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Tattoos at Work: Show and Tell?

Tattoos at Work: Show and Tell?

By Robert DiGiacomo, for Yahoo! HotJobs

For Jen Denis, a senior art director at a Philadelphia-based ad agency, having a tattoo has been a nonissue where her career is concerned.

At her agency, Gyro Worldwide, a boutique firm known for cutting-edge work for major fashion and liquor brands, about a third to half of her art department colleagues have tattoos. Denis has three Japanese-inspired designs, covering roughly two-thirds of her back.

"It's not expected that I have a conservative appearance," says Denis, adding that the agency's creative culture is "not about who we are or how we look."

During a previous job at a more corporate agency, Denis, 30, often covered her tattoos, but she doesn't see any reason why her body art would limit her career prospects. Her experience nonetheless highlights a fluid tolerance for employee tattoos.

Trust Your Instincts

The decision on whether to reveal your tattoo on the job depends in large part on your field and your office environment.

"You have to use your own discretion in terms of what's appropriate and what's not appropriate," says Stephen Viscusi, a corporate headhunter and author of On the Job: How to Make It in the Real World of Work. "There's no right or wrong answer. It has to do with the industry you're in, and what's acceptable for that industry."

The Big Cover-Up

If you're unsure about how your tattoo will be received in a job interview, cover it up, recommends Donna Flagg, president of the Krysalis Group, a New York City-based human resources and management consulting firm. "I would always play it conservative because you just don't know enough about the organization yet."

What Defines You?

Don't let an especially prominent tattoo upstage your appearance as a professional.

"It's fine to be an individual, but anything that's going to separate you isn't necessarily a plus," says Viscusi, who also hosts a syndicated radio show on workplace issues. "If it's a snake, a religious image, or an ex-husband or ex-wife, it distracts from who you might be. Instead of being the smart person in cubicle so-and-so, you're the one with the snake."

Grounds for Dismissal

If your company has a no-tattoo rule -- or a dress code stipulating tattoos should be covered -- you could run the risk of being fired if you don't conform.

"It's really about an agreement," Flagg says. "If we state clearly we have a no-tattoo policy, then displaying yours could be grounds for firing, just like with any policy."

My Generation

People in their 20s and 30s are more likely to view tattoos as just another fashion accessory, while colleagues or bosses older than 40 may think otherwise.

"It's a generational conflict," Flagg says. "Even in a cool, hip company, there are still people in their 40s or 50s who ascribe meaning to tattoos...and think they are a rogue or rebellious thing to do. That's not how it's being seen in the generation that's having them done."

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