• Login

Would you recruit someone with a visible tattoo?

Tattoo at work  

Within the workplace, there is still - I believe - one subject that creates very strong opinions and  pre-conception discrimination when it comes to new colleagues and even worse prospective employees… and that is tattoos.
Tattoos used to be considered taboo, connected to gangs, bikers, football hooligans (that's my Dad's opinion!) and generally other groups of people away from the 'socially acceptable middle ground'. Visible tattoos have always been (for the majority of recruiters and hiring managers), an easy reason for them to preclude them from offering them employment opportunities.

But in the 21st century, tattoos are widely prevalent in society, and appear to have gained a wider social acceptance. With many of the stars of film and TV being 'inked', certainly many more people have chosen to adorn their bodies with permanent artwork. To a certain extent, tattoos have become a fashion statement for many people.
There are of course many people that have tattoos that you would never expect, because they are simply not visible (and no, there is no truth to the rumour that Gordon Brown has the picture of Stalin tattooed on his chest!!) However seemingly becoming more common, are the visible tattoos - hands, neck, face etc - that can now be seen in every high street.

With all the discrimination laws now present in the workplace, should someone with a visible tattoo be treated any differently from an employment perspective? Does a visible tattoo change the way that you think about the prospective employee or colleague?

Obviously, the answer to that question depends on the dress code/appearance policy that an employer already has in place. Someone with visible tattoos applying for a job in a customer facing role, will (I have no doubt) be treated differently to someone with visible tattoos applying for a non-customer facing role.

Tattoos vary tremendously, some are fantastic pieces of art, some are interesting and there are some that are offensive and nasty to look at. First impressions count today more than ever - especially with the recession causing such competition for jobs. People that have visible tattoos know that they will be 'judged' before you get to know them, simply because they are 'inked' - and that is of course their choice, when they make the choice to have a tattoo. But does it make it right?

Would you treat a candidate differently if they had a visible tattoo? Would you allow it to influence your first impression of the candidate? Ultimatley, would it affect your hiring decision?

  • Wendy Jacob

    I think it’s difficult to say whether you’d truly treat someone with a visible tattoo differently or not until it happens. Much of it depends on what the tattoo is that you can see. I’d like to think I would not treat someone differently unless their tattoo was something extreme like a swastika, but it’s really a case by case thing.

    I might be biased as I myself have several (hidden) tattoos, but really - in this day and age - I think that most people are quite accepting of them, plus they have absolutely no impact on a person’s ability to perform a job.

    Another factor to consider is the age of the person. I know (and have been lectured by!) quite a few older people who got tattoos done in their youth and now regret them and wish that they could turn back time. They are permanent though (unless you’re rich enough for laser removal) so is it really fair to judge someone on what they now consider to be a youthful mistake?

    Personally I have been discriminated against in the past for having a (teeny tiny) nose ring. Despite applying for a non-customer facing role I was told that I would have to remove my nose ring during work hours if I wanted the position. I find this attitude disgusting frankly. My none ring is tiny and inoffensive and, in all honesty, the hole that’s left when I remove it is equally as visible as the small stud I wear. Had the role been customer facing I would have been more understanding, but for a back office position it’s ridiculous.

    Looking forward to hearing others opinions on this though as clearly I’m a bit biased!

  • Andy Headworth


    I totally agree that every case needs to judged individually. I find this subject very interesting, because it is such a personal and emotive subject. Like you I have hidden ink, and to be honest no one would ever know (they do now!).
    For me the worry is that with the young (the gen Y’ers) being so heavily influenced by TV, Film and Music stars, many will get ink that could preclude them from certain jobs in the future, because of people’s perceptions.
    Personally, I am very interested in different forms of tattoos, and I actually throw a curveball at candidates by actually discussing their designs with them!

    The gen Y age group, just don’t see anything wrong with tattoos (refreshing), but the problem is that isn’t their peer group that is actually judging them in the workplace – it is typically the ‘more conservative’ gen X’ers and boomers!!


  • Wendy Jacob


    Agree totally. I can’t believe it’s still an issue really but it is.

    I had my tatts done years ago when it was markedly less acceptable and the only remotely visible one is on my ankle so you can see it (if you look!) when I wear certain pairs of shoes. I made a conscious decision not to have any obviously visible ones (well, yet…!) because, whether I agree with it or not, I appreciate that people do judge you for them.

    Also agree that many youngsters are overly influenced by the media. Although each case is different I have met people who have only had them done because they are “fashionable” and not because the artwork ultimately means something to them. Not that there’s anything wrong with this (each to their own and all that!), but personally I thought long and hard about my tatts: They all mean something personal to me and have mostly been designed by myself or friends. I have always liked them (even as a child) and I wouldn’t dream of having something just because it was pretty or because a celeb had the same. At the end of the day, you really do have to live with them, so it’s so important you really like what you have and that it has as much longevity as possible.

    In some ways I think it’s a shame that piercings aren’t more the rage because at least you can put retainers in for work and then, when the fashion passes or you get bored of them, they can be removed to leave no remarkable traces!

  • Nick

    Hey Andy,

    An interesting question - one of my favourites. I’m probably part of what you and others are calling Generation Y, but as a frequent hirer myself, I have altogether mixed views - particularly in light of the fact that I have a partially hidden tattoo myself.

    I think Wendy’s quite right - it depends largely on what the tattoo is and where it is, and it’s probably (and unfortunately) a result of the judgements we make when we first see someone. And really, someone having a tattoo - provided it doesn’t offend anyone - shouldn’t factor into the selection process at all.

    However, if someone has, say, a large Arsenal badge on their neck (as someone did when I met them once), it’s difficult not to reach a quick and probably unfair judgement. I mean Arsenal? Why in the world would anyone want to support Arsenal? 😀



  • Jack

    If I owned a skateboard shop or a video game store, I doubt I would care too terribly much. But as a recruiter, I am turned off fairly quickly by someone with a visible tattoo. About 95% of my client base isn’t going to hire someone that can’t hide their ink (or is forced to cover it under an bandage/wristband), especially when they know they have to pay a fee if they did.

    On a personal note (and coming from someone with no tats/piercings), I’ve never understood why people can’t put these things on parts of their bodies they can cover. What is so important to have to be on the inside of your wrist permanently that can’t be put on a shoulder blade? When I am interviewing people that have visible tattoos (and there are plenty in hospitality, believe me), it’s moved from a question I throw in at the end to one of the first ones out of my mouth. And the visibly inked almost always backpedal - i.e. “uhhh, yeah, but it’s small and I can wear long sleeves and a watch and you can barely see it”.

  • Alex Hens

    Every decision living beings make is a form of discrimination (def: “The ability or power to see or make fine distinctions; discernment”). That’s how nature works. And the ability to do so quickly can mean the difference between success and failure on the evolutionary path. For humans that decision making (discrimination between options available) is based on all known factors, primarily driven and evaluated by the conscious brain, as well as influenced by previous experience, which is both conscious and subconscious.

    The part of us that makes snap or gut decisions is part of what has made us so “successful” as humans, because if we over analysed every single decision then we’d never have got to where we have on the food chain. It’s hard wired within us.

    Some people are particularly adept at being able to recognise subconscious influences within themselves and put in place steps to work around them to find the best outcome based on all facts – these people should, as the theory goes, be the most successful business owners and should also be who you recruit into your HR / Recruitment teams, because they will truly see the talent and ability beyond the “book cover” they may be faced with. But what this all boils down to is that unfortunately what’s “fair” doesn’t come into it all that often (certainly not without significant intervention – the kind political correctness its’ so easy to run down) because we are, after all, only human.

    I personally don’t want a world of blandness and beige, but at the same time whilst it might not be “right” or “fair”, you have to understand that how you appear and how you carry yourself can, and more often than not will, have an affect on how others perceive you - FACT. Sometimes this is good, “oh I see you’re an Gooner too - good on you mate!”, and sometimes not “I’m sorry Mr Tattoo, but at this time Whitehart Lane Couriers won’t be proceeding with your application”.

    As a global and increasingly integrated society our focus is rightly on working hard to re-educate society from this hard-wired suspicion of what and who we don’t know, especially where that’s based on race, colour, age, sexuality or disability (look at CBeebies to see it happening first hand – and well done them I say). But if you go out of your way to visibly differentiate yourself (be that through body art, dress, hair or whatever) then why be surprised or get angry at people’s reactions. If displaying your individuality means that much to you then I applaud you for it – but don’t be surprised when someone treats you differently because of it. They’re just acting, probably subconsciously, on a trait that has seen us become the most “successful” beings on this planet.

    Personally I always fancied having a single earring when I was a teenager (yup – I know, bloody Miami Vice!!!) – but I also knew that I hoped one day to be an Officer in the Royal Marines. Would having an earring make me any less able as an Officer? Of course not. Did I suspect that having one might put a bigger question over my success in selection? Yes. So for me the risk of being angry on the outside about an “injustice” I could never prove just wasn’t a price worth paying for a bit of 90’s bling.

    And in a world of social media then let’s also remember that it’s not just your physical appearance that matters today and will increasingly do so tomorrow. You might want to consider what your online “book cover” might look like to a prospective employer – because being true to yourself is only to be encouraged, but just remember that “fair” isn’t trait of nature.

  • Andy Headworth

    What can I say, other than agree with you about the Arsenal tattoo. Maybe the only option for him is decapitation!! lol

  • Andy Headworth

    Thanks Jack for your thoughts. People have tattoos and piercings for diferent reasons and many are personal to them. People do have to think seriously before they get inked, especially if they want a career involving external customer relationships of any form.

  • Andy Headworth

    Thanks Alex for what is probably the most passionate and comprehensive answer to one of my blog posts ever!!!

    You are right, we dont need the world to be full of Mr and Mrs Magnolia - but at the same time society still isn’t ready for the acceptance that other cultures have for visible tattoos. Maybe we should take a leaf out of the book of the polynesians who regard facial tattoes and pieircings as an important part of their journey into manhood.

    (Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall in the Whitehart Lane Courier company when the knob with the Arsenal neck tattoo walked in!! LOL )

  • Alison

    Hi Andy, I couldn’t help replying after seeing your tweet! I’m a 30 y/o professional woman with two “quarter-sleeves” which I do cover up at work. I’m happy enough to do so (although ironically I wear more conservative clothes than co-workers as a result!) as Alex points out it was my (happy) choice to ‘visibly differentiate’ myself.

    I’m all too aware that people discriminate even subconsciously. I think tattooed women have a bit further to go in terms of mainstream acceptance. I do love challenging people’s misconceptions though - if they see me at a social event with tattoos out you can see their surprise..

    You might be interested to know that neck tattoos are often referred to as “job stoppers” in tattoo circles, lol. I have a friend who is a tattoo artist - she has a rule that she won’t tattoo necks or knuckles “unless you have no other blank skin left!”.

  • Deena McClusky

    I work with musicians, many of whom have stunningly beautiful tattoos. I really wish the world would get over itself and all this judging of people. If I go into a store or any customer service situation, I always make a point of giving my business to the person with the visible tattoos.

  • resume writing

    It all depends on the position and the company itself. I don’t think tattoos are appropriate for managers or CEOs, but considering other positions, I see nothing wrong with hiring such a person

  • Jessi

    Tattoos are not likely to be protected against discrimination since it is not something they are born into or raised into. Most tattoos are simply personal choices. I have tattoos and I chose to place them in locations that are easy to cover when I need to.

    Tattoos in openly visible locations speaks to certain personality traits, such as impulsivity and rebellion, which are not desireable traits in most industries.

    The creativity of it is great for those who had the foresight to keep their tatts in reasonable locations.
    Just like if i dye my hair purple or green, this is a personal choice and most would say it was brash and impulsive to do such a thing, thus making me unlikely to be employed due to my choice.

    There need to be rules, no matter where we live. Rules do change, but at this time and I’m sure for the next 20 years, visible tatts are more likely to be a hindrance than socially accepted.