Prior to starting my marketing career, I was a nighttime shelf stocker in a grocery store. Since the job market at that time was terrible, there were several of us recent college grads who worked there. I became pretty good friends with another guy on my shift named Paul. Paul had recently graduated cum laude from a local university with a degree in history.
One night, Paul came into the store and he seemed upset, so I asked him what was going on. He told me that he‚Äôd ‚Äúscrewed up.‚Äù I thought he‚Äôd done something really major. He showed me his bicep and said ‚ÄúLook at this, man. I blew it.‚Äù
I couldn‚Äôt figure out what he was talking about until he pointed out that a recent tattoo was visible at the edge of his shirt. He explained ‚ÄúI have a rule ‚Äì I don‚Äôt get tattoos that can‚Äôt be covered by a golf shirt. It keeps me employable.‚Äù
I never forgot that even as I grew into my professional career, and as I became more inked myself. Notably, all of my tattoos can be covered by a golf shirt.
The truth is, many Generation Xers are tattooed, and it hasn‚Äôt stopped with us.
Many Millennials are also inked. But do tattoos and piercings keep you from getting a job, or for that matter, being perceived as a professional?
If you Google ‚Äútattoos in the workplace,‚Äù you‚Äôll find a number of articles indicating that there‚Äôs a negative correlation between visible tattoos and job prospects, particularly in front-line or professional staff. Most of those articles are based on an old CareerBuilder survey from 2011. But if you dig a little more by choosing the ‚ÄúNews‚Äù tab on your Google search, you‚Äôll get a different story. First, there is a lot of opinion pieces saying that tattoos shouldn‚Äôt impact employment. But the real gold is from the Harvard Business Review‚Äôs most recent issue.
In that issue is a University of Miami study that surveyed 2000+ people in the US, and found that tattooed people are no less likely to be employed than their counterparts. In fact, if you‚Äôre a guy, you‚Äôre more likely to be employed if you have a tattoo!
Now you may be thinking ‚ÄúSure, they can be employed, but I bet they aren‚Äôt getting as good of a job as they might without the ink!?‚Äù And honestly, that was my first thought. But let me quote Michael French, one of the authors of the study:
‚ÄúI thought we might see a wage penalty or employment difficulties because hiring managers have said in previous studies that they‚Äôd discriminate against tattooed candidates. But in this analysis, after we controlled for factors that could affect job prospects‚Äîsuch as alcohol use and whether people had been in jail‚Äîwe found no significant correlation between body art and employment or earnings.‚Äù
While we don‚Äôt suggest that you go out and get a tattoo to increase your job prospects (correlation isn‚Äôt causation, right?), my friend Paul‚Äôs concern about his visible ink seems to bear no fruit. Like the T-shirt says, you can still be ‚Äútattooed and employed.‚Äù