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Skin in the Game: Recruiters and Tattoos

By January 22, 201510 Comments

Am I soon to be the last remaining recruiter left without a tattoo?  With conversation in our own office around Sean Walters’ upcoming sleeve tattoo opus joined this morning by news that internal recruiting maverick Mark Sumner is getting himself inked soon too, it’s starting to feel that way.

When I started in recruitment at Hays it seemed to me that recruiters were a pretty formal, corporate and conservative bunch.  This I guess spun out of the industry’s roots in recruiting Accountants and Bankers for the big end of town.  Of course it only took me a few days to realise that it was all a facade.  Behind the scenes I found most recruiters to be delightfully rogue, slightly unstable with questionable morals.  It was, and is, an ideal industry for the more maverick and mildly unhinged elements of the corporate world.  And if you’re not when you start in recruitment, you will be in no time at all.

But it all stayed behind the scenes, behind the partition walls, hidden behind a gleaming logo, some glossy brochures, some random pot plants and a fake-smiled backpacker receptionist.  Because to the clients of recruiters, we presented ourselves as the most ivy league and preppy of Big 4 Accountants, but behind the scenes we were able to kick back and reveal our true colours, as it were.

As fashions change I suppose recruiters getting themselves inked is just a continuation of this theme.  The dark blue suits and striped tie look is now a rare appearance for recruiters, in Auckland at least, and often reserved for the global big-brand behemoths that fear freedom of expression and behaviour from their recruiting foot soldiers.  In my own firm we haven’t worn suits for over 18 months now and it’s not made any noticeable difference to how we engage and do business with our clients and customers.

(very cool) image credit: Jessie Edwards 

But what, I wonder, is the general consensus about this flesh art starting to creep beyond the traditional limits of corporate clothing hems and collars?  I had to push hard with a client last year to accept a recruiter who had a visible tattoo on her foot.  Another recruiter I knew many years ago as a formal, suited recruiter, recently returned from Sydney with a sleeve tattoo that extended onto the back of her hand.  It was beautifully done, but was a step too far for most of my current client base.  Sean himself interviewed a recruiter this week who displayed the most paradoxical of character traits:  tattoos on her fingers, but seemingly devoid of personality (maybe she just didn’t find your gags funny Sean).  As an internal recruiter how much would this limit her corporate recruiting career path?

My own opinion is that it shouldn’t matter.  If you’re a quality recruiter then that’s all that should matter.  In fact I actually prefer recruiters bold enough to display their tattoos, despite having no inclination to follow suit myself.

I imagine it’s still a step too far for most recruitment agencies and in-house recruitment teams though.

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.


  • Steven says:

    It definitely required a lot of thought and consultation with the boss before I got a tattoo on my hand back in 2006 (agency days – recruiting for the public sector). I’ve only ever had positive comments/questions since then, and I don’t think it’s hindered my recruitment career… yet!

  • Jayne Rice says:

    Funnily enough I was only thinking the other day it would be nice to add some additional features to my own 12 year old tattoo !!

  • Rachel K says:

    I see the argument from both sides. As a recruiter in the internal world you are a brand ambassador – reflecting the brand and its values both when you’re in the office meeting and greeting clients, suppliers and potential employees as well as when you are out and about. Some employers see tattoos as a negative from that perspective.

    Myself personally, I don’t mind – I even have a few of my own. However I took Mum’s advice and can still wear a strapless dress and not have them seen. As a recruiter for the brand I work for, tattoos aren’t encouraged or discouraged. We see people for who they are, not the designs on their skin – or lack of.

    However, I think that it is becoming more socially acceptable to have tattoos seen in a corporate environment.

  • Leigh Johnson says:

    You comments about the many in the recruitment community being described as having questionable morals etc. is surprising. Don’t we get beat up enough without doing it to ourselves?

  • Amy Toncray says:

    I am an engineering recruiter with 30 years experience. I have worked both agency and corporate sides – currently a corporate recruiter for a 100-year-old engineering consultancy. I also have ink – currently three tattoos on my arms, easily visible. I have not had it negatively impact my career nor my performance in my chosen line of work…

  • Barbs says:

    I interviewed a wonderful lady who had a visible cultural forearm tatau (tattoo) which she explained was an interpretation of her family history. I said to her it would be appropriate for her first interview with my client to cover her tatau. Afterwards I thought I’d made a mistake who was I to tell someone to cover their cultural tatau. The next day I phoned my candidate and apologised for my comment which I believed to be highly offensive to her culture, family and her. My candidate laughed at me and thought how nice it was for me to openly think this way but said not everyone is ready for visible tatau in the workplace. Check out this link

  • I just noticed this job ad that was posted a couple of days before I wrote this blog: for a position at The Canterbury Club with a line at the end stating “If you have any visible tattoos unfortunately you will not be considered for this position.”

  • Galareh says:

    I feel like it depends on your age and gender. As far as we’ve come with equality in the workplace, I am still not convinced that being a 29 year old woman (and I’ve been told that I look much younger than I am) from a Middle eastern background with an ethnic name, that I am not already judged by these factors. Throw in some visible small tattoos on the wrists to a few large ones on my arms, people’s reactions are still the same. They would never think that I would have tattoos. Therefore I always long sleeves to all my interviews and I do wonder if some of my bosses would have hired me had they known. I am an experienced visual merchandiser so the art comes with the job. Pre conceptions need to be addressed in the workplace, especially in New Zealand -as diverse as we are, people automatically think I can’t speak English just because they can’t pronounce my name or that I look different. Throw in some tattoos and they think I’m trouble. Even though I do like defying expectation, I’m not so sure the interviewers do.