'Job stopper' or conversation starter? Why visible tattoos may not harm your career prospects

Telegraph 3 weeks ago

When Samantha Cameron first met the Queen, she made sure to hide the small dolphin tattoo on her right ankle, etched there during a gap year trip to Indonesia.

Tattoos may not be to the Queen's liking, but they certainly are to many of her subjects: Britain is one of the most inked nations in the world. According to a survey in 2015, a fifth of people here have body art designs; and that rises to roughly one in three 25-39 year-olds. 

However, it seems that not all tattoos are created equal. This week, the British Tattoo Artist Federation (BTAF) said that the age limit for face tattoos, known in the industry as “job stoppers”, should be raised from 18 to 21, as they are believed to hinder young people's employment prospects.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Lee Clements of the BTAF said there has been a “huge increase” in young people getting face tattoos, due in part to the influence of heavily inked celebrities and social media stars. 

“I can't go a week without a young person coming into our studio asking for a tattoo on their neck, face, or hands,” Mr Clements said. "It could carry weight to higher the age people can get facial tattoos. It is concerning for us as professionals because in the future it is going to affect job prospects."

Samantha Cameron's dolphin tattoo
Samantha Cameron's dolphin tattoo

So visible tattoos really have an influence on employers when vetting potential candidates? According to Professor Andrew Timming, who teaches Human Resource Management at the University of Western Australia, attitudes are changing: “A visible tattoo was once considered the death knell for one’s employment prospects. These days, they are regularly seen on lecturers, physicians and other professionals.”

“The mainstreaming of tattoos in recent years has led to a wider acceptance of tattoos in the workplace.”

To name one example, the Metropolitan Police announced last year that new officers could have visible tattoos for the first time, in a bid to boost recruitment. “Many young people are ruling themselves out of joining us because of their tattoos," explained the Met’s Commissioner Cressida Dick. “We hope this will show we are a modern service. A huge number of young people carry tattoos and we want to get the best of London in.”

Thames Valley Police Joint Operations Dog Unit officers with visible tattoos
Thames Valley Police Joint Operations Dog Unit officers with visible tattoos

Prof. Timming’s recent research revealed that the wages of tattooed employees are indistinguishable from those without ink, and having a tattoo is not associated with discrimination in the workplace. Indeed, his previous studies found that, in certain circumstances, visible tattoos can actually improve a person’s job chances, particularly if their customers are likely to be young.

He points out that the choice of tattoo is important: “Some are perceived as more “tasteful” than others, and rightly so. Would I mind if my surgeon had a beautiful cherry blossom tattoo running down her arm? No. Would I mind if she had a skull and crossbones on her hand? Probably.

"So, yes, “job stopper” tattoos are still a thing today. There are certain genres that have no place at work, for example, racist or sectarian images. But this is not an indictment of tattoos in general,” he said. 

Dr Matt Lodder, a Senior Lecturer in Art History and Theory at the University of Essex, who has tattoos on his arms, hands, neck and a small tattoo on his face, says his ink has in fact been helpful to his career.

“I’m very lucky, I’ve not got any bad tattoos, I’ve got lots of average ‘midling’ ones but none that are terrible. I did think very carefully about starting to get tattooed and I didn’t get anything visible until I got my PhD,” he told Radio 4's You & Yours.

“My heavy coverage has been very helpful to me in lots of ways. It’s helped me engage with communities that I am working with and within; it speaks to some of my research practice. I wish I’d been braver... when I was younger, actually.”

So it would appear whether you're a barista or a banker, a professor or a policeman, a visible tattoo isn't so much a hindrance after all.


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