Dr. Andrew Timming, Univ. of St Andrews – Visible Tattoos and Employment

Nov 22, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Andrew Timming of the University of St Andrews discusses how visible tattoos can influence the outcome of a job interview. 

Andrew Timming is a reader in management at the University of St Andrews where his primary research interests lie in the areas of employee voice (involvement / participation) and employee silence. He also has a strong interest in the body art industry.  He earned his Ph.D. in economic sociology at the University of Cambridge.

About Dr. Timming

Dr. Andrew Timming – Visible Tattoos and Employment

Thinking about getting a tattoo? Hold that thought. In a recent paper, I looked at the effects of visible tattoos on employment chances. I say visible tattoos because if your tattoos are concealable, then they will likely have no impact on your career. Visible tattoos are typically found on the hands, neck and face. They are increasing in prevalence. Of the 18-29 year old cohort, nearly 40% have tattoos, and of that 40%, about a third are ‘visible’.

I wanted to find out how those visible tattoos affect your chances of getting a job. I initially interviews 15 hiring managers in service sector organisations in Scotland. The industries in my sample include: retail, hotels, prison services, landscaping, restaurants, higher education, booksellers, a beauty salon and a bank, among others. I also interviewed another 10 visibly tattooed respondents about their job seeking experiences.

Several findings stand out. First, tattoos can harm your chances of getting a job, but not necessarily because the recruiter is prejudiced. Some recruiters I spoke with personally liked tattoos, but refused to hire anyone with body art because of customer expectations. It’s a problem of societal prejudice, not individual prejudice. Second, tattoos don’t always reduce your chances of getting a job. In some industries, they can be an asset, especially where young people are the target demographic. Third, how visible the tattoo is and the genre of the image are also important factors. A tattoo on the hand can be temporarily concealed through body positioning, but not a tattoo on the face. And a rose says something different about your character than a marijuana leaf.

So my advice is, go ahead and get that new tattoo you’ve been thinking about. But think long and hard about how it might affect your career.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.