Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weekend discussion: Should an interview candidate cover their tattoos?

A recent correspondent asks about body art (tattoos, specifically) during interviews in industry. 

I frankly don't have any experience with this, other than that, in my opinion, the median age in the R&D portions of the pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing subsectors is still north of 40, and so folks are probably more-conservative-than-not in their dress. 

It seems to me that traditional business attire for men and women will cover up sleeve and chest piece tattoos, so that's the way to go there. I am not quite sure what to do about tattoos other places, such as calves (e.g. for women who wear skirts) or hands. 

I note here that I do not have any body art or modification, so I'm speaking ex recto here. (What's new? -ed.

Also, I think company culture matters. If you're working at a startup in San Francisco where the boss plays his vintage Johnny Rotten in the lab, it's probably less of a big deal there than, say, the halls of Pfizer and the like. 

Readers, do you have any helpful suggestions? 

61 comments:

  1. There's no benefit to showing them, so cover them. Even if its some kind of trite molecule tattoo

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    1. A postdoc in our department has a big ol' tattoo of meth on his forearm of all places. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this should probably be covered up for interviews...

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  2. Like CJ says, culture matters, but if you like your art and do not want to work for someone who would not hire you if they knew you have tattoos that are not going to be hidden on a typical work day (hands, neck, face, whatever), don't cover them unless you are willing to commit do doing it all the time.

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  3. Related to this: I am a young man with long lair. Do I need to cut my hair before I try to interview?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. And the sign said, long haired freaky people, need not apply

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  4. Honestly as a woman I usually interview in slacks. And often when I'm wearing a skirt I wear tights. So the calf tattoo is easy to cover up.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your expertise (I obviously don't know of what I speak on this issue!)

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    2. Yeah, in my experience, it's not a bad idea to wear slacks as a woman. If you get a facility tour, there may be a requirement to wear long pants in the lab space and having to change out of your skirt and put some scrubbs on or whatever is kind of awkward.

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  5. Also, you really must have some excessive tattoos to not be able to cover them up during an interview.

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  6. well, yes. But would that make someone less qualified somehow?

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  7. When one is blessed enough to get an actual face-to-face interview, it would seem that you have done enough research on the company to know that you might really want to work there and they have done enough research on you to think you might be a good fit. First impressions on face-to-face interactions mean things. If you're breath is reeking of garlic, onions and gin from the Cesar salad with a double Martini you had for lunch before the interview, then that is probably not going to give an overwhelming "hire me" first impression. Likewise, "excessive body art," "long hair (males)," "too much cleavage/leg (females)" as defined by the INTERVIEWER may not give the impression you want to give. While that may sound sexist, the way life operates in the "real world" is not the same as it operates in the gilded and hallowed halls of academia where there are "micro aggressions" and "trigger warnings" and making everyone feel good about themselves. Out in the "real world" nobody owes you a job.

    As a prospective employer, there are a few solid ground rules that I give aspiring young men and women that may want to work for me. In no particular order:

    1. You will be a representative of me and my company. If my "Spidey Sense" tells me that you will not take that seriously, The interview will be done before it is started. The next few hours are merely pro forma.
    2. I, nor any other employer, owes you a job. You must earn the opportunity to work for me.
    3. Likewise, I, nor anyone else, owes you a second chance.
    4. Yes, I will lurk around Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see if you have exhibited behavior that may, at any time, put my company in a bad light. See #1 above. (Honestly, I probably did that before I invited you to a face-to-face interview.)
    5. I'm OK with not hiring you, or, for that matter, letting you go if you're an under-performer.

    Being an adult is hard.

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    1. And you damn kids, GET OFF MY LAWN!

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  8. I've often wondered what people who get face and/or neck tattoos are thinking, job-wise. Presumably they know that they're precluding themselves from 90% of jobs for the rest of their lives? I can't imagine how silly these people will look in the retirement castle.

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    1. I presume it is the belief that 1) they have no desire to get the jobs that wouldn't want them, 2) they want to bar themselves from those jobs in the future.

      Not ever having had the desire to get body art of any sort, it's very hard for me to put myself in their shoes.

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    2. Or maybe they think that intelligent people would not judge them over something completely unrelated to the skills needed for the job?

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    3. Not as extreme as tattoos, but our head of department has long hair. He says he does it because he's too lazy to go get his hair cut, he just occasionally cuts off ca. 10 cm off his ponytail. I think the real reason isn't laziness, it's the "because-I-can" attitude. He's so good at his job that people have to accept him no matter what he looks like, and if potential collaborators don't like the look of him - well tough. Not his problem. That said, he only let his hair grow in the last ~10? years, he didn't start at our uni with long hair.
      Personally, I like the rebel attitude. He's very anti-hierarchy as well, which I don't think you get often in department heads, and it has definitely been working out for us.

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  9. It's a good idea not to do things to your body that can't easily be undone. There are temporary tattoos.

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  10. Anon 1:48PM: I would suppose that the head of your department has tenure and really doesn't care any longer. Makes me wonder when he got tenure? 10 or so years ago?

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  11. It's a good idea not to do things to your body that can't easily be undone. There are temporary tattoos.

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  12. I don't have an issue with tattoos, but I consider failing to cover them during a job interview to be a sign of poor judgement. It's like wearing a suit and tie - most places no longer expect this for coming to work daily, but I would question the judgement of a candidate who fails to wear a suit to an interview.

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  13. I have several tattoos. I've been at my current job for 13 years and had two prior to hiring on with them.

    My best advice is to be modest and cover up (if you don't know the culture). And if you don't know the culture, ask!

    My employer doesn't care that I have my forearm tattoos on display. But while testifying in court? Of course I cover up. It's all about circumstances, setting, and overall culture.

    I also have long facial hair, which seems to irk some people as well.

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  14. I'd like to think that I wouldn't be judged for how I look, but I know that's not how it goes. I don't have any tattoos, but I'm considering something small.

    I hope the whole tattoo stigma goes out with the current generation of old people. It's kinda stupid. I don't see it as a rebel thing, but I suppose I do a lot of things the older crowd considers rebel stuff. It's a bit of a jump from seeing somebody has a tattoo to judging their personality, skills and work ethic.

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  15. I have several tattoos and they are all easily covered up even with a short sleeved shirt and shorts. This was deliberate.

    My sweeping generalization is that people who get highly visible/difficult to cover tattoos tend to also be highly opinionated about why they did that and how they should be judged about it. The visible tattoos aren't the problem; it's the idea that you don't care what other people think of you or you expect them to change their way of thinking to yours. Not the type of impression you want to make on an organization. Bitch all you want about how stupid it is, that's like complaining about not being able to use your hands while playing soccer. The rules are in place and everyone else is willing to follow them. So if you don't like them, play a different game. Start your own company, hire all the tattooed staff you want, and prove to the world what you can do.

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  16. Given my own inability to ever break into the corporate world post grad-school (I did not seem to have this much trouble beforehand .... but those were working-class positions) - I suspect that it's not about tattoos per se, but about projecting a complete image of upper-middle class propriety and being a proper bro/hottie and not some gross ill-groomed nerd or a scary thug. Skills and qualifications, ha ha ha ha ha! Those grow on fucking trees!

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    1. Definately some of this goes on. In grad school, one of my fellow students in my lab managed to get offered a job overseeing a structural biology group at a major company. Although she had collected NMR data, she never solved a structure. I suspect the fact that she was very cute and carried herself well made up for the lack of experience.

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    2. " Skills and qualifications, ha ha ha ha ha!" Those grow in grad schools, Special Snowflake, and as you may have heard around here, there's not exactly a shortage of either.

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  17. I know several industrial chemists who have plenty of tattoos, including a full sleeve. That said, they interviewed in a suit, so it was a non-issue.

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    1. It's been rumored that R.B. Woodward had full sleeves of the total synthesis of reserpine, but pictures are scarce.

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    2. You can see various lab member's photos at big shot groups that have prominently displayed tattoos. It's not my thing but I wouldn't care in academia either. For industry, well, as they say you only get to make one first impression.

      You can also tell ages +/- based on piercings--the 'top of the ear' was popular about five years after my undergrad days. I (male) have an earring that gives a pretty good estimate of my age (ie. when that was 'cool'). I was advised against wearing it for job hunting as well.

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    3. Tramp stamps are becoming a dead giveaway of a woman's age, now that the fad has been passe for a few years!

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    4. @KT - I guess I have to revise my talk for the young job seekers to now include tramp stamps on the list of "not recommended interview practices."

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    5. unless they want to challenge age discrimination

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    6. Yeah, "challenging" everyone when you're still interviewing is great, if your plan is to file a lawsuit instead of get a job.

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    7. If a tramp stamp is seen at a job interview, it's not bad judgement, it's truth in labeling.

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    8. I think this particular subthread has reached the end of its useful life.

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    9. Chemjobber's the the only blogger who's most unhappy when people start to comment more.

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    10. CJ will speak up when commenters are behaving offensively toward one another. Figure it out, Anon 12:14.

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    11. We know who you are too, GC.

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    12. "behaving offensively toward one another"? WTF are you talking about. Did something get deleted?

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  18. There is a plant that my family works at, and they really can't vouch to much for the culture, but it's stable work, and they do very well there. They also hire chemists. My family strongly suggested I trim my hair up and be acceptable to the company culture. At first I was hurt, and defensive, and then time goes by, and lo behold, they have a very low retention rate of chemists, and have gone through several dept. heads. Right now, I have an amazing job. I consider myself very fortunate for not working there. If you are hired for non-relevant reasons (you happen to have shorter hair than the guy who walked into the room before you), I guess expect to get fired for non-relevant reasons or expect to start looking for new work in 6 months. Look clean, wear a suit, and even if you have that neck tattoo, you know, maybe you were in the military.

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  19. CJ: How about nose or ear piercing? I have known and interviewed some very smart people who join the company without any piercings but have one after they are in the company!

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    1. If they were smart enough for your company to hire them, and are contributing to the company's success, does it really matter what metal they have attached to their parts?

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    2. I think it's a good idea not to show up with piercings that are unusual, but in general I view them differently from tattoos because they're less permanent and therefore modifiable (unless you've used one of those ear gauges to stretch your earlobe to elephant-like proportions). If you have an investor meeting and you'd like someone to take their nose ring out, that's a simple fix. If they have a neck tattoo that needs covering, that's not as simple.

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  20. I just interviewed an department administrative assistant at an university. When discussing the office culture she asked if a nose ring was appropriate. I had no problems with it and I pointed to my boss's goofy goatee and said that if he wears that thing on his face I don't see why a little nose piercing wouldn't be fine.
    It looks like we are going to hire her, but I didn't let anyone else in the office know about the nose ring. I don't see why anyone needs to know, and if they say anything I'll tell them I said it was ok.

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  21. And the sign said "Long haired freaky people need not apply"

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    1. And "will be shot out-of-sight", possibly by Harry Elston.

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    2. That's hurtful, NMH. I'm sad now.

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    3. Poor Einstein would have never even gotten an interview....

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  22. Just a reference to your charming icon.

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    1. That's where I'm the most comfortable: "Life in the 9-ring"

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  23. 1) I imagine in sales (where the customers uber alles), lots of body features/implements/addenda are going to be bad ideas. Most other places, though, I don't know how much it matters. One person at my work (somewhat conservative, but looser than others) has visible forearm tattoos, and it does not seem to be or have been a problem for him. Face or neck tattoos would be hard, but they're a lot more accepted than they were five or ten years ago.

    2) I don't completely agree with this Dilbert (http://dilbert.com/search_results?terms=tattoos+%26+body+marking) (there are people who may be overweight for reasons beyond their control), but it has a point. People can change weight, and it's probably easier than removing tattoos, but not much. Piercings are generally pretty reversible, I think.

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    1. "overweight for reasons beyond their control"

      Simple math of calories in > calories burned leading to being overweight? If they fail such basic science they should never be hired.

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    2. Although this comment by anonymous is classic troll, I really hope C-jobs will do a post on this. I do think overweight candidates are discriminated against, after reading a post by Female Science Professor (or xykademicz) and faculty hiring where she mentioned that some professors in her department will explicitly discriminate against fat candidates and justify it as saying that if they don't have self-control over what they eat, then they can't be a good professor. I think we should talk about why this happens, whether it's reasonable when 40% of US adults are overweight, and whether it's a legit thing to do (like people think about tattoos).

      When my uncle got here, he tried to find a way to make lots of money to buy a BMW, and after his third business succeeded he bought the BMW and put on lots of weight, because being skinny like he was a bad thing in the old country, with his parents telling him about the occasional famine and all, and being fat was a sign of success. Now he's paying it for it with bad health in his old age though.

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    3. IMO, a possible justification for not hiring very overweight people is to keep health care costs down, as overweight/obese are more likely to get disease of all sorts. If the faculty discriminates against hiring smokers than any condition that might increase the health care burden of the institution could (should ?)be on the radar.

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    4. I don't believe that employers can discriminate against people by overweightness (Cleveland Clinic's CEO, I think, famously said that he would if he could). They can discriminate against smokers, however (Scotts has fired smokers who were working when the policy was enacted and I believe that they were able to do so, despite lawsuits). I don't think countries have done that, though they in many cases pay for general health care.

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    5. I don't think you're allowed to hire or fire based on weight/overweightness (the Cleveland Clinic's CEO famously said that he wouldn't hire overweight people if he could, to a mixture of anger and joy), though you are for smoking (Scotts enacted a policy banning its employees from smoking anywhere and fired some for smoking, and I don't believe the wrongful termination suits went anywhere, though this is OH, the workers' paradise). I would think that countries who actually pay for health care would have done this, but do not (although that may be because they're subject to some sort of vote), and if not them, then it seems harder for employers to justify extraemployment controls. (Also, obesity for cost containment may not work, though this source is six years old: http://www.healthbeatblog.com/2009/05/dr-atul-gawande-on-the-fight-for-the-soul-of-american-medicine/)

      They also could require controls over health care (Scotts justified its smoking policy by health care costs, but at the time they had no requirement to provide health care, so they could have simply said that they wouldn't pay for health care for smokers), but in general lifestyle controls are more to expand employer power (setting precedents where the objects are unpopular and unlikely to win countersuits and public support, and expanding from there) than for rational cost containment.

      It's been noted before that very few measures to decrease weight in overweight/obese people work in the long term ("A 1993 National Institutes of Health expert panel reviewed decades of diet studies and found that between ninety and ninety-five per cent of people regained one-third to two-thirds of any weight lost within a year - and all of it within five years." from Atul Gawande's "The Man Who Couldn't Stop Eating" , New Yorker, 2001 and his book Complications). So, anon's comment may be accurate, but doesn't help.

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  24. I think it's like Felisa Wolfe-Simon dying her hair pink. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does make a statement about you that might at least unconsciously skew people's perceptions of you or raise standards for your appraisal. It's human nature. Personally I would be able to ignore such things, but I don't know if the average interviewer would be able to.

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    1. Agreed. There's a grad student around here who has bright blue hair, as F-U a style as you could get. I would suggest not wearing that to an interview either.

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