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Should you cover up tattoos for a job interview?

Consider the industry and company culture before showing off your ink.

Should you cover up tattoos for a job interview?

To nail a job interview, you’ve got to look professional. For many millennials, that means concealing their beloved body art. An estimated four in 10 have a tattoo, and 70% say they hide their ink at work, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

“Undergraduates know how the corporate world works,” says University of Tampa professor Kristen Foltz, author of the recent research paper The Millennial's Perception of Tattoos: Self Expression or Business Faux Pas? Foltz says most of her business students with tattoos said they plan to conceal them during job interviews.

“Despite how mainstream they are today, tattoos have historically become associated with prisoners, gang members, and other types of people who aren’t upstanding citizens,” says Joanne Blake, president and owner of Canadian corporate image consulting firm Style for Success.

Granted, sporting a butterfly tattoo doesn’t scream “ex felon” but it can form a negative first impression. Employers are particularly sensitive when hiring someone who will meet with clients face-to-face. “There will always be conservative customers,” says Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and business etiquette training.

Worried your body art will limit your job opportunities? Take these steps in preparation of your interview.   

Study the company’s culture

Some industries are more lenient with tattoos than others, says New York professional image consultant and corporate trainer Sylvie di Giusto. “Jobs in music, media, and technology are often more lenient,” she says, adding that startups tend to be especially lax, since they typically value innovation and self-expression. 

However, don’t make assumptions based on industry or, worse, age of the hiring manager. “Even though more and more people are getting tattoos, there are still a number of millennials who don’t have any, and the hiring manager might frown upon them,” Blake says.

Do some due diligence by researching your prospective employer’s work environment. An insider’s perspective is ideal, so tap your LinkedIn network to find an employee who can offer insight, or ask HR to speak to someone so you can learn more about the organization. Also inquire whether the company has a policy on tattoos—“many do nowadays” says Blake.

Receptionists are another a good source of information. Blake says, “Call and simply say, ‘I want to make sure I make a good impression. What’s the standard dress code?’”

Check the company’s website to assess its values. “Look at the mission statement and see whether it’s formal or informal,” says Foltz. Scan its social media for photos of employees; many companies share more casual pictures on Facebook and Twitter than what they have on their website.

Cover up...

If you can conceal the ink, do so. “Job interviews are already uncomfortable, so don’t exacerbate things by having to worry about your tattoos being visible,” says Foltz.

Consider wearing a full suit. Accessories like rings and watches can hide certain tattoos, but make sure they don’t shake when you move, Foltz warns. Concealers like Dermablend are also an option.

…or broach the subject directly

Some body art (e.g., neck tattoos) can’t be as easily concealed. Since the interviewer is going to notice, “address the elephant in the room and ask whether your tattoo will affect your job candidacy,” Gottsman recommends. Then shift the conversation back to what you bring to the company.

Says Gottsman: “You want to be remembered for your skills and your value, not for what you wear or have on your body.” 

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