What to Do If You Make a Big Mistake at Your New Job

When you are new to a job, mistakes are part of the learning curve. But some slip-ups are worse than others. What should you do if you make a major error?

Put Things in Perspective

At first, you might feel like you’ve destroyed your career … forever. Have you? Take a moment to chart your worst-case scenario. You’ll most likely feel embarrassed. You may get in trouble. You might even lose your job. However, a single mistake is unlikely to leave you permanently unemployed and homeless.

Stay Calm

Once you’ve removed panic from the equation, you’ll be in a better position to begin damage control. Rather than falling victim to a knee-jerk reaction, carefully consider the situation and come up with a plan. Staying cool under pressure is one of the best ways to earn back respect.

Take Responsibility

When things go wrong, it’s human nature to hide, blame others and make excuses. Resist all those temptations. You messed up. Be the bigger person and admit your shortcomings.

Apologize Quickly

You error may have hurt someone’s feelings, wasted time, cost money or negatively impacted your organization’s reputation. You owe everyone involved a speedy and heartfelt, “I’m sorry.” And skip the excuses. Your goal is to apologize not to explain. Keep your comments brief and to the point. Verbally beating yourself up is unnecessary. Everyone knows you feel bad. There’s no need to dwell on the obvious.

Accept the Consequences

Prepare yourself. Your work life could be difficult for a while. You may need to accept a reprimand, sit through an uncomfortable meeting or put in extra hours. Whining or trying to escape punishment won’t help your case. Show you are willing to do whatever it takes to make amends without complaint.

Stay Positive

Although you might feel like the world’s biggest idiot, avoid falling into a downward spiral. The right attitude can go a long way. Recognize you’re not perfect, be gracious to those who offered you a second chance and reach out to your friends and family for support. You’ll be surprised to discover how many of your acquaintances have a “stupid thing I did at work” story of their own.

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

Overcoming an error once is tricky enough, so make sure this doesn’t happen again. Take the time to review your actions. Rather than just thinking things over, write down answers to these questions: 1) What caused the event? 2) What should you have done differently? 3) What will you change next time? By recording your ideas, you can more thoroughly analyze both problems and solutions.


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