The curse of tattoos at interviews

Two years ago I wrote this post in jest. However, I was told recently by a good source that a candidate was rejected for a job at her company, because the candidate was sporting a tattoo at the interview. Perhaps there is more to this story than people think.

Tattoo

An article by Jeff Haden got me thinking. about my daughter’s latest request; a tattoo. Jeff’s article is about a man with a tattoo so intricate and enormous that Jeff could only stare at it, making the man uncomfortable.

Although my daughter’s only 16 and she doesn’t want to cover her whole arm with a tattoo, her request makes me think about the ramifications a tat will have on her career future. Will it be detrimental to her job search? I’m sure it will. She’s waiting for my reply.

Where will she put the tattoo, I ask her. I dunno, she tells me. Great. I don’t normally have to deny her requests, but I feel conflicted. I try to picture a tattoo on her.

Will it be private or public? Will it be tasteful or obnoxious? And how many is she planning to get? If it’s private, tasteful, and only one; I guess I could accept her getting a tat. However, if they’re numerous and on her neck, wrist, and anywhere they’d be seen during an interview or at work; I will definitely have an issue with that.

One of my customers who formally worked at an upscale salon has tattoos that cover her hands, forearms, and neck. They’re magnificent tattoos like the one Jeff mentions in his article, but the assortment of them makes me wonder how employers would view them, if she were to apply for, say, an office position.

This customer’s tats are so visible and magnificent that they distracted me during my workshops. Particularly during my Interview Techniques workshop when I want to have her stand up so I can tell the group that tattoos like these might not be the right image you want to present at an interview.

And then I want to add in a Sam Kenison rant, “They’re forever. Ah, Ah, Ahhhhh.” But I neither make her stand or express my disapproval of her tats. It’s her life, even if they are forever. I can only wonder why she decorated her body like a Harlem wall covered with graffiti. Maybe if she had a parent who urged her not to get the tattoos, she wouldn’t have marred her body with them.

Among the many aspects of our first impressions, tattoos are one of them. Employers are more forgiven than they were in the past. We know this because many of the people who serve us at restaurants and coffee houses, work with us in offices and outdoors, are displaying them freely and with impunity.

But it makes me wonder if the tattoo-baring employees displayed them so freely when they were interviewed, or did they hide them with long sleeves, turtle neck shirts, and pants that covered their ankles…in the dead of summer? If these folks with tats had the foresight to hide them, they may have dodged a bullet.

What if, for example, a college grad is applying for an accountant position, in the last stages of the interview process, and talking with the VP of say PricewaterhouseCoopers. She’s feeling so confident because she’s been told this interview is a formality, a sign off. It’s in the bag. So she lets her guard down and wears a sleeveless dress, revealing a small, tasteful butterfly tattoo on her shoulder.

Harmless, right?

This is my fear; my daughter will be that young woman at the interview of her life, only to blow it because of a simple tattoo. Only because some conservative guy might be the decision maker and think that this woman is too compulsive; not right for the company image.

All because of a tattoo my daughter got while her friends were encouraging her to “go for it” in New Hampshire at some seedy tattoo parlor. The image of her walking out of the parlor sporting a tat on her wrist, looking at her friends for approval, showing some doubt on her face; is enough for me to make a decision.

I tell her no to the tats, and she shrugs her shoulders and says fine. I get the feeling she never wanted one and all my worrying was for naught, until she asks for is a nose stud.

 

 

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19 thoughts on “The curse of tattoos at interviews

  1. Jeff Haden

    I think the issue is increasingly moot. Anyone under, oh, 35 or so (no science behind that age, just picked one) sees tattoos as normal. Even I, a fairly conventional white southern boy, don’t really notice tattoos anymore unless they’re unusually large or colorful or placed. So unless she’s going to go all Mike Tyson and tattoo her face… probably not an issue. And I’m sure you raised her to be smart enough to balance personal expression with professional concerns — or to accept that there are consequences when you try to stand out too much from the pack (both good and bad.)

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      You’re probably right, Jeff, about this point being moot in today’s society. I wrote this as a satirical piece to point out my paranoia–and perhaps the paranoia of other fathers–but there is a concern of jobseekers regarding first impressions. Add it to the list of the handshake, eye contact, smiling, what a person wears, etc. as reasons why a percentage of employers don’t hire someone based on his/her poor first impressions. Sad as it may be, many qualified people don’t get hired because of first impressions. And this may be decided within the first 90 seconds of the interview.

      The interview is a flawed process. We had a guest speaker come to the career center networking group to conduct a mock interview with one of our participants. As I was listening to it, I was thinking how stilted the questions and answers sounded. One person in the audience criticized the participant for not saying his name. I thought her criticism was nit picky given that the participant was nervous and it would be known what his name is. This goes to show how conscious jobseekers are of the importance of first impressions.

      Hopefully there aren’t many employers who see tattoos as a deterrent to hiring a qualified candidate. I wouldn’t if I were an employer, even if the tattoos were outrageous, like the ones my customer had. On the other hand, I pray my daughter doesn’t run into an employer who is more concerned about first impressions than her qualifications.

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  2. merrywriter23

    I have three tattoos. Two are hidden when wearing proper business attire. The other is on my ankle. Never didn’t get a job because of it. Which is not to say it couldn’t happen At my age, if someone doesn’t hire me because I have my angel daughter’s name on my ankle is not someone I want to be working with or for. Just my humble opinion.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      How would you, as an employer, view a candidate with a teardrop tattoo? Or a dagger? Or a arm covered with tattoos? Which of these would alter your decision, if any? It’s convenient to say, “I wouldn’t work for anyone who doesn’t like tattoos.” But if there are two candidates of similar skills, a thoughtful, yet opinionated, employer may choose the one without the tats.

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      1. merrywriter23

        While I understand what you’re saying, I hardly think two people who have the exact same skills and the only difference between the two was a tattoo. If it were the only thing different between two people that I saw in an interview, I would have them both come in again, perhaps do a test or something. But again, JMHO. I tend to see a person for who they are not what they look like and I understand in this day and age still, not many people think that way.

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      2. Things Career Related Post author

        Thank you, merrywriter23. I hope my daughter would be interviewed by you. I just speculate that there are interviewers who don’t have an open mind and hire people based on their values…or principles…which are not mine. Although, I would form an opinion if I came across someone like my customer.

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    2. cybercy4n6

      I have two tattoos myself. Both are hidden when wearing “proper business attire.” But if I wear something sleeveless or lightweight/sheer, you can’t miss the tattoo on my left shoulder: it’s a decent size and for my angel son (I’m sorry for your loss). I also don’t want to work for someone who has a problem with me choosing a tattoo as a way to remember my son. Trust me – you lose a child and you tend to lose your patience for B.S. much more quickly than you did prior to your loss.

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      1. cybercy4n6

        Thank you. Tattoos are pretty common among those of us who have lost a child. We want everyone to know our child existed on this earth and will always exist in our hearts, minds, and lives. I decided on something bolder than merrywriter23, but that’s my personality now.

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      2. cybercy4n6

        Thank you, TCR. Losing my son was what motivated me to go back to school; it took me 6 years to get my associate’s to work in computer forensics. I just graduated August 6. Now the hard part – getting a job!

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  3. Linda

    Here’s an interesting thought: Your comment, ‘ I can only wonder why she decorated her body like a Harlem wall covered with graffiti.’ is what leads to the behavior that tats are ‘bad for business’. Some view tats as beautiful works of art. Others view them as ‘grafitti’ on the body. Regardless of our own personal prejudices, tats are something that are CHOSEN by the person. If you CHOOSE to tat yourself, understand there are in fact, prejudices/consequences. It’s not illegal to skip over a candidate because they have tats. It’s the person’s choice, and there could be consequences. If someone CHOOSES to live in the desert, they will probably not be able to shop daily at Whole Foods. Should Whole Foods be required to supply them with food? No. It’s the persons choice to live in the desert. A trade off, if you will.
    Bottom line, tats are a choice, and sometimes choices have consequences. It’s up to you whether or not you want to take that chance.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      I regretted that sentence after publishing the post. I think it was a bit harsh, but it also elicited some responses from others. Cheap? Yes. Sometimes our children are unable to make wise decisions.

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  4. jan mead

    I appreciate this article. Bottom line to me is employers still have the power. So, no matter how much a job candidate defends his/her right to tattoos, if they are offensive to the employer they just might not get a job they would really like to have.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Jan, That’s why I say play it safe. As a parent I don’t want my kids to be at a slight disadvantage. I have nothing against tats; I wish I even had some. But there are some people who are stuck in the stone age.

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  5. Pingback: 10 first impressions for job-search success | Things Career Related

  6. davidhuntpe

    I have three tattoos; in 20/20 hindsight I would not get them were I to be back in time. Two are hidden; one is annoyingly lower on my upper arm than I thought, and does show sometimes when I wear a polo shirt.

    But I remember when I got my first one. At the tattoo convention there was a guy doing vampire bite tattoos. He had a line halfway around the convention. I thought “Cool! And you’re an idiot if you get one.”

    As I wrote in an essay which Neil Patrick was kind enough to republish, “7 seconds – why that’s all you may have to succeed or fail at interview”
    http://40pluscareerguru.blogspot.com/2013/08/7-seconds-why-thats-all-you-may-have-to.html
    and that has been seconded and confirmed multiple times by independent research, we make snap decisions about people. Whether that’s “fair” is another matter.

    But your attire and tattoos and piercings are taken as a metric on your decision-making and thinking-of-ramifications ability.

    Having said that, a discreet tattoo of a butterfly on your shoulder? Don’t care. Even if, in my own case, I’d not do them if given the choice.

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    1. Things Career Related Post author

      Dave, I can’t see you wearing tattoos. Maybe because you come across as more conservative than liberal. But this is a judgement on my side. People older than us, like my father-in-law have tattoos proclaiming their love for their significant other, or because they were in the military, or for other reasons. Now, it’s a cultural thing. My daughter and her sister want to get sister tats. My reaction was to shrug my shoulders; however, my suggestion is to get them in a discrete area.

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      1. davidhuntpe

        I AM a Conservative*… NOW. 🙂 Also, as a now-believing Jew, I cannot have tattoos. But at the time, I was not believing.

        * I joked with my (uber-liberal) co-worker that I am to the right of the Tea Party. He said “NOBODY could be”. Coincidentally, a few days later, I found a VERY substantive and many-questioned political quiz. It placed me on a spectrum…

        Communist, Socialist, liberal Democrat, moderate Democrat, Centrist, moderate Republican, conservative Republican, Tea Party member…. ME. I showed it to that coworker and said “Told ya!”

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