Career success and tattoos

Sam Cam’s dolphin tattoo

I’m not a personal fan of body art, partly because I’m afraid of needles and even fainted when I had my ears pierced.  My son has a number of mystical messages tattooed on various parts of his body. The only advice he listened to was that none of them should visible when dressed professionally.  What can look cool on a toned, youthful, wild – child body, can also look less appealing as age and gravity kick in.


You may aspire to be something arty and Bohemian at 18, but what happens if 10 years later your rock ‘n roll ideas fade and you decide to become a Chartered Accountant? Or a future U.K. Prime Minister.

Nigel Farage 1983
Nigel Farage 1983

 So without going into aesthetics and into debates such as women with “tramp stamps”  being allowed in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot,  when I was recently asked the question whether body art can impact  career success, I had to be mindful of my own biases.

So I would say, it  will very much depend on  some or all of the following factors:

The particular body art – the size, the position, the message, the visibility. Even the  U.K. Prime Minister’s wife Sam Cameron has a small ankle tattoo, so some discreet tattoo on a part of the body unlikely to be on display in a normal business environment  is clearly not going to be a problem. My son’s answer to my own vocal doubts was “Mum, my boss isn’t going to see me without my shirt on.”  Well, that’s a relief then!

The targeted organisation: some organisations will be very tolerant and accepting of tattoos and piercings – fashion, music, media, sport for example are sectors where tattoos abound, but others will not. If you had a crazy, youthful moment and have now settled on a more traditional path, then this could be a problem if the result of that moment is highly visible and can’t be covered.

Marcus told me “ I have a half sleeve tattoo which I had done as a student. It’s not visible when I’m wearing a business shirt.  At a recent company golf outing when I was wearing a short sleeve polo shirt,  the lower part could be seen on my upper arm. I could feel the disapproval of the senior, older partners. Nothing was said directly at the time, but my manager told me I am lucky I am a good golfer, the implication being that if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be invited back.  I feel annoyed because it has nothing to do with my performance in my job. But next time I’ll wear a long sleeve shirt

Some  organisations, particularly public service bodies ask for photos of any body art as the part of the application process particularly if the use of communal changing rooms is part of the work routine. I have also been involved in processes where facial piercings have been held against candidates, both with and without jewellery in the holes.

The type of position applied for: body art can be problematic in any client facing role.  HMV made headlines recently by introducing an appearance code requesting employees to cover up extreme body art. As the competition for jobs becomes more intense in the recession, many are opting for painful removal of their tattoos by laser surgery, at possibly a higher cost than having the original . One Spanish clinic is reporting an upturn in tattoo  removal business as employment opportunities contract “Getting rid of a 4in sq tattoo will cost about €200 (£167); a larger one will set you back €1,500, and the more colours involved, the longer and more costly the treatment.” Learn from Belgian Kimberly Vlaeminck who now deeply regrets the 56 star constellation she had tattooed on her face which are still visible after laser surgery.

So overall message, think hard before going down the permanent body art path. If you change your mind it could be painful and expensive, and not just to your career.

3 thoughts on “Career success and tattoos

  1. Chris

    Interesting and overall wise adivse although i would call this behavior “discrimination”. It took decades to have it illegal in most countries when it come to gender, race, age, religion. Tattoo is something you choose and you have to bear the consequences, agree, but unless there is an obvious message on your hand or fronthead, rejecting candidate who have tattoo is discriminating. It’s both a reality and hopefully soon an outdated behavior. Now, The golf example is stretching it bit as there isn’t a more traditional, old fashion, strickly coded sport. He should have gone for a basket ball game instead!

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Chris – thanks for your comment. I agree it is discriminatory. Being covered from head to toe in tattoos may have no bearing on how someone does their job, but it could impact how they are precieved. However knowing those biases are out there choices can be made – or not!

  2. Chris

    Head to toes tattoo are extreme, and rare. Extremes in general don’t fit with a standard, conventional, normed society. I agree with you, a tattoo in in 99% a choice.
    My advise: wait untill your are at least 25 before you decide to go for a tattoo. You will hopefully have a better undertanding not only of what you want but also on how “people” will react.


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