The idea of landing a job after college can be overwhelming and even scary for any college student. After four years (or a bit more) of studying your ass off, writing hundreds of papers and doing a number of internships, the last thing someone wants to get in the way is their physical appearance. For those who have visible tattoos and piercings, some jobs may not be as easy to attain because of their body art.
Tattoos and piercings have grown in popularity
First things first, tattoos and piercing are really popular. With around 21,000 tattoos parlors in the United States, most adults have some type of ink, according to Support Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace (STAPAW), an organization that advocates for employees with body art. Forty-two percent of adults have at least one tattoo, and 61 percent of adults have some type of piercing, including ear lobes.
Tattoos have gotten more popular over time. Since 2007, tattoo popularity has increased by 13% and the number of people with two or more tattoos has almost doubled.
Age and gender have a some influence when it comes to tattoos. According to PEW Research Center, three percent of people get their first tattoo between the ages of 18 and 22. According to STAPAW, women under the age of 35 are almost 50 percent more likely to have tattoos than their male counterparts, while senior men are 71 percent more likely to have tattoos than senior women.
According to Nathan Medden, director of STAPAW, this rise in popularity may have a direct correlation with the rise in policies prohibiting visible body art.
“Tattoos and piercings are becoming much more commonplace,” Medden said. “Before it wasn’t even something that companies even thought of making a policy against.”
There’s a reason body art makes us uncomfortable
Many employers create policies because they fear what their customers will think.
“It stems from human nature,” Medden said. “We want to put things into boxes where we can understand life or understand groups of people – where our first gut instinct is the compilation of our ability to deduce and quickly judge life and events and elements.”
Ideas that fuel a dislike or uneasiness for people with body art are not entirely false according to Medden. Research done by STAPAW showed that 94 percent of seniors with tattoos said they were motivated by rebellion, while only four percent of people in college or post college said their decision was fueled by rebellion.
“The stereotype that tattoos are equivalent to delinquency or a lack of responsibility, it might have been true at one point in time, that people that have tattoos were primarily sailors and criminals, etc,” Medden said. “But it is no longer true. So you have an accurate generalization. Even if it’s an accurate, statistically provable generalization, you still want to be careful when applying it to somebody that you don’t know because there’s always people that are the exception to the rule.”
Employers base their policies and hiring decisions on their own experience, or what how they think customers will react. Despite the ideas employers may have about how customers will react, 96 percent of American adults said they would not change their shopping habits if a business hired staff with visible body art, according to Fox News.
It can affect your job prospects
While customers may not see a problem with body art, these preconceived idea have an effect on many people. Seventy-six percent of employees felt that their body art has hindered them during an interview.
Kay-Lynne Taylor, director of Missouri Western’s career development center, has seen students miss out on opportunities because of body art.
“I’ve seen those students lose opportunities,” Taylor said. “I’ve also seen an adult who is an alumnus have an experience because they had a suit and tie on, and part of their tattoo could be seen on their neck- just a minimal part of it.”
One survey conducted by Careerbuilder showed that 31 percent human resource managers do in fact think visible body art negatively impacts their hiring decisions. Piercings were the top physical attribute to hinder an employee’s career potential, with visible tattoos following as the third highest attribute.
For those who are hired, the effect that body art has on their job is not as significant. Only four percent of tattooed or pierced people say they’ve actually faced discrimination in their current job, according to STAPAW.
Junior Taylor Porter got her first tattoo during high school and believes it has affected her job experience.
“I have known people that are really against tattoos. No matter what it is, they’re offended by it,” Porter said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s something that has a deeper meaning to me, they just don’t want to see it. I think that’s kind of where employers come from. They’re trying not to offend any of their customers.”
Porter has had to wear jewelry or bandages to cover her tattoos and nose piercing at several jobs. While this is not necessarily discrimination, it is an inconvenience and does upset Porter, who has tattoos representing her battle with childhood cancer and a friend who passed away at an early age.
“It kind of upsets me just because I know my tattoos aren’t anything bad,” Porter said.
Employees and career counselors are not the only ones concerned about the effect body art has on potential careers. Nick Spencer, owner of Independent Tattoo Company, takes jobs into consideration when customers come into his shop.
“We consider certain tattoos job stoppers; that would be a tattoo you can’t cover, like on on the face, one on the neck or hands,” Spencer said. “If someone comes in and they don’t have any tattoos and they say ‘I want a piece on my neck or I want my hands covered,’ we’re not going to do that.”
It matters what career you are pursuing
Some careers are more accepting of visible tattoos and piercings than others, according to Taylor.
“The arts are different,” Taylor said. “There’s a little more flexibility there, and part of it is that you are demonstrating the understanding of the approach of artisticness on yourself and outwardly to the world. Now if you’re going to be in business, that’s going to be perceived differently.”
The arts is not the only career path where visible tattoos and piercings are accepted. The occupation with the most lenient tattoo policy is in government, according to STAPAW. Although there are less rules regarding body art, only 8 percent of government employees have tattoos or piercings.
The military has the highest percentage of tattooed staff, though these tattoos usually follow strict guidelines about placement and size. According to the Navy Times and Air Force Times, these restrictions are being reconsidered in the Navy, Air Force, and Army with sleeve and neck tattoos being allowed.
Whichever career path you pursue, Taylor suggests keeping your own beliefs and employer perspectives in mind.
“Part of it is to know your audience, and part of it is to know who you are,” Taylor said. “If something is important to you then really recognize that, but understand how employers are going to see that.”
Attitudes about tattoos and piercings have changed
There is some good news for people with body art. Many companies are changing their policies to be more lenient when it comes to visible tattoos and piercings.
“Of course they’ve changed; of course it’s going to continue to change, because the body art industry is growing,” Taylor said. “If it were 25 years ago, you wouldn’t even dream of having a gauge, or double piercing and which ear we would have pierced.”
According to STAPAW, 28 major companies changed their dress code last year, along with hundreds of other smaller businesses.
“We’ve seen a lot of companies have been changing and allowing tattoos and piercings — major companies and small companies,” Medden said. “At the same time we’ve been seeing a lot of companies that never had laws on the book start creating policies that don’t allow tattoos and piercings.”
STAPAW has helped 420,600 people overcome the judgments they face in the workplace, according to their site.
“Our goal is to not have to exist; we want to eventually run ourselves out of a job,” Medden said. “We know over time this will change, but it’s important for people to understand why it should change. It’s important for people to understand how it should change. If people change for the wrong reasons, the change will not be permanent, and we’ll be seeing these problems continue.”
For employees like Porter, this change will will be welcomed.
“I’d like to see the culture kind of shift to where it doesn’t matter if you have tattoos or not,” Porter. “You shouldn’t have to cover them up, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
A little advice for the inked and pierced
“Realize that your tattoos, unfortunately in the world we live in, will possibly affect your employment,” Medden said.
Taylor suggested considering body art that is easy to cover or remove.
“First and foremost, I would make sure that it’s something that — depending on which field you’re going into — you’re comfortable with covering when you interview,” Taylor said.
Your attitude about the way you are perceived may differ, but it is something to take into consideration.
“Are you okay being judged, sort of like the book by it’s cover?” Taylor said. “Because that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Or are you somebody who is going to say ‘You know what, devil may care, I’m just going to be who I am’? Well that’s great, but recognize that some employers don’t have that same appreciation or sensibility for the art that you have.”
Those initial judgments may not be permanent for employees who make themselves valuable to their company.
“Most companies that have rules and regulations that limit visible tattoos or piercings, we find time and time again they stretch the rules and don’t hold fast the rules if your have a good work ethic,” Medden said. “You will encounter discrimination, but if you make yourself an asset to the company, you’re going to stand head and shoulders above the rest of the workforce.”
While body art is becoming more popular and perhaps even more accepted, it is still something to consider before venturing out into the workforce. Know your audience, your own attitudes and your options as begin your career.