Tattoo Taboos: Inked Up and On the Job Hunt

Featured, Quitting & Career Management, Working Abroad — By on March 1, 2010 at 11:22 am

On a whim in Thailand at age 16, Lost Girl Kate Burggraf inked up her ankle and back two tattoos. At the time it was a cool idea, but now a few years later when she’s applying for overseas jobs, Kate realized that her ink is not-so-sweet after all. In the eyes of prospective employers ink can tip the balance in the wrong direction leaving you jobless. BUT, don’t freak yet if you have a tattoo and a job interview lined up next week. Here are Kate’s 5 tricks you can pull to bypass the ink-factor and land that perfect job.


Tattoo Taboos: Inked Up and On the Job Hunt
by Kate Burggraf

I just recently had a phone interview with a prospective employer in South Korea for a teaching position. We hit it off for a half an hour and I thought the job was a sure-shot, until the end of our interview…

She asked me if she could ask a personal question, and I could choose to answer or not. I said yes of course, (I mean why would I say no)? She asked whether or not I had any tattoos, if they were visible, and if any, what they were.

Ah dios mios! Oh my god! As soon as she asked I knew this wasn’t a job I was going to get. Fact: I have two tattoos-one in the middle of my back, and one on my right ankle. And ironically, I’ve been researching tattoo removal for the past few months in hopes of removing the ink my ankle before heading to Korea.

My tats are not offensive, large, or intrusive. Removing them is an internal battle for me because how I got them is pretty sweet (I inked up on a trip to Thailand when I was 16 years old) but the fact that I am inked up is a problem. I never see the tat on my back so that one can go and my ankle ink is disgustingly typical (shhh, it’s a cliché butterfly intertwined with a heart and blah-dee-blah-blah.) But heck, I was 16 (and in Thailand). Although I wish I would have picked something else, it’s there…and it ain’t coming off any time soon. See what I mean by internal battle? It’s like a ping-pong game, back and forth. To remove or not to remove… that is the question.

The dilemma: I always have trouble in professional environments with my ankle tattoo. I feel like I have to hide it, or cross my legs in a certain way so people can’t see it. Usually it’s more of a problem for me than an employer. But apparently the South Korean lady interviewing me has had problems with offensively-inked Americans in the classroom-South Korean culture is more conservative than western American culture…which, for an inked up lost girl searching for employment like me, sucks. Bottom line.

I decided to contact a career expert for advice about tattoos in the workforce overseas.  I spoke with Penelope Trunk, founder of The Brazen Careerist . She said a tattoo for most employers is seen as an ‘abnormality’-something different or weird that makes a person stand out. To blend into the professional world, the interviewee will want to hide ‘abnormalities’ like tattoos or body art during an interview. Since interviews are mostly via phone or web cam, is it okay to hide a tattoo and conveniently forget to mention it?

No, but here are a few ideas for you Lost Girls who fear your body art will hinder job opportunities abroad.

#1. Cover – up If your tattoos are not in a place that can be easily covered by clothing, there are a multitude of solutions out there from skin colored clothing, to my personal fav Dermablend. You can find it at most make-up shops and department stores.

#2. If Asked, Answer If asked about tattoos in an interview, answer…truthfully. Reassure your boss that you can cover them up, appear professional, and that it will not interfere with how you perform your job duties.

#3. Dress Professional, Be Professional The way you dress says a lot about you. You want to look your best in an interview, and on the job. By looking professional, you’ll be treated like a professional. Even if a tattoo might be visible.

#4. Be flexible If an employer asks about your tattoos and seems uneasy about them, reassure them they can (and will) be covered up. If you have to wear dark stockings, pants, long sleeve shirts on work-days, then do it. Nothing sends red flags to a potential employer like someone who isn’t willing to comply with company policy.

#5. Breaking the Ice Dress professionally during the actual interview (or first meeting if the interview is done via web cam). And if it hasn’t been brought up yet and you’re concerned, once you feel more comfortable with your employer, ask them what their policy or view point is on a tat.

Bottom line is: take responsibility for your ink. If your tattoo is something you love, then keep job hunting ‘til you find an employer that’s cool with it. I actually did end up getting the job in South Korea so I’m counting down the days until I take off-tattoo and all!

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