Body art and its impact on employment selection decisions

Body art and its impact on employment selection decisions: Is there a bias towards candidates with visible tattoos?

Biases are an important factor to understand when recruiting. In the past, tattoos were thought to hold candidates back in recruitment processes but this may no longer be the case.

A recent study MCom student, Simone Woodford, suggests that having visible body art – tattoos – may not reduce employment opportunities as previously shown (e.g., Timming et al., 2017). Simone’s study investigated whether the presence of visible body art biases short-listing decisions, and whether such bias varied as a function of job type. The experimental study included both blue and white collar roles in the constructions industry, with some candidate photos embedded in an application showing a visible tattoo.

The findings indicated that for the blue-collar role, the job applicant with visible tattoo was actually preferred, while there was no difference in job applicant evaluations for the white-collar role as a function of having or not having a tattoo. Simone’s findings suggest that visible body art may in fact work in a candidate’s favour in certain roles, and that tattoos in employment may be more acceptable than previously shown. This is perhaps explained the increased prevalence and acceptance of tattoos in society.

As with any research, this study isn’t without its limitations. An experimental design restricted the number of job applicants being compared and only two roles (one blue and one white collar; both in the construction industry) were compared. In addition, the participant sample for the study were university students. Future research should investigate such biases with a management/HR sample, and include a broader selection of roles and/or industries.


For further information on the research, contact Simone’s supervisors, Russell Wordsworth (Russell.wordsworth@canterbury.ac.nz) or Sanna Malinen (sanna.malinen@canterbury.ac.nz)



  • Woordford, S. (2018). Body art and its impact on employment selection decisions: Is there a bias towards candidates with visible tattoos? A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Commerce in Management. University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
  • Timming, A. R., Nickson, D., Re, D., & Perrett, D. (2017). What do you think of my ink? assessing the effects of body art on employment chances. Human Resource Management, 56(1), 133-149. doi:10.1002/hrm.21770