The Problem With Body Art

William Tincup Bad HR, The HR Profession, William Tincup

Houston, we have a problem.  Or do we?  See, I like tattoos.  I don’t have one, but that’s because I can’t figure out what to get and/or where to place it.  Not because I hate tattoos.  In fact, I admire folks who have them.  That being said, it’s been my experience that HR hates tattoos and I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately.  Here’s the definitive guide to how HR pros interact with tattoos.

HR generally looks for four criteria before making a snap judgment regarding your tattoo.

  1. Size of tattoo.  Did you go with the quarter size lucky charm or the softball sized lucky charm?  Size is important… let’s put that argument to bed.  (Damn, I crack myself up.)  Size of your tattoo speaks directly to your judgment.  What were you thinking at that particular moment?  Was your decision making impaired by the amount of tequila shots, etc?  They will assume so if you have a life-sized basketball tattoo on your forearm.  Moreover, and especially given today’s tattoo removal technology, if you still have that life-sized basketball tattoo on your forearm – that speaks volumes about your judgment.  Not just at the time of tattoo inception but continued poor judgment.  Anyone can make a bad decision, but only morons live daily with them plastered on their forearm.
  2. Placement of tattoo.  So you went with the Greek goddess.  I totally get that… she’s hot and important in Greek lore.  I get that.  How did you make the decision on where to place her on your less than perfect human form?  That’s what HR is going to judge you on.  Somewhere secret behind clothes OR on your wrist or neck.  What that tells HR about you is how willing you are to comply with the rules.  Don’t get me wrong… sometimes HR wants to hire a renegade.  But more often than not, if they can “see” your tattoos, they have already secretly written you off as a future problem employee.  Visible = problem.
  3. Symbolism of tattoo.  The “what” is important!  Did you go with Jesus or Lucifer?  Did you go with pagan symbolism or Cherokee (assuming you are) symbolism?  If HR can see your tattoos you might already be in hot water, but your ability to tell a story about your art speaks volumes.  Getting a baby Jesus on your ankle in South Beach after an all-nighter “just cause” tells a story about you.  Getting inked up with the birth date of your dearly departed Na Na tells yet another story.  Assuming HR can identify your artwork, be on the ready to tell a compelling story as to why you chose your artwork.  Heavy emphasis on compelling.
  4. Quantities of tattoos.  I think most HR pros would forgive one tattoo.  Maybe even two.  But 16 tattoos, I think not.  HR will judge on the number of tattoos you have as they think more tattoos equal addictive personality.  Yep, they will liken your taste in ink to someone who uses heroin.  Seems kind of crazy, but it’s as true as the day is long.  Even the most hard core HR pro will “forgive” an indiscretion but more than five tattoos is NOT an indiscretion.  It’s an addiction.  Obligatory Charter message… if you don’t get help at Charter please get help somewhere.  That just never gets old.

All four points above are important by themselves, but in combination they can either be compelling or career ending.  Think: the eight softball sized devils on both forearms vs. the eight penny sized renditions of your grandparents and great grandparents over your heart.  8 tattoos… HR thinks of that person differently.  Are you criminal or hopeless romantic?

I’ll leave you with these questions… either consciously or subconsciously; do you judge folks with tattoos?  What does tattoo acceptance (or lack thereof) say about your company culture?  Lastly, what about HR pros who have tattoos, what does that say about them and/or the organization they represent?