Best mistake I ever made? Turning down a job interview at IBM by Gerri Elliott @FortuneMagazine October 29, 2014, 12:58 PM EDT E-mail Tweet Facebook Linkedin Share icons MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week, we ask: What’s the best mistake your ever made? The following is an answer by Gerri Elliott, board member of Whirlpool Corporation, Bed Bath and Beyond and Charlotte Russe. The best mistake I ever made was actually a series of gaffes when I was starting out my career. I was 24-years-old and a senior at New York University. At the time, I was planning to get a law and business degree after graduation and wasn’t even job hunting. I walked into the student center looking to grab a soda, but instead found a roomful of students wearing suits, ties, pencil skirts and holding a stack of resumes. Clearly, I had accidentally walked into a job fair. There were all these amazing companies, and there I was in denim overalls, sneakers, and a scarf on my head because I hadn’t washed my hair that morning. As I tried to slink across the hall, a recruiting executive stopped me with his hand outstretched. “Hi, my name is Donny McKenthan. Would you like to work for IBM?” I replied, ‘Uh, no thank you, I’m just going to get a Coke from that machine over there.’ I ended up having a wonderful conversation with him about the company but I told him there was no way he could convince me. My course was set. I went out for dinner that night with friends who happened to be Cobol programmers. When I mentioned this story in passing, they couldn’t believe I was foolish enough to turn down interviewing with this amazing blue chip company! I went home that night, dug out his card from the garbage bin and called him back. After a series of successful interviews, an IBM manager called me to verbally extend an offer, which would be followed up in a few days in writing. I was thrilled! When I asked in passing what the salary was, he cryptically said $18. In my mind, I thought $18,000 a year was low (this was a long time ago!), given what I had been earning for part time work paying my way through NYU. So I told him I thought I should earn more, and started to negotiate. He was taken aback and explained that the starting salary for all trainees was set in stone. I wasn’t satisfied, so I told him I’d have to think about it and call him back. The next day, I received the offer letter in the mail. As it turns out, I misunderstood the offer — I would earn $1,800 a month, not $18,000 a year. That was a great salary back then, so of course, I took the job. I never did tell my manager about my mistake, but a few months later he asked me to be placed in sales because I was the only trainee who had tried to negotiate a starting salary! That comedy of errors ended up being a wonderful 22-year career at IBM.