Posted: March 22nd, 2023

Human Resource Management

Timming A.R. (2015). Visible Tattoos in the Service Sector: A New Challenge to Recruitment and Selection. Work, employment, and society, 29(1) 60–78

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The study by Timming (2015) identifies that there are new challenges that exist in the process of selection and recruitment in many organizations, especially with the popular presence of the body arts. The discussion will be an interesting research carried out by the author, which will be discussed by reviewing the selected literature, conceptual basis, the approach of the research applied, the analysis of the findings, and the application of the discussion developed.


The study by Timming involved 25 in-depth interviews with tattooed respondents and the hiring manager on the impact of the visible tattoos when it comes to hiring for employment. The author justifies the study by revealing that tattoos have a negative effect on the selection and hiring, a facet attached to several considerations by the hiring managers. The author cites several aspects that affect hiring, including the genre of the tattoo, the location of the tattoo on the body, the organization, or industry type, and the proximity of the customer’s role to the customers. All those considerations were the outcome of the interview that the author conducted in various organizations and industries.

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The study utilized a snowball sampling procedure where qualitative interviews were conducted. The interviews with the hiring managers involved 15 respondents and 10 respondents that were visibly tattooed. In these approaches, the study aimed at understanding whether the presence of tattoos in those respondents seeking employment had any impact towards the trend of selection and hiring. The employers who were interviewed demonstrated negative attitude towards those candidates who had visible tattoos. In addition, they all exemplified personal prejudices towards those individuals that had visible tattoos. Surprisingly, even those managers that had tattoos accepted that they would not hire tattooed individuals because of how the customer would view them. Consequently, the respondents who were tattooed agreed that, in some industries, it was almost impossible to acquire a job because of discrimination they received from the potential employers. In fact, half of the tattooed respondents were not employed.

The Main Academic Arguments Made by the Author

The author’s main idea resonates around the prejudices surrounding the body art commonly known as the tattoos in the service sector. The study focuses on the impact of these tattoos, especially the visible body arts on the employment vacancies. The author avers that those individuals with visible tattoos, face several prejudices in the working places when it comes to selection and hiring. In fact, it is evident from the study that employers prejudice against those potential employees who have body tattoos. In addition, the author confirms that the extent of discrimination or prejudice is usually driven by the industry or organization type, the genre of the tattoos, employee role towards the customer, the location of the tattoo, and the managers’ perception of the expectation of the customer regarding employees with the tattoos. In essence, the author highlights that tattoos have become very popular in U.S among the young adults (Antoszewski et al., 2010). In that aspect, tattoos have presented several challenges to the service industry, especially with the hiring managers. Therefore, the topic about tattoos cannot be ignored because of its involvement with unemployment in the United States, and the perception the hiring managers have towards the potential employees with non-concealable tattoos. Under those premises, there are many prejudices, which potential employees face from the hiring managers. From the literature review, the author has identified that tattoos are empirically associated with reduced mental health, promiscuity, anger problems, carrying weapons, substance abuse, decreased intelligence, generosity, and honesty, as well as hepatitis C among others. Consequently, the associations with those vices have made tattoos and tattooed individual receive negative perception.

The Foundational Ideas for the Author’s Claims

The author’s claim on this research indicates that visible tattoos have an impact on the employment chances. Therefore, the author has come up with important ideas that form the foundation of this assertion. First, through the interview conducted and the literature review, the author confirms that there is a huge prevalence of tattoos, more so in the Western societies as depicted by the research. In 2004, it was estimated that one-quarter of the American population, especially adults had tattoos (Laumann and Derick, 2006). In addition, Pew Research Center (2010) confirmed that 38% of Americans aged between 18-29 years had tattoos with 38% having visible tattoos. In the same aspect, Aslam and Owen (2013) reported that more than 25% of adult in the Europe had tattoos. Therefore, the author portrays that the statistics confirm that there is increasing fame of tattoos, a situation that has become a phenomenon and hard to ignore.

More importantly, the author indicates that the more the tattoos become popular, the more prejudices carried out by the recruiters regarding those body arts. The author puts across another important idea concerning the prejudices from the standpoints of the hiring managers in the service sector and the visibly tattooed individuals. The author cites several types of research indicating that tattoos connect to negative concepts. For instance, the author connects tattoos to be empirically associated with carrying weapons (Thurnherr et al., 2009); promiscuity (Wohlrab et al., 2009a); reduced mental health (Stirn et al., 2006); substance abuse (Brooks et al., 2003); decreased honesty, generosity and intelligence (Degelman and Price, 2002), hepatitis C (Stein and Nyamathi, 2004), and  anger problems (Carroll and Anderson, 2002). Considering these premises, the author has founded his claims on the negative aspects about connected tattoos to build his claims, which indicate that there is a negative impact on the visible tattoos to the employment chances.

Finally, through those empirical connections, the author has identified the negative perceptions through his interviews with the hiring managers, an aspect that has confirmed the assertion indicated by the Durkin and Houghton, 2000; Jeffreys, 2000; Wohlrab et al., 2009b, when they asserted that there is a negative association between the recruiters’ perception and the visibly tattooed individuals during job interviews. Just like the cited work, the author has developed important ideas about tattoos, which bring prejudices into play. The whole concept about how tattoos and tattooed people are treated during interviews with the hiring managers and the discrimination they face forms the basis of the author’s claims.

The ‘evidence’ the Author is Drawing upon to Support his Argument

After the interview, the author has drawn some evidence from the respondents, which support his argument. First, the author has identified that all the recruiters’ respondents had a negative attitude towards the interviewees with visible tattoos. This confirms the author’s assertion that tattoos are negatively regarded when it comes to job opportunities. In fact, the recruiters had personal prejudices against those interviewees who had tattoos. In addition, the author is keen to note that even the recruiters who had tattoos would not hire people with tattoos because they worried about the image portrayed by those employees to the company’s customers. The hiring managers connected the tattooed individuals to the negative behavior. For instance, James, who is a manager in a hotel and has a concealed tattoo described individuals with visible tattoos as unemployed lower class individuals who are living on a council estate.

The non-tattooed managers were more disdainful to those individuals with tattoos. In this case, the author identifies Ryan, the owner-manager in a liquor store. Ryan claims that he hates tattoos and considers them horrific. In addition, the sampled managers accepted that their attitudes toward tattoos were based on prejudices, which is enough evidence that supports the author’s argument. However, with all those prejudices from the interviewed managers, there was one aspect the author identified. First, all the hiring managers’ personal views about tattoos and tattooed individuals did not carry a lot of weight. However, what mattered is how the customers regarded the tattooed employees. Therefore, some managers agreed that customers would view those visibly tattooed individuals as untidy, repugnant, abhorrent, and unsavory. The tattooed individuals will be discriminated according to the author because managers will be conservative when hiring them based on their customer’s perception. Therefore, the hiring managers agreed that a visible tattoo would disqualify a candidate from getting a job. However, this is in itself a prejudice because it is more of an assumption rather than a fact.

On the other hand, the author draws more evidence from the tattooed respondents. In this case, the author confirms that only half of those interviewed were employed. However, the prejudice encountered depends on the location of the tattoo. Among the interviewed tattooed respondents, only those with less discreet tattoos were employed. Those with conspicuous tattoos that covered their faces, hands, and necks remained unemployed, except one respondent who is employed in a tattoo shop as a receptionist. More importantly, those with small hidden tattoos perceived their counterpart with visible tattoos negatively. For instance, one respondent with a small tattoo described those with big tattoos on their neck to appear as criminals. There is an extreme case, where the respondent had a conspicuous tattoo on his face. He confirms many instances of prejudices he experienced looking for a job. He confirms that despite his willingness to change and start working, no single employer considered him for employment. Indeed, this respondent is in his 40s and although being a reformed criminal, he cannot secure a job. The author has captured this instance to support his argument by depicting how individuals with non-concealable tattoos are prejudiced.

The Main Findings and Conclusions made by the Author

The author identifies various findings from the interview and literature review. There is increased prevalence of body arts, especially in Western societies. In this aspect, the author claims that as the tattoos increase, so does the social aspects towards the same continue to change. According to the findings, the author highlights that hiring managers are the source of the prejudices connected with the tattoos and the tattooed individuals. In fact, the findings also confirmed that those prejudices are usually driven by the ascribed stereotypes about the clients expectations. To confirm this assertion, the hiring managers specified that their attitudes towards tattoos and visibly tattooed individuals are immaterial compared to the customers’ expectations towards tattooed employees. The respondents with the visible tattoos confirmed that they have been discriminated when searching for jobs by the hiring managers as well as in the working context. In addition, they confirmed that the level of prejudices varied according to the visibility of the tattoo(s) and how they could be concealed when dealing with a customer or during an interview. The author has concluded that other factors that had an impact on employment included the genre of the tattoo, the type of the industry, and the role of the interviewed employee to the customer.

The Potential Weakness in the Author’s line of Argument

The author has only focused towards two classes of respondents, the hiring managers, and the potential employees with visible and concealable tattoos and disregarded the clients’ attitude towards employees with tattoos. In this aspect, the research would have justified the author’s argument, which would have either challenged the hiring managers’ assertions or confirmed their attitude towards tattoos and visibly tattooed individuals. Another potential weakness in the author line of thought is using non-empirical research to support his assertion. Evidently, in some instances, the author cites research that was based on students’ work. Although the author was quick to mention the issue, it makes the argument weak and creates room for scrutiny, which might make this research to lose the fundamental tenets of scholarly work. Another issue is the small sample size used by the author, although it might be representative, it is too small to conclude with such finality the impact of tattoos on recruitment as the author has done. The holistic issues of tattoos would have required a large sample size randomly selected in a multi-dimensional industries, which would capture the general feeling about the subject matter. Finally, snowball sampling may not be representative because the researcher does not know the population distribution of the sample. In addition, it can be subject to bias because the initial nominees will only nominate those people they know and there might be a possibility that they will nominate their friends with whom they share characteristics and traits.

Aspects of the Author’s Argument

I agree with the aspect that tattoos have contributed negatively towards the trend of selection and hiring based on the interview carried out on the hiring managers and the tattooed individuals. However, on the same note, I disagree with the author when he categorically indicates that only various factors affect the level of prejudices and discrimination depicted by the hiring managers. In fact, the issue of tattoos is entirely based on the prejudices of the hiring managers as opposed to the customers’ perspective because even those managers who had tattoos were skeptical of the ability of the visibly tattooed individuals. This would only be agreeable based on research, which would have depicted their inability to perform in the organizations. However, the author did not collect data on the performance of visibly tattooed individuals compared to non-tattooed individuals in any of the organization. Consequently, such assertion would not withstand further scrutiny if the research would tackle a larger scope.

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