At least, if you want to make more money and get ahead in your career
Sometimes the best answer is no answer.
Most of us will do almost anything to please our bosses, even if it means answering a question, or entering into a discussion, that might make us uncomfortable. But “some things shouldn’t be asked in the first place,” says Tim Toterhi, founder and executive coach at Plotline Leadership — like most questions about your life outside of work.
Whether or not to answer a personal question is always your decision, and can depend heavily upon the place you work, the person who’s asking, and your personal level of comfort. But in many workplaces, answering certain questions could get you fired, as a number of people who’ve expressed their political beliefs at work have recently learned. And in some situations, your answer could lead to tensions with coworkers, or discrimination down the line.
Here are four questions you probably shouldn’t answer in the workplace:
How much money do you make?
Don’t tell an interviewer or a colleague how much you make, or have made in the past. The interviewer might use that information to low-ball you in their offer to you, and it could create jealousy and resentment with a coworker.
The fix: In an interview, you can reverse the question by asking “What’s the salary range for the position?” (More advice here on how to evade that question). Meanwhile, if it’s mentioned by a peer at work, try laughing it off. Toterhi’s recommendation: “Not enough.”
How old are you?
All questions pertaining to age — in addition to race, religion, sexuality, gender, and marital status — are unacceptable for someone to ask about in the workplace, and are illegal to ask in an interview. The information is deeply personal for many people, and could lead to discrimination in some workplaces. So even outside of an interview setting, you have every right to withhold an answer, says Toterhi.
The fix: If asked, say something like, “I do not feel comfortable answering that question,” says Katie Bennett, career coach and co-founder of Ama la Vida coaching — unless, of course, you want to answer the question. If you’re in an interview, you can calmly point out that their question is illegal.
Do you plan on having kids?
Questions about pregnancy, or intent to have children — as a woman in Melbourne was asked this month — are not only against the law in interviews, but “insanely personal,” as she put it, and highly inappropriate for any workplace setting.
The fix: If it seems like they asked by accident, or in a friendly way, simply say, “I understand this is a common question. However, it is personal for me, and I would rather not answer it.” If you think there was ill will involved, or if it’s part of an evaluation or interview, the asker needs to know they messed up. Bennett recommends saying: “That is an inappropriate question. Please do not ask me about that.” If the asker persists, or criticizes you for not answering, you should report them to HR. If a job interviewer asks, politely remind them that the question is illegal, but that you’re happy to show your dedication to the job in other ways.
Are you a Democrat or Republican?
Discussing who you voted for with colleagues or hiring managers is usually dangerous territory, though there are exceptions. If you get the sense that you’re being dragged into a debate, Toterhi says, ask yourself “Are they really asking a question, or are they just trying to get you to agree with them?” If the answer is the latter, it’s unlikely you’ll gain much from the conversation, and you’re better off passing.
The fix: Change the subject: Ask your colleague to elaborate on their own opinion, or bring up a related topic the two of you agree on. If that doesn’t work, “remember” some work you have to get back to and exit the situation.
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