One of the people I work with is a freelance writer. The other night she was out with some new acquaintances, one of whom is a big executive in his industry. They got to talking about her job, but he couldn’t stop asking about how much she made, and commenting about how writers were notorious for being underpaid and unable to scrape together a living. My colleague considers herself to be financially stable, and immediately resented his prying questions. She didn’t see why, because of her chosen profession, she should have to explain how she made ends meet or reveal what she made. It felt invasive.
This raises a good etiquette point. I always find it a matter of poor taste to bring up salaries and financial circumstances. You wouldn’t approach a marketing VP at a cocktail party and say, “So, how much do you make each year?” Why is it then okay to question someone who makes a living as a writer, actor, salesperson, or other career in which a large, stable income might seem unlikely? I’ve known business owners who scrape by and waiters who rake it in, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s none of my business what someone else’s paycheck says.
Given the current economic climate, it can also be insensitive to pry about a person’s income. People may feel defensive about the topic, and get the sense that you are judging them. As such, avoid volunteering your own salary details and don’t ask others about theirs. And if someone should ask, simply smile and say, “I do okay,” before changing the conversation. Hopefully they’ll get the hint.