Shutterstock.com

Are Tattooed Job Applicants Less Likely To Be Hired? Two New Studies Disagree

The studies used very different methodologies.

Only a couple of decades ago, having a tattoo that couldn’t be hidden behind respectable job interview clothes was a pledge of allegiance to the unconventional. Merely appreciating the look of tattoos or wanting to pay homage to a person, subculture, or concept (like “freedom”) was not enough to warrant getting inked in a visible spot. You had to be indifferent to the possibility that certain employers—okay, most employers—might judge you as too rebellious or unprofessional to join the team.

There’s a possibility, however, that attitudes have shifted, according to an analysis of recent salary data by a trio of researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Western Australia Business School. After gathering data from 2,000 participants, they found no evidence of a statistical difference in earnings or employment levels among the tattooed and the non-tattooed, and this held true whether a person had a few tattoos or many, and whether the tattoos were visible or not. Even the tiny percentage of survey respondents who had tattoos self-described as “offensive” did not show any signs of economic suffering for it.

(Without similar past data, the researchers can’t say whether we have long mischaracterized the effects tattoos can have, or when a shift happened.)

That said, a second recently published study, this one lead by a professor at Colorado State University, found that would-be hiring managers still don’t want to see tattoos on job candidates and will offer people with tattoos and body piercings lower starting salaries. The only exception: Those managers with more body piercings were less likely to hire someone who didn’t have any piercings or tattoos.

It’s possible that these studies can be read as Rorschach tests: you’ll find your own bias—either toward tattoos or research methodologies—in your trust of one or the other.

In the study that found no career penalty for the tattooed, which was published in the journal Human Relations, the researchers gathered information from participants recruited online. They argue that this crowdsourced approach—sometimes viewed as more representative of a population than a standard survey sample—makes the findings more telling than previous studies, which have typically found anti-tattoo sentiment among hiring managers through questionnaires, not by examining their practices.

Michael French, a professor of health economics at University of Miami who led the study, told Quartz, “Sometimes what people say is not what they do, and our results suggest that when it comes to what they do, they don’t discriminate.”

Although French and his team admit that tattoo acceptance may be skewed by industry, and that biases, therefore, may be masked within the data, they also hypothesize that as tattoos have become more fashion-statement than social-statement over the past twenty years, they’ve lost their edge in the eyes of recruiters.

The Colorado State University paper, which found evidence of bias against tattoos, also differs from previous studies in that these authors presented both an image and a resume, in the form of a fake LinkedIn profile, to the evaluators they recruited. All of the 143 participants asked to play hiring managers had spent at least a year in a managerial position and had recently contributed to a hiring process at their place of employment.

To control for variables other than tattoo and piercings allotment in the ersatz candidates, they first insured through preliminary surveys that the contenders were deemed equally qualified and attractive, and they limited the race, age, and gender of the participants to twenty-something-year-old caucasian women.

All of the images came from a stock photography company, so admittedly the mock images may not have been convincing.

COURTESY COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY

A mock sales manager candidate.
 

Through creative photoshopping, the images of the job hunters were modified. Some of the women were given either “mild” tattoos (a dolphin or a sun) or “extreme” designs (one job applicant had a dragon on her neck). Some were altered to have mild piercings (one nose ring), and others to wear more obvious face jewelry, like a spike in an eyebrow.

Assuming the results are meaningful, it would appear that tattoos, even the sweet ones, have yet to shake their history as marks of the risk-taking and rule-flaunting. Tattoos generally did make it less likely that a person would be “hired.” The would-be hiring managers, who were tasked with filling the role of sales manager, also offered people with tattoos, or extreme body piercings, lower starting salaries. And the more extreme the tattoos, the less warm and competent the individual was seen to be. Applicants with either tattoos or piercings “were perceived as less committed than applicants without body art,” the authors write in the study, which was published by the Academy of Management .

Participants who had more supervisory experience, however, were less likely to discriminate against body art. The authors speculate that they may have had enough experience with employees who had tattoos to avoid thinking in stereotypes.

In the real world, whether a tattoo holds someone back obviously comes down to a range of intersecting variables, including the look of the tattoo, the nature of the job, and the interviewer’s personal preferences. But French, who got himself a tattoo only after he had secured a position in academia, found that parents he knew remained cautious in the face of the evidence he published. One of his peers contacted him to comment on the interesting study, adding, “Please don’t talk to my 19-year-old daughter.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.