Changing Perceptions on Tattoos

Students and faculty discuss how tattoos relate to a professional appearance

by Zach Krauss

Do tattoos make it harder to get a job? With summer less than two months away, students are searching job boards and career portals to find summer or permanent employment.
For interviews, students are advised to dress correctly, submit a polished resume and give a firm handshake. Students try to present themselves as the best candidates for the job they want. Do tattoos play a role in this presentation or affect an employer’s hiring decision?

Jeff Reep, director of Career Services at Cedarville, has been helping students hunt for jobs for over 20 years. His opinion is that the only tattoos to avoid are those on the hands and face.

“The whole outlook on tattoos has changed dramatically in recent times,” Reep said. “There are certain professions that might be a little bit more conservative than others, but the landscape is different now.”

Reep said some fields like education, accounting, engineering, government and information technology might not have changed as much and could still hold more conservative views about tattoos. However, most fields in the liberal arts such as marketing, music or graphic design might have changed to be less strict.

Reep suggested students research the kinds of employers they want to work for and their policies for employees to get an idea of how their career field views tattoos.

He also recommended that students consider where they plan to live. He said that employers in California or New York might be more tolerant of tattoos, while employers in rural areas may be more conservative. While these tips might be very important to some, others claim to have had little issue with having and even showing their tattoos in the workplace.
Jess Westenberg, junior social work major, said future positions from employers weren’t on her mind when she got her first tattoo.

James Osborne is a senior computer science major with a tattoo in Greek that translates to “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” from Philippians 1:21. [Photos by Kelsey Feuerhak]

“My thought process was that this was something I really wanted,” Westenberg said, “so I was going to do it.”

Westenberg is interning through the social work department at Cedarville and has found that her workplace doesn’t mind her tattoos. The social work department requires students to cover up tattoos initially, but Westenberg said that her site does not prevent her from showing her tattoos. She doesn’t believe her tattoos prevent her from confidently and professionally presenting herself in an interview process.

“I think in an interview I would cover up my tattoos initially and then bring up the employer’s policy on tattoos later in order to figure things out,” Westenberg said. “Whatever their answer was, I would want to be able to have an open discussion about their policy and let them know that no matter what I’m going to respect what those policies are.”

Tasha Peterson, senior visual communication design major, doesn’t believe that her tattoos will affect her future career either. She plans to live and work in California and thinks that tattoos, piercings and similar artistic and creative liberties are no longer a problem. Peterson said for most positions today, tattoos, especially those that are easy to cover up, won’t be an issue in the hiring process.

“I’d say go for it but consider how it might affect you,” Peterson said. “If you feel that it might affect your future, then maybe just consider placement and get it in a place where it won’t matter or won’t be seen often.”

Professor Aaron Gosser, associate professor of art, got his first tattoo with his wife to celebrate being married for 18 years. He said the way mainstream tattoos are viewed has changed tremendously recently. His only recommendation for getting tattoos is an understanding of purpose for the tattoo.

“Understand who you are right now (a very junior version of your final self), and where you are right now (with so many things still undecided),” Gosser said in an email interview. “I can honestly say I’m a different person now than I was 20 years ago; understand how long life is and how little of it you’ve experienced to date.”

James Osborne, senior computer science major, said that when he got his first tattoo, he was aware that a tattoo may affect his ability to get a job. He placed his tattoo on his arm so it would be easy to cover for an interview.

“No one has ever asked me [about them] because I’ve always kept them covered,” Osborne said. “Once the interview is over, if we’re in a candid situation that I know won’t affect things, I might bring it up in normal conversation and then make a decision to let them know about my tattoos, but that’s specific to the situation.”

Osborne said his only advice would be to avoid places like the hands, face and neck, places that would be hard to cover up. He also said that he sees tattoos as an art form.
“I think that tattoos should be given the same kind of respect and understanding that we would give any art,” Osborne said. “There is some responsibility on the person getting the tattoo to understand what they are and what they mean, but all of it is art in a way.”

Assistant professor of psychology Betsy Linnell, said tattoos can have great meaning. Linnell got her first tattoo in 2016. It’s a combination of puppy paws, two butterflies and an infinity loop. The tattoo functions as a reminder that God makes her new every day, something that was also shown to her through her late therapy dog, Avie.

“I did consider employment,” Linnell said. “I was working with children and wanted it in a place that was not overly noticeable. It became a witnessing tool for me to share about Christ.”

She suggests tracing the design or wearing a temporary version in order to make sure the tattoo is the one you want.

“Consider long and hard. Really think through whether it is something you want to be explaining to people, and whether it is God-honoring,” Linnell said. “While things may be permissible, are they beneficial?”

Zach Krauss is a senior pharmacy/music double major from central Texas and campus reporter for Cedars. He loves music, theatre, biology, community and meeting new people.

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