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.

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What image do your body modifications present? Photo iStock.com

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 Christian Cossey on December 31, 2009 at 2:43pm
I myself have several tattoos, but when I put on my uniform I make sure none of them are visible. Yes, that means I have to wear a long sleeve shirt everyday, even in the middle of summer. I choose to because my job and civilians in need matter more.
Comment by Scott Cook on December 31, 2009 at 2:29pm
Interesting discussion, thanks for the feedback.

Tattoos or not, mods or not.

It shouldn’t matter … but it does.

All that should matter is can you count on the guy or gal next to you when it hits the fan, and is that person compentent and willing to be there with you when it does.

Kali, you said: "If you haven't figured this out already..."

I thought the same thing. I was surprised by the number of the number of young people that haven't figured this out already. And the vast majority of them are pretty sharp. They just made a bad decision with tattoo placement, or piercing placement/size...
Comment by Chris Adams on December 31, 2009 at 2:17pm
Ink is cool but a Firefighter is a life style on duty as well as off duty. We are in the publics eye and if I have full TAT's and Piercings then how am I going to make a patient feel comfortable. Be discrete where and what you put on your body. It is art and has a story behind it. Use it as a focal point not a shock to the interview panel or recruiter.....
Comment by 260fire134 on December 31, 2009 at 1:55pm
as a vol. fireman and a emt-b i had both of my deptment shirts ordered in long sleav, and i would not get anything that could not resonably be covered.

i know its not right but i see how people look at me when i am in shorts and a short sleav on my bike, its much dfferent when i show up in bunkers or a ems uniform.

same person just differt look!
Comment by Jack/dt on December 31, 2009 at 12:34pm
Stereotyping based on tattoos is just the same as stereotyping by race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. It just isn't right.

Actually it only relates to religion, as one can choose to believe or not. As to race or sexual orientation, those are not choices but rather a gift from your genome.

So would large, all encompassing facial tattoos be acceptable on a firefighter, cop or medic?


I guess the real question is, where does it end? Is there a limit as to what is acceptable, or where on the body it is acceptable? Or is it open ended and anything goes?

Comment by scott stribling on December 31, 2009 at 12:18pm
Stereotyping based on tattoos is just the same as stereotyping by race, creed, religion or sexual orientation. It just isn't right.
Comment by Caroline on December 29, 2009 at 11:18pm
i'm probably the biggest philanthropist and equality pushing hippy you'll ever meet. but when it comes down to it, stereotypes remain unbroken and unforntunately we are judged by our appearances, as you said very nicely scott.
i happen to have a nose piercing and a ring in it and i did get some flack from the department, but no orders or requests to have it removed. fortunately almost every one of our members has +2 tattoos so it's not a judgement issue.
i can see how for a paid position though, it would not be so forgiving.
regardless of what you do to your body, i believe it should be able to be reversible or covetable (is that a word?!) in some way. tattoos should be able to be covered and piercings hidden.
even though most of us know whats on the outside doesn't count, we live in a world where our employers think the opposite and we must represent and uphold a stereotype of a clean-cut citizen. unfortunate but important.
Comment by Angela McCleskey on December 29, 2009 at 10:57pm
I feel like as long as we all present ourselves as professional's and our station, and remember that we are just that, what's underneath shouldn't matter. I love what I do, I alway's have and people don't see this when I run call's or at station.I feel should we represent that uniform to the highest when in public!
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on December 29, 2009 at 5:09pm
Writer?
I thought it was "blogger".
I think that there is a blog in there somewhere.
I liked your not so obscure reference.
Phunny...
In a cute way.
Art
Comment by Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on December 29, 2009 at 2:38pm
So, that might explain why when I am with several other motorcycle enthusiasts with our tattoos bared for everyone to see, there is a harmony between each other, but if I were to bare my tattoos in the world of button down risk management peers, the reaction from them would be less inviting? Makes sense.
Our son got his first tat at 16 with our signed permission. Young men on his football team were getting them. He added a few more and he is now an executive for a major insurance company. Ink never held him or me back and we have the same friends that we always have had and have managed to make a few new ones. If the tattoos give them pause, they don't show it.
Which reminds me; I need to get one touched up.
Art

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