Save a Screw Up from Spiraling

Uh oh. You look at the email again, re-reading it to make sure you understood it right. Your stomach drops, your palms get sweaty, and all of a sudden your eyes are the size of saucers. Before you silently start letting out every obscenity you can imagine, the truth sinks in: you screwed up.

Before you jump off the deep end, hang on a second. Everyone makes mistakes. It happens to some more than others and some are bigger mistakes than others, but when it comes down to it, we all make them. Often, it’s not the actual mistake that causes the damage, but the aftermath of it. In your professional life, a mistake could damage your reputation, it could throw your work off kilter, or it could cost you. Let’s face it, not making a mistake is not an option.

If you’re ever interviewing for a job, you can bet that you’ll be asked about a time where you failed or made a mistake, not because the interviewers want to prove that you’re not perfect, but because they’re interested in your behavior and how you deal with failure. What you do after you make a mistake to treat it as a stumble on the path forward instead of a fall that leads to a downward spiral—that’s what they want to know. Here’s what I do.

Take responsibility.

When a mistake happens because of you, the worst thing you can do is point the blame somewhere else and avoid responsibility. If a mistake happened because of an oversight on your end or an error, take accountability for your actions. Many companies, such as my employer, Intel, want employees to practice risk-taking—but not every risk pays off. People are more likely to forgive you or look past an error if you take accountability for your actions. It shows that you are willing to demonstrate ownership, you stand by your work, and you have a realistic view of the world.


Put in a fix.

One of my personal pet peeves is when someone makes a mistake but doesn’t learn from it and continues to make the same mistake over and over again. Taking accountability for your actions is one thing, but it needs to come hand-in-hand with a plan to identify the heart of the error and a fix to prevent it from happening again. Sometimes a fix is as simple as spending more time on a task instead of rushing through it. It could also be seeking help because you don’t have the right expertise on hand to solve the problem. A fix could also be admitting that the process in place isn’t needed and would actually be detrimental, so removing it would avoid the mistake from happening again.


Forgive yourself.

This might be the hardest part of bouncing back from a mistake. If you’re anything like me, you’re your own worst critic. Stop beating yourself up, and forgive yourself. Mistakes happen. If you’ve done everything in your power to prevent it from happening again, you’ve learned from it, and you are proactive about putting in a fix, then there isn’t anything else you can do. Dwelling on a mistake will keep you stuck in one spot and stunt your own growth. Instead–dust yourself off, learn from your mistake, and move on feeling more motivated than before to continue forward.

So the next time you go in for a job interview, don’d dread the question asking about a time you failed. Instead, pause, reflect, and share, because mistakes happen and they’re not going to stop anytime soon.

What are some mistakes you’ve made in your career? How did you bounce back?


Sejal is a Recruitment Marketing Project Manager at Intel. She is part of the team that is responsible for Intel’s global employment brand. This team helps connect candidates with Intel and Intel with candidates using channels such as the Jobs at Intel web site, the Life at Intel microsite and other Web 2.0 channels. Sejal specifically manages the Jobs at Intel Blog and Intel’s recruitment Facebook strategy. Originally from Toronto, Ontario (yes—a real, breathing Canadian!), Sejal graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with her Bachelor’s in Communications before starting at Intel in 2008. When she’s not working, you’ll find Sejal working at crossing things off of her Bucket List (which includes skydiving, reading 1000 books and traveling the world), eating cupcakes or spending time with family and friends. To learn more about opportunities with Intel, visit, follow Intel on Twitter @JobsatIntel or check out the Jobs@Intel blog!

Related posts:

  1. What’s Your Purpose?
  2. How To: Save Your Soul From E-mail Hell
  3. Failure is an Option

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