Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Once a sign of rebellion and counterculture, tattoos can now be seen everywhere – from professional athletes to reality shows. However, inked skin can still get in the way of landing that dream job, according to new research presented by Andrew R. Timming at the British Sociological Association’s annual meeting being held on Wednesday.
A management professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, Timming based his presentation on interviews with 15 managers involved in hiring staff at a hotel, bank, city council, prison, university and bookstore. The interviewees’ ages ranged from their 30s, to their 60s.
“Most respondents agreed that visible tattoos are a stigma,” Timming told the conference. A female interviewee said that “they make a person look dirty,” while one male manager told him “tattoos are the first thing (fellow recruiters) talk about when the person has gone out of the door.”
Timming noted that most managers were primarily concerned with what their customers might think about interacting with a tattooed employee.
“Hiring managers realize that, ultimately, it does not matter what they think of tattoos – what really matters, instead, is how customers might perceive employees with visible tattoos,” he said.
Timming also noted that the context of the job could determine how important tattoos might be in the hiring process.
“The one qualification to this argument is there are certain industries in which tattoos may be a desirable characteristic in a job interview,” he said. “For example, an HR manager at a prison noted that tattoos on guards can be ‘something to talk about’ and ‘an in’ that you need to make a connection with the prisoners.”
The management professor went on to say that the types of tattoos an applicant has also matters to those in hiring positions.
“If it’s gang culture-related you may have a different view about the tattoo than if it’s just because it’s a nice drawing of an animal that they’ve done on their arm,” Timming said. “Tattoo acceptance was at its highest with innocuous symbols like flowers or butterflies. Military insignia was also seen as a ‘badge of honor.’”
“Examples of distasteful tattoos given by the managers included ‘a spider’s web tattooed on the neck’; ‘somebody being hung, somebody being shot’; ‘things to do with death’; ‘face tears, which suggest that you’ve maimed or killed’; ‘something of a sexual content’; anything with ‘drug connotations’; and ‘images with racist innuendo’ such as a swastika,” he added.
Despite finding diminished prospects for people with tattoos, Timming said he could see a future where body art is mostly seen as irrelevant by hiring managers.
“There was a broad consensus among the respondents that although visible tattoos still hold a degree of taboo, in the not-so-distant future they will inevitably gain greater acceptance in the wider society,” Timming said.
“Several respondents pointed out that intolerance to tattoos is currently strongest amongst the older generations,” he added. “That, coupled with the increasing prevalence of tattoos in younger people, points to a future in which body art will become largely normalized and accepted.”