â??If you choose to sport tattoos and piercings, you limit where you can work,â?? said Carter Stanfield, author, â??Fundamentals of HVAC/R.â?? (Photo courtesy of Kelvyn Skee, https://flic.kr/p/aw1t2v)
“If you choose to sport tattoos and piercings, you limit where you can work,” said Carter Stanfield, author, “Fundamentals of HVAC/R.” (Photo courtesy of Kelvyn Skee)

In the U.S., where one in five adults now has a tattoo and nearly two in five adults in their 30s have ink somewhere on their bodies, the stigma attached to tattoos has begun to fade in recent years. Yet, despite society’s growing acceptance of tattoos — and, to a lesser degree, piercings — several HVAC contractors still consider them to be deal breakers when interviewing potential employees.

“The better contractors out there are looking to hire people who are clean-cut,” said Steve Coscia, president, Coscia Communications Inc. “If you go for a job interview with nose and ear piercings and visible tattoos, and you want a job with a first-rate contractor, you may not get that job as easily as someone who does not have the piercings and visible tattoos.”

Steven Wobig, general manager at Central Carolina Air Conditioning, Greensboro, North Carolina, agreed. “I think, as service people going into customers’ homes, we have to be aware of what they want. There are some people who don’t mind beards, piercings, tattoos, or smoke, but there are just as many who probably do.”

First Impressions Count

Like it or not, technicians only get one chance to make a first impression on a customer or potential employer. If that impression isn’t a good one, they may never get another chance — and the company may have lost a customer. A large part of that first impression, said Joe Kokinda, president and CEO at Professional HVAC/R Services Inc., Avon Lake, Ohio, is appearance.

“I, personally, will have a first impression, as anyone else would, when someone presents themselves for a job interview,” he said, recalling one job interview where a well-dressed young technician came to the interview wearing khakis and a long-sleeved shirt. “Once hired, his tattoos were seen. I was surprised, but not offended. He is no longer with us, but not because of the tattoos.”

Robin Boyd, HVAC advisor and consultant at H-VAC Consulting, Willow Street, Pennsylvania, said he finds tattoos and piercings distracting and off-putting during interviews. “If I had a choice between two candidates with even skills, one with tattoos and/or piercings and one without, I would choose to hire the one without,” he said. “Why add a layer of consumer wariness about your company to the mix?”

George Lanthier, owner of Firedragon Academy, Leicester, Massachusetts, said he doesn’t have anything against tattoos, but many of his customers do. “Why hire just to fire? Regretfully, that’s what it comes down to, because if my customers don’t want you, I can’t keep you.”

Exceptions to the Rule

While their technicians’ appearances are important to many contractors, it is a low priority for others — especially when a technician has proven to be extremely capable. But these are, more often than not, the exceptions to the rule.

Coscia, who offers soft skills training for technicians and installers, recalled a training session nearly a decade ago where “a 50-something-year-old employee with a beard, visible tattoos, and his long gray hair tied into a ponytail looked rough, but was polite and cordial.” The employee was a “customer favorite” whose only fault was he spent too much time in customers’ homes — customers who would bake him cookies and invite him to sit and chat. “These customers just liked his personality, regardless of his appearance,” Coscia said. “While this anecdote is uncommon, exceptions like this do occur.”

D. Brian Baker, The NEWS’ 2013 Best Instructor and president of Custom Vac Ltd. in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, said he doesn’t even consider appearance, except when it might affect a worker’s safety.

“Body art is so low on the list that we have dismissed a potential employee long before their body art entered the discussion,” Baker explained. “Piercings are another issue because of health and safety [concerns] because we work around electrical currents. I have a few pretty good stories that did not end well for a few individuals in these situations.”

Baker also suggested contractors might sometimes have to look past physical appearance if they want to hire the most proficient workers. “When it comes to finding the best talent in the market place today, we had better be a little more open and be very mindful of discrimination.”

Everything in Moderation

While some contractors have a hard and fast rule prohibiting visible tattoos and piercings, others say they do not find them distracting. However, most contractors agree there is a line.

“I have hired and not hired many applicants over the past 36 years,” said Sam Krumholz, CEO at Bentwood Consulting, Gaston, Oregon. “I have facial hair and a couple of tattoos, so unless the person had other distracting ‘accessories,’ their attitude and skills are more important. I do not consider pierced ears or tasteful tattoos a major distraction.”

However, Krumholz said there are some body modifications he will not accept in certain situations.

“I find face, lip, nose, and tongue piercings a major distraction and believe my customers would feel the same way,” he said. “If the person is not going to be in direct contact with the customers, I would defer to finding the best person for the job.”

When it comes to body modifications like tattoos and piercings, it’s all about moderation, said Richard Hilliard, a licensed plumber, sales trainer, and author of “Outside the Business Box: All about Sales.”

“Of course, moderation is the key, yet, somehow, it is taken to the extreme where the tats are all over the body with skull and crossbones or designs depicting a satanic ritual with long, stringy, dirty hair and smell due to not taking a shower in weeks,” he said. “You are not going to hire that person to work with the consumer. It is always about moderation.”

In the end, it all comes down to personal choices, said Carter Stanfield, author, “Fundamentals of HVAC/R.”

“Tattoos and piercings are a matter of personal choice,” he said. “You have a right to exercise that choice for personal expression. The employer also has a right to choose not to hire you because of it. There are employers who are fine with body art, and there are employers who are not. Being that some are not, if you choose to sport tattoos and piercings, you limit where you can work. People should know that before they take the plunge.”

Publication date: 10/27/2014

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