If you’ve never made a major mistake at your job, that’s great. Kudos to you.
But you know what? Someday, you will. You’re human, after all, and humans mess up. It happens.
What’s important is what happens immediately afterward.
You may be frustrated, embarrassed, disoriented and possibly fearful this could mark the end of your career. But you’re going to need to act, and act fast, handling yourself in a way that demonstrates your character and level of maturity.
Sure, you’re allowed to pause and collect your thoughts. You also can, if possible, step away from the workplace for a short time — take a walk, eat lunch off-site or even go home for the day, if that’s an option for you.
Don’t take too much time, however. The more rapidly you address a problem situation the better. You’d also be wise to just forget about making excuses and honestly own up to whatever you’ve done or not done. If an apology is in order, apologize. If extra work is needed to rectify the matter, do that work.
At the same time, make sure your atonement fits the “crime.” Too much apologizing, too much self-recrimination, is just as bad as trying to shirk responsibility or shove the blame onto someone else. Explain what happened, express your regrets, and then move forward to put things right.
After the dust has settled, look back to see what you can learn from the episode. Perhaps you need to improve your work habits or organizational skills. Perhaps multitasking doesn’t work as well as you thought. If a system can be put in place to prevent future similar problems, then take concrete, visible steps to implement that system. The best way to win back the trust of the people we work with is always to stress actions over words.
Just remember that one mistake, even a huge mistake, doesn’t have to derail your career. Every successful person has screwed up at one time or another. The blooper you’re cringing over now will soon recede into the past, made insignificant by all the great things you do and continue to do every day.
In fact, a strong and positive recovery from failure can actually end up enhancing your reputation, leading to greater trust and esteem from both co-workers and managers.