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 Art "ChiefReason" Goodrich on December 29, 2009 at 9:16am
I agree that body piercings can pose potential safety issues but I disagree on body ink, unless it is a swastika tattooed in the middle of the forehead. To me, tattoos can tell you about an individual just as an interview can.
Why should physical appearance carry so much weight? Let's use your side by side comparison tool. You have two candidates. Both are equal except one is missing part of his left ear. Who gets hired? You have two candidates. Both are equal except one has a nasty scar on his right cheek. Who gets hired? You have two candidates. Both are equal except one stutters when he speaks. Who gets hired? You have two candidates. Both are equal except one wears a Calvin Klein suit and the other wears a Wal-Mart shirt and tie. Who gets hired?
We are finding ourselves more and more PRE-JUDGING and diverting our attention away from otherwise good candidates.
If a candidate with piercings understands that they cannot have them in while at work and agrees to it, then hire them if they are the most qualified. If a candidate has tattoos, none of which are offensive in nature, but the department has a policy that they must be covered and the candidate agrees to it, then giddy up go; you got a good candidate.
I remember when the Beatles first hit the scene with their "long hair" and soon thereafter, it wasn't a big deal anymore.
And if they rode a skateboard to the interview? Well, at least you know that they are in half way decent physical shape. Don't be too quick.
I have ink on both arms above the bends in my elbows and yes; I would hire me!

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