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 Google Plus 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 Elliot, 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.