Wednesday, May 16, 2012

do I really have to get a haircut (and cover my tatts and remove my piercings) to get a real job?

With decades of experience in corporate environments both as a grunt and as a decision maker, I have witnessed the results of all sorts of interesting decisions about personal branding.

When I say branding, I mean in the overall sense, not just in the burning or scarification sense, although the latter is often a component of the former.

Most people I know who include piercing, tattoos and other body mods in their personal brand, have done so in a way that does not affect perceptions at work. 

It's still a fact that many large corporates are very conservative. Even though tattoos are pretty mainstream, the old manager who is not far from retirement, and has worked her way up from bank teller or cashier, will not wish her boss, who is older and even more conservative, to see that she hired someone with visible tatts on their wrist, arm or neck, no matter how artistic or tasteful it is. 

There are airlines that, if you're lucky enough to be hired with a visible tattoo, you will be required to cover it with a bandage. 


A young guy I know who worked in management consulting had the biggest single tattoo I had seen. It was a giant eagle that covered his whole back. It was a 21st birthday gift from his dad. His tattoo was a personal thing. Nobody saw it. He had short back and sides, wore great suits and tailored shirts. He looked like a consultant should look. 

On the flip side, a graduate at the same company came into work a month into his short career at the company with a pierced eyebrow. It didn't help that it looked like a DIY job, with bruises and scabs. As he was already on a warning for various behaviours that didn't gel with the management consulting image of the business, he was told, subtly but certainly, that the eyebrow ring had to go. This might seem discriminatory, but our clients who paid the bills, were hard to please. They were conservative and paying for an image as much as a skillset. If we couldn't bill the guy out, we couldn't keep employing him. As it was, drinking on work time, absence from crucial meetings and missing deadlines meant this same guy didn't last long anyway.

When I wanted to get a job better than the one I had in a telemarketing company back in the early nineties, I quickly realized that shaving my beard off, getting a haircut and removing all but one of my ear piercings was the way to get past the interview stage.

They didn't have to know about nipple piercings or tattoos. Once I was in, I grew the beard back one long weekend, but the earrings never came back. 

Eventually the nipple piercings went too, but this was a purely practical decision, as practicing a martial art meant that i kept running the risk of ripping one out in training. The times I was hit or otherwise had pressure put on the rings caused pain and sometimes slight tearing. It hurt worse than getting them done in the first place.

It's all about choice and sometimes also about practicality. If you're the sort of person who wants to work for a well known consulting firm or professional services company, don't risk your chances with personal branding that runs counter to theirs. 

When you're the boss, make new rules. Just remember that the young rebels of the 70s and 80s are the senior managers of today. Something broke inside of them before they could revolutionise the workplace.
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