This week I have another question inspired by a reader. This is part of a topical series on Interviewing while Tattooed. This week I asked people who hire librarians:
Should tattooed candidates make any attempt to hide their ink? Would tattoos make you think twice about hiring someone? How tattooed is too tattooed?
Arm and leg tattoos would go unnoticed in an interview. Facial tattoos would be a problem though. Our current policy doesn’t allow jewelry in facial piercings so I don’t see facial tattoos (especially large ones) going over here (a southern public library) unless the job was not in public services.If a candidate is concerned that their tatts might negatively influence an interview outcome, then they should cover them up as best they can.
– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library
I like people to dress like and be themselves. Clearly we aren’t a buttoned-down place. My hesitation in this: if the tattoos displayed would be inappropriate for children to see (nudity, inappropriate language, like that). In that case, we would ask that those be kept covered while working in the children’s area.
In terms of how much ink is too much…if we think that kids will come in and be able to easily interact with the person beneath the ink, the candidate may make the cut.
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
An interesting question – many of us at my current library have visible ink (sleeves, chest pieces that peek out of dress shirts, etc.) At my current and former institutions (all public university academic libraries), so this wasn’t an issue. (Full disclosure – I’m fully sleeved, and my hands are tattooed as well.)
When I have interviewed, I usually do so full suited or with a cardigan – folks can see the hand tattoos but I don’t put them out on display. When it’s warm, I have a tendency to push my sleeves up – I’m certain I do it in interviews, as well. I don’t advertise my ink, but I don’t actively hide it; I do try to dress to minimize its impact – in interviews, I want people to focus on what I am saying. As I mentioned above, academic libraries in public universities have been very open to accepting tattoos on myself and colleagues. On the other hand, I was notified by a public library in a very diverse area that I would not be considered as a candidate because of visible ink, so your mileage can and will vary depending on where you apply.
As a hirer, I don’t mind what candidates do about their ink so long as they have a professional demeanor, and make an effort to be sure that it is themselves and their skills on display – I’m hiring for skill and growth potential, not to be inkshop buddies. That being said, my visible work is all pretty tame – it’s probably not a bad idea to go ahead and cover up naked ladies, penii, and other questionable/possibly-offensive images when interviewing, and checking the dress code, if posted, before applying.
As to whether candidates should hide their ink – that’s a personal decision. I usually figure if they’d cull me from the pool because of my ink, it’s likely not a place I would be comfortable working; on the other hand, if I were a children’s librarian, a face tattoo of a tarantula would make it more likely I’d use some serious cover-up so as not to scare the little ones. In short, folks should do serious research as to the cultural flavor of a workplace before deciding to hide – or flaunt – their art, and make sure their skills outshine their ink.
Would any tattoos make me think twice about hiring someone? Well, we’re a heavily public-service oriented library, so racist tattoos would definitely give me pause since we’re here to make our users as comfortable as possible. Aside from that? Probably not.
-Colleen Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor at University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s Lupton Library
My personal feeling is that tattoos are okay but to a limited extent. I think that they fine if they are small and/or are not obviously visible. I don’t think that tattoos are professional looking so if a person had them all over their arms, legs, neck, etc, it would make me think twice about hiring that person, not because I didn’t think that the person was not capable or qualified to do the job but because, unfortunately, of the view of someone with a lot of tattoos has in our society. Perhaps in certain types of libraries it would not be an issue, but I believe that in some academic libraries it would not portray a professional image, in the same that dressing slovenly would be viewed negatively. Just my two cents.
I am on the fence about tattoos, and can tell you that I am aware of a great range of policies regarding them. In general, it is reasonable for every library to establish what is needed for each situation.Community standards and environment play a big role in the tolerance level for appearance. When a library needs to improve its reputation for credibility, reliability, and competence, then a “classic look” for employees may be warranted, especially in a more conservative community where customers and donors value conformity and a professional image. In other communities that have a high level of diversity and are more liberal, like my current community (a Big Ten college town), we can offer a more flexible dress code that allows tattoos.An additional consideration regarding tattoos is the nature of the job and the career aspirations of the person. Library managers need the full business look for presentations, fundraising, networking, and special events. Although I can’t exactly define “too tattooed”, a large amount of visible ink may be an impediment to achievement. I personally enjoy, but do not have, body art, but would have to tell a manager with a lot of tattoos that they may be expected to cover them for certain activities.An illustration of this: I once had a meeting with potential donors who quite openly appeared to be evaluating my appearance as I met them at a restaurant to discuss donations. I later received feedback that they wanted to give to a charity that “met their expectations” – and some of them gave. I wore a moderately priced department store suit that contrasted with their designer clothes, but I guess the fake pearls worked anyway! Appearance counts, while self-expression through body art and dress are important outlets for many of us. Hopefully libraries will be open-minded and job applicants considerate of the wide range of public opinions they can encounter with a full body set of tattoos.– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library
What a great question! My workplace does not have anything that says tattoos must be covered, and I personally have nothing against them.
I recently hired an employee who interviewed in an outfit that hid his full-sleeve tattoo. Seeing the tattoo would not have made a difference in my hiring decision, but I would have appreciated it if he would have let it peak out a little bit, or at least mentioned it. It’s kind of like hiring an employee and having them show up the first day with a different, shocking dyed color of hair. It was a bit of a surprise when I first saw it, is all. It would also be to a prospective employee’s benefit to discover if the new workplace had anything stating tattoos must be covered: can you always work in full sleeves?
Any tattoo is tattooed; the only “too tattooed” or tattoo that would make me reconsider hiring for the types of positions I supervise would be face/neck tattoos. The rest of the body—the entire thing—is fair game.
– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian Neill Public Library
The short answer to the question of candidates with tattoos is, yes, they should hide their ink. For a job interview, I would always recommend covering up, which should not be too difficult since you would be dressed fairly conservative. I would encourage anyone considering a tattoo to be selective about where you put it since you will not know the policy of future employers.
The last two questions are tied together for me. How tattooed is too tattooed? Anything on the face, neck or hands would be too tattooed and would influence my hiring decision because those are areas that could never be covered up for formal presentations or meetings.
I am personally a tattooed librarian so this most likely affects my opinion on tattoos and the definition of what “too tattooed” is, but I am not on every search committee for my institution, others will have more conservative opinions.
When you do get a job offer, definitely ask what the policy is so you know if you can show off your “I heart Mom” tat!
– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries
As a tattooed librarian (a frog above one ankle) with a very modified 20-something son, I know that one has tattoos and other modifications for personal reasons. However, the workplace is not always a place where one can simply let everything be on display. It is not a personal affront to have to keep one’s tattoos and other modifications underwrap in the workplace. Dark nylons or tights, long sleeves and modest necklines are useful tools for keeping the other side of your personality personal. What I do and show when I am not at work is my business, not my employer’s.
This being said, prominent neck and facial tattoos are career-limiting in public service jobs. I don’t believe that this will ever change even with the openness around tattoos now.
As a former library director who had a “no butts, no boobs, no bellies” dress code policy, I think it is best to talk about these things when entering a new workplace. Find out what the dress code includes and make it work for you. You may be working for a tight a$$, so be prepared to keep your art covered. You might also be working for someone who has some modifications too, but knows when it’s the right time to have them on display.
– Toby Willis-Camp, a former Director of Libraries for a professional association
Tattoos don’t bother me – I have two myself, although they are not usually visible during work (although my next one likely will be). I don’t think candidates should try to hide visible tattoos during the job search / interview. That feels deceptive to me. I’d rather know they are inked up front (or at least not have something hidden and then suddenly see it on their first day at work). The only time I think I would think twice about it is if the tattoos are large and on the neck, or any tattoos on the face. I doubt I would have to worry about vulgar tattoos, but that would also give me pause.About half of my part-time staff are tattooed, and only once in 5 years have I heard a patron comment about a tattoo in a negative manner (but I’ve heard several positive comments!).– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Ink is relative to location. I personally don’t care, and my patrons don’t care. In a smaller, more conservative, more rural library, everyone cared. It was silly. I hired and was hired anyway (I have what looks like very obvious piercings–I actually have none–but I always have worn the jewelry to interviews to see what comments might ensue).While hiring is supposed to be about skills, sometimes you have to worry about community fit. I never have, and have never had problems. If a candidate is worried–cover the tats. The person will know soon enough if its an issue or not.– Virginia Roberts, Director, Chippewa Falls Public Library
When hiring, the most important thing to me is whether the staff person is approachable and neutral. Both of these things can be easily achieved even if the staff person is covered in tattoos. So no, tattoos have little to no impact on my hiring practices. That said, if an applicant (or staff person) has a tattoo that is political or controversial, I would ask them to cover it. We want to create an environment that is as neutral as possible, so that a patron feels comfortable asking any question of any staff person. Of course, this applies to clothing too and not just tattoos. Our latest dress code says, “Clothing or body art that can be reasonably seen as profane, political, or obscene is not to be visible.”
I remember having a conversation with my mom about 10 years ago about tattoos (I’m 38). She was convinced that the people in my generation who have tattoos would never be able to get jobs. I believed that the world would have to change to accommodate all the people with tattoos. I certainly saw more tattoos in Portland, OR than I do in Omaha, NE but even here, it’s commonplace for staff to have tattoos.
– Manya Shorr, Assistant Director, Community Programs and Services, Omaha Public Library
I have only one question from the other side of the table regarding tattoos or anything dealing with appearance. Does it affect approachability? If I am hiring you to be a public services librarian to work at a service desk, you can’t frighten the users away. On the other hand, if you work in the back, it probably isn’t that big of a deal. I want people to be comfortable at work but still be able to do their job. A librarian with great people skills and tattoos is still better than a curmudgeon with no skin decoration. Libraries are supposed to be an inclusive place.
This also works both ways on the fashion scale. I worked with a librarian who always wore a three piece pinstripe suit at the desk. The students wouldn’t talk to him either.
Personally, I have no issue with tattoos, but I cannot vouch for everybody on the hiring committee. It may even be a subconscious reaction. It depends on how important your personal style is compared to the job. The tattooed librarian may not want to work at a place where she or he is judged by skin art. In which case, show your glory within reason and taste.
If the job is really important, do your research. There may be a policy on appearance in some places, although that is increasingly rare. If not, what can you find out about the culture of the school? If you think it is an issue, cover until you get hired and then surprise them.
I have worked for a college where the tats would get a raised eyebrow from some of the staff. I have worked for a university where nobody would notice.
– Randall Schroeder, Director of Libraries, Archives and Media at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota
Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.