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’d “screwed up.” I thought he’d done something really major. He showed me his bicep and said “Look at this, man. I blew it.”
I couldn’t 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 “I have a rule – I don’t get tattoos that can’t be covered by a golf shirt. It keeps me employable.”
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’t 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 “tattoos in the workplace,” you’ll find a number of articles indicating that there’s 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 “News” tab on your Google search, you’ll get a different story. First, there is a lot of opinion pieces saying that tattoos shouldn’t impact employment. But the real gold is from the Harvard Business Review’s 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’re a guy, you’re more likely to be employed if you have a tattoo!
Now you may be thinking “Sure, they can be employed, but I bet they aren’t getting as good of a job as they might without the ink!?” And honestly, that was my first thought. But let me quote Michael French, one of the authors of the study:
“I thought we might see a wage penalty or employment difficulties because hiring managers have said in previous studies that they’d discriminate against tattooed candidates. But in this analysis, after we controlled for factors that could affect job prospects—such as alcohol use and whether people had been in jail—we found no significant correlation between body art and employment or earnings.”
While we don’t suggest that you go out and get a tattoo to increase your job prospects (correlation isn’t causation, right?), my friend Paul’s concern about his visible ink seems to bear no fruit. Like the T-shirt says, you can still be “tattooed and employed.”