Jennifer Romolini
August 25, 2015 2:02 pm

Welcome to Ask a Boss (Who Is Not Your Boss)a column where our editor-in-chief Jennifer Romolini answers all of your awkward, painful, and just plain weird questions about work life. Have a burning workplace or career question? Email AskABoss@hellogiggles.com. Please include your first name or nickname and where you are from. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

Hi Jennifer,

I have been looking for a new job recently and have some in-person interviews coming up. I am really excited about all of these new opportunities and I want to make a great impression when I meet them face-to-face so I can find a great job and move on with life.

Recently I also got a new tattoo. It is a very bright and noticeable half sleeve on my upper left shoulder/arm. I wasn’t worried about getting it because my current position is accepting of tattoos, but now I am unsure of what I should do when interviewing.

Should I hide it until I am hired somewhere and then—BAM—day 1, I show up with this tattoo they’ve never seen? Should I wear something that it can peak through at the bottom of, like a shorter shirt sleeve, so they know it’s there but that I can hide it if need be? Should I just show it and feel like I’m being 100 percent honest with them?

Thank you for any advice you can give!

Christine from Oakland, CA

Dear Christine,

Congrats on your new tattoo and making what sounds like positive and exciting changes in your life! I love tattoos! I have zero, but I think about getting one probably 247 times a week and then my indecisiveness and commitment-phobia and general weirdo tendencies kick in and trick me into eating full-bags of those dang coconut chips while watching all the UnReal episodes and my ink dreams go forever unrealized—which is all to say I deeply admire your go-for-it-ness. Tattoos are rad and you should be proud of yours.

Though it’s hard to believe that, all the way here in 2015, any company would take issue with an employee’s non-offensive, safe-for-work tattoos, I think we need to put on our Ye Olde Conservative Hats in order to answer your question accurately (let’s remember for a second that some jobs still make women wear those taupe-hued pantyhose). You haven’t told me what kind of work you do, but, unless you are in a customer-service-based business (bank teller, some restaurants and hotels, retail) with a strict dress code that explicitly talks about tattoos, I expect your upper arm/shoulder tattoo will not be a formal problem. People in charge at more conventional work environments (like law and finance) might quietly frown upon employees’ tattoos, but those tattoos are (most likely) allowed as far as HR is concerned. And creative and/or modern careers like tech, media, and advertising will probably be utterly supportive and even encouraging of your tattoo, because an edgier, cooler office culture is actually what they want to encourage. But no matter which of these types of jobs you’re going for, I still wouldn’t show your tattoo in the interview.

This is because—while it’s probably not a thing at all—why even have a slight worry about it being a thing? Interviews are stressful enough without wondering if the person interviewing you is quietly thinking about/judging your tattoo, which, since you already have it in your mind, you might do and it might put you off your game. And I want you to feel entirely ON YOUR GAME for these interviews.

In terms of being 100 percent honest with them upfront: Job interviews are not about being honest about who you really are, at least not personally. They’re about, for them, finding out if you are qualified to do a job and if you seem like you’d be a good fit for it; and, for you, finding out if you want the job that’s being presented. An interviewer can’t legally ask you personal questions like your age or if you have kids or if you’re coupled up. And you shouldn’t divulge other attributes like problems with authority or how you secretly hate to wake up before 9am or how cool it would be to knock off work at 5 so you can make it to your Zumba class (all true things people have told me in interviews). In fact, way beyond tattoos, it’s these small things that tend to trip up interviewees, and leave small, but lasting impressions on interviewers. When hiring people—especially when it’s a hard decision between two equally qualified candidates—those non-work details can make all the difference in the decision-making process, especially if they’re not to the interviewer’s taste.

Now, one could argue that if these people don’t like your tattoo, eff ’em. It just means this isn’t the right job for you, that everything happens for a reason, Que Sera Sera, and so you should march into this interview in an excellent sleeveless top, defiant in the face of (conservative) cultural norms. And that’s fair, but also another column for another day. For this particular situation, on this particular day, at the risk of sounding like the least cool person I know, I think you will be happier being totally yourself, just yourself in a three-quarter-sleeve shirt.

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