Will a tattoo stop you getting a job?

Younger people don’t believe body art should interfere with your career, but they aren’t the ones hiring.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 15 Jul 2016

You’re looking sharp for your dream job interview – pressed suit, polished shoes, polished smile. You shake hands and sit down.  The interviewer’s eyes flick to the tattoo on the back of your hand. A frown forms.

‘Is that a panda doing...?’

‘Modern dance, yes. It’s inspired by that scene from Footloose. You know, the one in the warehouse.’


‘Yeah, I got it on my gap year in Thailand.’


What happens next?

Your answer will largely depend on how old you are. Younger people tend to regard tattoos as no more of a big deal than wearing a pink shirt. In a survey by facilities management provider Direct365, 77% of 18-24 year-olds strongly disagreed with the perception that tattoos were an indicator of a person’s personality or ability to do a job.

They have a point. Of course your capacity to code for your Shoreditch start-up won’t be impacted by the break-dancing moose artfully inked onto your neck, and of course it is a free country.

But unfortunately the people who actually dole out the jobs aren’t quite so inclined towards freedom of expression. Generation X respondents (aged 35-44) were split 50:50 on the matter. 

The survey was only of 750 people, to be fair, but it does support the anecdotal evidence that the older you get, the less favourably you view tattoos, at least in a white collar environment.

A collective stamping of Millennial feet would be wasted at this stage – tattoo discrimination is not illegal per se. (While there are issues around religious imagery and equal treatment of the sexes, a tattoo itself is not a protected characteristic, as this article by Thorntons explains.)

Time may be on the side of body art, of course. Prevailing attitudes may well become more favourable as the Millennial generation takes the corporate reigns.

But there are no guarantees. Even if recruiters are willing to take the time to assess your competence and personality rather than judging you solely on the basis of your ‘phat tat’, it doesn’t mean they won’t find business reasons not to hire you.

If you’re applying for a public-facing role then how you choose to present yourself is, within reason, fair game: employees are generally expected to be ‘on brand’, which your weird dancing animal tattoos might just clash with at some point in your career.

Rightly or wrongly, lookism dies hard. Getting a tattoo remains a personal choice but, unless you’re in a very creative sector, all other things being equal it still carries a risk of being career limiting at some stage. If in doubt, get one somewhere discreet or go for henna.    

Photo credit: Peter M./Flickr


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