The biggest career mistake I ever made is something most people do

The day before I graduated college I got a call from a hiring manager. I’d been interviewing for jobs for weeks, and this was the one I wanted.

I listened carefully as she made me the offer and went over the benefits. The salary was not great. But I was starting at the bottom, and it was exactly what I expected.

Without a beat, I exclaimed, “I accept!” For the rest of the day I was glowing, beaming at the future unfolding in front of me.

It was months or even years later that I realised I’d made a terrible mistake: I hadn’t negotiated my salary. I hadn’t even taken a moment to think over the offer.

I was locked into that low starting point when a recession swept over global markets and slowed wage growth for years.

I am not alone in making this mistake. A Careerbuilder survey found that nearly half (49%) of all workers accept the first offer given to them. And I suspect it’s even more prevalent when it comes to first jobs, since the same survey found that workers under age 35 are less likely to negotiate than their older counterparts.

While losing out on an extra few thousand dollars may not seem like a big deal, it matters over time. According to an analysis by Salary.com, a professional who negotiates their initial salary and renegotiates every few years stands to earn $1 million more than someone who doesn’t over the course of their careers.

And since raises and future offers generally build on your current salary, that first mistake can haunt you for a long time.

That’s not to say you’re doomed if you don’t negotiate. After being more assertive in later years, I was able to make up ground. And of course, it’s not certain that I would have successfully been offered more money if I’d asked. But if I had known that I should have asked — that most employers expect it — I would have tried.

Now, I’ll never know what might have happened.

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