Recruiter Fuel – S5|E9 Is There a Point When It’s Too Much?

Season 5 | Episode 9

In between conversations with Joan Morehead and Bill Keefer, we dived into a conversation on appearances in the workplace. Specifically, Steve sat down with one of our recruiters, Hanna, and our principal search consultant, Scott, to talk about whether tattoos and piercings matter during the hiring process. To kick things off, Steve showed the others a meme we’ve seen everywhere online:

We’re not trying to pick on the guy, and we’re not trying to get into politics either. We just used the picture since it’s a popular meme and a nice lighthearted way to open the discussion!


Is that many tattoos or piercings too much?

Our gut reaction is yes.

Sure, companies have become a lot more relaxed in their dress code and there’s more leeway in terms of tattoos and piercings.

“I think when you’re getting into drastically changing your appearance, or your entire face, for the most part, is covered in tattoos, you have to understand that there are probably going to be a lot of employers out there, based on the roles they’re hiring you for, that they’re not going to consider you for the positions they have,” said Scott

“Is It Fair to Look at Someone and Say “They Look Funny, I Don’t Want to Hire Them?”

Steve noted that this guy could be awesome at his job – should a company reject candidates like this based on appearance alone, or refuse to even give them a chance?

Hanna and Scott both noted that they thought it wasn’t fair, but you have to take into account the element of business decorum, for customer-facing roles in particular. Hanna elaborated:

“I’m okay seeing that person deliver pizza, or take my blood, or whatever profession he might be…but I know if my grandma ordered a pizza and that guy showed up, she wouldn’t accept the pizza. She’d be terrified! It’s a balance.”

Have You Ever Had a Client Who Was Shocked by a Candidate’s Appearance?

Steve asked the others if they ever had an awkward situation where a client was unpleasantly surprised by a candidate’s appearance.

Hanna and Scott both said this happens, but it’s more with dress code than tattoos or piercings. Scott gave an example of a candidate showing up in a t-shirt and jeans while everyone interviewing was in suits. Yikes!

Scott brought up a viewpoint he shared with interviewers and hiring managers in his days of corporate recruiting

“…we recruited for everyone from minimum wage up to senior executives, I always tried to remind some of the interviewers, keep in mind the positions you’re hiring these people for, and the needs that you have, so don’t just immediately disqualify someone based on appearance. Take the time to talk to them.”

Scott also mentioned that the cultural attitudes toward beards have shifted dramatically – we now accept beards a lot more today than we did ten years ago. It puts into perspective the fact that these attitudes are always shifting – what is totally unacceptable today may be no big deal tomorrow.

How Do You Respond to a Candidate That Says It’s Not Fair to Refuse to Hire Someone with Tattoos or Piercings?

Steve said he agreed with Hanna’s opinion that you have to be cognizant of who you’re putting in customer-facing roles. With that in mind, he pressed her on what she would say to a candidate who complained that it was unfair to lose out on a job opportunity because of a tattoo or piercing.

“If I was in his shoes, I would just want someone to be honest with me. And so I would just give him the honest truth and be like, I’ve been in this a while, I know what people like, and unfortunately, I know it’s really tough and I’m not judging you on this, but there are some…I guess standards or norms out there on types of appearances and you’re on the extreme side…my assumption is that if someone is going to that level of extremes, they know the doors they’re closing when they do that.”

Is It an Employee or Employer’s Fault When Someone Is Turned Down Based on Tattoos/Piercings?

At the end of the day, everyone has a right to choose what they do with their body, what tattoos they get, what piercings they get, etc. But do they have a right to complain about the resulting consequences?

Steve prompted Hanna and Scott to chime in on this issue.

“Again, to Hanna’s point, I think it just goes back to the avenues that the individual is pursuing relative to employment. This might sound bad to some, but unless it’s your own company, you’re not gonna be CEO of the business if you have that much ink over your face and holes everywhere. Now, there are lots of small business owners that would look more outside of the standards and norms that people are used to, but it’s their own company. And they then give the opportunity to afford that leeway to other people – “I like my tattoos, I’ll hire people who have a lot of tattoos.”

“When you’re radically changing your appearance…I think Hanna is exactly right, you’ve self-selected yourself out of a lot of jobs.”

It’s All About the Choices You Make Between Your Physical Appearance and Career Path

We want to be fair to everyone, but we also have to have a certain amount of decorum in business. It’s unfortunate, because the guy above could be highly talented, and he’s probably being limited based on what he looks like. Like it or not, that’s the reality of working and doing business in our society.

Hanna chimed in here:

“It’s all about the choices you make. And to me, when you make those choices, you’re just placing your physical appearance over your career path. For me, personally, I would love to have a lot more tattoos, invisible piercings, purple hair, shaved hair, but I know that for the career I want, that’s not really acceptable. So I have decided, this is the choice I’m making, is to abstain on some of the things I’d like to do physically because my career is more important.”

Norms Will Always Be Changing

Individuals with tattoos and piercings may be unhappy with our society’s current attitudes towards their appearances, but we should keep in mind these norms will always be evolving. Both are now more accepted than ever in the workplace, for example!

What do you think? Is it unfair to disqualify a candidate based on tattoos or piercings, or is that just business?

Let us know on Twitter or shoot Steve an email!

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