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I Make $105K As An Executive Assistant — & I'm Starting A New Coding Career

Ludmila Leiva

In our series Salary Stories , women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions, and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.

Been in the workforce for at least eight years and interested in contributing your salary story? Submit your information here.

Previously, we talked to a sales research manager in New York City , a psychologist in Los Angeles, and a strategy director in New York City.

Age: 32

Current Location: San Francisco, CA

Current Industry & Title: Tech, Executive Assistant

Starting Salary: $30,000 in 2009

Current Salary: $105,000

Number Of Years Employed: 10

Biggest Salary Jump: $55,000 (from $60,000 to $105,000) in 2018

Biggest Salary Drop: $20,000 (from $80,000 to $65,000) in 2016

Biggest Salary Negotiation Regret: “Earlier on in my career I wasn’t always aware of the different ways I could negotiate. A lot of people don’t realize that you can negotiate for things like raises, and think we just have to accept what’s given to us. In the past, I didn’t have the confidence to really stand up for myself and see what else I could ask for. I’ve recently negotiated for spending a percentage of my working time on personal development projects. I didn’t have the confidence in the past to negotiate for things that matter to me — like working from home one day a week or spending time working on personal things — but I’ve realized there are a lot of different things you can negotiate that aren’t money. So, looking back, I think not realizing this sooner is the biggest regret I have.”

Best Salary-Related Advice: “It can be easy to up-level yourself by moving from company to company and it’s something I’ve done in the past, but there are also some benefits to sticking with a company long-term. Whether it’s getting to negotiate for things like personal development or just getting to know and trust the people you’re working with, it’s a great way to get people who can go to bat for you in the future and make connections. It can be tempting to take bait from recruiters and jump around, but there’s also an upside to sticking with a company for long enough to grow and develop.”

“I graduated in 2009, which was kind of the peak of the recession. I was an English major and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I fell back on some experience I had during college working a part-time job as an assistant at a law firm.

“I didn’t do any negotiating at all; I just accepted what was offered because I didn’t have any knowledge or experience about what negotiating meant. I felt lucky to have even gotten a job offer. At this time in my life, I was ready to take whatever I can get.”

“I moved to San Francisco from Oregon, and it was scary. When I left, I didn’t have anything lined up other than a place to stay and I didn’t know what to expect.

“I got really lucky and was in job interviews my first week. This was also thanks to the fact that I was working with a recruiter. The first job I interviewed with was with a global design firm with thousands of employees. I did a phone screen and then had two onsite interviews where I was meeting with other executive assistants as well as executives I would potentially be supporting.

“In my last interview, I ended up going out to lunch with some of the people I would be working with. I didn’t feel like I could really talk and eat at the same time so it was a bit nerve-wracking. After that, they called me with the offer and I accepted right away. It was for $15,000 more than I had been making and I felt good about that. The advantage of working with a recruiter was that I had someone on my side advocating for me. I felt I was able to ask questions and get guidance on the hiring process and job expectations.”

“I was commuting from San Francisco to Palo Alto every day, and it started to wear on me. After two years, I still felt like I was at the bottom of the pole and hadn’t gotten a raise or seen any movement. I hadn’t even had a performance review. At this point, I wanted a role where I felt like I had more upward mobility, so I started looking for other opportunities.

“My friend worked at a small tech startup, and I had gone to their office before and liked the environment. I got set up with an in-house recruiter and went in for two or three interviews, mostly meeting with people I’d be working with on a peer level as well as the woman who managed the executive assistants. After that, I met with the executives themselves to make sure we got along. It’s always a little tricky to be interviewing while you’re on the job — you have to make up you have a doctor’s appointment or something because some interviews can go as long as four hours.

“I was offered $60,000 and decided to negotiate. This job was the first time I felt empowered to ask for more. I ended up being offered $65,000 and I accepted, especially since I was happy with my benefits package. Moving from a more traditional company to a tech startup meant that there were a lot more perks, like catered lunches and beer, and I think I was very dazzled by them at the time.

“I began working for a CEO who treated me like I was non-existent. One particular day, I was talking with a coworker and my boss walked in and said hi to the person I was with and completely ignored me. I realized I couldn’t work for someone who didn’t acknowledge or respect me. Despite a $20,000 raise, I began feeling some regret about leaving my previous job.”

“After a little bit less than a year, I went back to working with a recruiter. I really wanted to work in fashion and saw a posting for a job with a fashion company. Turns out it was a bridesmaid company, but at the time anything felt appealing. I interviewed and there ended up being a ton of negotiation involved, since they were a startup and didn’t have much money. I was initially offered $55,000 and I knew I had to negotiate. There was a lot of back-and-forth, and I ended up getting to my minimum of $80,000 because I received a signing bonus. Looking back, it would have been better to have a higher base pay than a signing bonus because it was a one-time thing.”

“I ended up taking the offer and was initially covering for a woman on maternity leave as the executive assistant to the VP of Sales. The company was young and fun, and I felt like I was really part of something. But after a few months, the CEO ended up letting his assistant go. I covered the role in the interim and we ended up getting along so well that he brought me on full-time as his assistant. My pay or title didn’t change.”

"After about four months, I asked the CFO about my compensation since my role changed significantly. He was very approachable, but it was still awkward asking, especially because it was outside of the review cycle. But I definitely felt the conversation had to happen. I was given a raise to $90,000."

"During my annual performance review, everyone had a conversation about their work performance and goals. I ended up getting a raise to $92,000. At the time, I was a little frustrated because there was a lot of 'scope creep' in this role. The CEO had initially had a personal assistant and an executive assistant. He and I got along so well that he ended up getting rid of his personal assistant, and my role became more hybrid. I came over every morning and brought him breakfast and also did his grocery shopping and other things like that.

“In executive assistant roles, the work can start to feel repetitive and isn’t always super engaging. It’s a lot of managing calendars and I didn’t always feel there was upward movement or a clear career ladder. Especially in this role, it just wasn’t what I had signed up for and felt demeaning. I felt my boss was taking advantage of me, so I started to casually look around for other opportunities.”

““I saw the writing on the wall ahead of time at my old company. A month or two after I left, the CEO ended up getting fired and the company wasn’t doing well financially, so I’m glad that I got out. I had been contacted by the boss of a friend of mine. There was an opportunity for a job working for his small marketing firm. He decided he was going to spend a year abroad with his family and wanted to bring me on as an executive assistant and project manager to help him run things while he was away. The job was remote, so I saw it as an opportunity to move back to Oregon, which I had been wanting to do.

“The interview process was short since I was recommended. We had met before, so it was just a matter of meeting in person to talk about what the role was going to look like. I ended up getting an offer of $80,000. This was less than I had been making before, but because I saw this as a way to help me reach my goal of moving back to Oregon. Besides this, $80,000 went a lot further in Oregon than in the Bay Area, so it made sense for me.”

“My boss ended up selling his company and I was laid off. I was offered one month of severance and I was able to negotiate to get two. Luckily, I was able to find another position before I ran out of severance pay. The hard thing, though, is that the laws in Oregon are different than California when it comes to medical insurance. I ended up not being covered for a month, so that was a learning lesson.”

“I reached a point where I was desperate to find a job. I found a financial tech company [in Oregon] that I was really excited about. I had collaborated with them in a previous job so I reached out to the executive assistant to see if they were hiring. They were. I started off with a phone screen and then had a few interviews on site. I met with some of the other executive assistants, other leaders, and the VP of Operations, who I would be working with.

“I was initially offered $60,000 and was able to negotiate up to $65,000. Their culture and values resonated with me, and I really wanted the job. I accepted despite the fact that it was a significant pay cut. I justified it because it really felt like my dream company. I was determined to make it work.”

“Unfortunately, the company wasn’t doing well. Turns out there is a lot of red tape in the banking industry because of the laws that exist around banking. After a year, they ended up laying off 20% of the company including six members of their executive team, which included my boss. So I was out of a job. There was no room to negotiate severance because it was a mass layoff.”

“After getting laid off twice, I wanted to be thoughtful about what to do next. I wasn’t feeling like Oregon was the right place for me so I started looking in Seattle, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area. But, after being unemployed for two months, I found another local tech startup. I ended up interviewing, and it went really well. They ended up offering me the job at $55,000 but I wanted to make what I was making before at the very least. I negotiated but they were playing hardball. I accepted the offer at $60,000.

“I wasn't very excited about the company or the opportunity, but I needed a job. I felt a ton of fear and didn’t know what my future was going to look like. Being in that place was too much, so I took this job to take some of the pressure off, even though I didn’t know I'd stay there long term.

“I was looking for new jobs and found two that I was interested in. One was with a huge tech company in Seattle and the other was in San Francisco. These companies were willing to fly me there, and the interview processes were very long.

“The company in Seattle ended up offering me $80,000 with a great benefits package, including covering all of my moving costs in a very generous relocation package. The company in San Francisco also extended an offer for $105,000 with a $15,000 signing bonus and no relocation perks. I was trying to decide which direction I wanted to go and was choosing between two different locations I was familiar with. I wasn’t really excited about the job in Seattle, so I ended up going with the one in San Francisco. I negotiated, but once I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the base salary higher, I decided to take the signing bonus.

“It was a bit weird transitioning back to San Francisco after being gone for two years. You kind of think you’re going to be able to jump right back in, but the world keeps moving and the city was different —and so was I. Looking back, this was definitely the right move for me.”

“I am really excited to be working for the company I’m working at. The thing is, I’m on my fourth manager in the one year I’ve been here, so it’s been a bit tough in that sense. The second manager I had was the best manager ever. He really encouraged me to dream big and showed me what a good manager can be like and really raised my expectations. Unfortunately, he left, but he was able to write my review and recommend my raise before leaving. So, as part of my annual review cycle, I received a 7% raise, bringing me up to where I am at now.

“I decided a few months in that I wanted to make a career change so I signed up for a six month coding bootcamp. Since the manager I loved got let go in February, I think they saw me as a flight risk so I was able to use that to negotiate more time to put towards my coding work. I was able to demonstrate how this learning would help me to better support the team I work on as an executive assistant. So I’m now able to put 25% of my time towards that.

“I’m not sure what comes next. I’ve been doing the same type of work for ten years and feel comfortable and confident in what I’m doing. Moving into another role that’s so different and being back at the bottom again is a bit scary. I eventually want to move into a front-end developer role. I’m looking at companies in the Bay Area but am open to other places, too. I’m going on a trip to Europe next week and am looking at potentially moving over there for work, as well. I figure if I’m making a huge career change, maybe that means I could look at an engineering job somewhere like Berlin, too. Part of the reason why I chose to go this route was because it would open up doors for me. I’m scared but excited for what comes next.”

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