The 1 Time It's Actually Okay to Lie About Your Salary

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
June 21, 2024 at 1:41PM UTC

Questions about your salary feel invasive. Many people aren’t comfortable with sharing how much they earn — even when it’s with the people closest to us. It’s a touchy subject, of course.

So, when others do ask, sometimes, you may feel tempted to lie. Is that okay?

When can you lie about your salary?

Usually, when you’re not comfortable sharing your salary, you can simply say so: “I’m not comfortable discussing that.” If it’s a friend, a coworker or even a significant other, that might be enough to end the conversation. 

But in an interview, it’s a different story. You can’t usually skirt the question (it may not be very professional). So, when that question comes up, what do you do?

Well, you COULD lie. That said, we don’t recommend that you do.

Is it legal for interviewers to ask you your current salary?

That depends on your state and/or city. Some localities have laws prohibiting prospective employers from asking you about your current salary, but not all of them do.

New York State, for instance, instituted a salary history ban toward the goal of narrowing the wage gap. The state acknowledged, “For many women, if you start your career making a lower wage — often less than men working the same jobs — it’s hard to catch up. New York state is committed to fairness for all workers.”

To that end, the law prohibits employers from asking both prospective and current employees about their salary history and compensation.

Check this list to find out if it’s legal for employers to ask about your pay history in your area. 

Should you lie about your salary?

No! While it might be acceptable in some cases, especially if you live in a place where it’s illegal for the employer to be asking in the first place, we advise you not to lie about your salary. 

For one, the employer could very likely find out. They will know the going rate for professionals in your area of expertise, and taking into account factors like your experience, they will immediately see that you’re lying if your stated salary is radically different from that. If it is legal to do so, the prospective employer may ask your current employer, too.

Then if you’re starting off the relationship with a lack of trust, you’re highly unlikely to be offered the role. 

How to talk about salary in an interview.

What do you do instead, then?

First, it’s important to stay abreast of your state’s laws regarding discussions of salary history. If your state or city prohibits employers from asking, you can always say something like, “I’m happy to discuss my salary expectations. It’s my understanding that it’s illegal for a prospective employer to ask about salary history in an interview.”

In fact, even if it IS legal for the employer to ask, redirecting the conversation to your compensation requirements is often the best strategy. This gets to the heart of the matter — what you want them to pay you. Do some research on what salary is commensurate with your experience and skill level, as well as the nature of the job, before you give a figure. In this case, a range is most appropriate. 

If the employer asks again, they clearly want to know what you’re making — and you should be honest. Again, giving a range should be acceptable. But it’s never a good idea to lie — they’re more than likely to find out, and if they do, the odds of them ultimately offering you the job are pretty much zero.

What's your no. 1 piece of salary negotiation advice for interviews? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

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