Three of My Biggest Job Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Three of My Biggest Job Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Can we all agree that job hunting is one of the most heinous tasks you ever have to endure? It can feel like Sisyphus rolling that damn boulder up the hill…only to have it roll all the way back down again. Repeat for what seems like forever.

So when you finally land that coveted job offer don’t you feel tempted to accept right away?

Actually feeling wanted? Yeah, that’s a basic human need.

But if you accept right away, as is, you are likely making not only a rookie mistake, but a decision that will have significant effects on your finances.

Think about it: the three levers of personal finance you control are what you spend, what you save, and what you earn. We’ve already talked about spending and saving, but what’s the tool for both of these? Your income. If you snap up the first offer and don’t first stop and consider whether you are leveraging whatever you can from your new situation, then you are likely missing out.

In my first post, I told you I’d share mistakes I’ve made because I’m all about real-life examples. And funnily enough, I learn more from my mistakes than when I actually do things right. So today I’m going to walk you through three of the biggest fails I’ve made when accepting job offers. Read what I did, and then do the opposite.

1. I lost $8,000 because I didn’t negotiate my salary.

Not negotiating your salary is a mistake that most people have made, and when my first job offer came around I was no exception. But then I found out my coworker’s salary. My coworker, let’s call him Matt, made $35,000. I made $33,000. We both started out as temps, and now had the SAME EXACT JOB TITLE.

Wait–Matt, who was less valued than me (evidence: I’d eventually become his boss), was somehow making more money than me.

All because he asked. I know, because I told him to tell me exactly how he pulled it off. “Give me your exact words,” I demanded.

He told me he was offered the same salary of $33,000, but had responded with, “I’ve been temping here for 18 months now, and I really think I should be starting at more.”

That’s it. The company dangled the 33k carrot in front of both of our faces, and I was the only one who fell for it.

And now I was making $2,000 less. The salary difference alone wasn’t a devastating amount, but it’s a huge blow to know that you are a much more valuable employee, and yet, aren’t compensated to match.

After I picked up my jaw from the floor at how simple his ask was, it was time to get mad.

Not at my coworker. Not at the company. But at MYSELF. This was 100% my fault. Because you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

The sad part is, when I was offered the 33k, I DID think about negotiating. I had read a few personal finance blogs and knew negotiating was something I was supposed to. But I felt I had no leverage. I had never had a real job before, and I couldn’t come up with a legit reason for why the company should give me more. Before I accepted the job, I actually temped for months in a different department at the same company, as the office receptionist/manager. I didn’t think those skills had anything to do with the salaried job. It didn’t occur to me that the achievements and skills from that other position could be used as leverage to negotiate my salary.

Basically, I made the rookie mistake of thinking, why me?, when I should have been thinking, why NOT me?

How much did this mistake cost me? Not asking for an extra $2,000 upon the offer actually cost me at least $8,000, if I had negotiated the same as Matt. Let’s check out the math, keeping in mind that my company gave an extra 5k for every raise or promotion.

My actual salary trajectory:
Initial salary: 33k
Promotion #1: 38k
Promotion #2: 43k
Promotion #3: 48k
Total: 162k

If I had negotiated that extra $2,000:
Initial salary: 35k
Promotion #1: 40k
Promotion #2: 45k
Promotion #3: 50k
Total: 170k

See how that small decision actually added up? That initial salary you accept sets the tone for future raises.

What to do instead:

Everybody could stand to be more aggressive when it comes to negotiation. Two key points to remember:

If you don’t ask, you lose 100% of the time.
It’s 1,000 percent easier to negotiate your salary BEFORE you start the job.

So dig deep to mine what you can bring to the table that other candidates might not. Yep, even if you’ve never had an “official” job. For example, if you were a PR intern in the past, you might have some valuable contacts that the prospective company might be interested in. Maybe you’re an Excel whiz and can come up with some macro that could save the company hours of work. Or maybe you’re a cool millenial who knows all the latest digital tools. Also look at your other work experience and skills, and see how you can spin them to be relevant to the role you want.

Yeah, that’s great and all, but now what? How do you actually negotiate?
You don’t need more “theories” in your life. You need to PRACTICAL advice, so for negotiation advice that’s actually useful, I think this article delivers on that.

2. I hated my job because I didn’t first check the work environment.

A few years ago an old coworker e-mailed to poach me for a job at her new company. I’m an opportunist, so every lead is at least worth a look.

Before the interview, here’s what I researched:

  • I read the company’s Glassdoor reviews. The reviews were glowing. Check.
  • I asked my former coworker for the inside scoop on what the job was really like, warts and all. Check check.

In a span of two weeks, I interviewed, got the offer, and told my current boss I was peacing out.

On my first day at the new job, my boss walked me to my work area. And that’s when I noticed something unsettling.

IT WAS DEAD-MAN QUIET.

I like to joke around with my co-workers, and there was zero joking happening. I watched my new coworkers arrive at their desks, put their stuff down, then put their headphones on. Not one person greeted anyone nearby: “Hey, how’s it going?”

I’d interviewed in my boss’s office, which was NOT the area where I would be working. And I’d never met any of my coworkers until that first day.

I was miserable for the entire year and a half I worked there. Every day I would take a walk at lunch time because the office was so depressing and I had no work friends. I spent money on lunches out, and also found excuses to “treat myself” to coffee several times a day, adding up to over a hundred dollars of unnecessary spend.

What to do instead:

Don’t underestimate the importance of cultural fit. I would say it could be even more important than your actual job. For instance, I’ve stayed at boring jobs just because I had a best friend at work to talk to all day.

  1. When you interview, don’t be afraid to ask for a walk-through of exactly where you’ll be working. Is it a cubicle farm or open layout? Is it loud or quiet? Pay attention to how people are behaving. Do they all have headphones on? Are people laughing or talking about Game of Thrones? Each of those scenarios can impact how you feel about your job. Be honest with yourself. If the place is set up like a call center, can you see yourself being happy there? If you can’t really visualize yourself working there, it may be a sign that it’s not for you.
  2. Insist on meeting your future coworkers whenever possible. If someone you’re going to be working closely with seems like a jerk, or has a radically different working style from you, think twice about that. Don’t ignore your instincts.

Don’t worry about looking like you’re “asking for too much”. Making these requests will actually have the opposite effect. People who ask smart questions come across as more thorough and competent.

3. I thought I got a pay bump, but I actually didn’t.

A common mistake is thinking that your ‘salary’ and ‘compensation’ are the same thing. They’re not. Your ‘compensation’ is the full package, consisting of your salary, benefits, work culture, etc. Your salary is just one part of the equation.

I got a job offer, yay! Now it was time to evaluate it. The job I was leaving paid $73,000, and the new job paid $80,000 (after some negotiation). Sweet, past-Luxe thought, I’m getting a $7,000 raise.

But I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison of the full offer.

So I failed to realize that by taking the new job I was actually barely getting a raise. Check it out:

Job #1:

  • $73,000 salary
  • $4,380 401k employer match
  • Excellent 401k investment options with low fees
  • Five weeks of vacation
  • Four Summer Fridays
  • Profit sharing
    Total compensation estimate: $83,000

Job #2:

  • $80,000 salary
  • $250 401k employer match
  • Terrible 401k options with high fees
  • 2 weeks of vacation
  • 2 Summer Fridays
    Total compensation estimate: $85,000

Just with the decrease in vacation time and the new, tiny 401k employer match, my “$7,000 raise” now morphed into a $2,000 raise.

What to do instead:

Always take a day or two to assess the full job offer. If a company hasn’t given you information on the benefits, go ahead and ask for it. It might not be super detailed, but you’ll be able to sketch out some basics, like, how much vacation you’ll be getting and what the 401k employer match is. Then compare the compensation package side by side and decide whether job hopping makes the most sense for you.

Takeaways

Recognize that your job is a powerful financial tool. Accepting a job offer is a huge decision whose consequences sometimes aren’t clear until you’re already locked in. But seemingly small mistakes, like not negotiating your initial salary, can add up to bigger financial setbacks. So when it comes to your career, spending a little more time to assess the big picture can pay off.

What about you? What’s a job mistake you’ve made that people need to avoid?

Image: Pexels

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  • Oh my goodness yes! The biggest one for me is the salary negotiation piece! I took my second job out of university as soon as they offered it to me (it was a huge raise compared to what I was making, and the environment at the old place was awful). BUT! I found out later that I accepted a salary that was $3000 lower than what they were willing to pay! I left $3000 on the table because I honestly didn’t even think negotiating was an option. Now I know better for next time!

    • Oh yeah! I have friends who’ve done that, too! They got a “huge” raise in comparison to what they were making before, so they didn’t bother negotiate. Doesn’t matter–negotiate always! Asking for a raise while you’re IN the job is so much harder. I know, past-Luxe was such a newb, too.

  • These are all such great tips! I love Tip #3- I think so many people don’t realize things they take for granted like 401K match, vacation days, and employee discounts should be factored into your salary expectations!

    And team fit is huge!! In a previous role, me and a coworker were so unhappy we had to leave the office every day for lunch. We would literally go for drives and out for lunch so we could get away from the toxic environment. Lemme tell you, all those lunches and coffees really added up, haha

    • Taking things for granted is soooo true. In the last one, I went from a really big company to a really small company. I never knew how good I had it with the vacation time. Well, nowadays I won’t settle for anything less than 3 weeks!

      Team fit was something I never thought about, because I always gelled with my coworkers. Until I didn’t. But yeah, it makes a HUGE difference. I remember when I was going to interview for a job, so I looked up the guy I was going to meet on LinkedIn. Well, I could tell from his LinkedIn pic that we wouldn’t get along (he looked really arrogant). That was confirmed in the interview, haha.

      Thank you, Ying!

  • Melanie at Mindfully Spent

    I’ve had great luck negotiating on salary and schedule options, but I am hoping to work more at negotiating for fit like you mentioned as well. I’ve been studying up on negotiation in general for work duties (I work on settlements with a lot of lawyers in my role). The Harvard Program on negotiation has great resources available for free download, and I just recently saw that one of the items they offer is on Salary Negotiation. The document does talk in depth about negotiating for fit as well! https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/salary-negotiations/make-the-most-of-your-salary-negotiations/ Great read!

    • I’m good at negotiation now, but what I lacked back then was confidence. I knew I was supposed to negotiate but I didn’t think I had anything to bring to the table. Young, naive, Luxe. I’ve been able to get a raise 99% of time, just by asking.

      I just downloaded that resource, so I’ll check it out and link, if I like it.

      You should write an article about negotiation! There aren’t nearly enough practical guides about it.

  • Yup, 1, 2, and 3…made all those mistakes. Especially #1!! “Basically, I made the rookie mistake of thinking, why me?, when I should have been thinking, why NOT me?” UGH!! Exactly! I was moving from a contract role to full time and felt I didn’t have much leverage either.

    I was randomly promoted 8 months in and I didn’t negotiate that either because I was thinking, well I didn’t even ask for a promotion at the time, so how can I just treat it like I deserve it suddenly. :/ I need to get better at negotiating ASAP. I read personal finance articles too, but I wish there was just a tried and true script you could follow…

    My current office is disconcertingly quiet, and it definitely makes me feel like a misfit 🙁 It’s just a difficult place to exert energy to make friends when things are so quiet

    • I feel like so many people have made mistake #1. It needs to be stopped! I felt so bad that this guy who was a worse employee than me was making MORE.

      I actually coached an intern of mine once who got poached to be hired full-time in another department. I said, ‘I just want to make sure that you negotiate!’. Gotta pay it forward…

      I think I have a framework in mind for an actual negotiation post…

      One of my offices moved from an open loft space with huge windows…to a dark, call-center-like office. Drastic environmental change. Thankfully, I got out of there quick. I love being by a window, and actually refused my own office once, because there was no window in there.

  • Jax

    Looking at the total compensation package is SO important. I left my last job that paid more for less hours (37.5 hour work week to a 40 hour work week) to a job that paid $1.50/hour less. But the retirement and health insurance benefits were so much more that I’ve ended up making more overall.

    I work in libraries so negotiating pay isn’t really something that is common. But negotiating perks can be. Things like professional development support, conference funding, extra training can be asked for instead during salary negotiations.

    • Another example of why total total compensation matters. I was complaining to my friend about the cost of my healthcare premiums, when she told me that her insurance cost several hundred dollar a months. Meanwhile, mine is $77 a month. So, things like that are so important to account for, if you can.

      Yes, places like universities and government places are a challenge for negotiation, but you’re right, extra perks are a great backup option. One of my old bosses actually negotiated a work-from-home day into her contract.

      Thanks, Jax!

  • I’ve had a lottt of issues with #2. When I came along, they all knew each other and had established a clique that I was not a part of (which was fine but it was team oriented work!) They rarely hire new and when they did, a lot of new employees left soon after, I should have known why!

    • Yeah, it’s especially important when it’s a super small company! My friend works at a company of only, like 10 people, so fit was critical. Oh yeah, asking about the turnover rate is also a good one in the interview.

  • The biggest job mistake I ever made was not joining my company pension plan earlier. I really didn’t understand what a pension was when I first started working and my employer at the time didn’t exactly encourage or explain the benefits of a pension. I missed out on about 5 years which could literally be worth $50K

    • Hey Barry!

      Ugh, stings to know you missed out on an opportunity like that. I’d read enough PF blogs to know a 401k was important by then, so I put in more than the company match. But prior to that I kind of floated around with odd jobs, so I could have gotten a 401k much sooner if I wasn’t such a little punk 🙂

  • Great post! Total value compensation is one that many employees overlook. I try to make a point to review this with my staff at least once or twice/year, to make sure they understand the big picture. In some cases, it can be 20-30% higher than the base salary, when you take pension, health benefits, performance bonuses etc. into account. It’s always better to address proactively than trying to react when employee tells you they’re leaving for ‘greener pastures’.

    • Thanks, MMM! Yeah, I hadn’t worked at a small company for some time, so I underestimated how vastly different their benefits could be (I went from big company to small one). I’m glad you coach your staff on this seemingly small yet important detail. Oh man, I’m definitely guilty of surprising my bosses with a new job offer instead of addressing issues proactively. Sometimes it just seems like the more sure-fire way to get what you want.

  • Hey Keri,

    The key to five week vacation time is to find a company that’s European-based. A lot of the generous European policies tend to spill over to their US counterparts, so it’s just the policy. Vacation time was nothing important to me when I was younger, but means everything now. At my current job, I negotiated an extra week by just asking!

    Good for you for negotiating your first salary! Most of us had no idea that was even feasible. Thanks for stopping by!