‘Personal branding’: Tattoos in the workplace

Many millennials have tattoos, but some executives and hiring managers might find them unseemly for communications professionals, regardless of age or the changing times.


Many factors are important when you’re applying for a job. Your résumé, letters of recommendation, samples of work from past projects—and tattoos. Yes, tattoos are a form of “personal branding,” but as up-and-coming communication professionals, we also need to be aware of how we “brand” ourselves, literally and figuratively.

According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study titled Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, 38 percent of millennials (ages 18-29) have at least one tattoo. What millennials fail to remember, however, is that although they have the right to express their personal identity, the people hiring them are often from a different generation, and they might feel tattoos are socially unacceptable in the workplace.

In an interview with Mark Brenner, senior vice president of external affairs for Apollo Group, a Fortune 500 company, the conversation turned to hiring millennials and how tattoos factor into the process. “Depending on if they are visible or offensive in nature, [tattoos] have an impact on professionalism,” he says. Brenner explains that if you are a representative of a company, distracting tattoos can make that company seem less professional.

Retired Army Col. Garland Williams has seen many in the military with tattoos. “In the service,” he says, “the tattoo cannot be above the collar or visible in Army attire… If they are, they have to be removed.”

In general, as long as your tattoo(s) can be covered when you are in a professional environment, most hiring managers will not have an issue. But, cautions Williams, “It goes beyond tattoos; even hair can distract people.” In his opinion, though, “Hiring should be about the ability to do a good job, and not [about] appearance.”

After you land the position, review the appearance policies laid out by the company; typically this information is in the employee handbook. When in doubt, keep your ink hidden. You never know what types of meetings or clients you could be working with on any given day. As the saying goes, better to be safe than sorry.

There are many in the corporate world who view tattoos as unprofessional, and depending on what types of tattoos you have on display it could be offensive.

So, when contemplating your next form of personal “branding,” consider how it will look at an interview, or a meeting with the boss.

Alyssa Aalmo is a corporate public relations manager specializing in crisis and issues management.

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