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Do tattoos work against you?

‘Body art’ more accepted in the workplace, still can be a liability

STERLING – Tattoos are taboo no more.

According to local tattoo artists, many doctors, business people, and other professionals are walking into local parlors and coming out with body art.

Although body art might have been considered a career killer at one time, more ink is finding its way onto the skin of the educated, trained and respected – but it still might need to be carefully placed.

Richard “Opie” Callihan, owner of Opie’s Tats in Morrison, has inked neurologist, a funeral home director, and nursing assistants who are training to be nurses.

“Business people, professional people are starting to get tattoos without any worries,” Callihan said. “The whole taboo stage where it’s unacceptable, I think that’s over.”

He has noticed people getting tattoos on body parts where the art can be concealed but still easy to show off, such as under a T-shirt sleeve. Previously, many professionals would get the tattoos only on more discreet places, such as the shoulder blade, he said.

People still need to be careful about tattoo placement, or they might lose out on certain types of jobs, according to two local placement professionals.

Robert Urbanski, director of human resources at Frantz Manufacturing in Sterling, said he didn’t usually take tattoos into account when making hiring decisions.

“In most cases, the people who come in for job interviews ... have them covered anyway, unless they’re on the face or neck or somewhere that’s exposed,” Urbansk said.

But if he is filling an office postion that would require interaction with customers, tattoos give him pause, he said. He might consider hiring a person with a tattoo that covers the face – but only for a position that does not involve contact with customers, he said.

“If it’s not something where they’re interacting with the community as a representative of the organization, it may not be that big of a problem,” Urbanski said.

“[Tattoos] obviously are becoming more common,” he said. “Whether that translates into being more accepted in the workplace is hard to say now. I think they’re just more prevalent than they used to be.”

Sally Hanrahan is senior career adviser at Business Employment Skills Team in Dixon. Her nonprofit organization trains local residents for jobs and places them in positions in a variety of workplaces and industries.

Like Urbanski, Hanrahan said the type of workplace and the location on the body can affect a tattoo’s appropriateness.

Employers don’t tell her they don’t want tattooed applicants, they express a desire for employees who have a “professional appearance” and who are willing to abide by a stated dress code, she said.

However, the organization recommends that job seekers assume employers want tattoos covered up during work hours.

“When they go out there, we want them to err on the side of caution.”

Applicants should feel free to ask about a company’s tattoo policy, Hanrahan said.

“I think that’s a very important question to be asked. You need to know if you’re going to be required to wear a long-sleeved shirt in the summertime.”

People with tattoos in highly visible places, like faces, should be prepared for it to limit their career options, she said.

“People who choose to get tattoos on hands, neck, faces, I think they understand that potentially that may hinder an opportunity down the road,” she said.

Lori Zeman, 40, of Walnut, is a marketing manager at an auto dealership. She also has been a manger in a fast-food restaurant and has hired the tattooed.

“I have been in the position of interviewing people with tattoos and hired them if they had the qualifications to perform the job,” she said.

She herself has a tattoo, which memorializes her late mother, Patricia Halsey of Princeton. The tattoo is high on one arm, a strategic location.

“It is on my upper arm so that it doesn’t interfere with keeping a professional appearance,” she said, “as I am aware of that necessity in most work environments.”

About this series

This is the third story in a series by SVM reporter Bridget Flynn called Sauk Valley Ink. The series will feature local tattoo shops and local perspectives on tattoos.

If you have a tattoo and a story behind it, please send us a photo of the body art, a photo of yourself, and a description of the tattoo's meaning. Send the photos and info to Flynn at or send it to the Facebook page. We will publish some of the most intriguing body art.

If you are a parent with an opinion about your son or daughter having a tattoo, please e-mail Flynn or call her at 815-625-3600, ext. 521.

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