Tough on Tattoos: Like it or not, body modifications can reduce your chances of getting hired

Tough on Tattoos: Like it or not, body modifications can reduce your chances of getting hired

By Scott Cook

This month I’m going to talk about body modification: tattoos and piercings.

Now I know some of us believe that body modifications are really a personal choice, and they’re often done as a remembrance or celebration of someone important in our lives—and that’s all well and good. Tattoos and piercings are your business. You like them? Don’t like them? I don’t care; it makes no difference to me one way or the other. This is America, and you have the right to do anything you want with your body.

What gets me is that some firefighters with outlandish ink visible even with clothes on, or gauges in their ears as big around as toilet paper rolls, think that since they have the right to do that to themselves, others have ZERO right to think negatively of them for doing it. Big mistake.


What image do your body modifications present? Photo

As I said, I couldn’t give a rip one way or the other. But your current or future employer will, and that’s a fact. When you’re in the City of Gadzook’s uniform, you represent that city, not yourself, as you would prefer to believe. I know a lot of firefighters who think, “It shouldn’t matter that I’ve marked myself for all to see. What matters is whether I can do the job proficiently and safely.”

To an extent, that’s very true. But when you walk up to Mrs. Jones, who’s having the worst day of her life, the last thing you want to do is make her feel uncomfortable. And before you say a word, or she sees that big shiny fire department badge on your uniform, she sees the tattooed arm, neck or face. Is that going to instill confidence in Mrs. Jones?

And let’s not forget about your prospective employer. Let’s say they have the choice between two prime candidates with equal skills and abilities to represent the city. One of the two doesn’t have any body modifications, while the other has a large, “visible while in uniform” tattoo. Who do you think gets hired?
Maybe it shouldn’t matter. But it does.

I’ll relate a true story from outside the fire service. A very nice young lady applied for a job. She’s smart and quite capable. She’s been hanging around the worksite as a student for several months. One day she wears a shirt that’s not tucked in. The folks that she’ll be working with see the ink on her back. Instantly, their opinion of her changes—not about her abilities as a worker, because they know she’s a good worker. But they begin to have doubts about her character, and how she will represent the company when she’s outside the workplace. In the end, she doesn’t get the job.

It shouldn’t matter … but it does.

Scott Cook is the former chief of the Granbury (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department and a fire service instructor. He’s also a member of FireRescue’s editorial board.

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Comment by Ray Purcell on January 1, 2010 at 12:36pm
I agree completely. As long as the guidelines are spelled out, it should not be a problem, but in todays lawsuit-happy world,it is difficult to determine what the exact guidelines should be. What is offensive or obsene to one person is fine to another. I have worked for several places that clearly stated that no tattoo should be visible, and no piercings for males were allowed. I often wonder if persons with all that metal in their bodies would last very long in a fire, before all that metal heated up. I also have to agree with Scott that the publics perception of us would be affected if they were in trouble, and saw someone in a uniform with full sleeve tats, or multiple piercings come into their home.
Comment by Jack/dt on January 1, 2010 at 12:24pm
You bring up an excellent point about tattoos, " long as it is not offensive, or outlandish." Therein lies the rub, who decides what is or isn't offensive or outlandish? Clearly a person that chooses a particular tat or design finds it neither, but is it their opinion that matters or that of those around them?

It is indeed a persona choice and I couldn't care less one way or the other if someone has a tattoo. I don't make hiring decisions and poor tattoo and placement choice could prevent someone from getting hired. It's not about discrimination but about decision making.

Where the law suit will arise is when one person is hired and another not, based on either the visibility of the tattoo or the tattoo itself. It's far easier, more fair and less liable if uniform regulations are clearly stated and enforced. If it says "no visible" then offensive or outlandish won't come into play and no judgment on it would be necessary.
Comment by Scott Cook on January 1, 2010 at 10:20am

I think it does affect the public’s perception of you, and studies have shown that in general industry of equal candidates, fitter people are preferred when hiring or promoting more often.

I think where that is offset to some degree is that the public is somewhat knowledgeable of a physical agility requirement that departments have (or should have).

Comment by Ray Purcell on January 1, 2010 at 7:35am
Both sides have very good points, but the straight truth is that departments are still a little stiff when it comes to personal freedom. The department and it's upper officials want to present a professional image, and since most of the officials are older, they see tatoos as a sign of loose personal values. I personally don't have a problem with someone having ink, as long as it is not offensive, or outlandish. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in, where people see what they want to see. One thing departments need to keep in mind though, by refusing to hire someone because of their body modifications, they are opening themselves up to lawsuits for discrimination.
Comment by Bruce J Martino on December 31, 2009 at 9:33pm
I dont feel that the public gives a hot damn if you have ink or not,when the chips are down and people are in need tattoos are the last thing on the minds of those in danger. Ast to whether somebody hires you for your services or not based on issues of ink (as to whether or not you have ink) is prejudice.It should be based on your skills ,training and abilities. On the flip side i think you should use common sense.have a great night troops.
Comment by Dean Hawkins on December 31, 2009 at 9:06pm

I wonder whether being an over weight firefighter or physically unfit firefighter also reflects on the service and/or the publics opinion on your professionalism? Even perhaps presents doubt in their minds about your ability to do your job, compared to the physical appearance of a comrade who obviously works out and watchs his/her diet.

What do you think, Scott?


Deano (down under)
Comment by Jack/dt on December 31, 2009 at 6:45pm
sorry, you didn't get the loan -

to go with all the lights on your POV -

Comment by Jack/dt on December 31, 2009 at 6:44pm
this is cute -

this is religious -

nothing upsetting here -

or here -
Comment by kevin on December 31, 2009 at 6:29pm
i agree that tattoos do pose a problem.and usually the person who doesnt have any ink will more then likly get the job.but i think that people are so close minded to far as other body mods i think that it will hinder your chances because if you cant take them out or cover them up the employer may not want to take a chance.but as others have said it shouldnt prevent you from getting the job if you have tattoos
Comment by harvey on December 31, 2009 at 6:04pm
ink should not stop one from getting that great job.
just because some people have closed minds about tattoos

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