Making a mistake big enough to get you fired is a situation no one wants to be in, but knowing how to react could save you from losing your job. Here's what to do, if you ever find yourself in such an awful spot.
Image from Hamza Butt.
What to Do Immediately
As soon as you realise you've made a mistake, bring it to your boss' attention. This can be a scary conversation to have, but if you wait and your boss hears about it from someone else, you'll be in a worse situation. Your manager will also want you to make clear how this mistake happened, so be ready to explain that as well. Hannah Morgan, job search strategist and founder of CareerSherpa.net, advises that you come into this conversation with a few proposed solutions both to fix what's happened and prevent it from happening again. Your boss might also have their own solutions they want to put into action.
If you don't have all these details (such as how the mistake happened), own up to your actions and commit to finding out what happened and bringing solutions to your boss ASAP. Your boss is going to talk to you about the impact of the mistake, what happened, and what should happen next anyway, so being proactive about showing them you understand the seriousness of the situation and that you're working to make things right puts you in a better position to save yourself from being fired.
How to Repair Your Reputation
Follow through is key to repairing your professional reputation and your relationship with your manager. Move forward with the solutions your boss has approved and keep them in the loop on progress and results. Morgan explains that open communication with your boss, even if it feels awkward or painful, shows them you're committed to improving, which makes it easier for them to support you as you move forward from your mistake.
You also need to be vigilant with your work for at least six months following your mess-up. Take care not to make any more large mistakes, and try to perform at a stellar level to show that you can be trusted. This might mean putting in extra hours to double-check your work and make sure you've covered all your bases, but it's worth it if your reputation is restored and your manager rebuilds their confidence in you.
What to Do If You're Fired
Sometimes, even when people make their best effort, a big mistake still gets them fired. If find yourself without a job, Morgan recommends trying to set aside your emotions in favour of improvement:
This is the time to reflect on why you made that mistake and what you could have done differently. Have you made similar mistakes in the past, were you warned, or was this mistake indicative of other underlying issues? Don't cast blame. Take ownership of what you can control. It also may require enrolling in training or coaching to strengthen your weak spots. We all have areas we can improve upon and there's nothing wrong with recognising this and taking steps to improve.
Of course, being fired is an emotional event for most people, so take some time to process the loss and prepare yourself for the situation you're in now. You'll need to find solid references since your previous manager may not be able to serve as one in your job search. Think about how you'll answer questions about what happened in future job interviews.
Making a big mistake, especially at work, can be hard to face, but the sooner you address what happened with your boss and commit to turning things around, the better off you'll be.