“It’s tacky to talk about money.” How many times have we heard that? How often have we been discouraged from discussing financial matters with others? In some aspects, this is absolutely correct: money talk is tacky. But there’s one number that we do ourselves a disservice by not discussing: salaries.
How much we get paid is a conversational minefield. It’s so deeply ingrained in us not to talk about money that we guard our salaries like state secrets. And in some contexts, that’s wise. Within your own company, for example. In many workplaces, discussing salaries with coworkers can be a terminable offense. And really, no good can come of knowing what the person in the next cubicle makes. Either you make more and they feel badly, or they make more and you feel badly. Once you’re locked into a salary, making more money is often a near-impossible prospect. And that’s why we need to get over our salary silence.
The best time to negotiate how much money you make is when you’re interviewing for a job. Once there’s a number thrown out there, you’re generally going to be locked within 10% or so of that figure for your entire time at your position. So it’s in your best interest to start out with that number high. The trouble is, we seem to have a problem knowing how high is high enough, and how high is too high, and we can’t figure it out because no one’s talking.
Sure, there are resources for finding out what people in your industry and area make. Glassdoor.com and similar sites allow you to search specific companies and positions to find out all kinds of information, including salary. But we’re missing out on a huge resource here: each other. We have such a fear of discussing “numbers” that very few of us know what the others make.
I was recently witness to a conversation between two acquaintances who do almost identical types of freelance work, with similar work histories and (as far as I know) similar levels of skill. Throughout the course of a drunken evening, as these things tend to come about, it came out that one acquaintance commanded an hourly rate nearly double what the other person earned. Both were flabbergasted. And they each earned what they did because it’s what they asked for. The acquaintance who was getting paid less tried a little experiment before her next contract with a new company: she asked for the higher rate. And she got it, because it was within the norm of what that company paid for that work. She doubled her earning with two conversations.
So why aren’t we talking about this more? Why is it such a mystery what we all make? So few of us wander into our first “grown-up” job interviews with any real idea of what we could or should be getting paid. So many of us have limited our own earning potential by entering salary negotiations without the information we need to ask for the money we should be making. And one of the ways I can see to remedy this situation is start talking. Sure, it’ll uncomfortable and weird at first, since we’ve been trained since birth, practically, not to talk about money. But once these conversations start happening, we might find ourselves moving closer and closer to earning what we should be.