Should I Hide Tattoos and Remove Piercings for Job Interviews?
To Cover or Not to Cover? That Is the Question
What's Up Your Sleeve?
You have the required job skills and the passion to succeed. But you also have some unsolicited extras—you confidently rock some pretty killer tattoos. Plus a piercing or two (and not in the earlobes either!).
Overall, 29% of Americans now enjoy tattoos. Among Millenials, that figure is almost one in two.
Piercings are also becoming more mainstream, particularly among younger workers. Thus, there's a good chance that your interviewers have some body art themselves.
It used to be that human resources (HR) professionals unanimously recommended that applicants conceal their tattoos and remove piercings if they hoped to ever get hired. However, with body art now more common than ever, does this advice still ring true?
Going Mainstream: Americans with a Tattoo or Piercing
% with a Tattoo
% with a Piercing (other than an earlobe)
Millenial (born after 1980)
Generation X (born 1965-1980)
Boomers (born 1946-1964)
Silents (born 1928-1945)
Greatest Generation (born before 1928)
Conceal or Reveal? Factors to Consider
It's your choice whether to pursue this job prospect further and allow your tattoos and piercings to remain visible or not.
To help you make a decision that is right for you, take the following factors into consideration:
- perceptions of people with tattoos and piercings
- nature of the industry and job you're seeking and
- company culture and policy.
When you got your tattoos/piercings, how much consideration did you give to your future employability?
Perceptions of People with Tattoos and Piercings
Unfortunately, how others view your self-expression is not always positive, nor is it fair.
Limited research studies have been conducted on the topic, but what's available reveals that people with tattoos are regarded as less intelligent (27%), less attractive (45%), less spiritual (25%), and less healthy (25%). They are also perceived as more rebellious (50%) and more capable of deviant behavior (24%).1 (Those are a lot of assumptions!)
While men with tattoos tend to be seen as more masculine, dominant, and aggressive, women with tattoos face additional perceptual burdens.3 They are more likely to be regarded as less athletic, less motivated, less honest, less generous, and less artistic.2 Whoa! And that's before you open your mouth for the interview!
Such biases may serve to stigmatize an otherwise qualified job seeker. While these largely negative perceptions may not always be fair, studies have found that sporting tattoos and piercings is related to a number of risk-taking behaviors. These include greater use of alcohol and marijuana, a larger number of sexual partners, and less social conformity. Thus, the biases may feel unfair but there may be some kernels of truth in the stereotypes.
Because the stereotypes are almost exclusively negative, consider why you'd want to trigger them in the minds of interviewers. The point of the interview is to impress, isn't it?
Like it or not, during the face-to-face job interview you will be judged based on factors other than your job-relevant skills: appearance, mannerisms, posture, etc. Simply looking the part is important.
- Will your piercings or the location/nature of tattoos distract from your talent?
- Could they offend? (Political, risque, or death themed tattoos might.)
- Will you be able to resist clicking your tongue piercing against your teeth while you formulate an answer to a hard interview question?
You want your interviewers to remember you for your dazzling talents, not the "biohazard" symbol on your wrist. (Yes, I know someone with such a tattoo.)
Nature of the Job and Industry
Another factor to consider is the nature of the job that you're seeking and the industry it's in.
Contrasted with traditional occupations and job roles, employers in creative industries such as those depicted in the table below may be more accepting of tattoos and piercings. Academia, the media, and the entertainment industries, for example, are less conventional, whereas the finance and banking, tobacco, and pulp and paper industries are generally very conservative.
Tattoos/piercings also may be accepted differently based on the type of position you're applying for. Compared with support roles such as IT person or mechanic, expect visible tattoos and piercings to be less permissable in roles that interface directly with the public (e.g., hotel clerk, salesperson, customer service representative, health care provider, daycare worker).
Also be aware that depending on the work performed, some roles may require that piercings be removed for safety and health reasons. For example, some factory workers cannot wear any type of jewelry, whether nose rings or wedding bands. If it's evenly applied, you shouldn't have a problem with it.
Finally, if the role you're applying for involves managing others, cover your tattoos and remove your piercings. The expectations of a manager are more restrictive and conservative.
Creative Industries Are Often More Open to Tattoos/Piercings
advertising & marketing
design (product, graphic, fashion)
film, TV, video, radio & photography
museums, galleries & libraries
crafts (e.g., metal work, weaving, woodwork)
IT, software & computer services
music, performing & visual arts
Location, Location, Location ... of Your Body Art
The size, number, and location of your tattoos/piercings may substantially affect your choice to conceal or reveal. Facial piercings or those that interfere with speech should be removed. If you don't want to remove your tongue rings, at least replace it with a clear acrylic retainer. Similarly, ear gauges should be replaced with clear acrylic plugs.
Tattoos in prominent locations, particularly those that are more than 2x2 inches should be covered, if at all possible. Some locations are easier to conceal than others, however: the back of neck tattoo or top of arm as opposed to the hands or wrist. For arm tattoos, consider whether you are comfortable always having to wear long sleeves to work (even in the summertime). For women with ankle or leg tattoos, are you comfortable with never wearing a dress to work? This is a personal decision.
When particularly conspicuous tattoos don't allow you much flexibility in concealing them, you may need to broach the subject with your interviewer. Examples include large tattoos on the sides of the neck or hands.
In this case, be proactive and direct by saying, for instance, that you sense some surprise regarding your tattoo/piercing, but that you can assure them you are qualified for the position, have a strong track record of success, and come with positive references. Positively redirect any comments to your qualifications and excitement about this position. Then be ready to nail those interview questions.
I recommend concealing tattoos/piercings while interviewing. Wait until you have a job offer in hand before inquiring about the company's policy and expectations. Stay in the driver's seat and don't give an interviewer any excuse to reject you early.— FlourishAnyway
Many companies have a written policy regarding whether tattoos and piercings are permitted. It most often falls under the company dress code. As a job applicant, you're on the outside of the company, and you won't know the policy until you either ask directly or are hired.
Employers typically fall under three categories for tattoos:
- no visible tattoos
- "appropriate" tattoos ok/no offensive tattoos or
- tattoos ok.
I recommend concealing tattoos/piercings while interviewing. Wait until you have a job offer in hand before inquiring about the company's policy and expectations. Stay in the driver's seat and don't give an interviewer any excuse to reject you early.
If and when you are offered the job, then you can mention to the hiring manager (who is already sold on the value of your talents) that you have a non-visible tattoo or piercing. If the resulting conversation is a deal-breaker, it could be a teachable moment for either side. (Remember that company policies change because one too many good candidates slipped away.)
Until you have that offer in hand, look to the following sources for information:
- The company's website may post its diversity policy and information about its corporate culture and values. Does the culture appear to promote individuality and self-expression? Do you see only "clean-cut" employees with a certain look?
- Ask current employees you know about the company's culture, dress code, and tolerance of employees' individual identity. Do managers and others in visible roles have ink/piercings?
Customer Service Workers Get Questions from Customers of All Ages
If you're a customer-facing employee with tattoos and piercings that show, be ready for the questions.
When my curious and outgoing daughter was a toddler, I was trying to teach her not to write on herself, our walls, or furniture with pen or magic marker. I never imagined she'd ask questions of strangers.
Then we visited our veterinary office where the female desk clerk sported both a crew cut and a very large neck tattoo that said "REVOLT." As I interacted with the young woman, I could feel my young child's eyes boring a hole into the clerk. My toddler pointed to the gal's neck and blurted out, "Mommy, the lady wrote!"
Then came the questions:
- "What does that say?"
- "What does revolt mean?"
- "Why did you write that?"
- "Does your mommy know you write on yourself?"
The clerk was very kind. She also pointed out her arm tattoos, to which my daughter responded that she will be in time-out for a very, very long time.
What is YOUR employer's policy on tattoos and piercings?
Self-Expression vs. Employability
In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to choose between self-expression and employment. Unfortunately, that's oftentimes not reality.
When you chose a piercing or tattoo, chances are you thought through its ramifications. One of the consequences of this self-expression is that not everyone is as excited as your body art as you are. You also probably knew that you'd have to support yourself financially.
Ultimately, the decision to conceal or reveal is up to you. Is this the battle you want to fight? Until attitudes are more accepting, how important is your self-expression vs. food, shelter, and all the other things a good job can buy?
If you feel like hiding your body art means that you're covering up an essential part of you and you feel like you're an imposter, you always have the option of changing employers, industries, or trying entrepreneurship.
Now go ace that job interview!
1 Health & Life - One in Five U.S. Adults Now Has a Tattoo. (2012, February 23). Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/one-in-five-us-adults-now-has-a-tattoo-140123523.html.
2 Mehta, V. (2013, May 20). How Do People View Women With Tattoos? | Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/head-games/201305/how-do-people-view-women-tattoos.
3 Mehta, V. (2016, December 9). How Do People View Men With Tattoos? | Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/head-games/201612/how-do-people-view-men-tattoos.
Questions & Answers
© 2017 FlourishAnyway