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How to Recover From a Career Fumble

By Maurie Backman - Feb 7, 2019 at 7:18AM

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We all make mistakes. Here's how to move forward once they happen.

In the course of our careers, we're likely to make a misstep here and there, and any sort of blunder you make could hurt not only your self-esteem, but your reputation. The good news, however, is that career mistakes happen to the best of us -- 55% of professionals admit to having botched either an interview or something at work, according to LinkedIn, and those errors run the gamut from oversleeping to forgetting to follow up after meetings to inadvertently ignoring emails.

But while mistakes on the job, or in the course of a job search, are sometimes unavoidable, the way you handle yourself after the fact could spell the difference between a smooth recovery and a rocky one. Here's some advice from LinkedIn on how to recover from an embarrassing career blunder.

Man smacking his head


1. Apologize

We all make mistakes, but owning up to them is a sign of maturity that your manager, peers, or prospective employer will appreciate. A good 53% of workers agree that apologizing without making excuses is the best way to recover from an unfortunate fumble. This means that if you make a mistake and realize it immediately, you should say you're sorry for it on the spot. For example, if you're in a meeting you were supposed to have prepared for, and you're called out for not having compiled the right data ahead of time, say you're sorry then and there.

Otherwise, acknowledge your mistake as soon as you realize it. For instance, if you suddenly remember that you failed to respond to an important email from your boss that was sent three days ago, compose a note apologizing for the delay on your part. You don't need to make excuses; you're human, and a simple "it just slipped my mind" is acceptable in cases where that actually happened. So spare your boss the tale of how you were going to respond but your colleague interrupted you, and instead just give your manager the information he or she was looking for in the first place.

2. Ask for advice

Sometimes, we fumble in a way we don't know how to recover from. Imagine you inadvertently insulted another manager's intelligence during a meeting. Sure, apologizing will help, but it might take more than that to make things right. In that sort of situation, don't be afraid to seek advice from someone who's in a position to assist -- namely, your own boss, or a colleague who might know the person you offended well. A good 27% of workers have turned to their managers for help in recovering from a blunder, while 46% have leaned on coworkers -- so don't be too proud to do the same.

3. Do what you can to fix the problem

Some mistakes are easy to fix. For example, if you neglected to reply to an email or include key data in a presentation, you can respond to that message or rework those materials to compensate. But if you messed up on an important interview question or completely fell short on a report your boss asked you to do, recovering is a little harder. Still, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try. In the former case, email the person you met with and say that you've since thought things through and would like another chance to better present a response. In the latter scenario, sit down with your boss, apologize for not meeting expectations, and outline the steps you're taking (perhaps doing more research) to avoid repeating your mistake. Showing that you're making an effort to fix the problem at hand will generally go a long way.

Job-related mistakes can happen to the best of us. The next time you make an error, don't bury it or run from it. Instead, apologize, seek help as needed, and make a concerted effort to fix it – because the way we handle mistakes is often what determines whether they ultimately hurt us in the long run.

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