You Make One Bad Mistake: Don’t let it ruin your career

One huge mistake can ruin an otherwise stellar career. Recovery will take time. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Learn from what happened and become a poster child for great employees.

According to Forbes, a VitalSmarts survey revealed:

  • 83% of respondents witnessed a huge mistake by a coworker that hurt their career, reputation, or organization.
  • 69% admitted that they did something that damaged their careers.
  • Of the 69%, 31% lost a promotion, a raise or a job.
  • 11% said that their mistake torpedoed their work reputation.


Turn lemons into lemonade or at least try to mop up the lemonade

Apologize immediately and own your mistake: Say “I’m sorry.” Never deny your guilt or pass blame to someone else.

Do what you can to make it right. If you can’t fix it, try to salvage what you can. Do it quickly. Being proactive lets others in the organization know that you realize your mistake and are working to fix it. Tell your boss your ideas and ask how you can help.

Know you’re not alone. We’re human and we all make mistakes. Learn what went wrong and move forward. Ratchet up your game and work as hard as you can to remove the disaster from your coworkers’ minds.

Don’t quit. Stick around and own up to your actions. Don’t let one mistake (no matter how small or large) speak for you. Do everything you can to be a model employee.

Other Pitfalls

A huge mistake can wipe out a career, but other smaller mistakes can damage your workplace reputation just as much. According to, the following behavior can land you in the unemployment line.

  • Playing politics
  • Over promising and under delivering
  • Complacency
  • Fear of change
  • An inflated ego
  • Low emotional intelligence
  • Sucking up to the boss


If You’re Fired

Allison & Taylor is a firm that checks references and verifies employment for organizations. According to founder Jeff Shane, half the references that return are negative.

If you notice during your job hunt that the trail goes cold suddenly, odds are that something’s up with your references.

There are no guarantees. Even when you have a positive written reference in hand, someone else in the organization can contradict it. Supervisors tend to be talkative.

Negative comments from a previous employer can be just what a hiring manager needs to cross you off the list and move on. Next!

If you think someone gave a bad reference, ask an employment verification and reference firm to check what’s said about you. If your manager gave the bad reference, send a letter to HR. Mention who you think or know bombed your references. Ask HR to write a letter that tempers those comments with neutral language like title, work dates, etc. According to Shane, those letters work 99% of the time.

Understand that everyone makes mistake and if you apologize quickly, and learn from your mistakes and try to correct them, you’re doing all you can to remedy a bad situation.




Tamera Shaw is a freelance writer for Insured Solutions based in Louisville, Kentucky. She writes fiction and enjoys amateur photography. She happily shares her life with husband Ron, daughter Cate and sage cat, Sophie, who grudgingly shares her home with the newest member of our family – Nieko, our new kitten.


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