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Executive Compensation: Data Sources

In researching the pay for an executive position, it's best to consult several of the many sources of data to get a sense of the range for the job. Don't aim for the top of the range, because there could be unfortunate consequences if you become too expensive.

It's relatively easy to get executive pay data for public and nonprofit companies. Publications such as The Wall Street Journal publish information about CEO compensation. A more detailed and more immediate source is your company's annual meeting proxy (DEF-14A filing) if the company is public. You can get it from your company's investor relations department, or from Salary.com's Executive Compensation Wizard.

If you are researching executive pay in a not-for-profit organization, you can call the treasurer's office and ask for an IRS Form 990.

Proxies contain total compensation information for the top five executives in every publicly traded organization. They disclose every compensation and benefit program in which the CEO participates except benefits offered to all company employees, such as medical and disability insurance. They do so for the last three fiscal years. Exact dollar amounts paid to the CEO and the next four highest-paid executive officers making over $100,000 in cash compensation are also disclosed.

You can get this data even if you don't work for the company. The level of information and amount of disclosure is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), so all company disclosures are roughly comparable.

If your company is privately held, you may not be able to find out what your CEO makes, but you can research pay for executives of companies similar to yours that are public.

Recruiters can be a good source of information about what the hiring packages have been for their most recent placements. It's a good idea to develop a relationship with one or more headhunters, who have an incentive to share data.

Human resource professionals know the pay within their own markets, and venture capitalists know what they need to pay people in their portfolio companies.