Can having tattoos hurt your chances of getting a job?
When Emily Kalatzis interviewed for a graphic designer job at a recruitment agency, she wore long sleeves to cover up her tattoos
“I think it would be silly for an employer to not hire someone based on tattoos… but I’d rather be safe than sorry,” she says.
She’s not the only person who feels that way, and for good reason: A 2014 Workopolis poll found a whopping 77 per cent of employers may be less likely to hire someone with tattoos.
But now, in 2017 — with at least one in five Canadians now having a tattoo — will getting inked actually hurt your chances of getting hired?
Yes and no, according to Andrew Timming, a professor at the University of Western Australia Business School who has conducted multiple studies on tattoos in the workplace.
“Overall, employers still hold negative perceptions toward body art and continue to stereotype, but these perceptions are changing quickly,” he says. “Over the last couple decades, there has been significant growth in the prevalence of tattoos.”
The key thing to keep in mind is that tattoos are perceived differently by different employers and individuals.
At companies seeking to target a younger, edgier demographic, tattoos are likely to be seen as an asset because they are consistent with the “brand identity,” Timming explains. Hip, youthful clothing stores, for instance, even feature tattooed models in their ad campaigns.
That’s the kind of workplace culture Patrick Worden found as a personal trainer in Hamilton. At his gym, around half the trainers have visible tattoos, and out of more than 15 trainers, only a couple don’t have any at all.
“Obviously having tattoos plays absolutely no role in our hiring process, but as a trainer there is always the outside perception that you’re at least a little gritty or tough so tattoos actually kind of fit that picture,” he says.
But that’s not the case everywhere.
“More traditional companies whose target demographic includes older people are much more likely to view tattoos on job applicants negatively,” Timming adds. “In many instances, they will be a deal breaker in a job interview.”
Still, some people say those “traditional” viewpoints are also relaxing.
“Nowadays, tattoos are a lot more acceptable in all workplaces, not just being a bartender or a waitress… even doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians have them,” says Shruti Shekar, a political reporter in Ottawa. “I think that’s because our culture and our generation has slightly shifted with a lot of younger people being influenced by pop stars that have tattoos and are very open about it.”
But since every industry and company may be slightly different, Timming said there are a few key things for job seekers to keep in mind.
- Consider the location of your body art. Face tattoos are a bold choice that won’t sit well with every employer. But ones that can be covered with clothing can be concealed during job interviews or business meetings with clients. “Tattoos that are difficult to conceal, for example, on the hands, neck and faces, are obviously likely to present job applicants with greater problems in securing employment,” Timming explains.
- Steer clear of offensive designs. The genre of your tattoos matter, so be aware that certain designs or words — like vulgar language or profanity — could be a big turn-off. “‘LOVE’ and ‘HATE’ might look cool on your knuckles at 21, but decidedly less cool at 51,” Timming says.
- Either cover them up, or show them off. It’s totally company-specific, so it’s important to do your research on the culture to see if covering up your body art for an interview would be a good idea — or on the flip side, if it’s actually helpful to show them off. “For example, if you’re applying to be the creative director at a marketing firm, then the tattoos, if tasteful, will blend nicely into the background of that company,” says Timming. But if you’re applying for a behind-the-scenes type job, like a programmer or software developer, where there is no interaction with customers, then the tattoos are going to be less important than for heavily customer-facing jobs.
- Bottom line: If you want one, get one. While some hiring managers might raise an eyebrow at your colourful sleeve, it’s your body — and you don’t have to work for a company that makes you hide your ink. “The times are changing, so it no longer makes sense to advise people to avoid tattoos entirely,” Timming says.
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