tough economy and a much more competitive job market. My advice would be to cover them up for the interview.

---- May 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Having tattoos or peircings doesn’t effect how hard someone works or their character. Just because someone is expressive through the way they decorate their body does not mean they are unequal to someone who expresses themselves in a different way. That is not how it is in this world, hopfully one day people will see that discriminating expresion is the exact same thing as discriminating against skin color. Ignorance is repaid only with Pain.

Dr. Rice July 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

(a) You mean affect not effect. (b) There is a BIG difference between discriminating against color and not hiring someone for making a decision that makes your chance of getting hired slimmer. Your answer is shameful. You can’t decide color but can decide to get a tattoo/piercing or not. That line of thought is one example of how critical thinking in some youth runs like water in the desert.

If you get a tattoo and want to get a job, make sure to go for the classy choice and make sure it’s not visible with normal work attire. Otherwise, expect a bigger challenge with acquiring a job.

Anonymous July 6, 2011 at 9:56 pm

One of my fellow co-workers had a tattoo put on his lower right arm. he has been driver with the company for 5 years. Within a week he was re- assigned from a being courier to the warehouse. Coincident I think not.

Dr. Rice July 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm

Probably not a coincidence.

Manager MD November 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm

I have interviewed many a person in my time and it definitely depends on the work sector, in medicine you can NOT have ANY visible tattoos that aren’t on religious grounds, I have had to turn away applicants before due to them having tattoos, some of the time teenagers will get them to be rebellious or to look ‘cool’ to their friends but in the workplace that kind of thing isn’t always tolerated.

Dr. Rice July 16, 2012 at 9:34 pm

I absolutely agree. That is why I do a group interview for the first interview; the tattooed ones simply don’t get called for a second interview. I find a group interview is great for screening for tattoos and seeing how interviewees interact with each other.

Andrea October 4, 2012 at 8:44 am

So you rather interview/hire the non-tattooed person that isn’t or may not be qualified for the position, but the tattooed person who is a hard worker and very qualified candidate will miss out on this opportunity simply because of your personal dislikes of visible tattoos? It shouldn’t matter. I mean, I am sure there are things that people don’t like or approve of that you two do, but they look pass that. In my opinion (and we all have them), it shouldn’t matter. If my Doctor had an arm full of tattoos, that wouldn’t bother me one bit. Tattoos do not define a person’s character.

Snow March 11, 2013 at 3:05 pm

I am a type 1 diabetic and am currently in school for nursing. I never wear identification that says I am diabetic. I was currently thinking about getting a tattoo on my wrist that says, “Type 1 Diabetic”. Will employers still look down on this?

Any Real Job December 20, 2011 at 11:03 pm

When looking for a job, most of you are right. But when looking for a career, this is a different story. True professionals don’t have visible tattoos. I never be able to sell $50000 worth of service in the fuel industry I work with tattoos trailing up my forearm. If your idea of a good job stops at $17 bucks an hour, then sure.. go get a tattoo for the world to see. But if you want to be taken seriously in the cooperate world, don’t be stupid and be discrete .

Brittney January 9, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Im 17 years old and I’m a graduating senior and been looking and filling out job applications for a long time and no one seems to calling me back or pulling My application from the list . What is preventing me from getting a job ?

Dr. Rice July 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm

No one here can answer that. Only a person who has interviewed you can. Do you have a school counselor? If so, ask him/her/them to do a mock interview to you to determine what you can do to improve your likelihood of being hired!

silent January 25, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Im only 13 and i do tattoos and i have a good job at my uncle’s sheet metal indusrie i keep mine covered at school and at work . At school they tell me to cover it up with long sleeves like at work . I guess not it dosnt matter if you have a tattoo or not to have a good job just keep it from showing .

Dr. Rice July 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm

If you’re going to get tattooed, make sure that it’s easily hidden with industry-appropriate clothing. However, many people have tattoos that cannot easily be covered.

Anonymous June 22, 2012 at 10:55 am

I’m an owner of s small fashionable boutique. My customer base is pretty diverse in terms of age. We carry high-end merchandise. I recently posted an ad for a sales person. The perfect candidate had tattoos on both her wrists and arms. I did not hire her. It was not an easy choice in fact I struggled with it for almost a week but ultimately I decided that not hiring was the best decision. Why? Because I have an image to uphold. It’s how I make my living. I’m a high end boutique not Hot Topic. Tattoos are too distracting. I myself like them but I don’t think my customer’s would. The Sales position was a stepping stone to Management. I don’t see a woman with tattooed wrists and arms as professional. Sorry but that’s how I feel. Don’t be fooled into believing that tattoos do not affect a potential employers decision to hire you. Think before you tattoo and if you do decide to do it place the tattoo where you can cover it up. Image is everything -that’s why advertising is so effective.

Wow, Really? August 21, 2012 at 12:31 am

I’m not trying to be mean when I say this, but: we live in the 21st century, and this is 2012. The fact that you discriminate against people who choose to get permanent artwork on their body is ridiculous and arrogant. If this woman was perfect for the job, why NOT hire her? As long as the tattoos are not obscene, what is the issue? A person’s body is their body, and not hiring someone because they have something tattooed on their lower arm or wrist is as bad as not hiring someone because you don’t like their skin color.

Grow up. People are a lot more open and accepting in this time and era than they were 25 years ago. As long as a potential employee has the skills and professionalism it takes for their line of work, THAT will shine through towards your customers more than a quick glance at her tattoos will.

Andrea October 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

Agreed!

latasha October 7, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I feel that all you have to do is cover the tattoos, because that way you know you did everything you could and if they don’t hire you it was not your fault. I have noticed a lot of people cannot articulate well, one thing that amazes me is that while we are worried about tattoos the employer disqualify you if you have small children which I believe to be interesting.

Dr. Rice July 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Well, this is a great question. In my office, my patients mean everything. In my region, the average patient is not going to be comfortable with a person who is highly-designed with ink and metal. I run a business at the end of the day and logically, in order for that business to thrive, I must make only good business decisions. That means that in my office, if you have visible tattoos or piercings, I see you as a business liability. I would not hire someone that fits that description unless I had a position where that person worked at home and/or otherwise never had physical and/or visual contact with patients. I do realize that means that I could be passing up a complete treasure.

Now, that being said – my answer may be similar to doctor’s offices, hospitals, etc. It may also be similar to many industries. It is not, however, the only answer! There are some industries where something like that wouldn’t matter. In fact, there are doctor’s offices and hospitals where said decorations wouldn’t matter.

I will also say that I have the sense to know that judging a book by its cover is irresponsible. My first paragraph should not be summed up other than to say that the patient/customer’s comfort and perception is key to business owners and thus it will reflect poorly in an interview if you don’t fit a certain mold. And that’s what tattoos and piercings are about; breaking molds – violating expectations etc. I love many people who are decorated and have found out that judging them is a terrible mistake. When it comes to it, it’s a complete business decision.

Alex September 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I think it all depends on where you go.
I recently became a manager at a small restaurant, I have 1 visible tattoo, blue hair and 4 visible face piercings. However I was hired with only 1 piercing and they were even iffy about that. But now, I’m a ‘star’ employee.
I think it COULD hinder an interview, but if you have an exceptional personality, resume and work ethic, I feel it shouldn’t be as important

(mind you, I would still dye my hair before any interview :P )

Tattoo? September 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm

A tattoo were it can be seen was your choice.
Not hiring you would be my choice.

I can’t even imagine these types of questions coming from someone with a tattoo. You’ve made the bad choice in your life and you’ve got the mindset to think that the world should tolerate your decision and just go along with it.

Piercings too. What the hell would make someone think that my customers should have to look at some attention seeking idiot that can’t plan their own futures? It’s also a reflection of the managers mindset.

Me September 13, 2012 at 12:19 am

Tattoo? Wow that was really ignorant!

Andrea October 4, 2012 at 11:03 am

He/She is really ignorant for posting this. I’m pretty sure someone doesn’t like your hair color, or you face for that matter. To call someone out their name (idiot), makes you look like the idiot here “Tattoo”.

George September 17, 2013 at 8:42 am

Bravo.. The irony is that these tattoo folk go around flaunting their individuality and they can not accept that you have your individuality as well. Stupid to make appearance permanent. If I go to an interview and my shirt is mistakenly dirty. It sucks I ruined my interview, but I am good to go for the next.

Me September 13, 2012 at 12:18 am

For the idiot tattoo? Really that is what you think? my future is bright and colorful unlike your plain future doing things because someone else expects that out of you. You are an idiot and your comment proves it.

Jen B September 14, 2012 at 11:15 am

I have a nose piercing, which I chose to have done because not only do I love the way it looks, many women in my family and my culture also have this particular piercing. I don’t have, and will never get, any tattoos or other piercings, facial or otherwise.

I have an interview in a couple of weeks and I absolutely would not remove this stud – but I would choose something non-sparkly, plain and conservative such as a plain gold ball, just as I will wear professional and restrained earrings. The thought that I wouldn’t get hired simply because of a stud is ridiculous! They are not just for extreme cultures anymore and I have noticed a great deal of women with them in the work place.

I think so long as you act with common sense there is no reason to discriminate – so be sensible with your jewellery choices just as you would be with your clothing. As for tattoos, I think it depends on the actual picture and placing. If it’s some sort of bleeding skull or “love and hate” on the knuckles, I would question the judgement of that candidate, especially if it seemed recent. But why not other tattoos; they don’t harm people, they are incredibly common and in some cases, actually look good.

Anonymous December 4, 2012 at 5:33 am

I have a huge tattoo of a dragon that goes from my shoulder right to my wrists and on my back i have a tattoo of a valkyrie covering my entire back, an upper sleeve tattoo on my left arm and i have my lower right leg tattoo’d up to my knee. I just wear pants and a long sleeve shirt to work and i have no problems at all.

Chaucer April 16, 2013 at 12:26 am

I love tattoos (I have three of them so far, and want to get more,) but they are all in places that are easily covered, even with a short-sleeved shirt. I would LOVE to live in a world where people wouldn’t hold having visible tattoos against people, but I know that in order to get ahead I do have to play by those rules, so for the time being, everything I get is easily hidden.

No, getting a tattoo was not a “bad choice,” it was something that represented me, my struggles, my achievements and my goals. There is nothing on my body that is designed to intimidate people, nor did I get anything to look “tough” or to look like a “rebel.”

JeyEchelon August 1, 2013 at 6:50 am

I’ve been wanting a tattoo but I’m scared that I won’t get a job after I graduate. I’m going to take Tourism or some Aeronautical courses. Is there anyone who can tell me if they allow people with tattoos to work in the field?

Cobi August 25, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Hello there.
So, I myself have two tattoos both visible at the time it seemed like an awesome idea because “I was young” and “I’m awesome so I’ll still get hired” but sadly I’ve learned that the city I live in is set in this simple minded view that tattoos make the person. I do a wonderful job at customer service, I love helping people and I have drive. Honestly dealing with this struggle of not being able to get a job just because its within the guidelines of the corporate policies of stores has pushed me to become a better person. I’m bettering myself going to school to become a nurse and I know in the end I will get at least my hand tattoo removed but I refuse to get it done until after I graduate. I am me. I would never treat anyone differently just because of the way they look EVER. I’m too kind natured and it is a shame that within my life I have come to hate what I’ve put on my body. I even encourage other people to rethink their decisions to get visible body art.

My tattoos: hand tattoo of a boy robot extending his arms with flowers w/ writing that says “our hearts connect.”

and lower forearm of a key with the date of my grandmas birth and death on it.

George September 17, 2013 at 8:36 am

You know what the most surprising thing in all of this is? .. The fact that 20 something college grads are complete oblivious and naive to hiring practices. What are they teaching in our education system? Parents need to drill it into their childs head that they will be denied jobs if they have tattoos . Appearance matters. Remember , just because you have your individuality to get tattoos, equally the hirer has individuality to make as much profits as possible. If tattoos detract, you wont be hired. I do not hire tattoo people.

Marcus October 22, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I’m planning to get my forearm tattooed. Indeed, I’m not worried about my future interview because I can easily cover it up. People see what they get, they ignore our own experiences. And yet, a tattoo is not just a tattoo, it’s much more. I met people who got tattooed because they recovered from cancer.
I will have my tattoo in order to represent my happiness, ( I got depressed and I tried to kill myself twice) and I want to transmit my rebirth to people. when you are depressed, it’s like you r dead, which is why I can’t abide this thought ” if you have a tattoo, you disturb me”, you don’t have the right to say it. To sum up, a tattoo can disclose something beautiful.
When I was depressed I met many and many psychiatrists, they looked like professional, but they weren’t at all. The only one who helped me to win this war was a doctor with a tattoo in the lower forearm.
I gave my personal experience to get the point ” a tattoo doesn’t make you less smart or less professional or less hard-worker.

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