Think Before You Ink: Could getting a tattoo cost you your potential job?

By Megan Hein
The Minstrel

With the steady decline of available jobs, graduates stepping into today’s workplace want to enhance their job potential, not decrease it. But could having a tattoo put a damper on your career marketability?

Somewhere in the past ten years, tattoos have become almost as common as ear piercings. For today’s generation, getting a tattoo seems to be a rite of passage. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 36% of people aged 18-25 have at least one tattoo.

But has tattoo acceptance carried over into the workplace as well?

Kate Hunter, director of Career Services, discourages students from getting any visible tattoos. “They have to be able to be covered,” she notes.

Hunter cites for example that if two people are applying for the same job and one applicant has a visible tattoo, the other applicant will likely be chosen.

“I don’t think [the stigma tattoos face] is necessarily fair but it is the way it is. You have to conform to society…especially in a tough economy.”

In a 2001 study done by Vault.com, almost 60% of employers said they would be less likely to hire someone with visible tattoos or piercings. Almost half of those surveyed said they would have a lower opinion of someone they work with or meet who has visible body art.

In the same survey, only 11% of employers said it would affect their decision to hire someone if body art was covered.

Daniel York, a sophomore accounting major, thinks the stigma is largely unjustified. Someday he would like to get a tattoo. “I feel people should be able to do what they want,” he says. Yet he acknowledges that “being in the workplace, you have to be more professional.”

For someone who has no desire to get any future tattoos, Casey Hoferica, a junior nursing major, feels the stigma is fair. “They [the company] don’t want the wrong image to be portrayed or their reputation to go down.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Tom Milinkovich, a senior TV/film major, who has a total of six tattoos on his body.

“I think [the stigma] is justified in certain ways,” he reasons. “But I think a lot of it is authority figures trying to impose rules on [their employees]. “I could see how some people see it as an annoyance but it’s not like you’re using drugs.”

Another tattooed student, Jonathon DeMenne, a junior history/secondary education major, feels similarly.

“It’s unjustified,” he states. “I know people who have tattoos who are just normal people. And if they’re in the business world, God help the business world.”

When asked if they believed tattoos would ever become fully accepted in the workplace, both students offered differing perspectives.

“In the business world I think there’s still a stigma,” says DeMenne. “In general in the workplace, I think they’ve become very accepted.” He cites for example that his general manager, a grocery manager, has tattoos all up and down his arms.

Milinkovich, who has tattoos on both legs and one on his upper arm, states he wants to wait until getting a steady job before thinking about getting anymore tattoos, at least those that would be visible. While he acknowledges that in today’s world tattoos are “already more acceptable, [although] it depends on the tattoo” he feels there are some things that will never change.

“I wouldn’t expect someone to have a neck tattoo to ever become fully accepted in the workplace,” Milinkovich notes.

And what are the opinions of someone already established in the business world, who has tattoos of their own?

Dr. Dorothy Posh, an English professor, has a tattoo that runs on her ankle and foot. She believes the acceptability of having a tattoo largely depends on the employee’s workplace.

“I think some businesses are right to stigmatize because of the work they do,” she says. However she cites other jobs where tattoos might even be encouraged, such as a graphic designer.

When asked if she believes tattoos are slowly becoming more accepted in the workplace, Posh offered an opinion based on personal experience.

“I think so. I’ve only gotten positive feedback [on my tattoo]. Although that’s probably because we’re in a creative environment,” she acknowledges. “If I was an accountant, it might be different… but I think we have a lot of open-minded people here.”

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