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I'm an undergraduate student in electronics/software engineering and I recently got a (visible) tattoo on my forearm (about 8cm/3in) long. Now I understand this could be a problem, say, working in the retail sector where a company wants to present a professional image - but is it really a problem when interviewing for programming jobs?

What I mean to say is, in most companies I have interned at, they seem to have fairly relaxed rules within the engineering teams, but the first steps of interviewing are often with HR. So what I wanted to know is whether I should be covering up the tattoo, or disclosing it without being asked about it in interviews? What stance do software/electronics industry company policies in general take on this?

(If it matters at all, I'm looking for answers in the context of UK-based companies.)

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What does the tattoo show/say? –  Pekka 웃 Aug 21 '12 at 5:15
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I bet this guy earns a bit more than you. It's a flight director at NASA. reidwalley.com/2012/08/06/… –  vasile Aug 21 '12 at 7:41

7 Answers 7

up vote 25 down vote accepted

There are three kinds of workplaces:

  • Those where tattoos are considered normal. They won't hold it against you if you don't have one, so mentioning it one way or another in the interview would just mark you as possibly a little tentative, a little less confident than you could be.
  • Those where they don't care if you HAVE tattoos or not, because they don't really care about you as a person. For example, wait staff and retail staff, places with written dress code policies that every employee must follow. In these places, you can HAVE tattoos, you just can't SHOW tattoos. Especially in the UK I was often served by someone with masking tape swathed around a lower arm or leg. If it matters to you that you might have to wear more clothing (or masking tape) than is comfortable, and you think it's this workplace, then ask. But such places rarely hire electronics and software engineers
  • Those where they will think less of you if they see it when they don't know you, but they'll actually change their opinions of tattoos if they see it once they know how smart, hardworking, polite, etc you are. Here you have a big advantage by not mentioning it, and wearing long sleeves, and then waiting a little while to reveal it. No big deal, just one day you wear short sleeves and someone says "oh! I never knew you had a tattoo."

I think you're most likely to end up in the first (some hip young startupy kind of place) or the third (a somewhat more staid place with older staff and more of a history). In either of them, asking about the tattoo policy in the interview, and saying you have one, could count against you (though for opposite reasons.) In the second, it will make no difference. I see essentially no argument for asking in advance, other than "I refuse to work with people who have a prejudice against tattoos" - and I don't recommend you take that position.

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+1 for what basically amounts to "Why give them another reason to say no ..." besides first impressions are everything. Dress exactly how they suggest, perhaps even go behind those expectation, "dress to impress" is very important in interviews. Make every advantage you have known. After you are hired you can let your social outcast out :-) –  Ramhound Aug 22 '12 at 15:41

No.

If they really have an issue with the appearance of a forearm tattoo, they will make that clear in their rules of conduct or dress code, topics which are only discussed generally in interviews (i.e. this is a surf shorts and frisbees place as opposed to a shirt and tie place).

If they are concerned enough about appearance to be concerned about your tattoo, you should already be aware of that from your own personal observations. But, like salary, such things are seldom discussed until they are interested in making you an offer. Until then, they should be focused on your overall demeanor and qualifications, not on your forearm tattoo specifically.

Bringing specific attention to something you can't do anything about (like a forearm tattoo) is just an unnecessary distraction during an interview.

Note that, if it is a surf shorts and frisbees place they're probably not going to care about the tattoo, and if it's a dress shirt and tie place, nobody's going to see it anyway. It's the in-between companies (khakis and polo shirts) that might care, and even then, only if you're in direct eye-to-eye contact with the public on a daily basis.

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The last paragraph sums up my thoughts. If you drew a Venn diagram of "cares about tattoos" and "employees must not wear long-sleeve shirts", I think it would be a pretty small overlapping region. Probably non-existent for programming jobs. –  Carson63000 Aug 22 '12 at 4:37
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I suspect your last sentence might be in force where I work. We're at the khaki's and polo level; and I know several coworkers who regularly break the no visible tatoos policy. –  Dan Neely Aug 22 '12 at 12:39
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@Ramhound my employer is a tech contractor; primarily for govt customers. –  Dan Neely Aug 22 '12 at 15:44
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@Ramhound: The technology sector is not always the "anything goes" workplace some people imagine (and, I'm sure some, experience). Lots of people who work with clients in more traditional businesses or in government need to appear fairly professional. Khakis and polos may be acceptable, but shorts, tee shirts, and flip-flops often are not. Tattoos may be an individual thing, both for the viewer and the tattoo. For example, a small butterfly or flower on a woman's wrist would probably be okay in a lot of places, but a large skull & crossbones on a man's arm would not be. –  GreenMatt Sep 7 '12 at 16:13

In an interview, I wouldn't bring it up, but I would ask about their dress code.

It shouldn't be a problem at most companies, but be aware that some companies with a public face make their dress code apply to the company as a whole, instead of just the public facing employees. In such a case, the dress code might well specify no 'visible' tattoos, in which case you'll need to plan for long sleeve shirts year-round.

There's a slight chance that even without a specification in the dress code, they might flip out when you show up in short sleeves for the first time. If this happens, you could either push the matter (but it's not in the dress code!), or you can offer to wear long sleeves. It's up to you, but if you push it, their response might well be to revise the dress code.

Note that I've assumed that your tattoo isn't something that most folks would find offensive. If you've got anti-whatever- slogans or imagery, then you might run into trouble - the employer can't be seen to create a hostile workplace for employees of -whatever- classification, so they'd probably have to ask you to cover it up, once they know it's there. In such a case, I'd advocate always wearing long sleeve shirts, so that no one has to deal with the problem (radical politics of the sort that inspire tattoos usually don't have a place in the office environment anyway).

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Completely agree. I have between 6 and 11 visible tattoos (depending on what I'm wearing). I typically interview in the attire that I would wear normally. It's either a dealbreaker for them at that point, or it isn't. If it isn't, I respect the dress code of the company, and get a little more conservative (only 2 visible, usually) when I face clients (I'm an Exec Vice President, so it happens :)). In my career, I've found people are reasonable if you are also reasonable (e.g. sometimes you should just wear long sleeves). –  jcmeloni Aug 20 '12 at 21:23

I agree completely with the answers given but would also like to add that if you not only may bringing it up be a "distraction during an interview," it may even mess you up completely. Generally speaking an interview follows a specific but undefined path: randomly tossing around issues during an interview is a sure fire way of creating problems for yourself and possibly not getting the position.

Ask if they have a dress code and act accordingly without drawing any undue attention to yourself.

While you should be as honest and open as possible during your interview, you shouldn't intentionally cause problems for yourself. If you're applying for a job at Home Depot, for example, and you have a bad back you probably shouldn't mention that on an interview (that's assuming you did have a back problem and apply to Home Depot, which would be silly).

As for tech and office jobs you'll find that most of them don't really care about tattoos so long as you keep them well hidden when around customers. I know friends with tattoos on their necks though and that's fine as long as they aren't offensive. If in doubt though ask to see a dress code.

I would deal with problems as they arise as opposed to making them obvious and clear before you even get the position. After all, there's a possibility you won't get the position to begin with. Why worry unduly if you don't have a reason to?

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I completely agree that you should not bring up your tattoo but instead ask about their dress code. The policy on visible tattoos varies greatly between employers. Programmers don't have to worry as much because they aren't typically interacting directly with the customer. Many retail outlets are worried about their brand image and therefore frown on tattoos or anything that might make a customer uncomfortable.

It's possible to keep them covered up though. My cousin has a forearm tattoo and he covers it with an Ink Armor cover sleeve. If you end up in a retail position where you can wear long sleeves you don't need to worry about it. However, if they have a uniform and it is short sleeved then you need to know where they stand.

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No. Surely you should not.

But if they really have mentioned in the rules of conduct prepared by HR you can have a polite conversation with them about it.
And I don't think they must be having any problem with your physical appearances.

People at jobs are less concerned about your appearance than they are about in your skills.

Simply hide your tattoo by wearing a full shirt then a half sleeve shirt. Just be relax and prepare for your interview and leave all else on the counter part of future.

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It depends on whether your job is customer-facing.

That does happen in technical jobs. You may need to spend some hours at the customer to configure a product or to instruct him, or some days to debug a problem that's hard to reproduce.

Secondarily, it depends on whether the customers are commonly conservative businesses, like the financial sector typically, or in countries with a generally conservative dress culture. (Even more so if you may meet customers of your customers.)

Regarding your actual case, where you can easily cover the tattoo, you can assume that the customer facing dress code includes a long sleeved shirt anyway, for the more conservative cases.
But still, it may make the difference between 'we don't care' and 'it's ok, but we'd feel better if not', even if that's not rational.


Oh, wait, almost funny, there's a real risk of presenting tattoos on arms or legs to customers actually. If you have to debug a product in the customers server room, where the air condition is so strong you can barely talk... even only watching a colleague freezing for eight straight hours is somewhat uncomfortable.

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