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. The whole point of an interview is to present yourself at your professional best. You are indicating that you have the professional judgement the company wants. It can be entirely appropriate to show them at work, and still be best not to show them during an interview. I’d say cover them.

  2. I have many tattoos, although the only visible one is…smack dab on my forearm. It’s big and bright too, and very noticeable. Without fail, I always wear long sleeves when job-hunting and going on interviews. I don’t want to be automatically judged and/or rejected because they have a prejudice against tattoos (or zombies. Okay, my tattoo has a lot of blood in it. Understandable, maybe!) I got the tattoo when I managed a music store, and they couldn’t care less about it. After that job, I went to a temp agency to find my current job in customer service, and both the temp agency and my now employer were aghast at the tattoo. Yes, in the summer I am stuck wearing long shirts and pants while everyone else is in short sleeves and shorts. It sucks. I am currently looking for another job, and just to bypass any possible negative reactions, I’m going to be covering it. AFTER I secure a job, I can ask what the policy is and if it would be appropriate to show my tattoo off. At that point, they can’t not offer me a job because they think I look like a punk, cause I already have the job!

    I might add that I live and work in a fairly conservative place – I also had to take my nose ring out, and while my customers always have awesome things to say about my tattoos when they accidently glimpse them, I understand that most employers are going to have issues with showing tattoos. *shrug* As soon as I’m out the building, the cardigan comes off and I am free to be me.

  3. I was very rebellious in high school (of course), but this has been tempered with a fair amount of time in the prosaic middle-class working world. If you’re devoted to an industry that prizes non-conformity, great! But otherwise, you’ve got to make a living, and you can change people’s mind by showing them how someone with a tattoo is responsible & fantastic IF you get in the door with a bit of tact and formality. I’m also a touch old-school femme, so I always err on the side of more formality rather than less. In interviews, parties, visits, etc. It almost never works against you, and people respond to first impressions whether they want to admit it or not. You will have plenty of time to let people know about your personality after you’ve been hired & demonstrated what an amazing employee you are!

    Case in point: while I work at a conservative school, a number of my coworkers know that I’m bi, have tattoos, & am in a happy, long-distance, long-term relationship. It all came up naturally in conversations after the school year was in full swing and destroying our carefully laid lesson plans. It’s worked out surprisingly well.

  4. I have made a choice not to get any tattoos that can’t be covered by long sleeves and pants. That way, particularly for interviews, I can cover them without resorting to concealer, jewelry, or odd hairstyles. I also factor “willingness to cover a tattoo for them” into my desicion-making about whether to apply for or take a job. If it’s a good enough job, I’ll resort to long sleeves forever. I ALWAYS cover for interviews, even if I know for a fact it won’t be a problem. If I am hired, I ask about the dress code in general, and body mods (including piercings) in particular, without actually specifying my own mods. That way it is MY choice to reveal or not, to cover or not, and I know that while body mods policy might be affecting my desicion about the company, it won’t affect theirs about me.

  5. My tattoo high enough up (on my forearm by my elbow) that it’s easy enough to hide, in theory. In reality, if I’m wearing long sleeves I’ve pushed them up, so it pretty much always shows.

    My current job (librarian) poses no problems. But my previous job (government consultant) was not really tattoo-friendly. I found that if I wore 3/4 length sleeves, I wouldn’t push them up and the tattoo normally wouldn’t show. My boss was super cool, so when he noticed he asked about it, laughed, and then asked me not to show my elbow to clients. It worked OK.

    I’m far enough in my career, now, that I feel like I can get away with the “You don’t like my tattoo? That’s fine. I will work somewhere with a more open culture,” attitude. I probably would let my purple hair fade back to a natural color before an interview, but I’m very open on social media about the fact that I normally have purple hair. (Librarians are nosy. We DEFINITELY Google each other before interviews.) My theory is that a potential employer might appreciate my formality/professionalism, in the interview process, but I wouldn’t expect them to hire me unless I’d fit into the culture long-term. (I’m professional, purple hair and lizard tattoo aside.)

  6. I’m with everyone else on covering it for the interview. Better safe than sorry.

    I’m a consultant in the higher education industry; my boss told me that he doesn’t mind me showing my tattoos but I make the choice to hide them (one 3/4 cardigan hides the back pieces and the half-sleeves). I’m a girl, and I look like a student, so I already have to “prove myself” when I’m working with faculty/older staff. Tattoos when I’m teaching can just be a distraction, so I find it easier to hide them on a day to day basis.

    As other people have mentioned, there are bandaids, concealers, bracelets, etc. There are also specially-designed tattoo covers (http://www.tatjacket.com/ is the one I found)…they don’t look great, but get the job done. I think from what I’ve seen most people would think it might be a modesty thing, so there may be fewer questions/issues. Knee-high boots are great for calf/shin pieces while wearing a dress/skirt if you’re into dresses and skirts.

    Good luck! It can be hard to compromise your tattoo collection with making the cash money.

  7. fact is, it’s not a perfect world & interviews are basically a place where people are going to quickly judge, whether you like it or not (not just tats).

    so, be smart about it. the industry you’re getting into will greatly affect that … but be aware that your industry may disappear & you could be looking for other jobs.

    in a time period where it’s hard to get a job, perhaps it’s best to keep those things in areas where people don’t get an opportunity to judge you more than they already will. it’s not right. it’s not legal, but neither are questions about age, marriage, or children.

  8. I agree with your opinions about covering up for interviews, but what about conferences, luncheons, etc? Networking events within an industry tend to be more relaxed, and there are certainly fewer expectations than an interview, but you do still want to put your best foot forward.

  9. Do they have a website? A friend of mine knew she didn’t have to worry about her partially visible tattoos because our website had a picture of me with large gauged earrings in (and a suit, ha!). When in doubt though, hide them for the interview, and then afterwards gauge the attitude.

  10. I have several tattoos, including a half-sleeve. I always cover them up for interviews, and then at the end of the interview I ask if it’s required that I cover my tattoos, were I to get this job. I always make sure to tell them that they are easily covered (which they are) and I have no problem doing so, but am just curious about their policies.

    I work with kids, and I’ve actually been surprised that throughout four different jobs, I have never been asked to cover them. The interviewer usually asks about the subject matter (if it’s child-appropriate). Since they are all botanical drawings with scientific names (pretty AND educational!), there’s never been a problem. Sometimes I cover them up when working with younger kids, just to avoid distracting them, or having to answer a lot of questions, but I’ve never been required to cover them.

  11. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always worked places where nobody cared about my tattoos. However, I would always cover them for interviews. And this sucks to say, but when young people without tattoos ask me about mine, I’m always pretty frank in encouraging them to be really certain about what kind of field they want to work in before they make the decision to get a tattoo in a place that is not easily covered. Yes, long sleeves cover forearm tats, but do you REALLY want to rock long sleeves every day in the middle of August? ( Guess it depends where you live.)

    Tattoos are getting more “mainstream” by the day, and I hope to someday live in a world where it does not matter whether you have them or not. Hell, my doctor is a hot Goth, and her receptionist is a tattooed guy with stretched earlobes. My lawyer’s receptionist has a full sleeve. But the cute Rockabilly girl who used to ring me up a lot back when I still shopped at Hobby Lobby had to wear a turtleneck year round. It just depends where you are and what you want to do. I’ve got tattooed arms, chest and hands. I’m no longer able to cover up and pass without looking like I’ve been in some kind of industrial accident. But I also own my own business, so I can look however I want.

    I wish you good luck on your interview, in any case.

  12. I second everything said here. Covering up for interview is fine and you can check policy after you know you’ve secured the job..

    In my job (nurse) we have to wear short sleeves for infection control reasons, so I don’t think that having a full sleeve would be very popular (sob).

    It does seem to be however that the policy implodes on itself when it comes to body mods, no-one quite knows what to do. A guy from uni had a cross on his inner forearm and he had to wear a bandage over it for work. Gross! We’re bare below the elbow for a reason, who knows what manner of poo and ick grew in that bandage, even if he did change it every shift.

    I have a nose stud and a fair few bars in my ears. I’ve been told to remove all of them, but I can keep the nose stud if I have a cultural/religious reason (I don’t). This doesn’t make any sense to me as the reason I have to take them out is yet again if there are germs/grossness/poo nestled in there ready to release an epidemic. If I believed in God, or followed traditions of my forefathers that would not stop any of that.

    Whoa! Ended up slightly off topic… I think if you find out what the policy is before interview that would be helpful, but flaunting all your mega ink won’t help.

    Good luck! 🙂

  13. All of the things said here.
    Job type, work atmosphere, location, job and local culture are all important variables.
    My go to interview look is a blazer to keep most of my visible tattoos out of sight with my hair in a braid over my neck tat. You can still see it, but it’s *very* subtle and almost no one notices it.
    I *do* however keep my piercings in (I turn up my septum usually though); I find keeping my piercings in for an interview lets enough of “me” through to be beneficial. BUT I always stress that I have retainers for all of my piercings and none of them are permanent.
    Most importantly, rock who you are and be confident. Don’t apologize for being yourself. Confidence goes a lot further in an interview than covering up a tattoo ever will.

  14. I’m tattooed in several visable places (arms, feet, upper back/lower neck and work in a fairly conservate field (Human Resources). It has never been an issue for me, but I usually feel out the situation first. I generally cover up for an interview and once I’m comfortable and sure it won’t be an issue, I let them out when appropriate. My manager, director, and co-workers all know about them, we discussed them, and it has never been an issue. Of course I am smart about it – I usually wear sweaters in meetings, etc. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to cover them, but I don’t go out of my way to expose them either. I also have my nose pierced and conch piercings. I have also worked in other corporate capacity and it wasn’t an issue, although they were both pretty relaxed environments. If it were an issue at my office, I would certainly keep them covered… I need a paycheck to ensure that I can continue to get tattooed. I should add that I did wait until I had a pretty good professional resume built up before I committed to highly visible tattoos. My husband also has full sleeves and manages an auto-shop… He works for a progressive “green” shop and their target demographic is likely tattooed, so also not an issue for him. When he worked for a dealorship he had to keep covered. It seems to me that society is shifting and a lot of employers are more accepting of tattoos these days (at least in Denver, where I live. Bottom line advice from me would be just feel it out.

  15. I’m 24 and I have a rather large tattoo on my forearm. My first job out of school is working for a rather large pharmaceutical company. I love my tattoo and I wouldn’t remove it for anything. On my interview I did wear long sleeves because I wanted to be judged by my interview content not my body art. The first few days on the job I made sure to cover my arms because again I wanted people to get to know me for my science. After a few weeks I let my art show and at first people were amazed that I had such a large tattoo. They asked some questions I told my story about how/why I have what I have. Everybody seemed to enjoy the tale and once everybody saw it and asked their questions nobody cared anymore. I’m just a lowly chemsist but if I ever find myself in a meeting with the big-shots I’d still probably bring a jacket with me to cover my art even for the first few minutes. Luckily the people I work with have proven to be accepting of my eccentricities.

  16. I’ll echo a lot of comments in saying that it all seems relative. I teach (and schools are notoriously both inconsistent and weird about anything “unusual” in one’s personal aesthetic), so I have made the choice not to get anything that I can’t cover up to accommodate that occasional uber-conventional parent or meeting. Even more than that, I have taken the route that a few others have as well, and all my visible tattoos are not only school-appropriate, but at least tangentially educational (punctuation marks and historical or artistic images). When students ask, I have a completely grounded and academic story to tell about each.

    For interviews, I have taken the approach of dressing exactly as professionally as I think they need me to, but letting tattoos show nonetheless. Nice top, fancy cardigan or jacket, well-pressed skirt, stockings (ew!), sensible heels…and really obviously visible tattoos on my legs. One principal at one interview even noticed them, and that was to compliment me on the designs!

  17. I am a tattoo professional and when I started on my journey for 2 sleeves back in 2008 I read this awesome article which I cannot find anymore about tattoo’s and the work place.

    In the interviews do not show your ink. HOWEVER which that said you are allowed to ask questions about the company like dress code, professional environment, team chemistry ect. I flat out ask if this company is OK with tattoos. I reword it. But I do ask if it is a ink friendly company. Lucky for me I work in Austin, TX where 90% of everyone here has visible skin art. You wouldn’t be able to get a decent IT person in my industry without some form of self expression.

    So yes. Hide and ask.

  18. I’m a teacher, so tattoo coverup is pretty much run of the mill for me. My tattoos are placed in areas that are easy to conceal (around one ankle, foot, and middle back… will be adding another to my side soon!), which I did specifically because I am/knew I wanted to be a teacher. I have been able to show my tattoos at a couple of schools I’ve worked at, though… it just depends on the administration, community and school’s culture in general. But as a teacher, I definitely would never go into an interview with exposed tattoos.

  19. The first thing they tell you when preparing for an interview: do your research on the company you’re applying to. That alone will giveyou the most appropriate answer to your question.

    Because i deal a lot with the public, my personal rule is to keep things covered that I don’t wish stared at or commented on since I find it infinitely annoying to discuss myself with total strangers 😛

  20. I interviewed for my job at Weight Watchers without covering my tattoos as I had seen literature and posters in the meeting rooms with employees who were tattooed. I was hired. I worked there over a year with the understanding that I would be advanced toward being a meetings leader once I’d been working as a receptionist for a short while. I watched receptionist after receptionist (weigher) get passed to leader training before me. finally, I decided to resign for some other reasons, the biggest of which was the horrible substandard pay for what these people do. But upon finding out I had resigned, I was informed by another employee that the reason I was passed over for leader training was my full sleeve of tattoos.

    Had I been asked from the start to cover them, I would have done it. I don’t have a problem. I never received a complaint or even a nasty remark. In fact, I had a few older women in our meetings say that they didn’t used to think women should have tattoos, but I changed their mind because mine were so beautiful. Younger women thought it indicated the company reaching out to a different demographic than usually is represented in the meeting rooms. No one EVER said a word. It was not in company dress code policy. I am glad I left.

    If I interview for corporate jobs and when I interviewed recently as a substitute teacher for a local High School, I covered my sleeve and wore long pants to ensure my calf ink was covered. I will probably wear long sleeves and slacks every time I work as a teacher without being asked so as not to raise questions from parents or administration. They don’t need to know. I’m not ashamed, but I need to work.

  21. I’m just interested. Do you all think that, with so much of our culture becoming more accepting of tattoos, work-place policies will soon shift to reflect this? I’ve read stats that 3/4 people aged 20-30 have a tattoo. What’s going to happen when tattoos are more common? Will there be more acceptance, do you think?

  22. I have a giant tattoo on my chest. This makes finding work appropriate clothing challenging. I rarely mind.

    I think most of the comments thus far have been spot on.If you’ve got a visible tattoo, be prepared that you might have to cover it for a job. It absolutely depends on your geographic location and the type of job/industry you work in.

    I was a high school teacher for a year. Clearly, tattoo had to be hidden. It was challenging due to the location of my work. But, now, I work in publishing and no one cares. I cover it when we have an author coming in or I’m working an event with an author (and am thus the face of the Press), but otherwise I dress how I want at work, but that’s how the environment is there. I asked HR during my interview and covered (mostly) for the first few weeks to gauge reactions, and the coast was clear.

    I always, ALWAYS, always cover the tattoos for interviews. You’re trying to sell yourself and your skills. You wear a suit (or something similar like) for a reason –it shows respect for the interviewer, denotes your serious interest in the opportunity, and is a neutral slate (because, really, no one is going to look at your french cuffs) that allows you and your words and your resume to put your best foot forward.

    When I got my chest piece my dad was really worried and apprehensive. He’s a pretty conservative guy and doesn’t get tattoos in general, but the core of his worry was that it would keep me from being gainfully employed. I can tell you that having tattoos will not exclude you from the job market. But, you might have to hide them (always or sometimes) and it really does depend on the atmosphere. So, go for the tattoo. Everything else will work out.

    Best of luck!

  23. I live in a very tattoo friendly city, however when I have interviews I always make sure to cover up my sleeve. After I get the job I’ll ask someone if my tattoo is ok (I’ll have either a long sleeve shirt or a tattoo cover on just in case it’s not ok) and go from there.
    So far I’ve been lucky and every job I’ve gotten has been totally ok with tattoos.

  24. I’m usually one of the first people to say, ‘be proud of yourself and your ink, show it off’, but realistically, that isn’t always possible. If you decide to get tattooed in visible areas, do it with the knowledge that you might have to cover it up somewhere along the line, or might not even get the job you apply for because of that. It’s a give and take thing. For my current position (I’m a government official, working in an office with a strict no-tattoo policy) I covered up all tattoos for my interview, and gradually started to show it when I started working here. By ‘starting to show it gradually’ I mean I got more and more visible tattoos, but always with the knowledge I would have to cover up. I’m lucky that my colleagues and managers don’t mind it showing, but I also don’t take too many liberties. I always have a piece of clothing at hand for the off chance I’m asked to cover up. It’s the sacrifice I make for being true to myself. It won’t always be this easy, but for now, ot works. 🙂

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