Dear Claudia,

I recently submitted a highly qualified candidate to a search and the hiring manager called him directly for a pre-screen. While they were talking on the phone, the HM did some snooping on the Internet and found this candidate’s Facebook page, complete with pictures of his near full-body tattoo. It turns out the HM doesn’t like tattoos, so he closed the candidate off. I’m pretty angry over the whole thing, because candidates with this mix of skills are very hard to come by in any economy. The HM is an idiot, but isn’t this also a form of discrimination? I’ve seen the candidate in an interview setting, and he looks completely professional (nothing shows below the wrist or above the shirt neckline). How can I get the HM to rethink his decision?

Amazed by the Stupidity



Dear Amazed,

Isn’t it funny how recruiting (matchmaking, really) always seems to be dancing with personal bias? Everybody has a bias in the hiring process, even when they try hard not to: the Hiring Manager, the candidate…heck, even your own bias as a recruiter (what you think the HM needs, or even your own likes and dislikes in personality types or communication styles) screens folks in and out of the pipeline. It’s just how the human brain works: we categorize things that are similar, and we tend to perceive what we expect to perceive.

In and of itself, bias isn’t a bad thing. But it’s good to keep in mind the domino effect it has: bias influences what we perceive about the world around us, and what we perceive influences how we choose to behave. And behavior most often gets us into trouble: social norms evolve to help people understand how to play nicely with others in the sandbox; legal systems evolve to provide consequences when we cross the line.

So is this manager discriminating against the candidate? You don’t say if the company has a tattoo policy -- but if they do, and if that policy is applied equally to both men and women in the workplace, there’s no foul here. Employers have the right to implement grooming and dress policies to protect legitimate business interests.

But if this is nothing more than a Hiring Manager’s bias affecting his decision making process, you have two choices: reason with him, or take your most excellent candidate and market him to the competition. I’m guessing that this difficult-to-find skillset will be most interesting to Managers who couldn't care less about body art but are highly biased toward market dominance.

Happy recruiting!


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Dear Claudia -

I believe that clients, within the scope of applicable employment laws, have the right to determine the reasons for accepting or rejecting a candidate. Frequently, we as recruiters have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. In this case, I agree with your recommendation to market the candidate elsewhere. If the candidate is really that good and is also uniquely qualified, placement is only a matter of time.

From a candidate side, I often marvel at the choices candidates make as they venture out into the recruiting world. Pictures on MySpace and Facebook must be appropriate to the position being sought and candidates need to know that hiring managers and recruiters will check them. In a competitive market place like this one is, all candidates and recruiters need to make certain that hiring managers are not given an excuse to say "no".

Tom
Sorry Karen - but you are once again looking to the GOVERNMENT to "protect" us from ourselves, aren't you? It really surprises me to see someone in this business - a business which is really quite an entreprenerial field - to look to the government as much as you. Not trying to start a flame war here - just a reasonable dialogue about your need to be protected so much by the government. Very odd, really.....

But on to this recruiter's situation.

How about this? "Look dude you are obviously interested in making sure anyone with a PC is fully aware of your gorgeous tatoos. Tatoos are important to you - otherwise you wouldn't be advertising them. I've got some good news for you. It turns out you wouldn't be happy working with my client because the manager doesn't like tatoos and since they are an important part of who you are - this isn't going to work out. Aren't you glad we found out BEFORE going to work there?"

No need for the government to solve these issues.
Jerry, the government protecting the privacy of candidates means different things to different people, does it not?

Jerry Albright said:
Sorry Karen - but you are once again looking to the GOVERNMENT to "protect" us from ourselves, aren't you? It really surprises me to see someone in this business - a business which is really quite an entreprenerial field - to look to the government as much as you. Not trying to start a flame war here - just a reasonable dialogue about your need to be protected so much by the government. Very odd, really.....

But Karen - this issue is not about needing to be protected. Isn't the candidate responsible for the image they create for the world to see? But now you're saying the government needs to step in and "protect" them from the reaction by employers for those images?

Sorry but I don't agree with needing Big Brother at every turn - especially when it comes to the ramifications of individual choice.
This is the government speaking - we will not allow your children to listen to Black Sabbath because they might hang themselves. We hope you appreciate us stepping in because we really didn't think that you as a parent were capable.

Jerry Albright said:
But Karen - this issue is not about needing to be protected. Isn't the candidate responsible for the image they create for the world to see? But now you're saying the government needs to step in and "protect" them from the reaction by employers for those images?

Sorry but I don't agree with needing Big Brother at every turn - especially when it comes to the ramifications of individual choice.
Karen I did not misquote or take anything out of context. That is in fact what you have just done. You grabbed the part of your intial reply that had nothing to do with my response to you....so I'll add in the part you chopped (which is the part I replied to)

Here it is:

Personally I cannot wait for the Government to allow the candidate to have more privacy on the internet,KarenM said:Lastly.. why or why is it, that with you and a few other individuals, that whenever I write something I have to repeat my main statement.. because my initial comments get taken out of context or misquoted?

My initial comment or question in this situation were----
---- "Anyways, till then, there are unfortunately many who still believe that what's online stays online, and that their Privacy "rights" take precedence.. so, I wonder, how many of us recruiters will maintain objectivity? educate our candidates about the reality of their "privacy" and allow them to be prepared for the hardships of looking for employment?

Or would we be subjective as well?" End Quote

So what you are saying there is EXACTLY what I replied to. You can't wait for the government to "give" us the control we already have? Really? The individual already has 100 PERCENT control over their privacy - THAT privacy being what they CHOOSE to reveal about their dumb asses all over the internet!

I can't go on here. The mere fact that you ask the government to "give" you what you already have is hard for me to grasp. Even with over 22 years of experience in the staffing world - (for Nick!)
I look at it this way - it's a free country, and everyone gets to express themselves.. tattoo guy can express himself thru body art, and mr. hiring manager can express his preference by excluding the guy from his company.

Everybody wins.

Will excluding tattoo guy cost the hiring manager? of course..by the position remaining open, by not having tattoo guys mad ninja skills on his payroll, etc..

Chances are, the hiring manager is quite prepared to live by his prejudices, no matter the cost.

Does tattoo guys decision to express himself thru body art also carry a cost? yes indeed.. cost of lost opportunities, societal shunning, etc.

Chances are, this isn't tattoo guys first rodeo, so he's probably adult enough to realize this sort of thing happens.

Try as we might, we'll never eradicate things like free expression, or prejudice. So we deal.

best thing to do - take the super candidate to someone who appreciates him for who he is, and can pay your fee.

In closing -

I do reject the notion that tattoo guy needs to be apologized for, or excused when presented because he was "probably drunk when he got that tattoo".. he knew what he was doing - you don't get full body tattoos unless you're aware and committed..and tattoo artists won't work on drunk people..too jittery..

again, if tattoo guy is a grownup, he's used to this, and if your hiring manager is a grownup, all he cares about is skillset, work ethic, and how well he works with others. find a grownup to show your candidates to - they're out there.
Sandra McCartt said:
Thomas,
agreed on all points. The "drunk when he got the tat "was a tongue in cheek thingy. Joke, satire whatever, of course he knew. :)

Sandra - duly noted. Dry humor & sarcasm = ;)
I know a few things about tattoos; any other recruiters here who aren't afraid of letting them show???

This thread is all the days of Hanukkah and Christmas morning rolled into one big present; thanks Claudia!!!

I have been "biased" as a result of someone seeing my tats and questioning whether I'm business enough; my response to them is you're dumber than a - Sandra, please fill in some juicy Texas phrase here. None of my tats show up in biz attire, even short sleeve shirts. I figure if Mrs. Davis likes them then executives should like them too...

You know that plot of hair affixed to my chin? I have it because my late uncle - really a second father to me while growing up - had one too. I've been asked by "recruiters" to shave it before company interviews; they couldn't understand why I told them to give the interview to someone else. In fact, I remember one in particular who was actually angry that I turned her down; she's now connected to me on LinkedIn and follows me on Twitter. Guess she's no longer angry and likes my network.

What always strikes me is that companies will look look at talent superficially with one eye while complaining out of one side of their mouth that they can't find qualified people. I think they have a slew of unqualified recruiters with no balls and managers with lobotomies. These same companies probably have a diversity initiative that they like to boast about when showing a picture of their three black women executives. These companies are stupid and in time their balance sheets will suffer and all tattoo lovers, piercing aficionados, hair dyers, etc. will laugh in their general directions.

Anyway - notice I didn't write "anyways" - I gave Claudia the idea for this question and even with Karen hijacking the thread it has gone better than I thought it would. Frankly, business IS two faced and no matter how regulated something is, it still exists. CRA didn't eradicate discrimination, it simply pushed it underground. So I'm against regulation because there are people far smarter than those who work for our government who will quickly find ways around the regs.

BTW, I listened to Karen and Jimmy's podcast with the former Texas AG - what a knucklehead! See my comments here.
A business owner can make a decision based on whatever they want to, whether or not they explicitly reveal why certain people were not hired is up to them. If the HM felt that their customer base, or internal employees, more importantly his/her bosses, the President/CEO, etc...would be put off by someone with tattoos, then so be it.

If you are a candidate in this economy and with the rise of social media, you better damn well be aware of what pictures there are of you on the internet...This permeates every facet of culture, i.e. Michael Phelps...Beware of what you put on your myspace, facebook pages...And if the candidate was so proud of their tatts, then back to Jerry's point, this wouldn't have a been a good fit for the candidate either.

You always have to look at fit from both sides of the fence, as a recruiter getting paid by the client company, don't always look for the client satisfaction, you have to place the candidate in a job where he/she will be happy...It should be a perfect fit for both sides of the equation.
Notwistanding all of the side trips in this thread so far, responses have been pretty interesting this week and I thank each of you for adding to the conversation.

We've gone from tattoos and body art to Internet privacy, from personal bias to Hiring Manager stupidity - and my question to you remains: as recruiters, what is within our sphere of influence in hiring, and how are these events shaped by even our own bias?

This morning I read a timely article and video on the BBC called "Could this woman get a job in your office?" It featured advice from one of Britain's leading recruitment consultants for a woman whose appearance included tats, piercings, dreadlocks, and a rather creative style of dress; as you might expect, recruiters who place candidates into more professional-level jobs with more mainstream companies see the world from a more conservative viewpoint. The video was actually more interesting to me than the article, as it juxtaposed the recruiter's advice with snips of comments from people on the street. I won't tell you the punch line, but it contains even more food for thought on this topic.

Some of you may know that my youngest son (now 26 and living on his own quite successfully for many years) is a tattoo artist (and a good one, in case you're looking for a recommendation). I've watched from the sidelines over the years while he has, inch by inch, covered about 70% of his body with a real-life business card; some of the tattoos are hideous (my opinion, of course), some tell stories of his past, and still others others are spectacular to look at.

The only time we really argued about his tatoos was when he wanted to ink the tops of his hands; I suggested that since his goals included opening a shop of his own in the future he might consider that moment when he would be sitting across from a banker to ask for a loan. "Leave yourself the opportunity to look professional by simply putting on a long sleeved dress shirt when you need it," I said. Did he take my advice? Of course not. He was 23 at the time, and at that moment I was just his Mom.

Some things never change, my friends - which is why I suspect we'll never be able to legislate privacy laws to the point that Hiring Managers (or interviewers, or recruiters) won't make decisions at least in part based upon personal bias. What say you?
This is the government speaking again. In addition to not letting your children listen to Black Sabbath, don't let them listen to the white album or any zeppelin album backwards. The devil will appear and make them hang themselves and there is no way you can be responsible for that so that is why i am intervening.

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