How do you mix tattoos and careers?

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By: Meena KadriCC BY 2.0
I am getting a tattoo on my right forearm, and am very proud of what it is.

However when I go on a job interview, my could-be boss might not appreciate it.

How do you mix tattoos and careers?

Should I cover it up with a long sleeve shirt, be honest about having it, or just walk in and let the chips fall where they may? -Susi

Much like pink-haired Ariel had tips in 2008 for people in the workplace with wild-colored hair, are there any tattooed Homies out there that can give their advice for being inked on the job? How do you juggle careers and body art?

Oh and PS: be sure to check out this old post about job interviews: Offbeat job interview tips: 3 things you must ask your interviewer

Comments on How do you mix tattoos and careers?

  1. I think it can depend on the industry, but in my office many people show their tattoos. If they were to head to the corporate office, where the dress code is more strict, covering them up is a good idea. I think in an initial interview, it’s good to cover up, simply because it can be distracting. for me, it’s really difficult NOT to examine a tattoo on display.

    • I agree – cover up for an interview. You want to minimize any possible reason for them to not call you back/ offer you a job. Then you can see how the culture is at work and what you’re comfortable with.

  2. I think it depends a lot of the size of the tattoo and the job(s) you apply for. Even though tattoos are mainstream these days, you have to accept that most employers will require you to cover up tats. This is practically guaranteed in customer service/public eye jobs. Also, the more your job depends on fundraising, the more likely you are to have to cover up tattoos. I literally had a boss walk up to me one day and say, “We have VIPs coming in today. That tattoo has to go!”

    If your tattoo is very small, you could consider covering it up with bracelets or a sweatband instead of a long sleeved shirt. They do make black sleeves designed to cover tattoos. You could also cover it up with a big Band Aid.

    I would always recommend going to a job interview dressed the way you think you will be required to for the job, if not a little nicer. That means covering up tattoos and removing piercings. If they tell you they’re cool with awesome artwork, then that’s a bonus. If not, then you don’t have to worry about that being a mark (hehe) against you.

  3. I’ve always covered my tattoos for job interviews, as has my hubby. Luckily, I work in a pretty liberal industry (online media) so I don’t have to worry about covering them up at work (and I wear flip flops most days.) When my husband got a job at a super corporate place, he covered his for the first few weeks and then just sent an email to the HR person asking if visible tattoos were acceptable. Turns out because there was nothing in their company handbook related to tattoos, he’s allowed to show them. Of course, he’s not on the sales team (he’s a developer, so pretty isolated), but I imagine if you were doing corporate sales or customer service, you would have to keep them covered.

  4. As a customer in places where people have arm tattoos, I tend to thing of that person as being a bit outside the box. However, a rude “too cool” attitude on top of the tattoo is a complete turnoff, and I won’t want to work with you again.
    So in the words of Wil Wheaton “Don’t be a dick.”

  5. You may want to partially cover the tattoo — enough so that it’s able to be known you have one, but not so much that it’s all over the place in the interview. That way, you’re not “hiding” it entirely, but it leaves it up to your discretion what it is you would like to do in the future. You can always ask on the interview, if you feel comfortable, what the policy is on “visible” tattoos because you do have the art. It’ll also give you a good read on the company, as well, and how they value certain forms of personal expression.

  6. I cover my tattoo for the initial interview. If I get the job, then I will review the dress code (or ask for a copy). If nothing is specified in there. I sniff out the attitude regarding piercings, tattoos, “crazy” coloured hair colours, etc. My last job was very strict about piercings and tattoos (no visible tattoos and piercings were limited to 3 per ear…no facial piercings allowed)

    My current job is much more liberal…they don’t have an official stance on these things though. So it’s up to me to read what is acceptable. And pretty much everything is minus too many facial piercings and offensive tattoos.

  7. Build the trust as a professional first. Your tattoos might reflect that work ethic, but they need to see you in action first, the ink second. Especially if your work-life philosophy is to keep firm boundaries between your personal and professional lives. The other reason why is that even if you’re all about blending the two, the interviewer might draw incorrect conclusions about you based on them. I like to think that’s why people tend to advise dressing neutral for interviews.

    edit: Of course, you might judge a company as a good fit based on their open-mindedness about their employees personal lives/choices, so this advice might not apply. 🙂

  8. The one exception for me to covering it for the interview and keeping quiet about it until I had the job and was more familiar with the policies/boundaries would be if I were to apply to anywhere that had a uniform that would mean part of a sleeve (or similar) would be exposed – in that instance I’d cover it for the interview but ask if it would be an issue and if so, would there be any way round it. Depends on the job though – I work in a law firm and haven’t had an issue with any of the tattoos/piercings I’ve accquired during that time – once you get the job I think tolerances can shift if you’re able to prove yourself to be good at what you do.

  9. Similar to previous advice, I would at least keep any piercings/ink covered in an interview. You can always feel it out and determine appropriateness once you are settled into a new job. I work in a fairly conservative culture (corporate law) and I have found that I can sometimes get away with showing more of my personality at work after I have proven myself as a kick-ass employee and valuable member of my team.
    And the timing of this post is amazing! I am thinking of getting a new tattoo in a more visible area and am currently weighing the implications of visibility at work.

  10. I agree – basically with the logic that you dress for a job interview differently from how you normally dress and you don’t consider that “hiding your true self” or anything. 😉 I think it’s worthwhile to choose something that doesn’t show your tattoo to avoid any “risk.” For example the HR person might see it somehow as a risk, even though your actual boss doesn’t have a problem with it (i.e. it doesn’t REALLY matter what the HR person thinks in the longterm, but they might have to approve you so you get to the next interview round or something).

    That said, I think it’s all about the total vibe. The other day, I saw a guy with dreds working at the airport basically wearing a 3-piece suit airline uniform (his dreds were bundled together in kind of a bun). He looked very professional and I don’t think any customer would have had a problem approaching him. I think looking professional and showing you care what the company thinks of you (and that you put in some effort) is the most important thing.

    Good luck on your interview!

  11. Even though you can cover it, it still may effect your job. Some careers (Police, Military) require uniforms. My fiance is a police officer and has a small tattoo on his wrist. That didn’t fly in some police departments (WV State Police) because it would show in the short sleeved, summer uniform. He was fine for the Sheriff’s department since it was smaller than some certain size.

    Be mindful of the job’s requirements and if it is a job where your image is reflecting on the department that may be an issue. I know in the military, tattoo requirements vary from branch to branch as to what’s allowed and how big. My friend who is a Marine Corps recruiter would get frustrated when he had to turn away good guys with neck tats.

    Now I work in science academia, so pretty much anything goes. One of the profs in our Biology department has all kinds of species of insects tattooed all OVER. But it’s also the kind of environment where a lab tech can have an 8 inch blue Mohawk. That wouldn’t fly in say, the school of journalism or at the CDC.

  12. I’m of two minds on this one to be honest. I tend towards not covering my tattoos at interviews, as I feel that I probably wouldn’t want to work for someone who thought one way of me sans tattoos and one way of me with them. I like to be honest up front with potential employers.

    On that note though, I do tend to cover up my tattoos for clients I know are conservative. Clients are a whole different ballgame for me professionally as they only really know me for the term of a project.

    I am in a conservative industry, architecture, but have been very lucky in who I am employed by. Though some have had issue with my tattoos they don’t really raise the issue because of who I am professionally.

    I’m now self-employed and work in a collaborative group of self employed designers, who are all quirky in their own ways. So, I worry much less about my tattoos, though I do still cover up for clients.

  13. Depends- are you willing to cover the tattoo everyday if you get the job? Then cover it up at the interview, don’t mention it, and suss out the policies later if you get the job. Even if tattoos are allowed, if the interviewer has even a tiny bias against ’em, it could hurt your chances.

    If you’re absolutely unwilling (or unable, depending on placement) to hide your tats even if you get the job, then go ahead and let ’em fly and aim for places with fairly liberal corporate cultures.

  14. I went into an interview once for a job I desperately needed, and in my nervousness completely forgot my giant-faced watch I use to cover my Watchers wrist tattoo (it’s a Highlander geek thing). Halfway through the interview, the two older admins who were interviewing me complimented the tattoo. Naturally I took this as a trap and wanted to kick myself the second they mentioned it.

    Well, not only was I hired, and it turned out the senior admin had a full-back piece as her late husband was a tattoo artist in the Woodstock days. You just never know.

  15. I’ve been at my job now for almost 4 years (admin in a small accounting office). When I initially interviewed I took out my lip piercing and covered up my tattoos. Initially, I didn’t get the job! It was two weeks later when they called me back to offer me the position. The reason why they didn’t first pick me? Because I wasn’t dressed conservative enough. Now, they don’t know how they ever operated this office without me, and I really love it here. That’s just my example of how erring on the side of more conservative would have been better initially.

    While over the past few years I have changed my dressing style to a bit more conservative to go with the temperature of the office, I always stay true to my own personal flair. I wear funky boots and jewelry, I wear dresses that most coworkers would never consider, and I just went from bright auburn hair to platinum blonde. I have gotten a few more tattoos since I started (my whole back and thighs), but keep them to places I can keep covered. As a few people have stated before, once you get the position it’s easy to feel out how your employer feels about tattoos. Depending on the size of the one you’re going to get, it may not be a problem at all, but initially I would suggest keeping it covered. Good luck!

  16. I have a medium-sized tattoo on my right forearm of a sparrow and in the past have always covered it up for an interview. The one exception was for the job I currently have, as a store manager of an Apple reseller. I figured that personality and confidence is important for the people who work here, and I was right. We talked about my tattoo at the end of the interview, but it was all positive and along the lines of “that’s cool, where did you get it done”. For one position, after I got the job I then asked my manager what the policy was for visible tattoos. She didn’t know so had to ask, but ultimately said I could expose it in my little office that I shared with one other person, but should keep a cardigan with me for any time I needed to go anywhere else in the company (this was with a large public accountant/business consultant firm, so more conservative attire was generally worn).

    I would agree with pretty much everyone else here… Cover up for the interview, then feel it out/learn the dress code policy or ask a supervisor about it. It may mean always having to cover it, but I think if you have a position that is valued and people learn to trust you and expect great things, you are less likely to have to worry about it/cover it up.

  17. I’m on the side of cover it up for the interview. You have no idea who will be doing the interviewing and it is safest to go in there and have them judge you on your skills and how you handle the interview itself. If any of them are uncomfortable with tattoos, that may wreck your chances even if you do a fantastic job and they may not even work with you. As others said, if it’s related to a uniform, I would ask about policy. And definitely investigate dress code if you get offered the job, before you accept. I know there was one woman at my interview who I barely work with at all (she’s above my supervisor), and the HR person, and either one of them could have impacted my position and yet they aren’t involved with my job day-to-day.

    I currently work at a university but in their unit for classes for seniors. I heard the way they talked about a woman who came in to discuss being an instructor and it made me cringe because they were dismissing her entirely based on piercings, coloured hair, etc. I bet she would have been an awesome instructor and I probably would have hired her just to spite them. But I cover my one tattoo and will be able to cover the next tattoo I get on my forearm when needed. I won’t be pretending it doesn’t exist, I just won’t be shoving it in people’s faces because I know that I do work with some older adults who are uncomfortable with tattoos and have some serious stereotypes attached to people who have tattoos.

    Do some homework on where you are applying and consider the atmosphere. Some places are clearly friendly to body mods, but if everyone looks very conservative or you see a lot of older adults, you may want to cover up to get your foot in the door. I know an amazing librarian who has a bunch of lovely tattoos but she works with the business faculty so she covers them most of the time. She very much feels that if people want to dismiss her for her tattoos, then they aren’t worth worrying about, but when she has to deal with them professionally, she can’t put herself in that position.

    If your tattoo is absolutely intrinsic to who you are, then don’t cover it. Just be aware that it could impact what jobs you get and where you should apply. And that’s totally cool.

  18. I’m an attorney in the LGBT movement, I have quite a bit of coverage on my back, and a lot of my colleagues also have tattoos. I’ve noticed, unsurprisingly, that our community is more flexible with body-modification than some other communities may be, even in the workplace. I wear mine out sometimes, as do my colleagues. I also have a nose piercing and so do many of my fellow LGBT attorneys.

    When it comes to deciding when and how to cover up, we all have different rubrics. Smaller body jewelry tends to stay in no matter what, and less conventional tattoos get covered for important meetings. One colleague wears a cuff-watch to cover her wrist. Another covers his ring tattoo with his class ring. Those with full-sleeves wear real sleeves over them (easy enough with a suit). I tend not to wear my back out for events with mixed attendance, but at events internal to the community, I’ll wear a lower-cut dress and see more visible ink around the room.

    My back is much easier to cover in an interview, as is your arm, I would suspect. One should always dress slightly better than one thinks for a job interview: suit to any office job, business casual to any job with a uniform, etc. A suit would cover your arm, most likely, which I wouldn’t see as a compromise. If you normally wouldn’t show that piece of skin in an interview, don’t show it just to make the tattoo known.

    Approx 15% of all Americans, and 40% of Americans b/t 26 and 30 are tattooed. ( It’s likely that whomever your interviewing with has one.

    tl;rd Dress as you would for a normal interview; assume everyone else has a tattoo!

    Also: super excited to see your future ink! I hope you share a pic!

  19. As a white-collar corporate suit during the day, and moderately tattooed college I instructor by night. I can say it depends on the company. I would try to check out the vibe by looking at their LinkedIn and Facebook sites, their job fairs, and see if you can network with someone who works there. I temped and saw a lot of variety. My current bosses knew I had ink from day one. Mine show, have grown, but are generally pretty tame (no demonic skulls or scary ink). Then again, when I meet clients, I am mostly covered by professional jackets or sweaters. I have an inked wedding band, that’s about it that shows then. I am not sure if the rest of the time people hate or love it; no one comments on them, though when I dyed my bangs blue I got some great positive feedback, and equally negative looks from my boss (who liked to talk at my forehead instead of my eyes). She also looks at my ink but has never said a word. It’s all in the corporate culture (I work at a Big 4 in global marketing compliance).

      • totally! It is like my Superman outfit under my Clark Kent wardrobe. In reality, the tattoos aren’t part of my work identity. Yeah, you can see them, but no one discusses them or even makes much of them. After the 9-5, when the “business casual” is replaced by jeans and tees, I relax into my own skin and style. Not the greatest of situations (sure I’d love to be a best-selling author, someday) but it pays the bills.

  20. I would say cover them for an interview, i usually dress way more conservatively for an interview just because i want the interviewer to see my personality and job skills before they notice my tats. Its not that im not proud of my tats but that i can understand that they are distracting and some people are (gasp) still super conservative…

  21. All of these comments give great approaches to dealing with tattoos in job interviews! I agree that it really depends on the career you want.

    What really stuck with me is that you’re proud of your tattoo. I’m right there with you – in 2011 I knew I wanted a half sleeve.

    I’ve never been interested in working for just *anyone* – it’s important to me that my values are at least relatively consistent with those of my employer. I tried out corporate culture in 2010…and abandoned it 3 months later. I’ve been self-employed since.

    So, tattoo decision time rolled around, and I faced the same quandary. My grandfather was a huge fan of the cost-benefit analysis – here’s how the chips fell:

    I, too, am very proud of my tattoo. I carefully selected my artist and design. Since the tattoo is so close to my heart, I don’t want to work for anyone who wants to mandate whether it’s visible.

    So, when I meet new potential clients, I’m not going to make excessive efforts to hide my ink (or purple hair…) I use this approach a lot, referring to it as giving the opportunity for “self-opting-out”: I’ll show them mine, they’ll show me theirs. If everything jives, then fabulous!, but if not, why force the interaction? Part with no hard feelings-I’ll do my thing, they’ll do theirs, and we’ll coexist peacefully.

    That absolutely means that finding potential employers is more difficult, and, as Ariel’s pink hair post says, I need to work hard all the time. But, for me, it’s worth it. And here’s my proof – during the tattooing process, my primary client set aside time in every meeting for a viewing of the newest update to my sleeve! That’s the kind of place I want to be 🙂

  22. I won’t add anything about interviewing here, but definitely be prepared to face the idea that you could be stuck in long-sleeves at work the rest of your time at that job. Even if the company/uni/business/whatever has a lax or no policy about tattoos, your supervisor might find them ‘unprofessional’ and demand you wear long-sleeves all the time. Even in summer (it happened to a co-worker of mine whose tiny foot tattoo was ‘not allowed’ and had to wear tights or socks every day). So be sure to ask about policy & office norms if you get past the initial round of interviewing!

    • I second this! I worked at a place that didn’t have a tattoo/piercing policy in the handbook. They knew I had a tattoo. While I worked there, they redid their employee handbook and still didn’t include anything about tattoos and piercings. Then I got my tongue pierced and they fired me. While this particular place sucked balls, it’s probably not the only place out there like it.

  23. A lot also depends on WHERE you live. I’m originally from the conservative US Midwest, and when I go home and people see my lip ring, 20+ earrings, visible ink, and blue and purple hair streaks, I get stared at. Here in LA, though, everyone has something like that and nobody even looks twice.

    in certain positions I have been asked to take the lip ring out for clients, and I either do it as a favor or just don’t work for that company or client again. I wear it into interviews (or, I did when I was looking for work before I started my own thing), and if a company asks if it is removable, we talk about what it would be removed for. People really respected my questions, conviction, and decisions about it… And it is totally ok to say no to a job offer, even if times are tough. It actually feels really good.

    But I’m not sure I would have the same options back in the Midwest. I suggest you look around and see how many people in your city or area have visible tattoos in the workplace and which industries.

    There is a great group on Facebook called tattoo acceptance in the workplace that I hang out in sometimes. Pretty cool supportive place !

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