Make up for goof-ups

Edward Chalmers

Committing career suicide is not always a direct path to unemployment. Career limiting moves

— don’t have to be fatal errors. It all depends on how you react and how good you are at damage control. Here are some ways to salvage your career from a major screw-up.

1. Overpromising

You overpromised and now your client is furious. You missed an important deadline and your colleagues or customers are annoyed. You made commitments on someone else’s behalf.

How to fix it: Make sure they hear about it from you, not someone else. Accept responsibility and avoid being defensive. Focus on correcting the error and getting the project back on track.

2. Badmouthing

You badmouthed an employer and he finds out about it. You were quoted on television criticising the corporation or the CEO.

How to fix it: Apologise. If the media was involved or too much damage was done, you may need to offer to resign before you get fired.

3. Breaching confidentiality

You used your position for your own benefit, engaging in insider trading and giving stock tips to friends. You fell prey to an unscrupulous reporter.

How to fix it: Don’t try to cover it up. You’ll just compound the problem. Avoid blaming a third party or you’ll confirm people’s opinions that you are weak and cannot be trusted. Admit your error or call your lawyer — fast.

4. Caught you!

You got caught taking care of personal matters during work hours. You used company equipment and supplies for your own extracurricular projects or made lengthy long distance calls. Your expense claim contained false entries and the auditor has questioned the unscrupulous discrepancies.

How to fix it: Offer to make restitution. Make up the lost time and reimburse the costs. Avoid saying, “We’ve always done it,” or “Everyone else does it.” The only things that matter now are your own actions and your errors in judgment — and how you react.

5. Lack of preparation

You didn’t prepare for a meeting, and found yourself stymied and unable to answer questions fromcoworkers or clients. You were called upon for an opinion and you couldn’t respond because you failed to do your research in advance.

How to fix it: In this instance, contrary to other instances, fake it as best you can. Dropping a line like, “That’s a very good question. I’ll check into it further and get back to you,” can save face and buy you some time. You might also want to offer to relay the requisite information by e-mail, telephone, memo, or in person at a rescheduled meeting.