How much $$ should a Chief of Staff be making?

Scott Amenta

March 12, 2019

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Our updated 2020 survey results are now available here.

CoS Compensation Data

The Chief of Staff has become an important position for high growth startups and enterprises of all sizes. The role notably takes many different forms depending on the business/executive and draws candidates from all backgrounds and professional experiences. In the CoS Tech Network, we’ve seen dozens of VC-backed companies hire their first Chief of Staff within the past 12 months. Having compensation data to support a competitive offer is important for prospective candidates setting out to find a CoS position and executives seeking to hire a CoS.

We shared a very simple compensation survey with our community. The following is a snippet of the findings and insights from that data. If you’re a Chief of Staff and would like access to the full dataset, you should request to join the community here!

First, here is a quick look at some of the high-level data collected. We surveyed 65 Chiefs of Staff, 81% in NY and 14.3% in SF and 4.7% in other cities.

*Note, This data is not absolutely conclusive across the tech and media industries (from which many members of the CoS Tech Network come from). While the role is finding more prominence among VC-backed companies, it is still in its infancy. A larger sample size may yield slightly different results and insights. I’ve included some sample data from LinkedIn for Chief of Staff compensation in NY and SF at the end of this article to help round out the analysis.

What is your current base salary?

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We found the median salary for a CoS to be between $120K — $139K. 62% of respondents are making over $120K. The variances for those making less than $120K, as seen below are due largely from years of experience and/or size of the company. Smaller companies with likely fewer investor dollars are generally making less competitive offers but also tend to hire more junior Chiefs of Staff.

Salary vs. Company Size

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Nearly 30% of respondents come from companies under 50 employees and in total, 47% from companies under 100 people. As is the case for many other roles, company size impacts compensation. In the chart above we see a lift in compensation above $120K for Chiefs of Staff working in companies over 100 employees.

Salary vs. Professional Experience

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Salary, unsurprisingly, is heavily correlated to professional experience. Despite having the same title, all Chiefs of Staff were not created equal. Classic organizational leveling as far as titles (manager, director, VP, SVP, etc) do not exist (yet) for a Chief of Staff. There is no “Executive Chief of Staff” (this also sounds ridiculous).

Those entering the role having come from a director-level position (or above) or possibly with higher educational degrees (e.g. an MBA) tend to find themselves at the greater end of this spectrum, even if they share the same title as their more junior CoS counterparts. That said, the chart above shows a degree of variability as some folks with 3–5 years of experience find themselves making over $140K while nearly the same number of people with 7–10 years experience are making below that base.

Executives hiring a CoS should have a clear viewpoint on the amount of experience they are looking for in a candidate governed by what the business requires now and over the next 18–24 months (the typical tenure of a CoS).

Professional Experience vs. Company Size

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Interestingly, company size does not appear to make a significant difference in terms of the seniority of the Chiefs of Staff these companies are hiring. Indeed, even in smaller companies with fewer than 100 people, we’re seeing employees with 7–10 years experience join as a CoS.

What is your annual bonus/variable comp (if applicable)?

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Bonuses come in a number of sizes, with 40.6% of Chiefs of Staff receiving no bonus and nearly 44% receiving between $10-$40K. An interesting follow up here would be to better understand how these bonuses are granted. It may be variable based on individual accomplishments or company goals reached, or simply a fixed guaranteed rate. Anecdotally, I’ve seen CoS bonuses determined primarily by company performance. Project priorities may change quickly for a CoS so the role tends to be tied more deeply to the overall health of the business.

What is the estimated USD value of your equity or options?

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We asked for an estimate of 1-year options based on the company’s current valuation. There’s not too much to decipher here, except to note equity allocations are all over the place as part of overall compensation packages. Interestingly, nearly 11% of respondents did not receive any form of options or RSU’s, keeping in mind the majority of respondents are from VC-backed tech companies.

Our compensation survey would not be complete without measuring the differences between male and female salaries.

Salary vs. Gender (% of all respondents)

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Experience vs. Gender (% of all respondents)

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In our survey, 48.4% of respondents were male and 51.6% of respondents were female. Over 80% of women reported having at least 5 years of professional experience compared to only 46% of men. Despite having more years of experience, women overall more commonly earned below $120K compared to men.

The following two charts show the salary ranges compared to years of experience for each gender.

Experience vs. Salary (% TTL all Females)

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Experience vs. Salary (% TTL all Males)

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Despite having more years of experience, we note a disparity, as 10% more males report making over $120K (excluding the $200K+ outlier). Particularly, men with 3–5 years of experience show a strong likelihood to earn between $120K and $159K, while many women with 5–7 years of experience still fall below the median in the $100-$119K bucket.

Salary vs. Market Avg. Perspective

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Most respondents of both genders making over $140K believe their salary is at market value, but not above. We also compared this expectation between males and females. Interestingly, female respondents were more likely to identify salary ranges between 120K and $139K as below market average and even salaries from $140K to $159K as “at the market average” This, opposed to male respondents who tended to identify those same salary range as at or above market value.

LinkedIn Comp Data, how does it compare?

LinkedIn reported data shows slightly higher compensations compared with our reported figures, with a median base salary of $135K in NY and $139K in SF. Even with only 1–5 years of experience, LinkedIn data reports $120K base salary in NY. This is good news for new graduates that may have limited experience but are looking to get into a “generalist” role at a startup. The “generalist” is likely being rebranded to the more junior COS and drawing pretty competitive salaries. While we can’t see this broken out by gender, LinkedIn salary metrics appear relatively in line with our data.

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