Are certain tattoos really still ‘job-stoppers’?

Businesswoman walking outdoors, holding coffee, using smartphone, tattoos on hands, low angle view
What do you think? (Picture: Getty)

Love them or loathe them, tattoos are still divisive – despite just how common they are these days.

A 2015 survey found that a fifth of British adults had at least one tattoo, with the number rising to 30% for 25 to 39-year-olds.

While a study in 2018 by the University of Miami Business School and the University of Western Australia Business School found that getting inked was no longer a hinderance in the workplace – tattooed men in fact were sometimes more likely to land a job than non-tattooed people – you might still be concerned.

However, while most of us prefer to conceal subtle inkings, there are some who feel tempted to have tattoos placed on their necks, hands and faces.

What’s the problem? These tattoos – and any that can’t be easily concealed – are known by many as ‘job stoppers’, thanks to their reputation for wrecking your chances of passing an interview with flying colours.

That’s long been thought to be the case, and if you’ve ever spoken about getting finger tats, you’ll likely have heard some refrain of: ‘but what about interviews?’.

It is true that tattoos may be a hindrance to your ability to get or keep a job in modern times.

Claire Brown, a career coach, honestly tells us: ‘The placement and content of tattoos is important to consider as it can impact other’s perceptions and first impressions of you.

‘Often, the larger, more visible tattoos on the face, neck, hands and arms and those with any images considered to be more graphic, scary or offensive in nature may not be well received.’

It’s so subjective, that it really does depend on who you land your interview with or who your boss is.

Some will care more than others – even if the tattoos hold no bearing over your professional ability.

Young woman on the go in the city
Changes in attitudes (Picture by Getty Images).

‘While the data is inconclusive on whether having a face tattoo directly impacts upon your employment opportunities, there are a number of instances where people have cited this to be an issue, so it’s worth weighing up the likelihood of it enhancing your job prospects,’ Claire adds.

‘Although recruitment criteria should be based upon your ability to fulfil the role in question, there will be organisational needs that need to be considered by the employer such as the perceptions of paying clients and customers.

‘The demographic of these clients, customers or service users will potentially inform the appropriateness of tattoos in that context and whether there is any legitimate need for a dress code.’

This is the legal bit

‘If an employer adopts a dress or appearance code, employees have to follow it unless there are specific religious or cultural grounds not to.

‘There is also no absolute legal protection for body art – only employees with a protected characteristic under the law have the absolute right not to be dismissed because of that characteristic.

‘However, if they have two years’ service then they could argue that no reasonable employer would dismiss someone simply because they have a tattoo.

‘So, it seems that for some with visible tattoos the greater challenge is securing employment, rather than retaining it.’

– Claire Brown, qualified career coach

If you’ll be based in an office without much customer facing interaction, with that logic your employer would be less likely to see this as an issue.

She continues: ‘Context is everything and you will want to consider whether your likely career choices will lead you to the type of settings that welcome this expression of creativity and individuality.

‘When pursuing a job opportunity, you want to be able to demonstrate the value you will add if you were to join the team and that needs to outweigh any caution or nervousness felt by prospective employers with regards to your tattoo.’

Claire is positive that the public’s perception of tattoos has improved in recent years.

Employees are increasingly being encouraged to be their most ‘authentic selves’ at work.

Some organisations, such as The Metropolitan Police, have reconsidered their policies and relaxed their rules on tattoos – now they consider each person on a case by case basis.

Claire believes that companies are less likely to approve of tattoos in finance and law than they are in healthcare or medicine.

If you feel it’s stopping you from getting a job, Claire recommends covering it up if possible, having it reworked into an alternative image if the content is the issue, or having it removed altogether by laser treatment.

Though you probably don’t want to do the last option.

These are some industries which accept tattoos most readily.

This industry is widely believed to be least open to visible tattoos.

  • Law
  • Healthcare
  • Finance
  • Policing
  • Education
  • Goverment
  • Administration (including receptionists)
  • Hotels

Many of these industries are client or people-facing and come with a level of ‘reputation’ to uphold.

Skinfo, a brand of skincare, stated that these industries had the highest percentages in tattooed Americans in 2016.

  • Military
  • Agriculture
  • Hospitality, Tourism & Recreation
  • Arts, Media & Entertainment
  • Retail

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