Tattoos and Piercings at Work – Art or Unprofessional?

Cover up tattoos in a job interview

Can ink be a stain on your career?  Can a piercing puncture your chances of work?

Facial piercings and tattoos are wildly popular. It’s not just rappers and footballers that have them on show either these days – Question Time presenter David Dimbleby recently got a tattoo as part of a TV documentary; Winston Churchill had an anchor tattoo and even Queen Victoria was rumoured to have had ink too!  But many UK workplaces still have strict dress codes stating that piercings must be removed and tattoos covered.

When it comes to piercings, this can often be about personal safety: if you’re working with machinery or other dangerous equipment, you probably don’t want to risk something getting caught so removing them while you’re working seems like a sensible idea. But sometimes, objections to tattoos and piercings come down to how you look.

According to research done by the British Sociological Association, having a visible tattoo in a job interview dramatically reduces the likelihood of a candidate being hired. And that’s regardless of how qualified that candidate is to do the work. It’s typically older managers who are likely find piercings and tattoos as dirty or not in-keeping with the corporate image they expect from applicants.

We know that having a tattoo does not affect a person’s ability to do a job, however employers are perfectly within their rights to stipulate a dress code at work.  Many employers have customer facing environments like reception, field sales or events marketing: those staff need to represent the company and fit in with the business’ culture. Equally, a business also needs to think of its customers and clients and what they might expect too – while a low budget hotel may not have many restrictions on staff’s appearance at front desk, a big corporation or luxury brand won’t feel the same.

When going for interview, cover your ink and take out your piercings, even if you think they might be acceptable to that employer: we have had candidates miss out on a job because of tattoos on show.  It shows you are taking the job seriously and trying to look professional in an interview. When you have secured the job, you may find your employer very tolerant and even encouraging of your body art.

Originally posted September 2014.