Job Candidates With Body Art: Hire Or Not?

The US Army is getting more recruits with tattoos. And so are you.

One third of the population 18 to 29 has a tattoo. Your Business Blogger is outside this age range and our five-kid penta-posse has not yet demanded needles with ink. But this is an exploding trend that will affect small business hiring.

Here I will review only the deliberate body modifications. Not the accidental. (Scars are tattoos with better stories.)

We just hired a half-dozen employees. Not one of the attractive young women had any body art. That I noticed. Not that I was looking.

My concern is less with my outdated preferences than that potential candidates knew my preferences. If I control cutting the check, I’ll control the body cutting. I’d like some input in what peeps I be hangin’ wit’.

I prefer non-smokers with no (visible) body art and conjugated verbs.

Job seekers must remember that symmetry and chemistry between interview-er and interview-ee is what gets hired. It is not fair. But remember, I’m writing the check.

So tattoos and other self-mutilations are not for me. And it’s not likely that I would hire such decorations. But one of my managers with hiring authority might. One of my clients might. But not me.

And I’m not the only fuddy-duddie. The Vault reports,

Companies with dress and grooming codes are on the strongest legal grounds when they defend their policies based on legitimate business reasons.

At Starbucks, “baristas” who serve the $5 lattes can’t display any tattoos or wear any piercing jewelry besides small, matched pair earrings. Each ear can’t have more than two piercings. Serving upscale coffee demands upscale workers, according to Starbucks, and tattoos don’t fit that scheme.

So what’s right? What’s wrong with tattoos?

Sometime ago I questioned my rabbi, Daniel Lapin, on the issue of tattoos. Yes, I’m Presbyterian who sits at the feet of the JollyBogger. But everyone also needs a rabbi; a teacher. The coach doesn’t have to be faith-based. But the ‘donations’ can be tax deductible…

My Rabbi said that ancient Jewish tradition held that a person’s body does not belong to him — it belongs to the Creator and we borrow this earthly vessel for a while. Which is why the tattooing of identification numbers during the Holocaust was so humiliating to the Jews.

So if I interview you, or some other old coot interviews you, don’t tell us about your tattoos. It is not part of the job description.

You will be hired for your wisdom and your judgment.


Jack Yoest

Jack Yoest John Wesley (Jack) Yoest Jr., is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Management at The Catholic University of America. His expertise is in management training and development, operations, sales, and marketing. Professor Yoest is the president of Management Training of DC, LLC. A former Captain in the U.S. Army and with various stints as a corporate executive, he also served as Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Resources in the Administration of Governor James Gilmore of Virginia.

13 Reactions

  1. Yes, it is true that the person who cuts the check can make the rules, but I would be careful about setting criteria that may cause you to avoid a candidate who can really do the job well.

    I, too, fall out of that age range and I do not have any tattoos. But I have hired people with both tattoos and body piercings and they are exceptional people. One in particular has both the talent to create great graphic designs AND write the application source code to make a Web site run. If I had used a “no tattoo” policy, I would not have found him nor hired him.

    I also know many people use a college degree as a filtering technique. This, too, can lead to some qualified candidates not being considered. The key is to figure out what you are looking for in a person, then add in the “nice to haves” so that you don’t miss out.

    Again, I did not say that you wouldn’t find the “best” candidates, because “best” will include your own (important) criteria. The labor market is tight today and I am all for finding great people who have talent, integrity and want to work as part of the team. I cannot afford to exclude some of these folks due to their preferences for expressing themselves through body art, the same way that I don’t care what car they drive, what house they live in, who they hang out with or within acceptable business boundaries, what clothing they wear.

  2. Paul, you are right. It would require ability beyond my meager talent to evaluate the entire book beyond the cover.

    To overcome my shortcoming, I have been lucky to work with people who could make human resource evaluations looking beyond such external statements. I trust my managers’ judgment.

    For example, a few years ago, one of my staff made a hire and the twenty something young man had to work near my area. He came to work around me with band-aids on his ears.

    Now, young Alert Readers know instantly what’s going on. But not me. I had to ask his boss, if everything was alright.

    “He’s fine,” said the manager. “He’s just covering up the holes.”

    I was dumbfounded. Which is quite normal. (But of course, I didn’t show it. Your Business Blogger finds that stern, direct eye contact covers any lack of comprehension and competence.)

    But I was humbled to learn that anyone would care what I thought. Doesn’t happen much. Even when I write the checks.

    Paul, the young man went on to do outstanding work, as you might have guessed from the wisdom you use on making your hires.

    But they better not smoke around me.


  3. I have tattoos, Jack. I have two (actually had 3 but one is a cover-up tattoo over another). I can see how having tattoos running down both arms, around your wrists or on your neck could affect your employment situation (or lack thereof). It is a lifestyle – and it is a form of self expression. I do not regret my tattoos, but they are in places that are either covered up or cannot easily be noticed. But even though I have them, I must say that I would not walk into a tattoo parlor looking to have one placed on my neck or arms. I do realize that if I choose to do that – It could, most definitely, affect my employment. So I can respect your opinions on that matter and do agree to a certain extent.

    But keep this in mind. . .these twenty somethings that are expressing themselves in this way are very open minded, creative, outside-the-box thinkers. Granting them an employment environment that encourages their expression and creativity – may lead to some great new things, new ideas, creative technology. And everyone knows the old saying “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I know some pretty intimidating and fearsome looking fellas – covered in ink from head to toe in skulls and flames – and they are some of the sweatest people I’ve ever met.

    The days of associating body art with Hell’s Angels and convicts are gone. Body art has moved out of back alleys and biker rallys and into the suburbs. And I would guess that at least 60% of today’s college students – tommorrow’s leaders – have at least one example of body art. And it is quite possible that your recent hires, the attractive young women you referred too in the post, may have you fooled. They may be sporting a butterfly on their lower back, or a flower on their shoulder – that isn’t meant for everyone’s eyes to see. Ask around – you may be surprised!

  4. Chris, you’re right, I don’t know if the young women have body art or not — and I don’t want to know. Statistically, they will.

    I think my sister has a tattoo. My dad was in the Navy. I was in the Army. I’ve hired wild coders and graphics humans of unknown gender. Eye shadow used to be a clue. I’ve been surrounded by blue ink.

    (Which is, as you imply, much better than red ink.)

    Zig Ziglar would often say, “You can feed your ego, or you can feed your family.” And landing a deal might be difficult with distractions, however artful.

    But Your Business Blogger does hold for hiring people who are very different — violating my symmetry and chemistry rule:

    Consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds…

    Thanks again,

  5. Scot, from Virtual CFO, thank you for the track back and analysis on hiring the receptionist who would be the (first) face for your company.

    A face really does make a difference — even which side you show.



  7. I’m nearly 39 years old and my tattoos are nearly 17 years old. But from what some are saying I shouldn’t be hired, or if I am, should only be hired as a waitress, construction worker, or sanitation worker.

    But I have a college degree and graduated cum laude. I am serious about my profession and about those I serve. I’m a high school teacher. I would be devastated if I were one day told I shouldn’t teach because I have tattoos.

    In fact, I may sue over that one. As far as I have heard firing someone because of appearance is discrimination. Just as firing someone over weight, color or religion is discrimination.

  8. The most vital thing i think when having ink done is to go to a good tattooist. It’s well worth spending some time finding out who has talent and which parlour has a good reputation – it’s worth spending a few euro more to have peace of mind that your ink is going to be good

  9. First, I don’t have any tattoos. I work in the field of information systems, with years of experience and several degrees.

    Second, whenever I have several job offers on the table, the first deciding factor of which ones I take is the companies’ policies on such things as tattoos, homosexuality,paternity leave, etc.

    None of these things effect me directly, but I feel like they all are good signs about whether or not they care about supporting their individual employees.

    I will not work with people who disregard hiring someone (or will fire them in the future) based on lifestyle choices that are alternative to their own values. This is the kind of attitude that will eventually stagnate the entire company. Tattoos, piercings, homosexuality, and “alternative” gender roles (such as men being homemakers) are all becoming more widely acceptable, and by not allowing any visible tattoos or piercings of any kind the amount of people you are ignoring is growing exponentially.

    Good luck on your quest to stay in the past, ladies and gentlemen.

    • Jack Yoest

      Chloe, You are right in that more and more employers (those are the folks that do the hiring and write the checks) are overlooking body art.

      But not all.

      The answer is, as it always is: It depends.
      Having a angel tattoo on your neck might become acceptable on a banker doing loan applications.
      Having a swastika embossed on your forehead might not be.

      Remember, value is determined by the customer — and in this case the customer is the guy writing the check to make the hire. He decides if the body work is acceptable — not me or you.

      Thank you for your comment,

  10. Interesting article, I was smiling all the way till the end, I must say! Yes, tattoos and excessive body piercings do have a strong impact because obviously they grab attention. However, tattoos and body piercings can be hidden to an extent during normal office hours. It can be one of the company policies, which will then have the ball in the court of the employees. It just becomes part of the regime where employees are required to follow company ethics. Thank you for sharing.

    • Jack Yoest

      Marc, you are on to something here — the purpose of business, as Peter Drucker reminds us, is to create and satisfy a customer.

      There are many small business owners in industries who can create customers and make a profit with staff who sport body art. For example, I would expect anyone who works in a tattoo parlor or is a member of the neighborhood gang to proudly display their tats.

      I’m not sure how much I would pay attention to a politician or Jewish Rabbi with tattoos…


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