Do You See the Tattoo, or the Talent Behind It? | Jobs In ME
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Do You See the Tattoo, or the Talent Behind It?

By: Jason Blais

In a recent poll, only 41 percent of respondents said that they would hire someone with visible tattoos. Despite the prevalence of body art in pop culture today, tattoos are viewed negatively by 59 percent of employers polled. Is this good business, or does this practice hurt an organization's ability to hire great employees? It deserves examination from both sides of the hiring paradigm- employers and job seekers. This month, I will speak to the employers.

Changing Culture

For the past couple of years, I've been living within a short distance of a handful of well-known and well-respected colleges and universities. Walking around this area in the springtime, it's clear that the number of educated, young adults choosing to get tattoos is on the rise. This trend will force employers to examine what we value in our candidates; and to look inward at our own prejudices and how they affect our hiring decisions.

Facing Fears

I don't believe anyone would argue that a tattoo negatively affects an employee's ability to perform the responsibilities associated with any job (aside from modeling or news anchoring perhaps). Having a tattoo will not make a candidate less able to balance your books, replace a ball joint, or administer medication.

The fear, as several employers have expressed to me, is that visible tattoos will turn away clients, and therefore affect the bottom-line. In nearly all cases, this is unfounded. In truth, people are more likely to express interest in the body art, provided the employee is polite, well-spoken, and respectful. Tattoos are commonplace in our media today from movies to television to print, and, as a result, more young people find this practice to be acceptable within our culture.

The Dilemma

We are at the crossroads of cultural norms, best practices in hiring, personal biases, and the bottom-line of your business - familiar ground for you HR professionals in particular, yet it's never a comfortable place to be, and it doesn't get easier.

Even though hiring a person with visible tattoos into a customer-facing position could potentially turn off some customers, here are some thoughts to consider:

  • We are all affected by inner biases that influence our decision-making abilities
  • More and more qualified, educated, and self-motivated young people are getting tattoos today
  • It's what inside that counts, and when making hiring decisions, isn't the fact that a candidate can successfully perform the functions of a job and contribute positively to the organizational culture most important?

The Right Choice

When considering criteria for anything, I like to use an absolutist approach: which is better for your organization: a candidate with a visible tattoo, whose skills, abilities, knowledge, and personality are all perfectly aligned with your job? Or a candidate who is deficient in skills, abilities, knowledge, and personality, but who has no tattoos? Without knowing anything about your business, I can't answer this question for you. You will need to decide on an individual basis which candidate will fit and which will require greater supervision, training, and performance management.

Ultimately, until tattoos become part of a protected class, employers have the right to make hiring decisions based on this practice. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how your organization identifies and selects new hires, only what works best for you. If your hiring practices serve to reduce turnover, increase productivity, and support the overall results of your business, then there's no need to change. If, on the other hand, what you're doing now isn't currently working, perhaps someone out there with a tattoo on their hand can help.