A woman said her tattoos got her rejected for a job, but experts say personality is far more important (2024)

A TikToker, Ash Putnam, was frustrated after T.J. Maxx denied her application — and she said she thought her tattoos were to blame.

Some of her designs that are visible when she's dressed are a skull with horns on her neck, solid black patches on her arms, and a pattern on her forehead. Putnam, 23, also has multiple facial piercings, including a large silver ring hanging from her septum.

"I hate that my tattoos are such a defining factor for me getting a job or not," she said in a recent TikTok. "Just because I have tattoos doesn't mean I'm not going to be a good worker."

Putnam, from California, said she went into the store to ask why she hadn't gotten the job and that the hiring manager told her she didn't have enough experience. The hiring manager also denied that her tattoos played any role in the rejection, she said. T.J. Maxx did not respond to a request for comment.

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She wasn't convinced and took to TikTok to complain. Many commentators claimed her attitude may have been to blame, rather than her tattoos. Others said they thought her body art likely played a role in the rejection.

While the jury is out over whether tattoos can damage your prospects of being hired, experts told BI that the personality of a candidate was likely more important for recruiters.

Putnam's story went viral

Putnam's video amassed 7.4 million views, and it struck a nerve.

"HR supervisor here," one person commented. "There is no way any company would put you in front of customers like T.J. Maxx."

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Another commenter, who said they used to be a hiring manager for the store, said: "I will tell you it's the facial piercings and tattoos."

Some fellow content creators criticized Putnam's approach.

Ivy Johnson, for example, who also has many tattoos, said she worked in corporate America as a hiring manager before starting her apothecary business.

"Your tattoos are very aggressive," she said. With customer-facing positions, she said, "that doesn't always go over well."

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Johnson said she also thought Putnam had "a really bad attitude."

"If you had come into my business after an interview, or even applying and chatting on the phone, even if I didn't even know that you're a heavily tattooed person, I'd be like, 'Yo, bye, there's the door,'" she said.

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"You have to put your best foot forward in an interviewing circ*mstance, no matter what you do, what you're applying for, or what you look like," she added.

It depends on the role

Almost one-third (32%) of US workers in a2023 Pew Research Center survey said they had a tattoo, and 22% said they had more than one.

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Some studies have suggested that tattoos can affect someone's career progression. In a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 40% of respondents said they had rejected a candidate for a job because they had a visible tattoo. Eighty-eight percent of recruiters and human-resources professionals who responded said they thought tattoos limited a candidate's prospects.

However, research from the University of Miami that same year found tattooed job seekers were no less likely to be employed than those without.

The stigma of tattoos is lessening every day, with many employers no longer having an issue with hiring tattooed employees, according to Indeed.

There may still be a line, though, and some of Putnam's viewers argued that she crossed it. Putnam declined to comment for this article, but she told the UK publication The Daily Star: "I am not going to change who I am for minimum-wage jobs."

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Adam Collins, the founder and CEO of Ignite SEO, told BI that as someone who hired people to work at his company, he thought "tattoos can make a big impact on how a candidate is perceived."

"I wouldn't say that tattoos make or break an interview because it depends on the role," he said. "A candidate applying to be an account manager for our clients and is supposed to speak to our clients directly should definitely appear trustworthy and clean-cut, so face and neck tattoos would affect that."

On the other hand, with someone who isn't directly working with clients, appearance is less important.

In technical and operational roles, for example, "it's not a big deal," Collins said.

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Michelle Enjoli, a career coach, told BI the visibility and type of tattoos someone has could make a difference.

"Tattoos are personal and typically represent something for that person," she said. "People represent companies, and therefore if a tattoo represents something that a company would not want to be associated with, it can definitely be an issue for a hiring manager."

How likely it is that a tattoo will determine the course of an interview depends on how visible they are and what they may represent, Enjoli added. Tattoos are nowhere near as much of a taboo as they used to be, but some people still hold judgment over them.

In Putnam's case, her tattoos were considered extreme, Enjoli said, and "seemed to be a big part of her identity."

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"In other cases, where someone might have a smaller tattoo on their arm or visible area, it might not matter as much as it is less obvious," Enjoli said.

"I think a company demanding that an employee not have any tattoos regardless of visibility or meaning is definitely outdated as they have become a big part of the modern culture."

Personality matters more

Justina Raskauskiene, the HR team lead at Omnisend, told BI as tattoos had become more common, it's likely recruiters and hiring managers barely paid attention to them "unless they are offensive or distracting."

"Sometimes hiring managers may even prefer an employee with a tattoo because it can be evidence of an interesting personality," Raskauskiene said.

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"Discriminating against those people would mean missing out on some talented people in the industry."

Rachel Pelta, a hiring expert who is the head writer at the virtual-work-experience platform Forage, told BI that overall, hiring managers were looking at skills and abilities.

"The thing is, everyone who's interviewing probably has the skills and abilities I'm looking for," she said. "So then it comes down to, how well are you selling yourself in the interview? Are you making the case for why you're the best person for the role? If you're not doing that, you won't get the job."

As for tattoos, piercings, or anything else that could be considered unusual, such as bright hair colors, hiring managers "shouldn't evaluate a candidate on their appearance," Pelta added.

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But some companies are traditional or conservative, and for them, these things could be a "big deal."

"Unless you're willing to cover or remove them, you'll have to keep searching until you find a company that accepts you as you," she said. "And they are out there. It just may take you a bit longer to find one."

A woman said her tattoos got her rejected for a job, but experts say personality is far more important (2024)
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