An uncomfortable truth of life as a junior employee (really, any employee) is that you will make a mistake at work – probably several! Over time, they will lessen in significance and number. Whether big or small, the way you address and bounce back from making a mistake will matter a lot to your career. Here’s what you need to do:
Own up to it.
I’m assuming here that this is a mistake that needs to be addressed – if you make and correct a mistake with no broader repercussions, there may be no need to raise it.
When you own up, should you apologize? Some say you should never say you’re sorry at work. I disagree. If you make a big enough mistake or error in judgment, you will look even worse if you don’t apologize.
For example, let’s say a report was due to a client yesterday and you blew the deadline. When you let your supervisor know, it is appropriate to apologize. There’s no need to make it a long, drawn out affair. Keep it short and move on. This shows that you recognize that a deadline was blown and that this was an error – YOUR error. Not apologizing can make you look completely tone deaf.
Propose a solution.
Ideally, you do this at the same time you own up to the mistake. Your supervisor will think better of you if you admit to the mistake and either propose a solution or advise how you already fixed it.
In the example above, at the time you alert your supervisor to the missed deadline, you could let them know when you plan to send the report. Or, you could send the report and then let your supervisor know that you were a bit late.
If you’re not sure which option to pick, present both options to your supervisor and ask how they want you to proceed.
If you have no idea how to fix an error, tell your supervisor ASAP and offer to come up with a plan together.
Whether you propose a solution or not, you should also think about how you can avoid similar mistakes going forward – and tell your supervisor. It does not need to be a complex solution; the point is to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly. In our client report example, it may be as simple as putting multiple reminders in your calendar for upcoming deadlines.
Try not to dwell on your mistake. This is usually easier said than done. I allow myself a short amount of time to feel bad about it, and then I tell myself to put it out of my mind and focus on doing good work going forward. Sometimes it can help to say this to yourself literally – out loud or internally, “Ok, I made a mistake. I have fixed it, and I’m going to move on now.”
If you follow the first two tips, the people you work with will also get over it – probably faster than you do. Doing good work and getting your relationships back to normal will speed that process along.
In sum: When you make a mistake at work, fess up, fix it, and explain what you’re doing to ensure it does not happen again. Then forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let one mistake impact the rest of your work.
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