You won’t be promoted if you don’t do this – and you may be fired

When your boss reviews your work, typically he’ll suggest some improvements and correct some errors. It’s the errors that are really dangerous to your career. There are two kinds of errors. First, there’s the harmless kind, where you make a mistake that just about anyone in your shoes would make. You are new on the job, for example, and still learning the ropes. There are lots of other acceptable ways in which you might screw up.

I'm firing you and the person who hired youThe second type of error is the career-killing sort. If your boss finds easily preventable errors in your work, you will be lucky to keep your job and definitely won’t be promoted if you repeat them regularly. What’s an easily preventable error? That’s an error that –

  • you could have detected yourself by checking your own work or
  • you’ve been trained not to make and to watch for or
  • is due to haste, inattention and carelessness.

When you make easily preventable errors, you’re telling your boss that you need babysitting. Trust me, he doesn’t want to be your babysitter! If you really want a promotion, you will need to show your boss the opposite, that you are ready to babysit others.

catching your own mistakes

Show your boss you don’t need babysitting by checking your work carefully before delivering it:

  • Proofread by reading out loud – you will catch many more mistakes, if not all of them. Next, scan your writing backwards. Yes I mean that – start with the last word on the page and work your way from right to left, bottom to top. Both of these techniques prevent your brain from running on autopilot, which is how you miss mistakes.
  • Have a coworker or friend review your work. Sometimes you are too close to a project and know too much about it to step back and see it the way it will be perceived by others.
  • Give it a real-world test. Run through the process from beginning to end without skipping any steps or making any assumptions.

Make checking your work a habit and you’ll build trust with your boss that will eventually get you promoted.

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  • Shannonewilson42

    As I need a job that I can have while in graduate school that will help pay the bills, I find this very helpful. Proofreading out loud is something that I have never tried.
    I realize the need to not be baby sat. I also value any advice a boss might give me in order to improve my performance. But what does one do when no advice is given and you think you are doing fine. Then at the last minute, you are given notice that today is your last day because you are not performing up to company standards? This has happened to people I know more than once.

  • Kathleen Hindman

    The lesson for me in this is that no matter how far you come in your career you can still make a mistake. you must always keep a level head, and carefully check your work, and pay attention to every task you do no matter how small or pointless it may seam to you.

  • I currently work as a front desk staff person as a part time job while going to school. I have developed many office related skills through working this job, and one thing that I have learned about those skills is that no matter what skills you have, it is easy to make a mistake! I have learned to check and double check all work that I do in my office because I truly want to do my best, and let my managers know that I am a trustworthy, and reliable employee.

    Every semester in my office my manager and I have a meeting together to discuss how we thought the semester went overall. She gives me feedback about the tasks I completed over the course of the semester, and comments related to my work ethic. If there are any negative things that she comments on, or things that she would like me to improve on, I make sure to take note of them and I strive to change and do those things more efficiently when the next semester begins.

    I feel that it is important to try your best, and be careful of making mistakes in any job or career. This is especially true of a situation like mine where I am working this part time job in order to get me to the next stage of my life. The people I meet here, the impression I leave on them, and the connections I make as an employee could all be factors in what my next future boss or superviser will think of me, or whether or not I get hired at all in such a competitive market.

  • Jlynne

    In my office, not only do I have to check my work, I have to double check it. Attention to detail is especially important when working with numbers and confidential information. One wrong letter in the last name can send important paperwork to the wrong person, causing our office or clients to miss deadlines. This can also result in something as serious as identity theft, for which my office could be held liable. It is for this reason that I always make sure to double check my work.

    I have seen men and women let go for very simple mistakes like this. Five extra minutes of their time could have prevented the loss of their income. As someone who is now in training for lower level management, I truly hope this is a lesson that my incoming employees learn: a lesson I do not wish to teach them the hard way. Thank you for making this very useful lesson available.

  • AGururaj

    I believe this is a lesson useful in every walk of life, not simply the workplace. I am a college student, and I can remember countless times when proofreading and double (or even triple) checks have saved me and/or my team members. This past year I worked in a group at my university to organize an Energy Conference. Our team was organizing a panel discussion, and had to submit initial abstracts and requests for speakers. These requests were going to people at top faculty, business, and political institutions. As one of the few undergrads involved, I felt greatly outmatched by the graduate students who seemed to know so much more and have so many more connections. When the abstracts and requests came to me to look over, I approached it with nonchalance, as I believed there was nothing I could contribute to it. I was shocked to find grammar errors and various editing to be fixed, and found that regardless of my age I was still able to provide insight into the work being done. Of course, there are all those times on tests in high school when revising my work proved so helpful. The most memorable of these occurred when I took the ACT, a standardized exam for college admissions. Despite the fact that I finished the section of the exam with 15 minutes to spare, I reviewed it a few times. In the last five minutes, i debated between closing my book and looking back just one more time. Indeed, I found a math mistake that I hadn’t caught the past few times. A few weeks later I found out I had earned a perfect score on that exam. No matter how advanced an individual is, ultimately, he or she is human and errors are inevitable. A few revisions can never hurt anyone.

  • jthomson

    This is how I do my written homework assignments now. I sometimes catch errors or note where I left something out. This is a good tool to use at a job too. This would benefit anyone who is trying to be thorough and not make mistakes in their work.

  • Sarah Amaya

    I started working at an ice cream shop about a year ago. The place was just opening for the first time and we were all new employees. Just in the first week they fired two people because of little things like not having their apron clean or always giving away their shifts. I wanted to be one of the employees that would still be there a year later because I liked my boss and my coworkers.

    After we had been open for six months we had our review for the first semester. My boss, the general manager, said she was happy with my work. However, since she had been thinking of promoting me to be a shift leader, she had some ideas for improvement. She said I needed to learn how to clean the ice cream machines and how to open in the morning by myself in case I was needed to do so; I also started getting trained to do the registers and night. Finally, she said I had to step up as a leader.

    I have always been more of a follower, I love working in groups and I rarely have a problem following directions. My manager said she trusted me and she was confident I could do it. I didn’t want to let her down so I decided to step up, as she had suggested, and I took the initiative to ask to be scheduled to clean the machines and open the store the next two weeks. When my boss found out she was happy and satisfied that I had taken her suggestions and that she could count on me as a shift leader.

    We started as a group of nineteen employees, ten months later, only eleven of us are still there. The sad thing is that some of the others got fired for small errors that could have been prevented. I have learned to double check my work (especially when it comes to doing the registers and working with money). I make sure to ask questions if I’m not sure what to do in a certain situation and if I make a mistake I correct it. Sometimes I’m the only shift leader closing at night with other employees and although that makes me uneasy, it shows that my manager is confident that I don’t need babysitting. She has even talked to me about being a manager in the future, and that makes me feel great about myself because it means I have done a good job so far.

  • This lesson to me is a big wakeup call
    because in past years I was prone to making careless mistakes on a paper. Not
    only does it show responsibility, but maturity by having the patience and care
    to look over a piece of work and make sure it is up to par. And I have notice
    that as my academic standing has risen it has done so with performing simple
    checking and proofreading procedures.

  • armstrongce

    This article is so relevant, regardless of what field you work in. As I have worked my way through the corporate ladder into a mid-level career, I have noticed that the dynamics of making mistakes don’t change, no matter what you’re doing.
    Every field has a different learning curve and level of attention to detail that must be acquired to be considered for promotional opportunities.
    I have always felt that I had a strong attention to detail in everything I do in life. My professional experience has humbled me, as I’ve learned that it is so easy to take something like this for granted and make small mistakes as referenced in this article, at any time.
    I believe it is important that you want to be respected for the type of work that you produce and you have to want that enough in order to perform well. This means paying attention to everything you do, regardless of whether you feel good at it or not.
    It’s easy to get comfortable and that tends to be when mistakes happen the most.
    I feel it is important to be challenged every day and to want the best from ourselves, just as our bosses do. I have found that if you adopt that mentality even in the small every day details, you create a reputation for yourself, which opens the door to endless opportunities.

  • Kelend Chevelon

    my boss is a mean men and he always trying to get me scared from what i see if he see you scared to loss your job he will be in your head but me i am not a person to be played with i will put my boss in is place and quit because me am hard working person the boss be thinking he will find a sweet kind wonder girl like me no he wont. but you have to be u dont be somebody u not just be you and your boss might like you.

  • Joanne

    As a previous student assistant, I lost the opportunity to continue the position for the upcoming semester. At first, I wondered what I had done wrong to get let go or why my boss “did not like me”. Her words were: You just aren’t catching on quickly enough. At the time I’d felt that my duties were simple: answer the phone, take messages, and file paper work; I thought I’d done that well enough to be kept as a worker for the upcoming semester(s). Looking back, I realize that I’d repeated a lot of my mistakes and that must have been very frustrating for my boss who constantly had to repeat herself. It relates to your point above, “making easily preventable errors”. At times I was so concerned with getting a task done quickly so I wouldn’t seem slow-moving that I would hastely file papers, only to later hear about how it was filed in the wrong place. Also, instead of taking notes when given a long list of information, I would try to memorize it all, only to later regret it when I had to go back and ask my boss for help again. I definitely did some reflecting on my work ethic after my time there was not renewed. I realize that I lost out on a really good position, a position that was not demanding and it allowed me to do my homework while on the job. I had to learn the hard way that no boss wants to babysit a 21 year old. I’m ready to out do myself in my next position and prove that I have what it takes to be a great employee.

  • Scooter48

    This sounds like such good advice and I will copy it into a word documennt and read it over and over. I already noticed some of this behavior in our teams as I try to obtain my Bachelor’s degree. I pay attention and I want not only to pass, but to exell in my work alone or in teams.

  • maindaburu

    I’ve been known to work in haste, and have been an offender of not checking and double checking my work. Procrastination is a job killer, as a deadline approaches work becomes sloppy and turned in without a second glance take heed from this advice. Working smart is working efficiently, and never making the same mistake twice shows that one has learned from previous errors.

  • leaj92

    I have two executive level parents who manage a lot of people. I am constantly hearing them handle situations and correcting mistakes that their workers have made. My dad owns a business in the area and I have spent summers volunteering to help him out in the store. One time there was a day when the amount of money in the register did not add up to what the computer said it should be. I was the only one who was working the register that day so it was clearly my fault. It was a matter of there being too much money, because of course I would never steal from my father, but that would mean that I had given someone the wrong change, or put something in wrong, which could ultimately reflect poorly on his business. I was a little too carefree when working and it was not until I made this crucial mistake that I realized the importance of checking and re-checking my work. I have worked in retail and other customer-oriented businesses and now I count and recount the change that I give to the customer. Not only that, but I make sure to take my time in everything that I do in order to avoid mistakes.

  • I have the greatest manager ever. It is typically our regional manager that likes to make threats. The regional has to be a tough guy because he is in charge of multiple stores and their success. He wants us to constantly make sales plan, and to keep our KPI’s at the company level at least. If we do better, thats great. My manager knows we try our very best. He is very encouraging. He knows to not let our regional’s faxes discourage us. He knows I know how to do my job. I am great with customer’s and I do not need a babysitter. Most manager’s do their “coaching” in a negative manner which does not help the situation. My manager gives me back both positive and negative feedback. In order to keep our KPI’s higher we bounce ideas off one another and relay sucesses and failures back and forth. We try many things to succeed. We are a great team. My regional does recognize me as an importantn asset, but he has to put on the “hard face” when he’s in front of the entire region. We are his team and we must learn to work well together. When we win, we all win, when we lose, we all lose. That is how he views us. Learn to take the good with the bad. Learn to have some energy. Continue wanting to learn and do better, and you will get ahead in life.

  • sholgu30

    This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of advice to receive in a work setting. The only way you will be comfortable and perform your job well, will be when you experience that your boss trusts you and that you know what you’re doing. Mistakes happen all the time, but don’t let it become a habit. It’s crucial to revise and make sure everything has been done to the best of your knowledge.

    I once worked as a lab assistant at the community college and life was great! I loved my job and did the best I could. My boss had known me for some time and trusted me along with another co-worker very well. However, the beginning of the spring semester had arrived, and my boss had moved my co-worker and I to another lab. I didn’t take it as much of a change, until I realized that I had another supervisor who was about to take guard. Just after a few days, I started dreading working in the lab. She was constantly checking up on us, when all we did was set up lab carts and wash lab equipment. Sometimes, I felt as though she would spy on us and checked every detail to make sure everything was perfect. I soon had to quit, but it felt like such a relief. As much I disliked her, I remained professional and I never had any complains from my boss.

  • EmbersLeftInMe

    As I enter a new job (that of a bank teller) I find this lesson to be rather important. This will be my first professional-setting job. I feel that minor mess-ups will be premise for harsh reprimanding or even termination. Using these tactics such as proof-reading out loud and backwards will help me avoid those mess-ups and stand out. Hopefully with the help of this technique and others I will be well on my way to a higher position. Thank you for the advise in this article.

  • Lady Aoi

    This lesson is 80% competence and 20% preference. As someone else posted, they were on a learning curve because their current job saw errors where their previous job saw none. I would say beyond all the re-checking, make sure you are crystal clear on what is expected. Repeat deliverables and expectations. Asking questions when instructions seem vague or unclear will avoid errors that could cost you a job.

    I did lose a job over an error on my part that I attributed to poor instructions from my superior. I was a clerical worker in a warehouse for a mortgage company. The short of it was that we stored and maintained physical paperwork. My usual job involved pulling files or making sure the files were arranged properly. One day boss says he wants me to place files. He showed me how to place files into folder, label folders and put folders on the shelf. However, he failed to mention that files are attached with paperclips. So I ended up filing 3-5 files into each folder, with no way to backtrack to a fix the error. Goodbye job, hello staffing agency.

  • This is very true especially in the medical field. Right now I’m a nursing student and it really does amaze me how any little mix-up, mistake, or minute of inattentiveness could really hurt someone. Thankfully, our teachers have scared us to death so it is ingrained in my brain to constantly double-check myself, because ultimately, I will someday be responsible for someone’s life. The one story that stuck to me was of a newly hired nurse that didn’t read a prescription for a medication correctly and failed to ask someone since she obviously didn’t understand the abbreviation. PO stands for by mouth. The prescription was for a stomach ache, Mylanta. She gave the medication through an IV, which ended in a sentinel event and she lost her job. I know that when I start working as a nurse, I’m definitely double-checking all of my work. I don’t want to lose my job which I’ve worked so hard to get, plus be responsible for something like that. =/

  • Melissa Allen

    Great advice! I just recently started working company after being at my previous company for 15 years. I believe the hardest part about turning in “error-free” work is when what you are turning in was not considered an error at your previous place of employment but it to your current boss. I am going through quite the learning curve but I am trying to be very diligent at listening to what my boss is asking for and what he finds acceptable.

  • I am total agreement with these suggestions. You shouldn’t have to be babysat when it comes to a job your an adult. After your trained yes you’ll have questions to ask as your learning but you shouldn’t have to be told over and over again what your job is.Being a self-starter is a big plus for employers as well, and sometimes you’ll get promoted because they see that you are.

  • I totally agree with this suggestion. If the boss continually sees professional, error free work coming from you he or she will have a lot more trust in you and your abilities as an employee. These are the employees they are more likely to promote after you have been there for awhile. I also believe that the better your work is, the better your attitude will be. If you are satisfied with the way you perform at work, the better you will feel about yourself.

  • warriors219

    I couldn’t agree more with this page.  I just started an internship for an engineering company near my home.  First couple of weeks on the job I was so nervous when given tasks that I would rush through them or miss simple things.  My boss never saw them, but my fellow worker was getting frustrated with my carelessness.  I needed to find a to calm down and do my work accurately and effectively.  After one day at work, once I got home, I thought of every task I was given in the first two weeks, and wrote checklists for each one.  This way I could maintain speed at work and then check each thing of my list until I new I was done and my boss would be pleased.  It cut down on my stupid errors and calmed me as well.  I definitely recommend checklists as a solution.

  • Ninetailedfox5715

    This page is on spot explaining the different types of mishaps and solutions to avoiding troublesome situations. Current employers have educational tools on how to explain solutions to tasks in the jobs criteria.

  • Jspyda

    Wow this is very beneficial to me whom never had a job before. These are great tips for when i do get my first job i won’t be stuck on that one level forever. 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.