Public perception around the tattoo has changed a lot. While estimates to try and determine exactly how many people have tattoos are often inaccurate, and not easily verified, we can use a couple of different surveys and statistics to determine one thing: tattoos have grown massively in popularity, and as a result, people’s opinions on tattoos have shifted, particularly as baby boomers retire and both millennials and generation Z continue to grow in relevance in the workforce.

Some tattoos are more acceptable than others. For one, facial tattoos continue to be relatively taboo, unless they carry significant cultural heritage. Many businesses still require that their customer-facing employees at least cover up any visible tattoos. And in government positions, having a tattoo is still an issue in more conservative countries like Japan, whereas other countries are far more lenient (such as the US).

On the other hand, certain industries either don’t care or even seem to have a significant share of inked workers, including agriculture and the arts. Some commentators even argue that being inked or pierced can help your chances of getting hired, if your employer is also significantly inked or pierced.

Like tattoos themselves, it’s no longer all black and white. Some industries take a more progressive approach to skin art, or simply don’t judge their employees’ professional abilities on their personal life choices. Other industries and professions retain a strict code of conduct, which includes the way you dress and present yourself to others. If you yourself own a business, your tattoos may once have been a black mark on your reputation and credibility, but nowadays, it depends on what kind of work you do, what services or products you offer, and who you are catering to.

Are tattoos bad for business?

Tattoos are worse for some businesses than they are for others. A survey shows that agriculture and ranching account for 22 percent of tattoos, while tourism, recreation, and hospitality together account for about 20 percent of tattooed individuals in the workforce, followed by arts and media at 16 percent, and retail at 14 percent. Percentages continue to drop further down the list, with government workers sporting the fewest tattoos (8 percent are inked).

However, this doesn’t mean the agriculture business is the most tattoo-friendly industry, or that the government has the most stringent tattoo policies. Fact remains that there are no laws forbidding tattoos in most countries – but at the same time, there is nothing protecting you from getting fired for having a tattoo, unless it is explicitly a symbol of cultural or religious affiliation, and even then, you do have to successfully make the argument that your tattoo is an important part of your cultural or religious affiliation, or ethnic heritage.

For example, if a company refuses to hire you for your tattoos, but those tattoos are ta moko that you got because of your Maori heritage, then that could be a form of racial discrimination.

In most cases, however, tattoos are not protected. Unlike race/ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, and national origin, which are considered “protected characteristics”, a tattoo is not a protected characteristic, and businesses and organizations may feel free to instate tattoo bans similar to how a company might require a dress code, or tell its employees to wear a specific uniform.

The incidence of something like that happening has gone down over time, and companies are more tolerant of tattoos than ever. But if you’re working towards securing a specific position that, say, caters to an older and more conservative crowd, chances are that you won’t be able to afford that visible tattoo. Similarly, some boards of education and schools still refuse to hire teachers or instructors with visible tattoos. You will have to contact a lawyer to determine specifically if your employer had the right to fire you or refuse hiring you because of your tattoos.

What jobs don’t mind tattoos?

This list changes depending on region, and there are certain caveats. For one, we’re going to assume that you aren’t tattooed with something obscene, offensive, or blatantly linked to a criminal enterprise. Secondly, we’re talking about jobs where it’s fine to have visible tattoos, i.e. jobs where you can show your tattoo off and don’t necessarily have to hide it with a fancy suit.

Some of these jobs are fairly straightforward, including self-employment, stage management, and of course, being a tattoo artist. Graphic designers, creative directors, and business owners in media, arts, and entertainment also commonly have tattoos. While tattoos aren’t common in IT and tech (not as much as you would expect, at least, with only about 9 percent incidence), these also tend to be workplaces where there’s lenience for this kind of thing. Another list of no-brainers includes bouncers and bartenders, laborers, butchers, military officers (restrictions used to be far more stringent), athletes, actors, factory workers, and more.

Notably, ad companies and marketing firms have come a long way since the days of Mad Men and Don Draper. Whiskey and power suits have been replaced by vaping and Lululemon in many companies, and tattoos are no longer out of question. Some cities are far more tattoo-friendly than others, however, and your clientele will largely determine whether or not a business is open to having front-facing professional representatives with serious ink.

It’s important to note how HR professionals and decision-makers feel about tattoos nowadays. While tattoos used to be an immediate no-go for many HR pros, nowadays the only real concern is for front-facing professionals. You’ll have more trouble getting a job that requires customer interaction if you have a tattoo.

However, overall grooming, professionalism, and competence has eclipsed the negative connotation of a tattoo or strange piercing. It’s nevertheless going to be something that’s likely held against you, especially for businesses catering to older and more conservative clients. That’s not to say there isn’t any fascination in skin art among older and conservative folks, but these examples tend to be the exception.

The Takeaway

The important takeaway here is that your tattoo will affect your chances of getting the job on the basis of a few factors:

  • If the tattoo is visible, and you’re dealing with customers, it will depend on the demographic you’re targeting.
  • If the tattoo is visible, but you aren’t dealing with customers, it depends on the company’s culture.
  • If the tattoo isn’t visible, you’re likely fine.

Tattoos have been around far longer than any one of us, and they’ll continue to be a thing when we’re all long gone. We happen to live in a day and age when getting inked is becoming a little more acceptable, even among polite company. And we’re collectively warming up to the idea of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and successful innovative trailblazers being just as inked as a swearing sailor.