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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

The Answer to: "Do I Have to Cover Up My Tattoos and Piercings in an Interview?"

First things first, you should know that I have a small nose stud. It’s pretty unnoticeable, and I usually forget I even have it. Except for when I started applying for jobs after graduating college and my parents raised their eyebrows and told me, “You might want to consider taking that out for interviews.”

My first reaction was, I’ll admit, a bit childish, and to say “Hell no.” If a company didn’t like it, I didn’t want to work for that company. Besides, I figured my family was a bit old-fashioned when it came to the working world.

At the same time, I thought, what if it affected whether or not someone wanted to hire me? It cost me nothing to take it out for an hour, and I wasn’t that cocky to think I could overcome a hiring manager’s prejudices with my college resume.

But then, what would happen if I got the job and showed up on day one with the stud in my nose. Would that be bad? Would I have to remove it forever? What if it was more than one piercing? And, what about tattoos?

Long story short, I ended up working at a startup that didn’t care either way. But the question still stuck with me, so I reached out to career coaches Kristina Leonardi and Elena Berezovsky to get some best practices for dealing with your body art when you’re interviewing.

The first thing they both suggested was to get a feel for the company culture: “Do your research,” says Berezovsky. “If you know someone at the company, just go right ahead and ask if your piercing would be considered appropriate. But if you don’t, let’s do a bit of sleuthing! Use good ol’ LinkedIn, or The Muse, or the company website itself to get a feel for the professional aesthetic of the employees at said company.”

Even more so, dig into the vibe of your specific team or department and the employees in that sector. And by dig, I’m giving you permission to do some light social media stalking. Do they have tattoos and piercings? How many of them do? Are they obvious? Does it seem like the kind of space where these are allowed?

Next, consider the company or field itself, and whether it’s known for being more progressive or conservative: “If a company is hundreds of years old, and is in an established industry like medicine, banking, or law, you can venture to guess that this may be a more conservative establishment. But if you’re applying to the creative or technology department at an ad agency that opened in the last 10 years, you can assume there would be room for creative expression,” says Berezovsky.

The other big factor Leonardi mentioned is your potential day-to-day responsibilities: “How much client interaction would there be? Would you be representing the company in person, and if so, would that be an appropriate image for that company to project? Or, is it a back office or customer service on-the-phone-only position?”

If your job is more or less to sit at a desk all day, chances are how you appear is mostly irrelevant. But if a large part of your role is to present in public, interact with clients, or work with more traditional partners, you’re expected to look more professional. It’s not that you won’t get hired—it’s about making it clear in your interview (by dressing appropriately) that you’re willing to put aside your own preferences for the sake of the company.

But overall, Berezovsky advises you trust your instinct: “Only you know the type of environment you’re walking into, and your own style. Be honest with yourself and gauge if the two could be a match. If you feel there could be a risk to your career or growth at this particular company, feel free to err on the side of caution and cover up or remove your piercings.” And if that’s not something you’re willing to compromise, it’s possible you’re looking at the wrong kind of jobs or career path.

With that said, the job search should by no means prevent you from being yourself. Piercings and tattoos are always accepted for religious and spiritual reasons, says Berezovsky, but this does not discount keeping them for personal beliefs as well. She goes on to say that “our ever-changing workforce is only ever-changing because each employee brings his or her own individuality and innovation to the table. So push those boundaries and bring your ‘you’ to the office, especially if your ‘you’ helps you rock out at and truly bring your truest value to your work.”

This doesn’t mean you should purposefully flaunt your tattoos in front of the hiring manager’s face, but it does suggest doing what you feel is comfortable for you.

The way we think about workplace attire is changing—jeans and T-shirts are considered OK in many offices, and even shorts are starting to creep in during the summer months. So while it’s always smart to be cautious, know that the system is bound to change eventually: “The reality is that more and more of the upcoming workforce will have body art, so employers will also have to adjust any expectations or guidelines lest they lose out on some great and essential younger talent,” says Leonardi.

Like any other aspect of the job search, figure out what you want to prioritize (culture fit, skills growth, job title, salary, and so on), and you’ll find a place that makes sense for you.

Photo of woman with tattoos in interview courtesy of Luis Alvarez/Getty Images.