August 30, 2013
Erasable ink: Job seekers remove tattoos to improve prospects
Luis Orozco had ferocious orange-and-black tigers snarling out from each of his calves.
Juan Velasquez had a massive red, white and blue eagle spread across his shoulder.
Yolanda Carretero had an Old English-style “L” and flower on her left hand.
They were among several dozen people who flocked to a low-cost tattoo-removal clinic in San Pablo, Calif., recently. Sponsored by the San Pablo Economic Development Corp., the monthly clinic is the first step of the city’s Removing Barriers program that soon will add training on job readiness and fiscal responsibility.
While tattoos are widespread -- a quarter of adults age 30 to 39 have at least one tattoo, while a third of 25- to 29-year-olds are tattooed, a recent Harris Poll found -- career experts say they can be a barrier to employment.
“People with visible tattoos can face significant boundaries,” says Leslay Choy, general manager of the economic development group. “I’ve had bank vice presidents tell me they have back-office employees who are great, but they cannot promote them to tellers because bank customers have certain expectations.
Many tattoo-removal services in the Puget Sound area offer free consultations. Some may offer discounts to students, public-service employees and those seeking to remove gang-affiliation tattoos.
“We have one woman who was offered a promotion, but only on the condition that she keep all her tattoos covered. She had ‘sleeves’ all the way down to her wrists. Finding professional clothing that covered her all the way down all year long in her size is very difficult.”
Gabriela Diaz, of San Pablo, a dental assistant, says her neck tattoo -- her last name in elaborate letters -- makes it harder to get a job. At one job, she wore turtlenecks for the six-month probation period.
Her current boss offered to pay for the removal. But she also was motivated to set an example for her three children, ages 5, 6 and 9. “I don’t want them to get tattooed, so I need to practice what I preach,” Diaz says.
Claire, a college senior who declined to give her last name, says she was having her foot tattoo of masquerade masks removed to prepare her for job hunting when she graduates.
“It’s a real concern for me,” she says. “I feel it’s a really big obstacle in looking for a job.” Employers at department stores and a county department have asked her to keep it covered, she says.
Employers can prohibit visible tattoos as part of a dress code, and most want to set clear policies so it doesn’t appear that they’re discriminating based on lifestyle. But job applicants -- who typically have a difficult time proving “failure to hire” claims under any circumstances -- have little recourse if they think they were rejected for having tattoos.
The tattoo clinic, which started this past spring, is one aspect of a larger program launching this month that will include job skills such as writing cover letters, negotiating conflict, taking directions and career advancement. Another component deals with fiscal responsibility, such as planning ahead to avoid using high-cost check-cashing services.
Participants who complete the training will have some of their tattoo-removal fees refunded.
Depending on size, color and whether it was professionally inked, a tattoo may take from six to 10 sessions to remove.
“My little girl is going to kindergarten this fall and she wants to know what this says,” says Elizabeth Lopez, of Antioch, pointing to the slogan “Trust No 1” on her neck. “I tell her it’s my name; I don’t want her to believe she shouldn’t trust anyone.”
Now, as Lopez takes courses to become a medical assistant, she’s worried that her tattoo could stigmatize her in the job market. “I got this in a friend’s garage when I was 14. I let some guys convince me it was cool,” she says.
She and others at the clinic found that erasing the ink is much harder than getting it in the first place.
“It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life,” says Tuan, of San Jose, who declined to give his last name. “It’s a lot more painful than it was to get a tattoo. I got one on impulse when I was younger and have been regretting it for the past few years.”
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