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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Grocutt

Tattooed Job Applicants: Do Job Qualifications Matter?

Henle, C. A., Shore, T. H., Murphy, K. R., & Marshall, A. D. (2022). Visible tattoos as a source of employment discrimination among female applicants for a supervisory positionJournal of Business and Psychology37, 107-125.

 

As tattoos increase in prevalence, we might expect less employment discrimination towards tattooed people. Yet, increased prevalence does not necessarily mean increased acceptance. And there are still many questions regarding tattooed job applicants. For example, do different types of tattoos differentially affect whether tattooed applicants will be hired? What role do job qualifications and experience of the tattooed applicant play in hiring decisions?

 

Dr. Christine Henle and colleagues examined employment outcomes for women applying for a supervisory position. They conducted three studies to:

(1) test whether women with tattoos were disadvantaged in hiring and salary decisions,

(2) examine job qualifications as a factor that could mitigate any disadvantage,

(3) examine volunteer experience as a factor that could mitigate any disadvantage.

 


AI generated image of tattooed business woman
AI generated image of tattooed business woman


Study 1

 

In the first study, fictional LinkedIn[1] profiles were created to show job applicants, including two applicants with visible tattoos. One of these applicants with visible tattoos had a “mild” tattoo – harmless, pleasant, and subtle – which was a blue dolphin on her arm. The other applicant with visible tattoos had “extreme” tattoos – aggressive, distracting, and overdone – which were a scorpion on her neck and a tribal band with flames on her wrist. The profiles were equivalent in all other aspects, such as qualifications.

 

There were 143 participants, all with supervisory and hiring experience. Participants were shown eight different job applicants and asked to rate these applicants on how competent and warm they perceived the applicant, rate how likely they would be to hire the applicant, and recommend a starting salary (within a range of $80,000 to $95,000).

 

Outcomes of interest

(1)  Perceptions of job applicants’ competence and warmth

(2)  Likelihood of hiring the job applicant

(3)  Recommended starting salary (within the $80,000 to $95,000 range)

 

Results

 

Job applicants with visible tattoos, mild or extreme, were rated lower on perceived competence than job applicants with no visible tattoos (there were no differences for perceived warmth).

 

Job applicants with visible tattoos, mild or extreme, were rated lower on likelihood of hiring and recommended starting salary compared to non-tattooed job applicants. In addition, the job applicant with extreme visible tattoos was rated lower on likelihood of hiring compared to the applicant with mild tattoos (there was no difference in recommended starting salary).

 

Note: even the applicant with extreme tattoos was rated above the mid-point on likelihood to hire; thus, tattoos do not necessarily mean an applicant will not get hired, but they are less likely to be hired than applicants with no tattoos or mild tattoos.

 

Study 2

 

The second study used the same fictional LinkedIn profiles but added different job qualifications. Specifically, there was a minimally qualified version in which awards received were removed from the profile, and a highly qualified version in which a section was added for “Awards and Professional Recognition” that listed performance awards relevant to the job and advanced education (e.g., MBA).

 

There were 148 participants, and all had supervisory and hiring experience to be eligible to complete the survey (and they could not have participated in Study 1). The same questions were asked, but the salary range was widened to $75,000-$95,000.

 

Outcomes of interest

(1)  Likelihood of hiring the job applicant

(2)  Recommended starting salary (within the $75,000 to $95,000 range)

 

Results

  

Similar to Study 1, job applicants with visible tattoos, mild or extreme, were rated lower on likelihood of hiring compared to job applicants with no visible tattoos that were similarly qualified. Job qualifications did not matter for the relationship between tattoo status and likelihood of hiring.


Job qualifications did matter for the relationship between tattoo status and salary recommendations. Highly qualified job applicants received similar starting salary recommendations regardless of tattoo status. Minimally qualified job applicants with visible tattoos, mild or extreme, received lower starting salary recommendations compared to minimally qualified applicants with no visible tattoos.

 

Study 3

 

The third study again used the fictional LinkedIn profiles; however, volunteer experience was added. In addition, for the tattoos, the mild tattoo job applicant profile was removed, such that this study compared no tattoos to extreme tattoos. For qualifications, the outstanding qualifications version of the profile was used (the minimally qualified profile was removed).

 

There were 139 participants, and all were required to have supervisory and hiring experience to be eligible to complete the survey (and they could not have participated in the previous studies).

 

Outcomes of interest

(1) Likelihood of hiring the job applicant

(2)  Recommended starting salary (within the $75,000 to $95,000 range)

 

Results

 

Again, job applicants with visible tattoos were rated lower on likelihood of hiring and were recommended a lower starting salary compared to job applicants with no visible tattoos. Having volunteer experience did not affect these relationships.

 

 

Key Takeaways: What does this mean for tattooed women applying for jobs?

 

Across three studies, Henle and colleagues found that women job applicants with visible tattoos, compared to those with no tattoos, were disadvantaged in hiring decisions. In addition, women with "extreme" visible tattoos were more disadvantaged than those with "mild" visible tattoos.

 

Having visible tattoos was related to lower likelihood of hiring; however, the average ratings were still above the mid-point, which indicates that while there may be a disadvantage of having visible tattoos, this does not necessarily mean those with visible tattoos would not get hired. In addition, the disadvantages were amplified when the job applicants had minimal qualifications (yet volunteer experience did not affect the disadvantage experienced).


TL;DR: 3 Questions answered:
  1. Are job applicants with visible tattoos disadvantaged in hiring? Yes, having visible tattoos is related to a lower likelihood of hiring compared to applicants with no tattoos (and this is greater for tattoos that are extreme/aggressive compared to those that are mild/subtle).

  2. Do job qualifications play a role? Yes, being minimally qualified amplifies the disadvantages of having visible tattoos.

  3. Does volunteer experience play a role? No, having volunteer experience does not make a difference for highly qualified job applicants with visible tattoos.




 

[1] LinkedIn profiles were used instead of resumes because LinkedIn profiles typically do have photos attached whereas resumes typically do not.

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