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Tattoos in the workplace: Still taboo?

Tess Vigeland Oct 19, 2012
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These days, does having a tattoo make a difference in getting a job and how much you can potentially earn? One career adviser says absolutely yes.
Allison Joyce/Getty Images

A recent Pew research study found that 4-in-10 people between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo. But will those tattoos mean problems when it comes to employment?

Meredith Haberfeld is an executive career coach who works with clients around the nation looking to work in a variety of industries. And while many more people these days may have tattoos, it is safe to say that image still matters in getting and keeping a job — perhaps more than ever.

“A study conducted by CareerBuilder.com found that 37 percent of HR managers cite tattoos as the third physical attribute most likely to limit career potential,” says Haberfeld. (Obvious, non-ear piercings topped the list, followed by bad breath.)

The key to succeeding is getting a feel for the culture of a workplace. When it comes to the issue of whether ink will affect your livelihood, Haberfeld says it really depends on where you hope to get work.

She cites some sectors where tattoos are acceptable: auto, military, construction, design, film, music, digital media, styling, athletics. Haberfeld says there are many realms where having an individual, artistic expression on your body is common — even expected.

But there are still many offices where body art isn’t so acceptable. If you are looking to work in business, government, education, medicine, law — Haberfeld says that ink can often send the wrong message to employers and clients: that you are trying to rebel.

“Each employer is going to vary from conservative to liberal when it comes to tolerance for their body art, so a good rule is to keep it covered in your interviews and even during your first few weeks in your job until you get a sense for the culture of the workplace,” she says. If you can’t cover up with regular professional attire, makeup is an option.

Haberfeld says the cost of an average tattoo — which depends on size, color, artist — ranges between $100-300. The cost of removing a tattoo is where expenses can add up. The most common type of tattoo removal is done by laser, which can cost $200-500 per sessions (and it usually takes between 5-10 sessions).

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