WHAT?! Made a mistake? How to minimise career damage

How to recover from a major work-related mistake and minimise career damage.

It’s happened to the best of us. That spine-chilling moment when you realise you’ve made a monumental error that could cost you your job. Examples that spring to mind include missing a zero off a proposal on a multi-thousand pound deal, mistakenly sending an offensive email to a senior executive (or client), losing a key contract through missing a deadline. Whether it was down to carelessness, lack of knowledge or preparation, or the result of a couple of drinks too many at a business event, your boss wants to know:

  • Do you understand what happened?
  • Do you understand how it happened?
  • Are you remorseful?
  • What are you going to do to prevent it happening again?

Own up quick

As soon as you discover your mistake, go and own up to it (in person) before you get hauled in front of the boss. Make it clear that you understand the seriousness of your mistake, and what plans you have for dealing with it.

Face the music

Understand that there may be disciplinary consequences such as a verbal or written warning. Accept it gracefully and don’t make excuses, blame somebody else or try and deny what happened.

Handle the consequences

Take ownership of your actions, accept the situation for what it is, and resolve never to make the same mistake again.

Be discreet

There’s no need to make a soap opera out of your situation. It can be tempting to re-tell the story in the pub, or joke about it with your team-mates. But remember that not everybody will know what happened, and this could result in even more people knowing the situation, making the mistake bigger than it was in the first place. Let it just become yesterday’s news by itself.

Use it to your advantage

While it can be an uncomfortable experience, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from things going smoothly. Hopefully you can take something positive from the situation and improve your performance as a result.

Move on

Don’t let your mistake cast a shadow over the rest of your career. Everybody makes mistakes. Once you’ve faced up to it, done what you can to fix it, and accepted the consequences put it down to experience and move on.