Tattoos and Careers

Sam’s Dilemma

Game night. I love game night. Once or twice a month I get together with a small group of friends to play strategy board games.  A few weeks ago one of the guys who came to our game night brought his 16 year old son, Sam.  Sam was really excited, way more excited than any 16 year old boy should be when hanging out with his dad’s friends. Why was he so excited you may ask. Well, it was a few days away from his birthday and he was eager to get his present; a great big tattoo of his family crest on his right arm.

His dad wasn’t nearly as excited. Tattoos

Though his dad was not altogether happy, he did do something fairly clever. He told his son that before he would allow him to get the tattoo he had to ask 20 adults, no more and no less, what they thought about him getting a tattoo. The adult then had to sign a piece of paper divided into two sections signing that they are either for or against him getting the tattoo.  His dad would only allow him to get the tattoo if the majority of those signatures were of people signing on the pro-tattoo side.

The signatures could not be family or friends so of course he was eager to come to our game night to get what he thought would be some easy signatures. I like the thinking behind his dad’s plan. He wanted his son to talk to a lot of people before making the decision.

He didn’t want him to get the tattoo, but he knew that if he just told him now there would be resentment, bitterness, and all that jazz.  The whole conversation we had made me think about a somewhat sensitive issue; tattoos and careers. By the way, I’ll tell you which side I signed on latter.

Do Tattoos Ruin Careers?

So this brings me to the whole point of this post; will getting tatted-up hurt your chances of being successful in the future?

Let me just throw this out there. I don’t have any tattoos. Not because I don’t like them, I’ve just never given them much thought. I see them on people at the store and think, “huh, that’s kind of cool; now which aisle is the almond milk in again?”  I just don’t really care much one way of the other about them. I look at them like hair color or clever sayings on t-shirts. But that’s just me, I get that they are an important form of self-expression for a lot of people.

Did You Know?

About 40% of U.S. adults have a tattoo.  
76% of people feel that visible tattoos hurt your chance of getting a job.
39% say that visible tattoos on employees are a poor reflection on the employer.

Employers know these stats.  They’ve had to ad

dress these concerns and the fact is that a lot of companies have created policies against visible tattoos. At this point all my tattooed friends shout: “Discrimination!

Well, not quite.

Employers cannot discriminate against a lot of things, such as:

National origin

That being said, there are currently no laws against discriminating against tattoos. It may seem unfair to you, but employers have every legal right to choose not to hire you based on visible tattoos.  That being said, if you don’t have a clue what you want to do with your life, maybe you should reconsider getting that Mike Tyson face tattoo.

Now back to the question at hand. Will getting inked hurt your chances of being successful?

First of all, success comes from all areas of your life: health family, spirituality, work, etc. Most people would agree that tattoos are not going to negatively affect most areas of your life. In fact, they won’t have much of an effect either way. But for some reason careers are different.  Your career is the one area that is affected by your decision to get tattooed.


At this point I think it’s important to define success. A successful career is made of your talents, your passions, and your plan to monetize from them. The specifics of successful career are going to look different for everyone but those three main ingredients are necessary.

Maybe you want to become a teacher, maybe a baker, maybe you’d rather work in the corporate world. Maybe you want to become an entrepreneur? Maybe you’d rather be a freelance artist. Maybe you’d like to be pediatrician. If you are doing what you love in an environment that you love (and you’re making money doing it) then I’d say you’ve got a successful career.

So will getting inked help or hurt you?

Here’s the common sense part. Will getting a tattoo help, hurt, or have no effect on your intended career path. The fact is that a lot of professions frown about tattoos. If you plan on getting into one of them maybe you should rethink your choice about getting a visible tattoo. On the other hand there are some industries in which visible tattoos are acceptable and even encouraged.

When you work for someone else you have to consider these things, but who says you have to work for someone else? If you work for yourself or own your own company you don’t have to abide by any polices.

Points to Consider

Getting Inked


Another factor to consider; tattoos are becoming increasingly acceptable. A recent survey showed that as age increases disapproval ratings of tattoos at work increase as well. Younger generations are much more open and accepting of tattoos at work. Among people 18-25 years old only 22% disapproved of tattoos in the workplace. By the age of 60, 63% disapprove. What this tells me is that perhaps in a few years tattoos may be perfectly acceptable in the workplace, but as of right now there are a lot of CEOs, managers, and supervisors who do not approve of them.


It seems that the higher your level of education the less likely you are to have a tattoo. Only 3% of PhD level adults have tattoos. 8% of those with a master’s degree have ink and 10% of those with a bachelor’s degree. 19% of those with an associate’s degree have a tattoo and 20% of those with only a high school diploma. Maybe this means something to you, maybe not. I’ll let you interpret this data for yourself and draw any conclusions you like.


Where you live can matter as well. Certain parts of the country seem to be more tolerant of body art than others. The east and west coast are more tolerant of tattoos in the workplace than the Midwest.

Your Call… My Call

Whatever you decide do it on purpose. Get your tattoo with confidence that it will not stop you from achieving your dreams and pursuing your passions. Or don’t get a tattoo at all. Don’t do something you’ll regret.

By the way, in case you were curious about Sam and which side of the paper I signed on, I didn’t. I told him that I could not sign for or against him getting a tattoo until he could tell me his plans for his future. He couldn’t, so I didn’t. I’m way more concerned about people knowing their purpose and calling in life than I am about how they decorate their bodies

Let me know your thoughts about this subject. If you have tattoos have you ever been passed over in a job because of them? If you don’t have tattoos, why don’t you? Are you considering getting inked? I’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts with this community.




2 thoughts on “Tattoos and Careers

  1. Nicole says:

    I always swore I’d never get a tattoo. I made jokes about how awful it would look when I was old and wrinkly. I was also raised very conservatively, and thought tattoos were bad. But I married a wonderful man with two tattoos, both on his arms. And, I had this idea in my head that I just couldn’t shake. I thought about it for years, and finally decided to get one. I had just graduated, and was looking for a job teaching in an elementary, not necessarily a tattoo friendly field. I didn’t want to get a tattoo that no one ever saw (what’s the point in that?), but also wanted it somewhere I could easily cover it if needed. I decided to get it just above my shoulder blades.

    I now have a job teaching first grade. My tattoo was not visible in my interview, however I make no effort to hide it now. My students have seen it, and we have talked it. My assistant principal from two years ago had full tattoo sleaves on both arms, that he also made no effort to hide. (Full disclosure, I do work in an inner city school.) My husband is a middle school teacher with tattoos. I also know a counselor and a church director with bachelor degrees and tattoos. All are as easily visible as they are concealable.

    So, would I recommend getting a face tattoo if you want to be a doctor? No. But just because you want a high profile job, does not mean you cannot have a tattoo. Just be smart about it, take your time, and make sure it means something.

  2. I always thought the “tattoos and wrinkly skin” argument was kind of funny. Find me an elderly person without tattoos and I doubt you’ll be thinking, “Wow, that old wrinkly skin looks great!”

    But seriously, thank you so much for sharing your perspective and experience. To quote my favorite artist Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’.” Tattoos are becoming much more mainstream and as that happens employers are going to have to adapt… and they are. You’re experiences are a perfect example of that.

    Thanks for reading.

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