Should you cover up tattoos or piercings for a job interview or client meeting?

When people hear I am a corporate image consultant, they often share interesting anecdotes with me.
A Canadian biotech CEO admitted he made a branding mistake and told this revealing story.

Bad image advice?

The CEO set up a meeting with some venture capitalists to pitch his firm’s newest invention. He invited one of his associates, a brilliant young chemist, to

Tattoos and piercings personal brand tips and career advice

come along.

Now the chemist typically wore a nose ring and asked the CEO if he should remove it for the meeting. The CEO without hesitating advised him not to worry because he knew how competent his associate was and didn’t see an issue.

But at the meeting, the money men virtually ignored the young chemist and addressed most of their inquiries to the CEO.

The guy with the nose ring

During a follow-up phone call, one of the venture capitalists asked the CEO “Who was the guy with the nose ring?” That’s when the CEO realized he had set his associate up for failure.

Because he was used to seeing the ring, he didn’t give it a second thought. But the venture capitalists focused on the nose ring, undermining the chemist’s contributions and expertise.

Personal brand advice

Personal branding often comes down to the question – what do you want to be known for?

Think of the industry you want to develop a career in. What is appropriate, accepted in that industry and meets the customer/client expectations.

Tech, start-ups and creative

Certainly a lot of start-ups creative industries are more accepting of tattoos/piercings/wild hair colours, especially if they sport the look themselves. 

Having said that, not all millennial’s embrace tattoos. I was chatting with the owner of a graphic design firm who said that her values are more consistent to a boomer’s and prefers that employees not reveal their tattoos, especially during first time client meetings when the relationship is new or not yet well established.

On the other hand the president of environmental services firm said that while he would never wearing piercings, he has no problem with his employees expressing themselves in that fashion.

Tips for the job interview

It’s important to do your homework. In addition to checking out the company web site, talk to people you might know who actually work there, or who know people that work there. Ask them how they presented themselves for the interview. If you don’t know anyone, it’s ok to speak to the receptionist, share that you’re prepping for the interview and want to make a good impression.

My advice? Don’t get a tattoo anywhere that you can’t cover it up, such as hands and neck. Think of removing the extra piercings.

There’s a time and a place for self-expression, and unfortunately a job interview isn’t always one of them.

The down side

There is downside of visible tattoos, piercings etc. because recruiters are forced to make many decisions very quickly about a job candidate’s ability to fit in with their corporate culture and often it comes down appearance, right or wrong. They usually have a shortlist of qualified candidates and they are looking to eliminate candidates to shorten it further.

Even in a creative environment, if a recruiter/interviewer/owner is not bothered by your tattoos/piercings/hair colour, some of their customers may be, especially if the customers are of an older demographic, 40+. Because it can affect the bottom line, especially in a down economy they will be more inclined to hire someone who shows they understand and fit their company standards/culture.

Your informed choice

Once you have the position and demonstrate your worth, then you can push the envelope more. But for important job interviews or client first meetings make your own educated/informed personal branding choice, so you aren’t known as the guy or gal with the nose ring.

More career advice?

For more tips here’s a link to a recent article I was interviewed by Daniel Bortz of entitled Should you cover up tattoos for a job interview?

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Posted by Joanne Blake – the Canadian corporate image consultant and un-inked personal brand expert

About the author 

Joanne Blake

Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking a presentation, keynote or coaching, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

  1. Thanks for weighting in with your thoughts John. Tattoos have now become so mainstream and it seems that people that don’t have them are a minority. About half the lifeguards at my local pool have tattoos and don’t cover them. I have noticed however that they are placed in areas of the body that are easy to cover up. Obviously they are thinking ahead and don’t want this form of expression to limit their career choices.

  2. Hi Joanne,

    An acquaintance was completing a placement at a local Catholic School. She had a tattoo on the nape of her neck. Apparently the school where she was placed had their rules for tattoos. This young student was told to either wear her hair down so it covered her tattoo or to wear a shirt with a high neck that covered her tattoo.

    I was also told by a past employee of The Y.M.C.A who worked as a life guard many years ago that tattoos had to be covered by a leg bandage.

    I do not have any tattoos nor do I ever want to get one, however it is interesting how we often judge those who do.

    I am employed in the health care industry. A while back the daughter of one of my clients’ said to me, The morning healthcare worker was covered in tattoos, but she is a very nice and compassionate lady.

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