People@Work: How to Job Hunt with Tattoos


Given the nation's tough job market, it's prudent advice for job seekers to appear as attractive as possible -- not just on paper, but in person, too. While there's no shortage of advice on how to properly dress or conduct oneself during an interview, some things can't be changed, such as tattoos.

The art of injecting ink deep into the skin has been around for thousands of years. But it's only been within the last two decades or so that tatoos have achieved acceptance among a wide swath of Americans, including employers.

The Food and Drug Administration estimates that as many as 45 million Americans have at least one tattoo. Unsurprisingly, they're more popular among young people. A 2010 Pew Research Center report found that 38% of 18- to 29-year-olds have tattoos, compared with only about 32% of 30- to 45-year-olds.

With so many Americans sporting some sort of tattoo, it would seem that employers might find it difficult to find anyone who doesn't have one. And that's led some job seekers, especially those in the younger age group known as Millennials, to make fewer efforts to conceal them, says employment-services firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Tats on Full Display

While the majority of people keep their tattoos covered, the Pew Research study found that 30% of tattooed Millennials publicly display their body art. Additionally, nearly one in four of them have a piercing somewhere other than the ear lobe.

"Two decades ago, showing off tattoos and body piercings would be a surefire way to get your résumé placed in the 'No Way!' pile," says Challenger CEO John Challenger. But times have changed. "Those making the hiring decisions are younger and not as adherent to traditions about workplace appearance," he says.

That's an assessment with which career-advice columnist Andrea Kay generally agrees. But the attitude varies in different industries, says Kay, author of five books on job seeking, including Life's a Bitch and Then You Change Careers. You're more likely to find acceptance of tattoos among hiring managers in fields such as technology or retail, while less likely in more conservative areas, such as banking and law.

Tattoos and piercings are a form of self-expression, and although they have become more ubiquitous, their very statement has an affect on the viewer, Kay says. "If they potentially make people you'd be dealing with in your work uncomfortable, they become a detriment."

How to Make the Right Impression

In that sense, tattoos and piercings are similar to casual dress in the workplace, which has also gained in popularity. "People have adjusted their thinking in what is acceptable," Kay says. "But it still comes down to the impression you want to make on the people you're dealing with in your business."

For young job seekers seeking additional advice on tattoos, piercings and other matters when going for a job interview, Challenger offers these tips:

  • Tattoos: Show them off, unless they are offensive, in which case you should plan on concealing it in the interview and even after getting the job. The other time you would want to conceal your tattoos is if you know that a certain employer would frown upon such decorations.

  • Piercings: Beware! With increased security at many corporate offices, too much "bling" could set off metal detectors. You do not want to be late to the interview because you were forced to remove 12 body piercings at the security desk. In addition to the security issue, too many piercings might be a distraction for the interviewer and could hurt your chances. Also, it would be prudent to remove tongue and lip piercings, as these often make it difficult for others to understand what you are saying.

  • Cell phones: Cell phones have no place in the job interview. They should be turned off and stashed away in a bag or briefcase. Imagine being in the middle of answering an interview question and your personalized ring tone featuring the latest hip-hop anthem interrupts. Even on vibrate, a cell phone going off can be a major distraction in the interview.

  • Portable Music Players: Although it seems that everyone has them attached to their pocket, purse or hip, keep the iPods at home. If co-workers see you with ear buds in your ears all day long, they will assume you are not listening, and possibly not working very hard.

  • Dress for the Job You Want: The old adage is still true today. Upper management will be likelier to recognize you if you begin to dress and groom yourself professionally. They may see it as taking initiative or acting as a role model for the office.