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 Jack/dt on December 29, 2009 at 2:28pm
My comment about the height of the bar was not meant to construe that I believe it to be -or should be- low but rather it was a sardonic comment in reply to those that believe that we are and should be held to higher standards yet conversely feel that it is their right to have a visible tattoo, regardless of whether or not others find it offensive.

Irrespective of an individual's motivation to modify their looks, in doing so they risk not being hired and representing both the department and the fire service. Life is a series of choices and not everyone makes the correct, or best, ones for the long run. But to clarify I do agree with the 'higher standard' concept and make every personal effort to comply.
Comment by Jack/dt on December 29, 2009 at 2:18pm
Your understanding of American History needs to be broadened considerably. The 'csa' stood for many things but the following comment is a most glaring example of why it, and you, are wrong.
"Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. "
Alexander H. Stephens
March 21, 1861
Savannah, Georgia
Comment by Brandon on December 29, 2009 at 1:33pm
Jack you do bring up a valid point but in the realization of thing the confedrate states of america which yes it stands for, was about keeping peace in reality and stopping the one in such high power from taking over everything and making it a living youknow what, at the same time look at us now yes tere was diffrences and in the end it was for the best because what whe are UNITED. and the valid point of what people thnk of it is about the ones that really do not know thier history at all, they may get thier belifes about it casue of what and how they was raised to hate it but i belive if they actually did the research and read about the whole thing it may change thier minds about what it really stood for. if you think about it each state has thier own flag right well that how it was back then and if you really look into it our flag is what RED WHITE BLUE. look at the battle flag original RED WHITE BLUE. again our flag may be a diff color or mean something else if it as the states together as we are now if it wasnt for the war back then its like now you got republicans democrats independants so on and so forth its kinda the same way any how yes if you want to know about it and get a point of view do the research. now at the same time where in the swatstica come into place and where the bad thing about the confed flag thing is there was groups that turned it into a bad thing and that is where i think ppl really get thier bad impression of it.
Comment by Jack/dt on December 29, 2009 at 11:30am
I wanted to add one more thing, a choice of a tattoo may be entirely innocent on the part of the wearer but may give to another person a vastly different meaning.

I think that most people realize that a swastika tattoo would certainly be unacceptable, but imagine trying to explain to a patient (or prospective employer) that it is a religious symbol.

Swastika hate message spray painted on a building in Philadelphia -

Hindu scalp painting of religious symbol -

Comment by Jack/dt on December 29, 2009 at 11:00am
Apparently that tired old saw about firefighters "...being held to a higher standard" is neither all that true nor all that high.

With regard to a tattoo of "csa", please correct me if I am wrong but, given the preamble to the mention of that I have to presume it means "confederate states of america". While that may be 'tolerated' down south, having that tattoo (visible) elsewhere most likely would preclude you from getting hired.

Family "heritage" or not, the csa represents issues that are clearly not yet fully behind us in 2010. I suggest (if you aren't familiar with it) you google and read the 'cornerstone speech' by alexander stephens. While 'csa' doesn't rise to the level of the swastika it is just as onerous to many.

Personal choices are personal choices but it doesn't mean that they will always be right, viewed as right or be acceptable to others.
Comment by Angela McCleskey on December 29, 2009 at 10:20am
My opinion on tatoos, are they same as everyone else's, they are no longer for people who come from the other side of the road, I was raised in a very small town, where every one know's everyone. I feel that tatoo's are an expression of one's self! My dad had them from when he served our country yrs ago, it did not stop him from being a good person, and or failing at a job. He also worked for our city as a police officer when I was a lot younger, I do agree however that they shouldn't be up and down the side of one's neck and every where they can't be hid, when working for the public. I know the finest people all over the country, and there are more with a tattoo than not, so it's not just for people who felt they had to make a statement in order to get attention. I for one have 1 and would like to get more, I want the same on me as the males in the family, they have the patches off my Dad's uniform, which consist of a dragon, the other a mermaid. I want these in memory of him. I think they can be done with taste and kept covered nothing's wrong with it. My hubby has, what else a skull with FLAMES around it...this man lives and breathes this Flame thing!!! Our hotrods have FLAMES. I think if he could get away with it, he would put flames on our walls through out the house. But as you and everyone else say first impressions are everything!!
Comment by Brandon on December 29, 2009 at 9:58am
oh yeah i have a friend that has pretty much a full body tats he has been getting them since he was able to legally, he has had ppl not even knowing him walk up and give him a dirty look and say you must be an angry person with all that stuff, but then when he talks to them and they kinda get a vibe that he is a good guy he explains what each one is about and how he went about getting them and what not and to be honest most ppl are like wow becasue they judged without asking and that is wrong but it is our society these days that dose that.
Comment by Brandon on December 29, 2009 at 9:56am
i have to agree also, i myself have 6 tattoo's i have one on each arm in the inner forearm one of a duck head and the other of the browning symbol. i have one on each arm on my outter fore arm one saying the kid, nick name my grandaddy gave me when i was younger, the other arm says csa. i am proud to be a southerner and my heritage and that is why i display such items about hunting family and heritage, i also on my upper right arm have a ripped them as if some animal ripped open my skin and there is a flag in the back ground like an exo skeloten of such, the other arm has a very large and proud maltees cross that says fire above it and rescue below it. but here in the columbis fire dept even as a volunteer/part time how ever you want to call it since it is a combi and paid per call which dont matter to me thats just what this dept dose. but regaurdless to any of that yes i am representing Columbia Fire rescue and i have to make sure i am clean shaved i have to be in either a button down columbia shirt or a tshirt while at work and or have a very very neat clothing item on when responding to calls if not at the station. with my tattoos especially when in uniform i have to cover them up and by wearing long sleeve shirts or any other means to make sure that the publuic dose not get the wrong impression but at the same time i have the free will to get these and disp[lay them i just have to be professional about it honestly most ppl say wow those are really nice how many do you have and where do you get them done i will tell them or hand a card of my artist but i do agree over all it can hinder you becasue some ppl are just to uptight about things becasue of their reputation and if that is what they want is for you to cover and or what have you go for it make them happy its your job and or possible job. oh well im done lol have a good one ya'll
Comment by RJ SEIPLE on December 29, 2009 at 9:37am
I have to agree, that as a society we have become more tolerant of tattoos and piercings. You see more and more people, regular folks with them.
But, first impressions are everything! And some form an opinion about you as soon as they see you, and we do the same for people we meet. And to some people tattoos & piercings are percieved in a negative manner.
At the fire dept. I work for, if the tattoo is exposed when you are in uniform, it is up to the officer in charge as to weather it needs to be covered.
But at my part-time job for the hospital, it is in the book of rules that your tattoos must be covered up.
Comment by Justin Buck on December 29, 2009 at 9:24am
I have one remembrance tattoo but you cant see it when i have a shirt on and the only way you can see it if i dont have a shirt on its located at the top of my upper right arm.

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