Many of us are uncomfortable talking about money, especially when it comes to the details of how much we make. When this question arises, it’s important to think about who is doing the asking. There are plenty of ways to talk money while keeping your “number” discreet—here’s how.
If you’re asked in an interview…..
The real question here isn’t actually how much money you make, but how much money you’re asking to make. Many employers will ask this by saying: “What are your salary requirements?” But you may still come across some stage of the interview process where they’ll ask how much you’re making now. Don’t be lured into providing an exact number here. Focus on how the compensation you want is aligned with the skills you bring to the table and that it will reflect your new responsibilities.
You want to be professional and tactful here too, so this is not the place to complain about your current salary. Responding in this situation might look something like: “My current compensation is tied to the responsibilities I have now, but I know that in this role I’ll be managing more direct reports and be bringing six years of experience to the position. Because of that, this looks very different from what I’m doing now.” Not providing a number is very common, so don’t let the redirection make you uncomfortable!
If a work colleague is asking…
There is almost never a scenario when it’s in your best interest to disclose salary or bonuses to a peer. If a colleague asks how much you make, it’s completely appropriate to respond, “Why do you ask?” This puts the responsibility on them to explain their motivation. Most of the time, they are asking because they believe they are underpaid or are looking to negotiate their own salary. If they let you know they are researching for a raise, shift the conversation to helping them with negotiating tactics rather than sharing an actual number.
You might also suggest they reach out to an HR representative to get a true “average” for the grade of their position to more effectively inform their conversation. In this scenario it’s also perfectly reasonable to let people know you don’t discuss your personal compensation.
If family is asking…
The motivation for this question from family members will vary and can be very personal. Sometimes parents who ask do so out of feeling excited and proud of your career accomplishments. Sharing with them other benefits of your job and opportunities will scratch that itch of them wanting to know about what you’ve achieved: “The salary was a competitive rate and I was offered a lot of great training opportunities.”
Family might also be asking if you’re lucky enough to have their assistance financing your education or something like a down payment on a home. The question of how much you are making is likely to come up when you are paying back this type of personal loan. An option here would be to reassure them that you are comfortable and capable of whatever monthly repayment amount you’ve agreed to, instead of disclosing your exact salary.
If your partner is asking…
This is when to go full disclosure! Being honest with your partner is one of the most important factors when discussing money with your significant other. At some point in a long-term relationship when you are planning financial goals and sharing a life together, your partner should be aware of the details of your personal income. This includes everything from how you earn your salary (is it a base salary or variable, dependent on sales and commissions?) to the stability of income over time. When your partner asks this question, it’s best answered when you have time to make it a thorough discussion.
If it comes up for the first time in a place where you don’t feel that’s possible, acknowledge the question’s importance by setting up a chat for another time: “Thanks for starting this discussion for us; I’m excited to talk more about our financial goals together. Can we spend some time discussing this Sunday after dinner?” The time to chat finances with your loved one is when you two are alone, not under time constraints, and have the emotional energy to devote to a productive discussion.
If friends are asking…
Your closest pals should be a safe space to talk finances, so this response can go a few different ways. Friends asking this question might have an interest in your industry or career and are hoping to get a sense of what their lifestyle could look like doing similar work. If you believe this the motivation, it’s best to still talk in ranges, saying something like, “Most people on my team make between $30,000 and $45,00 annually, but that can also be project dependent.” In this way, you’re providing a broad range, but there is flexibility in the response.
You also don’t have to give your exact salary to engage in honest money talk. Focusing on percentages—the percentage raise you received or lifestyle questions such as what percentage of your income you spend on rent—is another way to have productive salary conversations, while still maintaining some privacy and discretion about personal finances.