爱思英语编者按:我穿着牛仔背带裤误入学生中心的招聘会,一位高管伸手拦住我说:“你想来IBM工作吗?”我说:“不,谢谢。我只是想来买瓶可乐。”朋友都不敢相信,我竟然如此愚蠢地拒绝了面试。

MPW内部网络是一个邀请最有影响力的商界女性及时解答职业与领导力问题的在线社区。本周,我们的问题是:你犯过的最好的错是什么?以下是惠而浦公司、Bed Bath&Beyond公司及Charlotte Russe公司董事格里•艾略特的回答。

我犯过的最好的错误,是在职业生涯刚开始时,我干了一连串“傻事”。

当时我24岁,是纽约大学(New York University)的大四学生。当时,我计划在毕业后攻读法律和商业学位,因此根本没打算找工作。我走进学生中心去买一瓶苏打水,结果发现那里挤满了学生,个个穿着正装,打着领带,穿着铅笔裙,手里拿着一叠简历。很明显,我一不小心走进了一处招聘会现场。前来招聘的都是了不起的公司,而我却穿着牛仔背带裤,脚蹬运动鞋,头上围了一条头巾,因为我那天早上没洗头发。我想悄悄穿过大厅的时候,一位招聘高管伸手拦住了我。他说:“你好,我叫汤尼•麦肯森。你想来IBM工作吗?”我回答说:“不了,谢谢。我只是想从自动售货机里买一瓶可乐。”

后来,我们聊了很多关于那家公司的话题,但我告诉他,他不可能说服我。我已经下定了决心。那天晚上我与朋友们一起吃饭,他们恰好是Cobol语言程序员。我顺带提到了这件事,他们都不敢相信,我竟然如此愚蠢地拒绝了这家蓝筹公司的面试!那天晚上回到家后,我从垃圾桶里找到了他的名片,给他回了一个电话。

经过了一系列成功面试之后,一位IBM经理给我打电话,口头提出了工作邀请,并表示过几天将有书面的正式邀请。我激动万分!当我顺便询问工资情况时,他含糊地说了一个数字:18。在我看来,年薪18,000美元并不高(这可是很多年前!),我那会儿一直在利用课余时间打工挣学费。于是,我告诉他,我的工资应该更高,然后开始就此讨价还价。他大吃一惊,解释说所有实习生的入职薪酬都是固定的。我并不满意,于是我告诉他我要考虑一下,然后再给他回电话。

第二天,我收到了IBM邮寄来的工作邀请。结果是我误解了对方的条件,我的薪酬是每月1,800美元,而不是每年18,000美元。这在当时可算是高薪,所以,我接受了那份工作。我一直没有告诉经理那次的误解,但几个月后,他将我安排到了销售部门,因为我是唯一一个敢协商起薪的实习生!那一次颇有喜剧性的错误,成就了我在IBM公司长达 22年的精彩职业生涯。

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.