Whether you’ve got plenty of tattoos or are thinking about getting inked for the first time, we bet you’ve heard “oh you’ll struggle to get a job with those” from at least one person. It’s annoying, to say the least. You want to decorate your body with deeply meaningful and personal designs, so it’s none of your boss’s business, right?
Well, not everyone sees it that way. In fact, many people still consider tattoos to be unprofessional in 2021. It’s crazy!
This article will explain why they’re considered unprofessional and what you should do about it.
The Main Reason Tattoos Are Considered Unprofessional
In most cases, tattoos are considered unprofessional because some people don’t like them. Most of us make small assumptions based on people’s looks, let’s be honest, but some people take it too far and judge that a person is unprofessional just because they have ink on their body. Unfortunately, we live in a world where some people automatically dislike a person simply because they have a tattoo.
And that’s wrong.
A tattoo is a form of self-expression. No employer should use your tattoos as a reason to not hire you. You should never be discriminated against because of your looks.
Thankfully, in the 21st century, many employers will judge employees based on their ability instead of their looks… but they may ask you to cover up your tattoos while at work anyway.
This is for several reasons that we’ll cover below.
Whether your tattoos are considered unprofessional or not also depends on your career choice. You might find yourself in a line of work where a tattoo is unprofessional, or the other way around.
The ‘Tattoos Are Unprofessional’ Defense
One defense that we’ve heard for the idea that tattoos are unprofessional, is that they’re a choice.
For example, wearing jeans and flip-flops to work in an office is unprofessional, so surely tattoos are as well. After all, they’re both personal choices used to express individuality. In this sense, not being tattooed is part of the dress code.
On the other hand, some people argue that they’re like scars. Scars are permanent and reveal part of a person’s life or background, just like a tattoo. Furthermore, scars can’t be removed and are just a part of your being. You wouldn’t be considered unprofessional for showing a scar on your hand, so why should you be unprofessional for showing a tattoo?
Why Your Boss Might Not Allow Tattoos
In many cases, employers won’t say “no, you can’t work here if you have a tattoo” but they may say “you can only work here if you cover up your tattoo.”
Here are some reasons why your boss may be against tattoos or instruct you to cover them up:
- Personal opinion – your boss might simply not like tattoos and discriminate against you. They’re a grade A d**che if that’s the case.
- Fear of other’s opinions – your boss might like tattoos, but they may be worried that their customers won’t. For example, if their customers are both elderly and conservative, they’re more likely to be the kind of people who dislike anyone with a tattoo. In this case, your boss needs to grow a pair.
- Distractions – this is a weak reason! Some bosses may say that your tattoos will distract other workers or the people around you. This might be true for the first hour on the job when your new colleagues ask to see your tattoos, but otherwise it doesn’t impact your ability to work at all. Tattoos are no more distracting than your boss’s bad haircut (but it’s best not to point that out).
- Brand image – this one ties to your profession (see below). While no boss will say it out loud, many companies have a “brand image” that they want to follow. They want everyone to be clean shaven, wear the newest suits, and all look vaguely the same, for example. After all, they’re representing the company. So regardless of whether you can do the job or not, if you don’t visually fit in, some a*****e bosses won’t want you there.
Some Tattoos Are More Unprofessional Than Others
Like most things in this world, tattoos and professionalism are not black and white concepts. What one company believes is professional won’t be the same as another company.
Likewise, some tattoo designs and placements are considered more professional than others. It all comes down to personal opinion, but this list will give you a general idea.
Most Unprofessional Tattoos
- Profanity and rude text,
- Rude and profane images,
- Cartoon characters,
- Gang-related symbols,
- Extremely dark and/or gothic imagery.
Least Unprofessional Tattoos
- Small symbols, e.g. figure 8,
- Initials in a formal/elegant font,
- Simple bands and thin line tattoos,
- Any small, understated, simple and elegant tattoo.
Most Unprofessional Placements
- Face and neck area,
- Inside your mouth
- Fingers and knuckles,
- Collarbones and clavicle,
- Elbows and knees,
- Any placement that screams “look at me” or is unusual.
Least Unprofessional Placements
- Back of neck,
- Any part of your body that’s hidden by your work uniform.
Why This Isn’t Always Fair
For some tattoos, you can kind of see why a boss might be unhappy about your ink. For example, if you have a visible tattoo of a Pepsi can but you want to work for Coca Cola, you can see why that could cause some issues.
But there are also times when a tattoo isn’t just decorative. Some tribal tattoos are extremely visible, beautiful, and symbolize something more than just “hey, look at my inked arms”. In this case, discriminating people with tattoos puts a whole minority of people at a disadvantage. That’s just plain wrong.
There are two sides to every coin. As this Reddit thread explains, you have the freedom to get any tattoo you want… and your employer has the freedom to not hire you if they want.
Your Profession Matters Too
Different professions have different opinions on tattoos. In fact, there are some professions where having ink is welcomed or expected:
- Tattoo artist,
- Professional boxer,
- Singer, artist or musician,
- Hipster coffee shop barista,
- Quirky start-up business owner,
- Pirate (only joking).
On the other end of the scale, there are professions where expressing individuality through tattoos is strictly prohibited or just isn’t suitable. These are the kind of jobs where strictness, order and “fitting in” are essential for success:
- Military and naval organizations (some ban tatts completely, others require permission for each tattoo),
- Prison guards and law enforcement,
- Models and actresses (although many have tattoos that are professionally covered up for their day job),
- Bankers and high-finance jobs where professionalism is everything,
- Health care professionals,
As we move forward into the 21st century, more organizations like these are accepting of tattoos… but there’s still a lot of progress to be made. If you have found a profession that loves your tattoos (or hates them) share it with us in the comments below!
Are tattoos not professional?
It depends on your personal opinion. Many employers no longer see tattoos as unprofessional, but there are still professions where having a tattoo is considered bad.
Which jobs don’t allow tattoos?
Most military and law enforcement type roles won’t allow tattoos. Some extremely professional jobs, like a banker, may also frown upon body art.
What is the law on tattoos at work?
There isn’t a law stating that tattooed people cannot work in certain roles – it all comes down to corporate policies. In fact, if you have been discriminated against because of your tattoos, you may even be able to take legal action.
Are piercings considered unprofessional?
Unlike tattoos, piercings are judged more on their placement. Simple ear piercings (1 per lobe) are considered completely professional, so long as you wear professional jewelry. For example, simple diamond studs are very professional, but little skull-shaped earrings aren’t so much.
A nose piercing or large gold hoops in your ears, on the other hand, aren’t considered as professional. Some employers may ask you to take out your piercings or at least switch to understated, simple jewelry.
Some careers won’t allow piercings at all. If your work is very physical, an earring or body piercing may be dangerous or get in the way, for example.