can I ask contacts at other companies how much money they make?

A reader writes:

Is there an acceptable way to ask distant contacts at other companies how much they’re making?

I’m in a role that exists across most industries but at wildly different levels of pay and responsibility (executive assistant). I often come in contact with other industry assistants through meeting setups and other correspondence. Is there any polite way to send a couple of them a LinkedIn message basically saying, “I think I’m underpaid, but my boss is open to reviewing my compensation if I can find market comps. Would you mind giving me an idea of your compensation that I can use as market research?” Could you suggest a more professional script for that?

People can be really hesitant to share what they’re making, especially with people they don’t know well.

That’s a problem. It’s bad for everyone that our culture is so secretive about salaries; it puts workers a disadvantage in negotiating, and it also helps hide and perpetuate salary inequities along race and gender lines. (Or more accurately, it’s bad for everyone except employers. They tend to benefit.)

But given that people aren’t always open to sharing what they make, one way to approach it is to ask not for their salary but for a general idea of what their company pays people in their role. For example, you could say: “I suspect that I’m underpaid for the market, and my boss has agreed to revisit my salary if I can present her with comps for executive assistant roles at similarly sized businesses. Would you be willing to share with me the general range your company pays for jobs like ours? I’d be happy to share my own range in return if that would be helpful to you.”

People may still be hesitant though. Some companies even consider their salary structures confidential, and people may be hesitant to share openly because of that (especially when you’re framing it as market research that your boss will review, which might this feel more official than informal info-sharing).

A totally different option: Could you start a google spreadsheet for salaries in your field? You and other executive assistants could fill it out anonymously, and you could include fields not just for salary but for things like size of company, benefits, and years of experience. If all of you had access to the data on it, it could end up being a useful tool for everyone.

{ 139 comments… read them below }

  1. Knope Knope Knope*

    I work in journalism and there was a Google doc going around with anonymous salary info. It included things like city, gender, race, specialty. It spread like wildfire and it coincided with a larger movement towards unionization across the industry.

        1. balanceofthemis*

          The Emerging Museum Porofessionals Facebook group has it in their files. It’s titled 2017-Natl-Salary-Survey.

          It’s a PDF file.

    1. Anon Dot Com*

      I think this happening more now, and it’s great! There was one for my former field (very niche non-profit area) and it was extremely eye-opening.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        People might be willing to give reactions to a job description and salary/benefits that you could show your boss. If you could do it w/a fake name, as a hypothetical.

  2. Web Crawler*

    An alternative to Allison’s last suggestion- you could do is a Google Form with the box checked for allowing everyone to see the results. The advantage is that it can be more structured than a spreadsheet. The disadvantage is that other people can’t add columns asking for different information.

    1. Amaranth*

      It might allow more privacy though. OP should test it out and maybe needs to set the form totally public because if its shared to specific individuals – at least in my experience – with editing permissions I can look up who made which entries/changes.

  3. KHB*

    I really wish there was a way to flip the norms around on this. Rather than the employer saying “If you want us to revisit your salary, you need to find the market comps that support paying you more,” employees should be able to go to their employers and say, “I suspect I might be underpaid, so I want you to show me the market data you used to conclude that my salary is fair.” I know we don’t live in that world, but I wish we did.

    1. honeygrim*

      That would be amazing. I wonder companies would react to knowing that they must voluntarily reveal that they know they’re underpaying people. :/

      1. KHB*

        I’m sure we’d see some awfully creative interpretations of exactly what constitutes a “comparable position.” But at least it would be a starting point to push back against, as opposed to no information at all.

        1. Been There*

          My old company ran an internal audit to reclassify all positions, and somehow people doing the same work still ended up classified differently to justify the different pay.

      2. Cat Tree*

        Some companies handle it well. The only answer here is to start paying fairly. I know of a company who did that several years ago, and a bunch of people (many women) got a bump in salary. It wasn’t retroactive so there was so some resentment, but most people appreciated it at least somewhat.

        I know this is rare, but IMO smart companies should do it. It’s more expensive in the short term, but earns money long term through employee retention and productivity. I think it’s one sign of a much bigger differencein outlook: seeing employees as an investment rather than just an expense.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, my job gave me an unsolicited good-sized bump, along with about half of my team, after a review they did proactively. It’s great!

        2. KHB*

          But did they show their work (e.g., “we’re raising your salary from $X to $Y, because that’s the going rate for positions A, B, C, and D that we believe are comparable to yours”), or did they keep that a secret? Because my employer did a salary market analysis last year (or so they claimed), which resulted in a few people getting pay bumps, but even more being told that they’re overpaid, and thus ineligible for raises for the foreseeable future. Unsurprisingly, they’ve been very cagey about how they arrived at these conclusions.

          1. Fran Fine (formerly Diahann Carroll)*

            but even more being told that they’re overpaid, and thus ineligible for raises for the foreseeable future.

            This is crappy, and I would definitely want to see receipts on how they came to this conclusion.

            1. Artemesia*

              They deserve to have every one of those employees leave and of course to discover what they will need to pay to replace them.

              1. KHB*

                That’s nice to think about, but I’m not sure it would actually work out the way you’re imagining. This is (or has been in the past, anyway) a stable employer and a good place to work, so we have a lot of people with decades of experience and salaries to match. Many of them probably could, in a pinch, be replaced by someone younger and cheaper. The quality of our work output would then droop, but it’s not clear that the HR person who came up with this scheme has any reason to care about that.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I recognize that it is rare across companies, but our union ensures that our company does exactly this. We can see our salaries against what is considered market rate, with other factors like years with the company and each position level’s salary range. It is great to have that kind of transparency and shows that our salaries are generally at or above market rate.

      Where it gets a little tricky is having a few big name companies with overlapping employee profiles that pay far above traditional market rate. Our company’s total compensation is (I believe) comparable to direct competitors in our field and that is where our market rates are based, but Big Tech offers up to 50% more for a lot of the same types of jobs in adjacent fields. So that can skew expectations, especially for candidates who are looking at offers from both places. The catch is that those Big Tech jobs tend to expect up to 50% more hours per week compared to ours and they don’t pay OT, which we do. So it’s not necessarily more money for the same work, it’s more money for doing more work.

      1. Krabby*

        This. So much this.
        I so frequently have to tell employees, “I get that you feel that your pay is not at market rate, but if you exclude Amazon and Microsoft from the data, you’ll find that we’re actually more than competitive.”
        Most people who leave for those higher paying jobs at bigger companies are back within a few years because they burn out.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          That’s what I was always told about consulting. “Sure, you’ll make bank, but you’ll end up getting out when you want PTO, evenings, insurance, and a family.”

          1. Parasaurolophus*

            Definitely true of a lot of the larger firms, especially in management consulting.
            Not all consulting is like this though. I’m an engineer and have worked in consulting for the last 10 years – my company has a standard 37.5 hour work week, flex time and Friday afternoons off as long as all your work is done. I had paid OT as well until I was promoted into a management position. I am a mom of two small kids and love my consulting job :)
            Just don’t want people to think it HAS to be mutually exclusive…but for many companies it is.

          2. MBB*

            If the time comes when you want out (and lots of MBB consultants love consulting), your MBB experience will pretty much let you write your own ticket for senior jobs in industry.

            And consulting firms provide top-notch health insurance, whatever you think of work-life balance.

        2. Fran Fine (formerly Diahann Carroll)*

          My company has to tell potential employees this as well (I’m in software). I remember reading reviews about the company prior to accepting my position, and many of them said something like, “The pay is just average – you can get way more somewhere else,” and then I saw my offer letter/pay – my jaw dropped because where in the world can I go to get more than this?! (I make $84k as a newbie content development manager for reference, so I imagine the actual engineers make well into six figures.) I was making way less than this in other industries, but I imagine by Amazon or Microsoft standards, I’m probably underpaid after two years in this role.

        3. Sarah*

          *Works at Microsoft* *nods in agreement*
          But I will never work for Amazon. Made that commitment to myself a few years ago. Barring it for myself made it so much easier to not think about what they’d pay me if I went there. And actually, their base pay is not exceptionally competitive, and they don’t do performance bonuses. They get you with the stock, but after a few years that peters out and people bail.

          1. PotatoEngineer*

            One offhand comment I heard (and can’t verify): Amazon pays 20% more, but isn’t as good about raises; so if you stick around long enough, Microsoft might pay more. But given the random mix of salary, bonus, stock grants, and employee stock purchase programs that the big tech companies use, it really is tricky to get an apples-to-apples compensation comparison.

    3. Stratocaster*

      My university employs compensation analysts whose job for this very purpose. Their role is to review and approve salaries to make sure we have the budget, that salaries are equitable, and that we are keeping up with market rates. It slow down some of the hiring and budgeting processes, but I think it’s worth it for the benefits.

    4. Sydney Bristow*

      This actually did happen with my department. Enough of us went to management to say we thought we were underpaid that they actually did re-run the market data and gave us across-the-board increases as well as better titles. It was a group effort to get it done though.

    5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      If I can’t trust them to pay me a fair salary, I can’t trust them to tell me the truth about salary range either. There’d have to be some hard evidence!

    6. miss chevious*

      My company hires an independent third party auditor to analyze its salaries every year to make sure there isn’t gender or racial bias. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any impact of course, especially because incentive pay isn’t included in salaries, but there is a certain level of comfort knowing that I’m being paid the same base salary as someone else with my job and my level of experience.

      1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        When I was reading the letter, I was thinking “Pretty sure EA is on the AAM spreadsheet of who earns what. I wonder if we’ll have an updated one soon?” Very excited to participate in the new one since I’m making more this time!

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            With the rise in remote work, would it be more valuable to ask where your employer is located rather than where you or located? Or both?

            1. Sled Dog Mama*

              Also was wondering if it’s worth asking what the required education level is for a position (high school/compulsory, undergraduate or graduate) to help people who might be looking in the future thinking how do I get in that?

    1. Lia*

      Hey Alison, for the next spreadsheet, could you add a column for |starting salary | current salary | & |annual bonus (excluding salary)|? I want to add my info in there and check if my salary is at, above, or below market rate. (I didn’t negotiate salary and found out that one of my peers who left was making 25% more than me although we had the same title.) Sigh

      1. Unkempt Flatware*

        Yes I’d like to see how many other government workers have never received any raise ever.

    2. Veronica*

      Alison, can you add a question or two about average hours worked, time off or other benefits that can make a difference in realtive compensation?

  4. SEM*

    I’ve found glassdoor to be really helpful… I used it to get my current salary when I changed jobs

    1. Not A Girl Boss*

      I find it hit or miss because I have a similar title where the pay and actual role can mean many different things.

      But I have the most luck by trying to be forthcoming and helpful myself. I always update Glassdoor with my salary at a job, and try to be specific with my title description so people know what that means (Eg, associate or senior etc, Project Mechanical Engineer instead of the standard Project Manager).

      I also have developed a habit of just blurting out what my salary is to close colleagues and friends I’m in the same industry with. I figure, it at least gives them more information, but usually once I share they’re more willing to say “Wow, thats a lot less than me” or “OMG I can’t believe I’m so underpaid” etc.

  5. M2*

    EA salaries are all over the place. Depends on location, organization and job duties. Are you 9-5 or on call? I know EAs who make 6 figures but they work more than 40 hours and works at a large organization.

    1. LW*

      Yeah, the range is hugely industry and company dependent. I’m salaried, so I work 8-4 plus whenever else I need to, which sometimes includes events, emergencies, or just work overflow, but I’d say I generally work 45-50 hrs/week, which is not bad at all.

    2. Just My Thoughts*

      I think it also depends on the qualifications for the job. One place I worked, the EA was going for her master’s and it was going to help her in her job. Other times I’ve seen job listings for EA’s that either want a HS diploma plus some experience or a 2 year degree.

    3. S*

      It also entirely depends on the candidate’s knowledge of the market and their ability to feel comfortable advocating for themselves. My first large company EA job, I thought asking for $55k was bold but within 2 weeks of starting I found out the woman they fired before me was making $67k and I easily could’ve asked for more. I’ve since stated ranges of 65-85k on every interview call I’ve had and I’ve only had a few companies ever say they couldn’t do that and those ones that did were looking for more of an administrative assistant NOT an executive assistant. I’m in the Central Texas area, FYI. Seeing anyone in higher cost of living cities getting paid comparable to me is a straight crime (I currently make 75k, 10 years experience)

  6. What’s behind curtain number three*

    As an admin I’ve been paid and received offers that are wildly different salaries. The last time I job hunted (2018) I was making $21.50/hr and I received offers for $12, $20, $25, $27, and $34. All the same executive admin roles, with the same experience requirements (8+ years), for large companies, but in slightly different fields. It was eye opening.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      It is mind-boggling to me that there is such disparity ($12 vs. $34!!!!) for essentially the same job! Obviously each job is different/unique, but dang!

      1. The Original K.*

        $12 vs $34 are two totally different jobs, to me. I’d expect much less complex work at a job paying $12 an hour. I think I was paid that for the most basic of reception temp gigs during the last recession, where I answered the phones and nothing else.

      1. What’s behind curtain number three*

        I did take the $34 and I also heard the “we hoped you were more motivated by the job than the money” speech from the three lowest offers. They were equivalent work supporting VP level execs. I couldn’t believe them coming in at minimum wage for that kind of work AND I’d been explicitly clear that if the pay wasn’t $25/hr or higher, that it wouldn’t make sense to even start the interview process. The top three offers were in IT and the bottom two were in finance (tax, financial planning, etc). All five are in the same city and with nearly identical job requirements.

        1. Amaranth*

          Those are people who don’t appreciate – and give credit to – the benefits of a good EA.

        2. Anon Dot Com*

          Their loss that they weren’t more motivated by your skills and experience than the money!

          1. What’s behind curtain number three*

            I’m tucking that response away. I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to use it.

        3. Dan*

          In a competitive labor market, this is where companies miss the mark. The finance places you interviewed at may consider other finance companies their “competitive market”, but the reality is for many labor categories, their true competitive market isn’t companies that provide the same services that they do, but companies that hire the same *labor* that they do. And that can be much broader and more competitive market.

          But the reality is also that those finance firms only have to pay tech level salaries if they’re having difficulty with retention. It makes no sense for an org to pay any more than they have to to retain labor. You also get into that issue where tech might pay what it pays because you really aren’t going to work a 40 hour work week.

          1. What’s behind curtain number three*

            True. One of the finance companies said they used a third party company that collects salary data and provides them with what the market range and cost of living is in each of their office locations. They refused to negotiate and used this as their way of saying their hands were tied…and they also offered discounted financial planning services to help make a functional budget for what they were offering to pay me. They liked to advertise that they had “great perks” like unlimited PTO (which is a red flag for me) and ping pong in the break room.

  7. kittymommy*

    I could have written this letter, right down to the position. Since I’m in government it’s easy to find my salary (and some of my fellow government agency workers, but I have no clue as to how to get this information for the private sector, which really the area that would be most helpful.

  8. Ashley*

    Another option might be to try and use job listings if they list salary bands. Or maybe even include in your ask with your network if they publish the salary band in hiring ads and what those were.

      1. introverted af*

        Same. And frankly, I won’t apply for jobs without something listed if I have other options first.

        1. Unfettered scientist*

          It’s challenging in fields where NO ONE lists the salary bands though. For scientist positions, I have an idea of what I can earn, but it is hugely dependent on company, location, and associate vs. scientist vs. senior scientist ranks, which mean very different things at different companies so glassdoor and similar are usually WAY off or have such a wide range (50k-120k) that it means nothing.

          1. Elenna*

            This – during my last job search, I didn’t see a single job advertisement in my area/career that included salary.

            1. Fran Fine (formerly Diahann Carroll)*

              I saw it rarely during my last job search, but a lot of the salary bands clearly didn’t come from the company and were instead generated by Glassdoor/Indeed because after talking to the HR reps during initial phone screens, I found a lot of those bands were off the mark. So it is a pain when companies won’t just proactively give this info so people (and job boards) aren’t guessing.

  9. LW*

    Thank you, Alison! I don’t know why I haven’t thought of a Google doc–there was one that went around in my industry a while ago, but it pretty much only included the specialized staff and not general back office or support staff. This industry is low-paid in general so it can be hard to figure out how much more general functions should be making, and it’s a small industry so the sample size is very small. Providing an anonymized option could be a great way to at least make contributors feel more protected.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I think a google doc is a great idea to get a sense of what the market rate is, but if it is an anonymous google doc, I would be ready for push back from your boss about it being reliable/accurate. I would suggest having other research to back up those findings in addition.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Long ago we shared a salary survey from a professional organization with my grand boss who looked down his nose at it and said “everybody lies on these things.” Then people started to leave for offers that matched the survey…funny how that works.

    2. Another executive assistant*

      If you make a spreadsheet please share it! I’d be happy to fill it out.

      FWIW, my starting salary in my role was $80k/year but I work for a large employer in a large urban area. I’m not sure if our situations are comparable. But I do think that my employer’s salary for EAs is fair given my scope of work and responsibilities.

    3. S*

      Yes, please share it if you make it. I’d be happy to contribute. I’m in a somewhat high cost of living area (not NYC or California, but not cheap either) and make $75k plus RSUs. I fully support salary transparency especially amongst EAs and admins because the pay difference even within the same company can be SHOCKING

  10. lex talionis*

    EAs in big Pharma often make 6 figures, especially when you support C-suite. They also receive bonus and stock. But you are on call evenings, weekend, holidays and when your boss misses a flight you have your work cut out for you. They earn every penny as far as I’m concerned. Another industry that pays well for that job is big Law.

    1. The Original K.*

      Finance too; I know an EA who works for a multinational financial services corporation and she makes low six figures.

    2. Notnow*

      I have been wanting to apply to EA jobs but stuff like this holds me back. I am afraid of being on call 24/7, with a family with small kids it just not in the cards for me now.

      1. LW*

        Not all EA jobs are like that! I don’t work much outside of “standard” hours. Really depends on what your exec needs. Those 24/7 jobs are definitely more $$ though.

      2. What’s behind curtain number three*

        It’s not all high-level admin jobs and the on-call stuff can be specific to very rare occasions so I do ask about it during the interview process—“what are the work expectations outside of standard office hours and will I be given the tools/technology needed to fulfill those responsibilities?” This is when they usually tell me there may be a need for help with changing travel arrangements on the fly and the occasional early start or late night meeting that I will need to assist with in person. They also tend to mention if they give all employees things like work phones, laptops, additional monitors they can take home, corporate cards, direct numbers to their travel agency, 24/7 tech support services, offsite VPN access to their servers, etc.

        I’m on call when my boss is traveling BUT it just means I keep my work phone charged, keep my personal phone on hand, take my laptop home, have a list of numbers saved to the notes section in both phones, and alert one of my other admin peers that I may need help in case I have an emergency and can’t help my boss.

        I have a young child, who is disabled, and it can be an obstacle but there are ways to plan for most scenarios. A good boss will appreciate that it’s going to be covered and a good admin team will have your back.

      3. Eether, Either*

        I’m a legal EA, and I’m salaried non-exempt. I work in-house, for a VP. I rarely work OT (think end of year corporate filings) and, even then, it might be a couple of hours a week, for a week or so. But–when I worked at a big law firm, I basically doubled my salary working OT. I earned a lot of money, and I worked my way through my 30s. But, not all EA jobs are salaried. “Notnow” I would apply for the job anyway and ask how many hours you would be expected to work. Just because you interview doesn’t mean you have to accept the job. And, it will give you an idea, hopefully, of their expectations regarding what kind of hours you would be working. Think of it as research.

  11. Non-profiteer*

    When in kind of a similar situation, I had success by looking up what government jobs I would be qualified for, and what GS-level they were offered at, and then you can find the salary for that GS level in your geographic area. This especially worked for me because I work in the DC area and the federal government is a competitor for pretty much all employers. But if you’re desperate for comp levels…the government employs pretty much all kinds of people!

  12. Not an EA, but...*

    A different position, but an idea….it’s very common to use recruiters in my area in my industry. Recently before a bonus discussion with my boss, I reached out to a recruiter I had used in the past (the one who got me the job that was then acquired by my current company) and asked for a general range of what he was seeing people offer for bonus % in my position. That way I knew where I fell in the normal current range.

  13. ThatGirl*

    Relatedly, I got laid off along with ~80 other people in November, and started a new job in January. I have since tried to help some of my former coworkers with referrals to my new company. In one case, someone who was still at the old company but wanted to leave reached out and asked about a specific position, and wondered if I could provide any salary info. I looked up the hiring manager, saw it was someone I knew, and reached out to her about it — and she provided me the salary range! which as it turned out was considerably lower than my former coworker wanted (and more entry-level), but it was ultimately good that she didn’t apply and waste her time.

    I don’t know yet if my new job is that transparent for everything, but I really appreciated it. And I’ve decided *I* can be that transparent – if someone wants to know what I make, especially for their own compensation purposes, I can share that.

    1. Fran Fine (formerly Diahann Carroll)*

      That’s awesome that the hiring manager gave you that info. I also tell people salary ranges at companies if I know them (including my exact number for people who are curious), but I never thought to ask a hiring manager this on behalf of someone else.

  14. ginger ale for all*

    Would the Occupational Outlook Handbook be a help for this? It is now online if you want to google it.

    1. Unfettered scientist*

      Thanks! This doesn’t really have the level of granularity at all for my field of science but it’s interesting.

  15. SEH*

    Does anyone have advice for collecting salary data when in a role with few/no direct comparisons? I am definitely significantly underpaid for the work I do, but I have no clue how to approach figuring out what I SHOULD be making! (If it’s useful: I essentially do a conglomeration of every job in an art museum, except working with a comparatively small art collection owned by an institution not related to the arts (healthcare institution). Researching/cataloging, care and maintenance, installations, development, exhibition design and curation, educational programming, etc.)

    I don’t know where to pull market data, as I do work that is normally divided amongst entire staffs, for an organization in no way related to my actual field!

    1. A Good Jess*

      If you are in the US, someone in a thread above recommended looking at federal government jobs to see what the GS levels are, and the government definitely has museum staff!

      This site is a bit niche because it just covers Army positions, but the Army does have a number of small museums where only one or two people do All The Things much like you do for your collection. I did a search for the word “museum” in the position title and they were usually GS-12.

      From there you can go find the GS pay tables, which vary by location to account for different labor markets and costs of living. If your location isn’t included in any of the named metro areas, there is one called “Rest of the United States”

    2. Magiggles*

      A good way to start is searching for jobs that encompass the highest level job that you do. In theory, you could leave this job and step into the higher role at a different organization. Start with that job and see what the market would pay for it. Lower level responsibilities shouldn’t come into play as much because you are performing the work of a higher level role and need to be compensated for those responsibilities accordingly.

    3. Ginger Baker*

      I would look at what people doing a similar role for private [wealthy] individuals make. Also look for [best estimate of job title] plus “in-house”. (And I know we had someone who did a similar job at a BigLaw firm I worked at, but they were employed as a consultant – so maybe find your peers among that group also, they ARE out there!)

  16. awesome3*

    You could also try asking them for help in finding out a fair market rate, and they may either use that as an opportunity to share their salary, or point you to existing resources that have that information already

    If they work somewhere where the salaries are publicly available information, they are much more likely to share, since the culture is different in those places. But if it’s publicly available, you could also just look it up yourself.

    1. CB212*

      As a freelancer, I’ve had good results from asking producers I know – but don’t have to know well! – what they think my rate should be. (Even after one gig, I’m fine saying “given what you know of my work, do you think my rate is too low.”) I wonder if that might transfer here, perhaps to say “our salary band is $x-$y, does that seem to you like it’s about right for the area”, or frankly to say “I make $ and I think it’s low, do you have any perspective on that” – that means you’re the one volunteering a number, rather than asking them to show theirs first.

  17. HereKittyKitty*

    I’ve found Silicon Valley people can be especially secretive on salary information almost to a bizarre way. I was applying at a silicon valley company and reached out to a former coworker that I knew somewhat well to ask him for a ballpark rage of his salary at a different tech company but with the same job title. He flat out would not tell me and said he was not allowed to share any salary data (like are they monitoring your LinkedIn and texts too???). My own recruiter would not tell me the average salary range either for the job! Research for the job title varied wildly from 70k-170k in SF so I was left to guess. I didn’t end up with the job anyway but the whole secretive nature of it put me off from applying to those companies anyway.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Oh interesting I always thought it was my industry that was so hard to get a bead on, but I’m in the Bay Area so maybe that’s part of it! My research reveals a range that’s at least 2x as well.

      The good news is that in CA, they are now are legally obligated to provide a range when you ask! I wish they’d just go ahead and put it on the ad, but this has made things a lot easier. In phone screens they’ve asked me what I expect to earn, I turn the question around on them, and they’ve asnwered without any pushback.

  18. Phony Genius*

    Whenever this topic comes up, I’ve been curious about something. Does anybody here think it’s wrong for somebody who is asked to share their salary info not to do so, especially to somebody who is trying to determine if they are being paid fairly? Should there be a law requiring companies disclose salary structures to all employees, at least internally? I ask because it may be the only way to end salary inequities.

    1. Qwerty*

      You are describing a demand, not a request. Don’t ask for something unless you can handle a “no”. No one is entitled to my personal information. Anyone who thinks they are is not someone I trust to be discreet with that information.

      I’ve also found that most people asking around on salaries aren’t looking at the full picture. They want a role, amount, and maybe years of experience, and always miss the fact that I’m basically doing the job of multiple people and not all experience is equal.

    2. Cat Tree*

      No, I don’t think it’s wrong to decline to answer. There still can be consequences (even social ones count) to sharing that info. The way to drive change isn’t to just act like the problems don’t exist. It’s better to recognize that there can be legitimate reasons to not answer and then respect that person’s decision.

    3. Nicotene*

      the only way is plays weird is if lots of people are sharing and White Chadwick refuses to. This suggests he knows he’s overpaid (“but dude, I negotiated!!”) and doesn’t want anyone else to benefit equally.

    4. HereKittyKitty*

      I don’t think it’s wrong, but I often think it’s strange not to. Like maybe it’s generational/cultural thing (I’m from the south) but my Dad got angry at me once for telling a friend our A/C broke and we were going to stay with my aunt. He considered it “private info.” He was like that with everything but especially anything tangent to money. He would lose his mind if he knew how vocal I am about pay with just about anyone. I can see not wanting to tell nosy friends or family your salary as a boundary- totally get that. But I’m not sure if I understand why you wouldn’t tell a coworker or other colleague if they asked, personally. I’m pretty open about money though.

      Ultimately, I don’t think it should be up to workers to puzzle together salary expectations. I would love salary info to be required on job postings and I would LOVE if all salary info was available at least internally for a company, if not publicly. I think that is one of the best ways to battle inequities.

      1. Filosofickle*

        People have such different ideas of what “private info” means! I don’t think it’s strange that people won’t talk about it, exactly…I’m totally open about money but understand not everyone is. But IMO it’s vital that we overcome secrecy about money and salaries, so I am disappointed when people totally refuse. But this is where Alison’s shift is great — not asking “what do you earn” which IS personal, instead asking something like “what kind of range would you expect for someone in my position” so that people can offer helpful info without divulging their exact earnings.

    5. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Weirdly, for me, I’m more willing to tell strangers what I make, and my husband (of course) and my closest friends know, but people that are in that “I know them, but we’re not super close friends” circle, I really really just don’t generally want to talk about my salary with them. (There’s some other relatively personal stuff that would fall into the same category, so it’s probably just a general “Not close enough but also too close” comfort bubble.)

  19. Kate the Great*

    One of my favorite things about working for a large state university is that all of our salaries are public. It has surprised me to learn that many people do not know this (particularly people who work here). While the online salary book does not capture all of the wages (there are often side contracts that may not be included), the base salary is updated annually for each employee. This transparency is so helpful for working toward salary compression and equity goals.

  20. beans*

    I saw one really helpful tip a few years back for exactly this deal. Instead if asking someone how much they make (or even what salary band), where a lot of people will be uncomfortable answering, ask over/under instead. “Do you make over or under 50k annually?” for example. Can be illuminating for you while feeling like a less personal question to the person you’re asking (especially if you don’t know them well).

    (note: depending one how well you know the person, you can maaaybe ask “over/under by a lot or a little” but tread carefully so as not to defeat the purpose)

  21. Elliot*

    This is such an interesting question. I’d additionally love some insight or even a round-up/ask the readers about HOW managers are coached on employee salaries, how much control managers generally have, and how to best approach income and growth with your manager.

  22. Bodacious*

    OP, if it helps, I’m also an executive assistant. Greater Boston area nonprofit. I make $45k and that’s after being here 5 years and getting 2 raises. I started at $40k.

  23. Akcipitrokulo*

    It might also be an idea to share yours first.

    “I think I’m underpaid, but my boss is open to reviewing my compensation if I can find market comps. My current salary is X – if you don’t mind, how does that measure up in your experience?”

    1. AnotherSarah*

      This makes so much sense–then they can even say something like “oh you’re WILDLY underpaid” without revealing their salary. Not quite the data OP needs but close.

  24. Magiggles*

    I work for a compensation software company- there are a few free resources available online for individuals to check the market value of their job! If you google “what should (job title) in (location) earn?” then there will be plenty of data sources to review. This can be more effective than calling around to a handful of people because these sites generally have hundreds or even thousands of data profiles and can give a truer sense of what the market will bear for a particular position.

  25. 867-5309*

    OP, I would be uncomfortable putting something in writing but if someone asked me for a call or coffee to talk about career growth or something benign like that then I might be a little more open to the script Alison provides.

    1. Fran Fine (formerly Diahann Carroll)*

      Yeah, I don’t mind sharing my salary, but I would never put it in writing. That’s a conversation best suited for a call or in person meeting.

  26. I'm just here for the cats*

    So how do companies research what the market value is? Like if there is a company who is doing the good thing and wants to make sure they are paying their employees fairly. How do they look it up?

    Also, isn’t occupational outlook handbook a thing anymore? When I was in school I was always told that was how you were supposed to look to see how.much money you can make at a specific job.

    1. RosyGlasses*

      Yes – you can use for that. The hiccup is if employers don’t want to pay for licensed software that does comp research. It forces us to use national compensation data thru, the above site and searching job ads online to see where we hit the market at.

  27. Kathlynn (Canada)*

    Yeah, I’m not supposed to discuss my salary or other things with people. As it’s “confidential trade secret information” covered by my NDA. and I’m like “that’s because your compensation and pay rate sucks”

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Her handle is Canadian, so you’d have to ask about a Canadian law.

      2. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        It’s technically that I can’t discuss it with people outside of the organization. But they also have a very heavy pressure for us not to discuss our wage in general. In part I get that, as we are paid min wage, which varies by province. But not the “don’t discuss it because it causes problems for us” additude.
        (the people at my lvl are great, and it’s better for me than my last job. But I do recognize the toxic red flags)
        I’m also not allowed to help coworkers find a new job for up to 2 years after I leave the company (even if I’m married to them)

  28. GreenDoor*

    I totally agree with Alison that salaries should be more transparent. I don’t share mine, however, because often sharing income with others invites judgment. “You didn’t donate to the colletion for Susie’s surgery? I know you make six figures, you cheapskate!” “Of course he has no love life. Who can afford to date on a salary as crappy as his?” Ugh. How I spend/save is no one’s business and the less people are able to make assumptions about my finances the better.

    I like Alison’s strategy better of asking “what’s standard in this region” or “what’s the pay range in your company for a position like X”. Gets the OP what they want without sounding like they’re nosing into personal financial matters.

  29. Nicotene*

    I have done this successfully with a statement like, “I’m thinking something in the (high, low, mid) (number)-ies is a reasonable salary for this role, can you tell me how that sounds to you?” People are weirdly unwilling to share salaries but they will say “low fifties” or “high seventies” if couched in enough vagueness. However, that is tough if your boss is looking for you to share some kind of list of individuals and dollar amounts. I used the GS scale when I last talked salaries with my boss.

    1. Dan*

      I’m a numbers geek for a living, but I still work with humans. And humans get really emotional when it comes to money. It doesn’t strike me as weird to *not* share salaries. The problem is that if someone asks me for that information, there’s no positive gain to *me* for sharing that information. However, I could share that and it could blow up in my face. Why would I take the risk?

  30. Anon Admin*

    LW, you might also check with local chapters of admin professional organizations, like IAAP or ASAP. They might already have some data that could help you, or could reach out to their members.

  31. Paige A Hanley*

    For what it’s worth, I work at a company (in their HR dept) called Payscale where this is literally what we do is help people figure out fair market rates. It’s free to use as an individual (we make our money from working with companies) and also has all sorts of free negotiation guides. It’s a little more accurate than Glassdoor because you can get pretty specific about what type of organization and other details.

    1. RosyGlasses*

      I loved using the free version as an employer until my boss says yes to paying for a comp software tool. You guys have great resources.

      1. Paige A Hanley*

        Oh good! Yeah our data research and marketing teams do a great job with all the content they create so it’s always nice to hear it’s useful.

  32. Cant remember my old name*

    Two recommendations!

    1. If you can find a government equivalent to your role and responsibilities, those salaries are usually public.

    2. If any of your contacts have served as an EA as other companies or have recently left an EA role, you can ask for the salary or range of their previous job. I find people are more comfortable discussing past pay than their current take home pay. However this only works if the info is recent.

    Good luck!

    1. Dan*

      The one issue I have with that is that recommendation is that government salaries aren’t necessarily comparable. People try to do “fed vs private” comparisons, and from what I can tell in my industry (tech) they don’t add up. I’ve come to the conclusion that fed pay at the GS1-GS6 levels are a bit higher than the private sector, but in the GS7-GS11 levels where you find a lot of white collar tech jobs, tech pays better than the government. (And I have 40-hour / week gigs, so it isn’t like I’m getting paid extra for monster hours)

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      About two years ago we had this same discussion on one of Alison’s articles and here is what I said then and it’s still true today:

      I’ve been in the public sector in California for quite a few years, and I’m also responsible for the budget for my team. When you add in paid time off (vacation/sick leave and holidays), pension, healthcare, etc., public employer costs for all that is generally 55%-60% of salary. Of that, pension is, for my classification, about 30% of salary, healthcare is between 12% and 15% of salary, and 13%-20% is PTO and other fringe benefits.

      If you’re in the private sector and you can find a similar public sector job in your community, you can at least ballpark what should be a good range for the private sector companies, depending on what benefits the private sector is offering. No pension or 401(k) matching? Add 30% to the public sector range so you can ideally fund your own retirement. PTO and other fringe benefits are better in the private sector? Reduce the public sector range 5%-10%, depending on what’s being offered.

  33. Lizzo*

    OP, try calling the reference librarian at your local library (and if there is a business reference librarian on staff, even better)! They’re trained to be able to find salary data like this.

  34. singlemaltgirl*

    are salary surveys not a thing in the us? in western canada for non profits, for instance, we have the boland survey. you only get access to it if you participate in it. i’ve used it for years at all my orgs to benchmark salary ranges, negotiate for raises with my boards, etc. i can’t share it (confidentiality) but if you want to have a look at it, you can google it and they give you a sampling of a previous year’s. charity village does one that’s much less comprehensive.

    when i’ve worked at trade associations and professional bodies, they are did salary surveys of their members. the salary survey was then purchased by employers of those professions to benchmark their compensation ranges for positions/seniority/etc.

    mind you, all my work has been done in western canada. but i know they have similar annual salary surveys in ontario and probably in the maritimes. it really does help companies stay competitive for recruitment and help employees (and new grads) set their salary expectations for their chosen fields. some people make education choices based on seeing the medians of salaries in their field. it can be cost prohibitive to access for most individuals, but i’m happy to share with my staff, their salary ranges and the independent survey results to see how they compare with others in their industry and i know some schools provide summaries to help students make study/profession choices.

  35. Little Miss Sunshine*

    You can get a lot of comp info from, and the US Department of Labor. Also if you belong to a professional organization or networking group they will often have this info.

  36. RosyGlasses*

    You can also use public sites like which doesn’t help much for industry but will scale for geographic location which many companies benchmark for. I have found to be fairly on the high side in terms of benchmarking data but it can give more insight for industry at times.

    It’s also worth looking at a compensation generator like to see what your cost of living averages for your area so that you can be prepped to talk about why certain wages are important (particularly if you live in an expensive city).

  37. Career Executive Assistant*

    There is a survey published annually by Office Team (admin temp agency), this is a great starting point –
    There are also a lot of great admin communities that will help, such as Executive Support Magazine and Leader Assistant. Lastly, Bonnie Low-Kramen is a fabulous resource. Google any of these resources and join the online/Facebook groups.

    Good luck and keep advocating for yourself!!

  38. JR*

    You can also try describing your job and asking what they think a reasonable salary would be. Not quite comps, but if they’re reasonably consistent, hopefully your boss would be swayed.

  39. Patty*

    Instead of asking people you’re reaching out to what their compensation is, why not just tell them what *your* compensation is and ask if that’s below average for your shared field/title?

  40. Doug*

    I legitimately believe that it should be legally required for any company that trades publicly to publicly display the salaries for all of their employees and the rates they pay contractors. That kind of law will never be passed, but it really should exist.

  41. Ookoolady*

    There’s a lot of useful information at the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Go to and search the Occupational Outlook Handbook. They’ll tell you the duties, salaries, education requirements, etc. for thousands of jobs.

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