Tattoos and professional jobs: Do they mix?

Do you have a tattoo? Are you considering getting one? Have you stopped to think about how it might impact your job opportunities in the future? Tattoos are more mainstream than ever before, thanks to a variety of cultural influences. But are people really stopping and weighing all the pros and cons before they get a tattoo? Especially in more traditional professions, a tattoo might severely limit your job opportunities.

Let's face it, plenty of people are still turned off by visible tattoos. Whether right or wrong, there is something about tattoos that screams "unprofessional" and "irresponsible" to them. Part of the key in dealing with this issue lies in thinking about what you're going to have tattooed and where you're going to put it.

This is a picture of the tattoo I have covering the top of my foot. It's the most visible of my three tattoos, and I got it only after I was well-established in my own business. I have a smaller one that I got on my ankle while in college, and it was purposely small because I wanted to be able to cover it up if necessary, even when wearing a skirt.

I wasn't willing to lose any potential job opportunities because of a tattoo. Would it be silly for a potential employer to pass up my education and expertise just because I have a tattoo? Yes. But is that a reality for some people? Of course. So the biggest recommendation I can make when getting a tattoo is doing something that can be covered if necessary. You're less likely to regret your tattoo if you do that.

And running a close second is knowing when to show your tattoo and when to cover it. I wear sandals a lot in summer, both while I'm at work and while at play. But I know when it's okay to show the tattoo on my foot and when it's not. In general, I don't hesitate to wear sandals to work. But if I'm going to be in a courtroom on a given day, I wear shoes and socks. I also cover up my tattoo if I'm going to visit a client at a very traditional law firm. For certain speaking engagements, I'll also cover the tattoo if I think the crowd is a little more conservative.

I'm all for expressing your individuality, and I've done that exact thing. The key is in knowing when to suppress it a little. I don't want to risk losing a job opportunity or offending a client just because I want to show the pretty flowers on my foot. It's really not worth it, especially because there are plenty of opportunities off-the-job for me to show my artwork. And yes, I do love the fact that I work for myself and no one else can tell me that I have to cover my ink.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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