Tattoos are pretty commonplace in North America these days. Where they were once the hallmark of outlaws and bikers, nowadays you see young women walking down the street sporting full sleeve tattoos and – a fairly new development – designs all over their legs.

Times, and attitudes, have changed. Having tattoos obviously doesn’t affect one’s career or job prospects as much as it once did. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any effect at all.

The subject often comes up in career and workplace news. A few months ago we reported on a standoff between the Ottawa Convention Centre, and three employees who had been locked out over their refusal to cover their tattoos. And, on the other side, it was recently reported that Starbucks is considering revisiting its longstanding policy that employees must cover tattoos. So, it’s still an issue. How much of an issue? We decided to ask.

We asked over 300 (327) employers how a candidate’s tattoos would affect their decision to hire or not hire that person. Fourteen percent said they would be less likely to hire someone with tattoos, 23% said it would not affect their decision, and the rest said it would depend on the number and location of the tattoos and/or the role being filled. The rest, that is, except for one lone individual who answered that they would actually be more likely to hire a person with tattoos.

“Would a candidate having tattoos affect your decision to hire that person?”

Yes. I would be less likely to hire them. 13.85%

Yes. I would be more likely to hire them 0.31%

No. It would not affect my decision. 22.77%

It would depend on the role I was trying to fill. 35.08%

It would depend on how many tattoos and where they were. 28.00%

This means that a total 77% of employers will or might be less likely to hire you if you have tattoos. We invited respondents to write in comments, a sample of which are posted below, and what many said was that tattoos might affect their decision if the tattoos were offensive or racist, or if the role was customer facing. This all makes perfect sense, the latter because even if the employer doesn’t mind the tattoos, a customer might, and it is the customer who keeps the business going.

Turning to the general population, we asked nearly 5,000 people – not necessarily in hiring positions – if they take a person less seriously if the person has tattoos. Forty-nine percent said “No,” leaving half (51%) of respondents who either do take someone less seriously for having tattoos, or might, depending on the situation and how many tattoos the person has.

“Do you take people less seriously if they have tattoos?”

Yes, I do. 22.04%

No, I don’t. 49.39%

It depends on the situation. 18.63%

It depends on how many. 9.94%

What this means for jobseekers and those entering the workforce is that you should think before you ink.

Here at Workopolis we would never suggest you don’t get tattooed. The author of this survey has several. But we think you should be aware of how the decision might affect your career and job prospects.

While it might be tempting to say you wouldn’t want to work for anyone who would judge you based on your tattoos and doesn’t accept you the way you are, keep in mind that you might then find yourself out of work for a very long time.

The takeaway here is to think about your life – your whole life – and how your aesthetic choices fit into that life before making any irreversible decisions.

When asked to comment, respondents said:

“Tattoos are fine, just not on the face, and nothing that promotes racism or hate.”

“I love tattoos and hire people for their brains not their lack or plethora of ink. However, if I saw a swastika on someone I would pass.”

“No matter how much meaning they have for the owner, they are just not attractive nor professional looking. It does affect my decision making process when hiring.”

“For the large majority of our positions, no it would not impact. For a position however that had a large customer facing role, depending where they were, it may impact our decision.”

“The quantity would not make a difference. It would be a combination of the location and role. An engineering developer with hand tattoos would be fine. Tattoos on a sales rep would be something to think about. They could be covered wrist to ankle for all I care and if they were good enough at what they do it would not matter at all.”

“For me looking at the miserable decorations on the skin is repulsive.”

“We hire a range of artistic and technical people. Tattoos are very welcome in our workplace but they don’t put someone ahead or behind other applicants or employees. They are just body art and expressions of individuality.”

“Tattoos are becoming commonplace within our society and that to a large extent the biases against inked persons are disappearing. There will always be someone willing to judge others based solely upon appearance but appearance is one of the lowest predictors of performance for me.”

“While we would not be concerned about hiring employees with tattoos to work on a job site, we would consider it inappropriate for our corporate office.”

“I look for signs of character. Unique hireability comes from finding the gem. Despite what so many people think, top talent rarely fits the cookie-cutter mold emerging from business schools.” – From the single person who said they would be more likely to hire a candidate with tattoos.


See also:

What your handshake says about you

How to quit your job with class

6 workplace etiquette rules that can boost your career


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