Tattoos and piercings can be a fun way to express your individuality. Can they be an obstacle for getting a job though?

Once the hallmark of outlaws and bikers, tattoos and piercing are now common.

It's estimated one in five Australians have one or more tattoos. When it comes to piercings, there are no national surveys. The numbers would likely be very high if you include ear lobe piercings.

Times, and attitudes, have changed. Having tattoos doesn’t affect your career or job prospects as much as it once did. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any effect at all.

Covering up

The general advice is that if you can cover up your ink and/or piercings, do so!

Asking a selection of inked and skewered workers they all admitted to feeling the need to cover up.

One of them saying that she covers up by wearing a full suit and accessorising with watches. It’s important my skills and talents shine through, not my body art.

While a tattoo of a love heart doesn’t exactly scream “thug” it can create a negative first impression.

Consider the role. It might be client facing and the company might feel that a visible tattoo or piercing could impact their reputation.

You might think your piercing is not visible but consider that you might be nervous and might click your tongue piercing against your teeth while you consider a question. Not only annoying to the interviewer but also bad for your teeth!

When it comes to piercings one hole per ear is safe. Although avoid wearing big earrings that will distract the interviewer. Beyond that, take out any extra piercings that you can.

A mirror image of guy standing with his arm crossed. in one image is dress in a business suit. in the other image he is in a singlet with his tattoos exposed


Some industries are more lenient with tattoos and piercings than others.

Jobs in music, media, and technology are often more lenient since they value innovation and self-expression. Even though this might be true it's best not to assume.

Tap into any networks you might have or learn more from HR. While talking with HR ask whether the company has a policy on tattoos and/or piercings.

Receptionists are often a good source of information. You could give a call and say, ‘I want to make sure I make a good impression. What’s the standard dress code?

Check the company’s website to assess its values. Look at the mission statement and see whether it’s formal or informal.

You can also scan their social media for photos of employees. Sometimes companies share more casual pictures on Facebook and Twitter than on their website.

A man getting a hair cut. The baba cutting his hair has tattoos expossed.jpg

Address the elephant in the room

Some body art can’t be as easily concealed.

If this is your situation, the interviewer is going to notice. Address the elephant in the room and ask whether your tattoo will affect your job candidacy. Then shift the conversation back to what you bring to the company.

You want to be remembered for your skills and your value, not for what you wear or have on your body.

What if your piercing or tattoo is a traditional part of your culture or religion? It's important to note that it is discrimination to be asked to remove or cover it at work or in public in Australia.

Thinking of getting one?

If you are thinking of getting a tattoo or piercing think long and hard about the placement and artwork.

The type of artwork will also make a difference. Visible ink proclaiming "killer" will send a not-so-discreet message about the applicant’s past.

neon sign that says Tattoo Piercing

Not so black and white

Here are what a few hiring professionals had to say:

 “Tattoos are fine, just not on the face, and nothing that promotes racism or hate.”

“No matter how much meaning they have they are not attractive or professional looking. It does affect my decision-making process when hiring.”

“While we would hire employees with tattoos to work on a job site, we wouldn't for our corporate office.”


image of hands clenched in a fist. Tattooed on the knuckles are the words Hire on one hand and Fire on the other

When in doubt, take the conservative approach

You can never be too careful when you’re trying to make a great impression. Personal expression is empowering, but until you’ve landed a job with an employer who appreciates unique personal expression (or you’ve become successful enough to own your own business), it’s best to let your qualifications, not your personal style, stand out during your job search.

Images: iStock