How to handle your mistakes like a pro

No one knows better than a boss that everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone handles them the same way. When you make a mistake, your boss will be watching you closely and asking himself these questions:

Am I dealing with someone who:

  1. learns easily from mistakes or repeats them endlessly?
  2. tells the simple truth or creates confusion to hide behind?
  3. sincerely accepts responsibility or just tells me what I want to hear?
  4. really hears and understands me?

making mistakes at workYour boss will consider the cost of your mistakes to be part of his investment in you. It’s a cost of doing business. Your job when you report a mistake is to convince your supervisor that his investment is a good one. You can do that by following this checklist:

  1. report your mistakes early so your boss doesn’t find out about them from someone else
  2. apologize without assigning blame to others and without sounding defensive
  3. do whatever you can to correct your mistake and do it quickly
  4. show you thought about what led to your mistake
  5. summarize and say back to your boss his message to you, for ex: “I hear you saying that this was a costly mistake for the company at a time when…” and then
  6. commit to not making that mistake again and explain how you will avoid it

Fully accepting a mistake, making repairs and avoiding repetition is extremely difficult. Maybe one of the most difficult things in life. And that’s one of the few advantages you have in this situation — your boss knows how hard it is. So do it right and you’ll show what you’re made of. If you’re lucky, you may just come out ahead!

a faster pc so we can make mistakes faster?Get the ebook! If you liked what you read here, and think you may want to refer back to this guide later, grab the Kindle version – we’re hoping you’ll thank us with a five-star review on Amazon if you found this material helpful. The ebook also includes our job search guide.

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  • HMD

    I think this is a crucial lesson to learn, and not just in the job atmosphere. People make mistakes all the time in life, with family and friends, extracurriculars, and, obviously, in the working environment. When I was younger it was incredibly easy to blame anything else on my own mistakes. It was my sister’s fault, or an outside source happened and I just had to do it, anyone or anything but myself was to blame. I distinctly remember my father explaining to me that no one likes when you shift blame, it’s better for everyone when you take responsibility for your actions.

    After working in my first few jobs, I’ve found this could not be more true. When I have made mistakes, I immediately accept that I did it. In addition, I try to help think of solutions to my mistakes to give to my employer. I’ve found so few people have learned this, and that employers will appreciate you actually taking responsibility for your actions and initiative to find a solution.

    Another tactic I believe is essential that should be highlighted is where it says to focus on what you can do to not make your mistake again. Employers are very understanding of mistakes, it’s simply when you’re making the same ones over and over that they get frustrated. I believe after every mistake it is proactive to reflect on the situation and figure out what you did wrong, and what you should do to change it. Again, this is not just applicable to work, but all situations.

  • Michael Doyle

    I had a reoccurring summer job that consists of painting houses in the dry, desert heat of Nevada, and one thing I learned from that is that your boss is always cranky. This means that every mistake I made as an employee was like pricking him with a needle, and if I was able to own up to it early, be honest, and fix it quickly, he was much less aggravated and I was a lot less on edge. It makes the whole work environment a little more tolerable.

  • Kristen Hall

    Handling mistakes with grace and humility is a skill that I have had to work hard at for a long time to be able to call a strength. It used to be one of my weaknesses. I used to try to hide every mistake that I made for as long as possible and hope that I would have the chance to fix it before anyone noticed. But after failing miserably at this several times, I taught myself how to handle mistakes with maturity instead of covering them up. Between forgetting things, being clumsy, and trying to learn new jobs, our lives can get challenging. I have found, though, that most people will be very understanding and forgiving if you keep your head and are honest about your mistakes. It is certainly true, however, that once you enter the professional work force, your tolerance for mistakes must decrease. There will be true consequences to every mistake that you make so it is imperative that you learn from them. chosen for top 75 websites for your career

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About the author


In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.