It’s now estimated that 29% of people in the UK have a tattoo and many more will have some piercings, from discreet ear lobe studs to ear, nose, tongue, eyebrow and lots of other places not immediately visible. It is undeniable that there has been a culture shift with you, the younger generation, leading the way.

Excepting times of great crises, however, culture change across the whole of society is almost always slow, gradual and creeping. You need only look at the debate in Northern Ireland surrounding the issues of abortion and same sex marriage to recognise that attitudes change slowly and that some can seem entrenched. You are rightly proud of your individuality and your tattoos and/or piercings are an important part of your self-expression. So, what do you do when it comes to job interviews and the world of work?

On this question, there are no easy or definitive answers and you must make up your own mind. There are some facts, however, that might help you think it through.

That psychology again

We’ve already mentioned that research shows a definite bias against people with multiple facial piercings and with tattoos. Research undertaken in 2012 indicated strongly that people with multiple facial piercings are assumed to be less intelligent and, the more piercings the person hand, the stronger this impression became. Having said that, an early study (2008) found that a woman was judged to be more artistic and creative when she was shown with more piercings.

Women fare less well when it comes to tattoos, with a University of Liverpool study finding that “tattooed women were rated as less physically attractive, more sexually promiscuous and heavier drinkers than untattooed women”. Another recent study indicated that men believed they had a greater chance of have sex with a woman who had a tattoo on her back. The message is, however, you may feel about your body art, there is a strong possibility that an interviewer may make negative assumptions about you based on it.

The law doesn’t protect

Don’t assume it’s illegal for employers to reject you on the grounds that they don’t like your tattoos or piercings. Discrimination law applies to matters concerning your sex, race, nationality, religion or belief and sexual orientation, but not your fashion sense. Thus, an employer is entitled to reject you because of your body art.

Public image limited

The key argument against tattoos and piercings at work seems to be concerns about the companies’ ‘image.’ It appears in many cases that employers are worried that hiring an individual with tattoos or piercings may put across the wrong impression to clients.

Changing times

Despite all the negatives, there is some recognition that the times are changing. Policies on tattoos and piercings vary between companies, industries and individual workplaces so your individual style might fit right in. Many companies now believe that not hiring someone because of their body art is archaic and reaffirms misguided prejudices. In his research into the place of tattoos in the hiring process, Andrew Timming at St Andrews University argued that ‘a change in attitudes is inevitable.‘ With celebrities bringing tattoos and piercings into mainstream culture and a lean towards a more liberal view on the matter, Timming argues that employers are going to have the accept that people with tattoos are integral to the fabric of society.

Know your options

The choice you make for interviews is yours. Many tattoos can be incognito under your outfit. Facial piercings are not so easily concealed, however, you may be able to use clear studs, smaller hoops and rings to tone down, while still owning your unique look.

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