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!


In my day job, I’m the Head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here.

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So does that mean I should take my naked picture off of Facebook then? Darn!

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