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My concern is less with my outdated preferences than that potential candidates knew my preferences.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.

19 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…


  11. While there are certain positions that I believe tattoos should not be visible during the day, times are definitely changing as well. More and more “professional” jobs are allowing tattoos but at the same time, consideration should be taken in those getting them. As someone with multiple tattoos, I am so thankful I can hide all by wearing longer sleeves or a dress to work.

    I believe being hired for the “wisdom and judgment” is the best course of action. Tattoos and piercings are not indicative of a person’s abilities, but can prevent them from even being considered for a role at the same time.

    While some of these preferences may be “outdated” certain tattoos could prove bad for business as well i.e. profanity, a tattoo containing something racist or prejudice or something lewd. These will be harder to explain and have the potential to offend as well.

    As a progressive and an open-minded person, I can understand religion, symbols, and signs for adversity. Other body art may be harder to understand and explain.

    With some professions, these are easier to overlook (i.e. sports, music-wise and a lot of non-office positions). With office ones, these would be harder to justify and explain ultimately.

  12. In these days, it is common that people put some tattoos in their bodies. Tattoos are a subject people just can not help but have an opinion about. I think there is a matter of taste. It could be seen as a desperate cry for attention. Many people who appose tattoos often think but, it is more likely that people just doing what make them more happy.

    In my opinion, before I decide to put tattoo, I will ask myself why I want that. Am I going to regret it when I get old. Also, I get used to the subtext: that was not smart idea, tattoos are pointless. Anti-tattoo people often preach that they are a bad choice because they are permanent. People make choices with consequences you can not take back every day of their lives. We should not approach our prejudices towards those who have tattoos or body piercing, because they could be the best in their fields.

  13. Natalie M Barbieri

    What is inherently wrong with tattoos? Do tattoos mean something malicious?: Violence? Death? Bad work ethic, even? No. Tattoos do not have a symbol in the United States.

    During my time in Japan, tattoos were more frowned upon than in the United States. But, there was a reason. Japan’s largest gang used tattoos as a way to symbolize stature–certain tattoos had certain underlying connotations. Therefore, in general as a society, tattoos meant gang affiliation. This warrants the stigma.

    However, in the US, tattoos are not actually connected to anything. If I had a butterfly tattoos on my arm, does that mean I am apart of the butterfly gang? No, it doesn’t actually mean anything. Therefore, why are tattoos stigmatized if they do not represent anything Tattoos are just another form of expression. They represent the same thing a shirt would represent: ‘I like this, so I am going to put it on my body.”

    I do not think that tattoos should have ANY affect on the perception of job readiness or job ability, or in the decision of hire, rehire, firings, or promotions.

  14. Mansoor Eyvazi

    Assuming that this article is about an organization in the United States, as it may differ in other countries, we should view it from two different aspects:

    From the employee’s standpoint and from the employer’s standpoint.

    1) From the employee’s standpoint, tattoos are forms of expression and therefore they must be treated as any other form of expression. In other words, one can wear a shirt with a sign on it, or tattoo the sign on his or her body. As a result, tattoos should be treated as a piece of cloth, which people may wear based on their personal preference.

    In the United States, freedom of expression is protected by the 1st Amendment. Therefore, tattoos, as a pure form of expression, are protected by the constitution. In this regard, a federal appeals court in a challenge to the ban on tattoo parlors in the city of Hermosa Beach has ruled that tattoos are “forms of pure expression fully protected by the 1st Amendment”. As a result, in the United States people are free to have tattoos as they have freedom of expression right.

    2) From the employer’s standpoint, also, it should be treated as a piece of cloth. However, tattoos at work place, when they are visible and not covered, may be controlled under any reasonable dress code any organization may have. In other words, if we accept that any organization should be free to have its reasonable dress code for its employees, in the same manner, it should be free to have some special policies regarding the visible and not covered tattoos. It is not to say that tattoos are anything bad or good, but like any other form of expression, they may be regulated to be in line with the organizations’ reasonable codes when they are not covered.

    As a result, as much as the employees’ freedom of expression right must be protected, employers’ should enjoy the same right.

  15. I believe the most important issue during an interview and hiring process is the capability and the talent of the candidates. But, sometimes and occasionally tattoos won’t be acceptable for some certain positions only because of the nature of that specific jobs the candidate won’t be selected. For example, if the tattoos are on the face, would be more considerable than the tattoos on the hands, neck or other parts of the body.

    In case of hiring a candidate, we shouldn’t forget that appearances always matter specially when going for a job interviews, sometimes people will be judged by clothing because of the job requirements but I think it is more depend on the job’s atmosphere. There are many job and work environment that tattoos make them more interesting like sport players, movie stars, musicians and rappers.

    I think accepting or rejecting someone with tattoos and other body-arts, also can be more depend on the culture of that society and the organization culture, but in general hiring or rejecting candidates with tattoos and other body-arts cannot be the main cause of rejection in a position.

  16. In today’s society a company may not have much choice as to whether to hire job candidates who possess body art. When the article was written in December 2015 one third of the population from ages 18 to 29 had tattoos. Now, three and one half years later, there may be even more people in that age group with tattoos. It seems as though half that population now has tattoos, although I do not know the exact figure.
    The extent to which a job candidate’s body art is visible may be important to small businesses. For most small businesses excessive visible body art may not be desirable. Their clientele may associate a certain stigma with such bodily displays, depending on the business type. More conservative businesses may experience this issue. There may be some businesses, though, for which body art is more acceptable. For businesses such as vaping shops, where patrons go to inhale flavored vapors, body art may be part of the culture of the customers. For businesses that prefer not to have their employees display body art, dress and grooming codes are probably the best course of action for the business to portray the image they wish to convey to their customers.

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