Everyone who has had a job has made a mistake at work before. This is a fact. Some mistakes are bigger than others (i.e. you should be a little more worried if you cost your company a ton of money or really pissed off your boss in some way) but more mistakes can be recovered from than you think.
When I first started interning at my current company, former interns sat in a panel before all the new interns and talked about the mistakes they made when they were new. They told us that mistakes tend to be very scary in the moment and you might feel like your life is ending, but when you look back on the situation, it will seem way less major. One former intern admitted that he did make a fairly large mistake, but he still ended up getting hired by the company to work full-time. How? He did a good job handling the mistake after it was made. It was at this moment that I wrote down in my notebook “Mistakes matter, but the aftermath matters more.”
So how do people run into trouble on the job? The type of mistakes you’ll make at work tend to correspond to your personality. If you’re a person who takes things very seriously, you might stress yourself out too much and stretch yourself to thin. If you promise to do too many things in an impossibly small time frame, you’re more likely to make errors.
If you tend to be a very emotional person, you might say or do something inappropriate at the workplace during the heat of the moment.
If you’re like me and you tend to panic during awkward situations, you might find yourself telling a white lie or trying too hard to multi-task.
Any of these situations, and many more, can lead to work mistakes both large and small. If you commit one of these heavily frowned upon sins, the first thing you need to do is assess whether you can fix the problem on your own.
For example, today, I made a small mistake. My boss asked me to send her some spreadsheets I had compiled and I sent her the wrong document. By the time I realized I had sent her the wrong thing, she was already adding her information to the incorrect document so that she could send it to our client. I knew I had already screwed up, but I realized I could fix the problem. I explained the mistake to my boss, but at the same time I offered to fix it by taking her additions to the incorrect file and putting them on the correct one, then re-sending her the finished product. By offering a solution at the same time I gave her the problem, she didn’t feel like she had to come up with a way to fix everything and was therefore less frustrated with me. At the same time, my immediate honesty following the mistake allowed her to trust me as a new employee who is just learning the ropes. Had I pretended not to notice the mistake or worse, lied about it, she would most likely be uncomfortable giving me work to do in the future.
After you’ve admitted your mistake and come up with a solution, you should start working towards rebuilding your reputation on the job. At this point your boss probably trusts that it was an honest mistake that could happen to anyone, but they’ll still watch you with a slightly more wary eye. Now is the time to prove that isn’t necessary. After the mistake is handled, make a note of it and brainstorm ways to prevent it from happening again. For example, if you made a mistake because you were stressed and multi-tasking, make an honest effort towards improving your work-life balance. For me, I decided I might want to spend some time over the weekend familiarizing myself with my new computer, because my unfamiliarity with the operating system and different forms of programs was making me more susceptible to small mistakes like sending the wrong files.
Finally, the last thing you have to do is forgive yourself and stay positive. If you wallow in your mistake and act like a loser people will treat you like a loser. You’ll have a much harder time advancing in the company or you won’t be hired back after your internship. Instead, you have to be confident (or at least fake it) so your bosses and peers can see that you’re an imperfect being like everyone else, but you can still do a great job without falling apart. The best workers are the one’s who handle crisis situations with ease and focus, so use your own mistakes to show your level-headed attitude.