how big of a deal are mistakes when you’re new to a job?

A reader writes:

I’m a student who’s still pretty fresh from high school and only a year or so into college. While searching for a summer job, I applied to a variety of places and ended up getting a job at a corporate office-type setting. My previous work experience has been in retail and fast food, so needless to say, I don’t have a lot of experience in this kind of setting.

I’ve had the position for a little more than two weeks and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, from grabbing the wrong work file to not responding when my supervisor sends me an assignment via email (which I now realize is a workplace no-no, how stupid of me). Maybe it’s because I still have a very academic-oriented mindset, but I feel like I should be keeping a spotless track record–that every mistake big or small is a strike against me, and that I am only causing trouble for others. Are my worries justified or am I making things a bigger deal than they really are?

Everyone makes mistakes when they first start a job — and most people make a ton of mistakes in their first office job. A certain amount of this is completely normal, and the mistakes you described sound pretty small. The important thing is for you to pay attention, demonstrate that you’re not cavalier about details or about mistakes, and incorporate what you learn from those mistakes into your work going forward. And remember — your manager knows that she hired you without previous office experience; it’s not like that’s a surprise to her, so she’s probably not horrified that you’ve got a bit of a learning curve.

However, it wouldn’t hurt to say something to your manager like, “I want to tell you that I’m mortified by the mistakes I’ve made. This is my first office job so my learning curve is pretty big right now, but I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’m trying to learn quickly. If there’s anything you want me to do differently, I’d welcome feedback at any time.” If nothing else, getting this out in the open is going to make you feel better. But also, saying something like that is pretty disarming, and it’s the kind of thing that will make most people want to help you — and your manager is more likely to cut you more slack if she sees that you’re being thoughtful and conscientious.

And if you’re worried, you can always sit down with your manager and ask, “How am I doing?” You don’t want to ask this every day, of course, but after your first couple of weeks, it’s entirely appropriate. Part of your manager’s role is to give you feedback, and if she’s good at her job, she’ll be able to help you better calibrate what’s “normal” a few weeks into the job.

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna*

    The important thing in this process is that the OP is aware of their mistakes and is (hopefully) taking pains to make sure they don’t happen again. Alison’s advice is great. Talk to your manager and express your interest in your desire to improve.

    1. AMG*

      yes! I just made mistakes today, and my manager knows I’m really trying. Just give her the best you have and your will keep improving.

  2. GrumpyBoss*

    The most important thing to learn about mistakes in the office place is to take ownership of them. Everybody makes a mistake, no matter how experienced they are. It’s the people who try to hide their mistakes that get into trouble.

    When I make a mistake, I ask myself:
    What happened?
    Why did it happen?
    What do I need to do differently so it never happens again?

    What a horrible world we’d be in if people weren’t given the opportunity to recover and learn from mess ups. That being said, sometimes a mistake is just *that bad* that you don’t get a second chance. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with the OP.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, this. If you discover you’ve made a mistake, you need to be honest about it as soon as you can so it can be corrected. Mistakes can be fixed – hiding a mistake from your boss or project manager is the problem. Trying to fix a mistake in a convoluted way is also a problem. For instance – I realized this afternoon I forgot to sign a form I put in interoffice mail. It was still in the mailroom, so I opened the envelope, signed & made my corrected copies and moved on. If the envelope had already left my office, the responsible thing to do would be to talk to my boss about how to correct it (probably contact the person who would be receiving it and warning them I forgot to sign it, let me know when they get it and I’ll come sign). Crazy things like you see in movies or sitcoms involving creating a distraction so I can sneak into the mailroom and rifle through the mail to retrieve the envelope before the recipient gets it – not the right thing to do.
      One thing that I think shows a lot of maturity is to own up to the mistake and then offer a brief suggestion on how you might correct it (if its within your power to do so). For instance “Boss, I just realized the file I gave you for Jane Smith had last years projected numbers instead of this year’s. I’ve made the corrections to the file – would you like me to re-send it to her or will you?” You don’t need to throw yourself on your sword or grovel – just admit your mistake, apologize (once, briefly, not over and over) and then talk to your boss about fixing it.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, knowing how to handle the aftermath is huge.

        I made a mistake when I was new in IT that in my mind was huge – I was physically sick in the bathroom steeling myself to tell my boss and I had prepared to tell him the solution I had come up with to fix it. My solution totally would have worked – and taken me about 4 hours of reversing and re-entering transactions.

        I went in and fessed up. He told me to breathe and that yes, my way would work but let me show you something…and he showed me the utility that rolls back the batch so it took about 5 minutes to fix.

        And speaking from an IT standpoint being honest about what happened can mean the difference in something taking me a few minutes to fix but lying about it and feigning ignorance can send me down rabbit holes to find the root cause and cost me hours. I am very understanding about mistakes – we all mis-click from time to time – it happens. I am never understanding about lying to me because that’s a blatant disregard for my time. And it’s insulting because the odds are once I find it I’m going to know what you did and whether or not you knew you did it.

        Kind of like if you want to get revenge on someone you don’t put something stinky in the middle of their carpet – they can see it and clean it immediately. You sew raw shrimp into the hems of their curtains – so the smell grows with time but is hard to pinpoint and the last place you’d look.

        I’d much rather people dump stinky fish on my floor then sew them into the curtains.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, with IT mistakes time is of the essence. If you just made the mistake and deleted a whole table in the database today, there is a chance it can be restored from last night’s backup and not much work will be lost.
          Tomorrow however, the backup may have been overwritten with today’s backup. Call immediately as soon as you realize your mistake. You won’t be the first person to have done it – or possibly even the first person today.

        2. Colette*

          Kind of like if you want to get revenge on someone you don’t put something stinky in the middle of their carpet – they can see it and clean it immediately. You sew raw shrimp into the hems of their curtains – so the smell grows with time but is hard to pinpoint and the last place you’d look.

          I need to remember not to do anything that might make Jamie want to get revenge.

            1. Windchime*

              Save yourself the sewing materials and either put it in the end of the curtain rod or — my favorite — down the heat register.

          1. Catherine in Canada*

            A dead mouse in the ceiling would be good too.

            Don’t ask this (former) country dweller how I know…

        3. Ann Furthermore*

          You are so right about the IT stuff. Earlier in the year there was a huge pricing snafu, caused by someone who put the wrong prices into a spreadsheet loader and then hit the button. Or didn’t update them, or something — I was not directly involved. In any event, it took many hours by quite a few of my co-workers to fix it. Then we found out that the person who caused all the uproar was telling customers that “Oracle messed up the pricing.” One of my co-workers, who is the most laid back, easygoing person you’d ever want to meet, was absolutely livid. It’s one thing to screw up, we all do it. But to lie about it — and then blame “the system” is just so infuriating.

          Another thing about IT I’ve learned (at least in Oracle) is that there are very few things that can’t be undone. When I was first learning how to use it, I once got the closing steps out of order in the AP module, and ended up sweeping an entire month’s worth of transactions into the next period. And then couldn’t change it back. Ack! That’s a mistake you only make once!

        4. Sigrid*

          That is a truly amazing way to get revenge and I am definitely not writing it down to remember it later.

        5. Camellia*

          Sewing takes too much time. Just remove the end cap and stuff them into the hollow curtain rod.

        6. Anonsie*

          I always heard you were supposed to put shrimp frozen in a block of ice in a vent so it would melt and smell long after you were gone, so as not to arouse suspicion, but would also stink up the entire house.

          1. Anon*

            Probably a good plan.

            I was once in a house (not mine) in which a cat had peed into a vent repeatedly. It, uh, yeah, stinks up the entire house.

  3. nep*

    Great advice. Mistakes are inevitable as we undertake anything new. (Ever learned a foreign language? Pretty much impossible without making mistakes.)
    It’s how we handle our mistakes that counts. Openness with your manager can only help, it seems. Take advantage of this period at the start of a new job, when it’s completely normal that you’re learning, making mistakes, asking questions. All the best to you.

  4. Adam*

    The fact you’re aware of the goofs and recognize the room to improve reflects well on you already. And it’s true the people who hired you likely anticipated you were going to have an awkward period of adjustment to this new environment. If you can identify when you goof up, apologize, fix it best you can, and do better in the future your managers will probably be really impressed with you.

    And people make mistakes at all ages, and BOY do they!

  5. nep*

    (Just to note — of course everyone makes mistakes, no matter how seasoned in a given job. How you handle them says a lot about you and your professionalism, and about how you’ll handle setbacks or mistakes in future.)

  6. Eden*

    + one billion to these responses.

    Already you are on the right path, because your post isn’t full of excuses and reasons your mistakes are someone else’s fault. We all make mistakes, even those of us who have been working for 25 years (I try not to make the same mistake more than once, but I haven’t yet run out of unique mistakes). As long as you learn from your mistakes you’ll be just fine.

  7. Jamie*

    If you could do a new job completely error free than it’s the easiest job ever – so that’s unreasonable.

    Try really hard not to make the same mistake twice. It shows you learn from them. Keep making the same one over and over and it’s no longer a mistake, it’s sloppiness or incompetence.

  8. Para Girl*

    Good for you for reading a post that will prove invaluable through out your career!! If you make a point to learn from your mistakes, you can think of them as mistakes you won’t make again!

    Good luck! It sounds like you will do very well.

  9. Dawn*

    Jamie hit the nail on the head- DON’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE.

    What has continuously blown my mind as I’ve come up through the corporate world is that everyone makes mistakes- EVERYONE (including the execs and the VPs and the woman who’s been here forever and the guy who everyone regards as the smartest person at the company). However, I rarely if ever notice these mistakes because A) they’re usually very small (because Experienced Teapot Executive has enough experience to catch a small mistake before it becomes a big one) and B) they’re dealt with and then forgotten by all parties.

    Also GrumpyBoss’ advice about following up on your mistakes and working to ensure they don’t happen again is something I wish I had been told when I was fresh into the work force instead of having to learn the hard way!!

  10. Edward*

    Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing
    is to learn from them. While in college, it was ok
    to walk in the Dean’s office without knocking
    (if the door was opened). When I got my first
    job, this was considered inappropriate. I never
    knew. The office thought I should have known
    automatically. I just did what I did in college.

    1. Laura*

      …and in my office, it WOULD be correct, provided the person wasn’t obviously conversing with someone else / on the phone. I walk in the door and only tap the door frame if they don’t notice me, all the time. As does everyone else.

      1. Windchime*

        Yes, that’s how we do it. Pause in the doorway, gentle tap, and ask if a quick interruption is OK. If Boss is on the phone, wearing headphones, or looks intensely involved in his work, I might think twice.

    2. Jamie*

      I’ve never thought about it – but I think it would be weird if people just walked in and plunked down without being acknowledged.

      We have an unwritten open door policy where our doors are open by default so if closed one only knocks for true emergencies since either some very focused work, a webinar, confidential call or meeting closes doors. Some people knock on the door frame, but most of us have our desks facing the door and so it’s just a matter of looking up when you see someone in the doorway. Once you acknowledge them they walk in – or if you’re in the middle of something holding up your hand or whatever and they come back later.

      But this is a good example of the little things one wouldn’t necessarily know before working in an office. Names are another thing.

      My kids all worked at my company during school breaks and to the one they all had a hard time calling my bosses and people my age by their first names. But I taught them you call people what they want to be called, but it was SO uncomfortable for them while they were in highschool to call the owners of my company by their first names. But they all got used to it. Funny thing is their default was formal (Mr/Mrs, etc) and everyone thought that was charming. In the reverse, if the default was first names in a place where that wasn’t okay it would not have been seen as charming – more presumptuous.

      So it’s a good rule of thumb when you don’t know the culture err on the side of formal – as it’s less awkward to be asked to be more familiar than less.

  11. James M*

    Echoing the consensus so far: the only irredeemable mistake you can make is to no learn from your mistakes. But it sounds like you’re in no danger of that.

    At this point in your life, making mistakes is expected (by sane people at least, which excludes some parents I know). Own your mistakes, you’ll grow as a person.

    Mi steaks are great!

    1. Jamie*

      And now I want a steak…

      Seriously though, owning your mistakes is the best way to build credibility. If I can trust you to own it when it’s you I’ll believe you when you say it’s not – this is huge.

      When I was super new to the work force I screwed something up – used the wrong average in a productivity report that went out to all managers. I caught it so I went into the meeting where they were discussing it and explained and hurriedly passed out the corrected sheets. (I don’t know that anyone would have caught the error in that meeting.)

      The COO came up to me later and said he’d never seen anyone admit to an error publicly before. He said they used to have a culture where blaming others was done in self defense and it was nice to see someone who didn’t do that. But I wasn’t there in that culture and I was new enough to the work force that I didn’t even consider the political fallout.

      1. Windchime*

        Oh, you want a steak? How fortunate. There is a guy driving through my neighborhood right now–apparently his boss bought too many, and he’s trying to sell them at a discount! :::huge eye roll::::

          1. Paige Turner*

            Or he bought them with SNAP (food stamps) and is selling them for cash…as things go around here.

  12. pidgeonpenelope*

    This advice is spot on from my experiences working in office environments. Bosses expect mistakes to happen from time to time but it’s most definitely how you handle them and grow from them that they care about the most.

  13. Jessica*

    Yes, totally agree. The important things are 1) owning up to your mistakes, 2) acknowledging why they’re a problem, 3) fixing them when possible, and 4) not repeating them in the future.

    One of the things that infuriates me is when a coworker makes a mistake — for example, sending out wrong information to hundreds of people — and then says, “Oops, that was wrong,” but doesn’t acknowledge the possible impact or apologize for the fact that I (as the office manager) will now have to take dozens of phone calls from confused people who saw the wrong information and missed the follow-up correction. And when it happens a second time? Definitely not cool.

  14. LBK*

    Tangential to this: please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ask questions if you don’t know how to do things. I had one newly hired coworker who would always insist he knew how to do everything, understood the processes, had no questions…and then when I actually reviewed the work, it was riddled with errors that made it clear he had no idea. He was so afraid of being judged for not understanding something that he would never ask for help or say he needed me to review something with him.

    I guarantee your manager will appreciate a million questions about how to do things right vs having to correct you for a million errors. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, please, please, PLEASE just ask.

    Also, when there are errors, a certain level of mortified is appropriate depending on the severity of the error, but don’t over-apologize, either. When the above-mentioned coworker would be called out on an error, he’d spend 5 minutes groveling every time, even when I was clear that it was fine for him to still be learning and that I didn’t expect perfection, but I still wanted to call his attention to the mistake.

    Taking feedback about errors gracefully will win you a lot of points. Apologize, make sure you understand why it was an error and how to proceed correctly in the future, volunteer to fix it if that’s possible, and then move on.

    1. Jamie*

      Yes, yes, yes – and good managers know someone new to the office (and especially new to any office) will have a lot of questions and be prepared for them.

      And the OP should know that good managers expect you to make some mistakes so your initial responsibilities should be such that they won’t be catastrophic.

      When I have new users in the system who are new to the whole ERP thing some of them are so afraid if they do something wrong they will wipe everything out and screw up the whole system. I have to kindly reassure people that I’m not stupid enough to give just anyone that kind of access. Their ability to screw up is limited and easily fixed – as they become more comfortable their access expands – but you’d have to be IT to do the kind of damage some are afraid of.

      It’s the same for other business processes. No decent manager gives a brand new entry level employee mission critical tasks without a safety net and some checks and balances in place.

      Because new employees are wild cards. Some are great and diligent about learning and asking first before going off script. Some think they know everything and plow ahead without asking causing others to trail behind them with metaphorical mop buckets cleaning their messes. Those people get access to nothing until they learn some restraint. And some are so afraid of doing anything wrong they need a lot of hand holding until they are comfortable.

      The first kind are the favorites of IT the world over, and the third kind can come up to speed quickly with the right training and teaching about how things work globally and what they can and can’t do. The second kind will always get the side eye from most of us until they prove they can stop trying to color outside the lines when it comes to the system.

      1. Anlyn*

        It’s not even new hires. I’ve worked in my position for several years, and I’m just starting to learn Unix administration. Everyone makes mistakes in the beginning, and my supervisors and trainers know this and understand if I mess up. It still doesn’t keep me from being terrified of accidentally taking down a critical ID and causing a horrifying outage, though, heh.

        1. Windchime*

          The higher up one goes in IT, the more one appreciates safety nets such as backups and source control. Because no matter what level you are at and how careful you are, mistakes can and do happen because we are all human.

          I am very, very glad tonight for Source Control. Someone made a mistake that resulted in 4 of my packages being eliminated from a project (group of code files), but thanks to Source Control I should be able to put things back together without too much trouble.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      Yes! Please just ask if you don’t understand something. And certainly if it’s an error you made that you can fix then do everything you can do to correct it and learn from it.

    3. NavyLT*

      Yes, asking questions is a great way to head off mistakes in the first place, and your boss and coworkers should expect questions from any new employee (not just someone who is brand new to the workforce). That said, make sure that you don’t make every interaction with your boss or coworkers one where you’re asking a question–you will have to show that you’re learning things and retaining information, too.

      1. LBK*

        Oh yes – you need to actual learn from the answers to those questions, retain the information and be able to recognize similar situations when it can be reused. Not that I’ve never said “I know I asked this 20 times already but I forgot again,” but you shouldn’t be doing that for every subject.

  15. Apollo Warbucks*

    Mistakes are only as big as their consequences unless you’ve made a massive error it’s not big deal, just make sure to learn from what goes wrong and don’t make the same mistake twice and be sure to offer a genuine apology.

    Above all cut your self some slack and don’t put to much pressure on yourself, you’ll end up making more mistakes if your distracted and worried about mistakes.

  16. Scout*

    I’ve always thought that the word “mortified” meant “so embarrassed I want to fall through a hole into the ground” or something along those lines, but I see you use it in less extreme contexts a lot. Am I interpreting the word wrong?

    1. LBK*

      No, I think you’re using it the same way – acting like you’re mortified in certain situations conveys a level of genuine understanding of where you stand that can make people give you the benefit of the doubt. In this example, if you just casually say “Hey, I’m sorry I messed some stuff up,” it could come off as cavalier, like you’re just saying it to say it. If you give an extreme dire tone, it makes it clear you understand how important it is to get this stuff right, and the manager will probably respond better.

    2. Sarahnova*

      I tend to agree; it’s a little strong for my taste. I’d downgrade to a plain “embarrassed”. But YMMV.

      1. HR “Gumption”*

        I’ve made and admitted many professional mistakes, it I were to tell my boss I was “mortified” he’d likely be dialing 911 and evacuating the building. But I’m hardly fresh, more aged and well seasoned.

        As noted by SarahNova, YMMV

    3. Mints*

      I think that if you’re not really emotive saying “I’m so sorry” might not come across as seriously as it’s meant. I tend to go deer in headlights which can come across as ditzy or indifferent, so I’m aware of this. Obviously it depends on tone, but “embarrassed” might be a good middle ground

    4. Ellie H*

      I think it works well for the typical situation in which Alison uses it but it jumped out at me above – it seems pretty strong/reactive for someone who is just 2 weeks into the job and for what seem like very minor learning-curve type errors. In the specific situation above, it strikes me as sounding disproportionately focused on the “mistakes.” But in general, I really like it the way Alison frequently uses it because it is formal sounding yet conveys that you are taking something seriously.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In this context, I think it works well because the OP really does sound like she’s mortified — so she might as well tell her boss that and let her boss tell her that there’s no need to be (assuming that there’s not).

        1. Jamie*

          I agree with this – and it’s all about tone. I doubt you’d advice people to say mortified and cry and rend their garments. :)

          I think people should use what ever word is genuine to how they feel. If I’m embarrassed that’s one thing, if it was enough that my face went red and I had an “oh sh!t” moment I’m mortified. I’d use whatever word felt correct to the situation.

    5. Jack*

      I’ve noticed this too. Thought it was maybe a US/UK thing… much like “how big of a deal” sounds like broken English to me, but no-one else has picked up on it.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        I was just thinking when I clicked through that “how big of a deal” is such an awkward turn of phrase – and in this case I think it’s compounded by the fact that it’s followed up with “are” rather than “is”. Grammatically I know it’s right, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue well.

        1. Jack*

          “How big a deal are mistakes…” sounds natural to me, and grammatically correct. To my English ear, at least.

          What does everyone else think? I imagine it like this: I’m cutting someone a slice of cake, and they say they only want a small piece. So as I’m cutting it, I say, “How small a piece do you want?” Same context, I would say.

          “How small of a piece” sounds ridiculous.

          1. Kate*

            I think the use of the “of” is much more common in the US (where I’m from). The “how small a piece” construction doesn’t sound wrong to me, just more casual or abbreviated. Possibly ironically, since I’m pretty sure the “of” is a colloquial add-on.

          2. Anon*

            I’m from the southern US and I agree with you. The extra “of” is something I hear on TV. Maybe it’s a regionalism.

          3. Mallory*

            My college boyfriend was from up north and certain Southern usages of the word “of” used to crack him up. For instance, he claimed that everyone in Omaha would say, “Smell this” versus “Smell of this” and the latter construction would reduce him to fits of giggles.

  17. Sarahnova*

    Hey OP, if there’s one mantra that I, as (I think) a fellow academic overachiever and “good girl/boy” type have adopted, it’s that if I’m not making at least SOME mistakes, I’m probably not pushing myself into new territory enough and not learning as much as I could from my job.

    The trick, as Alison and others have said, is to own them, mitigate the consequences if necessary and/or possible, and then not beat yourself up over them. Apologise if you’ve inconvenienced or hurt someone else, but you really don’t have to self-flagellate – and if people know you’ll own and correct your mistakes, they will in general be very forgiving and supportive.

    Good luck with the job, I think your conscientious and thoughtful mindset will be a great asset in your career.

    1. ADE*

      + 1,000 on how the good girl/good boy image from college can actually work against you in the workplace.

      OP, I encourage you to remember that you are new, and that you are going to continue to have a gap between your current performance and where you want to be.

      I think one of the best things you can do is letting your manager know (through word and action) that despite mistakes (you’ll find new ones to make too) you want to learn and grow.

  18. Glorified Plumber*

    OP, everyone here has really good comments!

    Especially right out of college, so many people are just NOT used to an office environment, or holding down a full time job with actual responsibilities. There is a natural learning curve on how to be a jedi EVERYONE goes through.

    The mistake is NOT learning from your mistakes.

    No one wants the guy/gal around who:
    – Makes excuses vs. fixes the issues
    – Doesn’t learn from mistakes
    – Get’s angry/annoyed at criticism
    – Is difficult to work with
    – Is not helpful

    Simply do not be that person, and you’ll be great.

    We get SO many new junior engineers and interns out where I work, and the difference between the ones working here 3 years from now and the ones not working here 3 years from now is the 5 characteristics above. NOT some sort of whiz bang technical knowledge.

    Sometimes people concentrate so much on being the best technical person or the best “do-er” of their job, when, it is so much more important to just be a great coworker… Best of luck!

    1. LizNYC*

      Amen to that list above! No one wants to hear excuses! I used to be that person, I’m ashamed to say. It wasn’t really my fault because my email was messy or because Jane gave me the wrong work order or whatever. You know what the person who corrected my error was really hoping I’d say? That it wouldn’t happen again — or at least, if it did (because, hey, humans = err), I wouldn’t be stumbling over myself trying to come up with 15 excuses why it wasn’t my fault. Just own it. And then move on. And learn from the experience.

  19. Anon Accountant*

    In light of this post I’d like to ask a question regarding an incident that happened with a relatively new hire. She has 1 year with our firm plus was an intern in 2012.

    She reconciled a client’s cash account and there was a huge discrepancy in the reconciliation. The financial statements were printed and sent to a bank. The statements were erroneous. The error was in the 6 figures that the reconciliation was off and it was in QuickBooks so it’s easy to work in plus she’s worked with QuickBooks for over 1 year now.

    I talked to her about it but I’m not a manager or supervisor- she just needed something to do work-wise. I’d like to talk to a mutual boss about this to help her to improve and especially because it’s accounting 101 that a cash reconciliation must reconcile. Sorry to sound cranky on that but other wording didn’t come to mind.

    The only reason I hesitate is because she has a very friendly relationship with the 1 partner (out of 3) to the point where mid-afternoon they’re gossiping in the partner’s office and seem to be more like friends than employee/employer. What do other posters think?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      That’s a substantial mistake.

      Are you supposed to be training her?

      I think I would let the bosses handle it.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        The more senior staff are assigning tasks to the new staff. We don’t have formal training unfortunately. Ours is basically here’s a small account that needs books and taxes done and here’s the information, etc.

        We go over basics on the software but rely on their skills from college classes or prior jobs where applicable. Then we assist them from there and with minor errors explain where things went wrong, how to check in the future, etc.

    2. Jamie*

      Wow – the first thing I’d suggest is putting a process in place where two sets of eyes confirm the statements before being submitted externally.

      Our AP and AR do their own aging, but they need to run it by me to reconcile with the GL before sending it off. And there are never any errors, it’s just a check/balance thing.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        I’d love to see our policy enforced across the board on this. Especially because of situations like this one where it was bypassed entirely but could’ve easily been caught before it went out the door.

    3. Anonsie*

      Do you think she genuinely needs to have the concepts explained to her, or that it was a error due to oversight? Since I’m guessing it’s probably the latter, a lapse in attention and not judgement or skills, I don’t think you need to recommend to a supervisor that she receive additional training on the concepts. That seems excessive and wouldn’t get at the root of the problem anyway.

      I would say just to mention that this is a major mistake and it can’t happen in the future, but it sounds like you already did that. I think you’ve done everything.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        I’d venture it was due to oversight. I’d asked her about the error and showed her where the issues had begun and how to review the postings in the future. Hopefully this resolves the matter.

  20. Ellen Stuart*

    I like the way you describe the learning curve. This period can be really stressful for the new recruit because he or she is trying to understand the environment, the keywords and how things work. That’s also why mistakes happen. But those mistakes are absolutely normal and necessary to learn. Don’t you think?

  21. Dan*

    “Mistakes” are an interesting thing, honestly.

    When you’re new, your mistakes are generally obvious, relatively minor, and usually no big deal. When those senior to you make the same mistake, they know how (or who to go to) to fix it without making it look like such a big deal.

    As you climb the ranks, your mistakes become less obvious and more costly. Think misjudging the demand for things your factory produces, and having excess inventory left over at the end of the cycle. Or over-hiring and then demand doesn’t materialize.

    The other thing to keep in mind that as a junior level employee, in the areas where your screw ups could have a more significant impact, there should be more safeguards in place to keep obvious mistakes from going out the door, so to speak. In my previous job, if I had to produce a document for a client, it was first reviewed by a senior member of the technical staff, and then further reviewed by an expert writer. (This guy may not know the subject matter very well, but he was a grammar editor among other things.) This way, the odds of obvious mistakes getting distributed to the client are reduced.

  22. LBK*

    Oh, I’d like to throw out another personal anecdote here: in my retail days, I had one huge order that I completely, epically screwed up. I was usually both the procedural expert for our ordering system and the designated fixer for issues other people created, so the other managers were really surprised when I came to them and laid out how I had messed up and that I needed help to fix it because I had no idea what to do.

    After all was said and done, my manager pulled me aside and told me I had actually gained favor in the eyes of everyone who was involved in the situation because a lot of people viewed me as too proud to admit if I was wrong and thinking I was always right (even though, to be honest, I usually was). Openly admitting my mistake and admitting that I didn’t know how to handle it helped how my employees and coworkers perceived me. So ultimately, how you react to mistakes can be the thing people remember more than the mistakes themselves.

  23. OriginalYup*

    Bear with me in an example.

    I did a lot of risk evaluation in a former job, and the rating scale we used was based on (a) severity, and (b) likelihood. The 1-100 severity scale ranged from low to high: 1 is something minor that barely affects anyone at all, and 100 is something that results (god forbid) in a person being killed or injured. The 1-100 likelihood scale ranged from low to high: 1 is something so out of the norm that you can’t possibly predict it, and 100 being something that you can predict with near total certainty, like taxes being due on April 15.

    On this scale, the mistakes you describe are barely registering for either severity or frequency. You made small errors that really only affected you, and they’re unlikely to ever happen again now that you’re aware. So if you get freaked out about a mistake again, consult a mental scale of Really Big Mistakes – how bad was it, and is it likely to happen again? Because people makes mistakes at work all the time – I’ve made three today. Don’t let the fear of making a mistake freeze you up, because it’s really more important to good consistently good work and keep learning than it is to be utterly perfect on every single thing.

    And if it makes you feel better, I once accidentally set a curtain on fire in a conference room during a formal lunch meeting of our Board of Directors. (A renegade sterno can got away from me during admin catering duties.) And that’s not even my worst work mistake. So you’re probably fine by comparison.

    1. Laura*

      Oh my! I’ve never set anything on fire at work – I feel better already, and I’m not even the LW. (But my team lead once came close…he wanted to lay tape down over the cord for a space heater, because it crossed where people walked and was a trip hazard. He used one of those tape spools with the cutter, and cut away half the power cord…. Luckily he has good reflexes and unplugged it quickly, so we never got to find out if it would in fact have started something.)

  24. Sigrid*

    I know I’m just repeating what everyone said above, but I’d like to add my voice to the chorus to emphasize how important it is that you:

    1) learn from your mistakes;
    2) ask questions when you don’t know something.

    My husband (a civil engineer) recently had to fire an intern (first time that has ever happened), because said intern was too terrified to admit that he didn’t know everything and therefore refused to ask questions, refused to listen to advice, and refused to learn from his mistakes. It was, oddly enough, not arrogance — as near as everyone who worked with him could tell, he seemed to be terrified that he would be ‘graded down’ if he didn’t know the right answer to everything, like work experience was just one long exam, and therefore he was always striving to come up with answers to questions he expected to be asked instead of paying attention to what was going on around him.

    Unfortunately, not paying attention to what is going on around you makes you a walking liability on a construction site, and after his second major safety violation, he was fired. My husband says he has *never* encountered anyone so resistant to feedback. Don’t be that person. (OP, it’s pretty clear you are not that person, so don’t worry!)

    1. Dan*

      Interesting story.

      Your husband actually did the intern a favor by firing him. Getting fired from an internship is something that the intern can keep to himself, but at the same time was a sent a real message.

    2. Glorified Plumber*

      Very interesting story… I do hope the intern was able to learn from that situation vs. internalize and stew forever. 100% the right call though. Funny thing (well, funny sad not funny ha ha) is it was actually the safety violations that finally did it.

      So stupid to risk ones and others’ safety simple by being unafraid to ask questions. Will not hack it in an engineering environment until he can fix that.

      We have an intern now… and I can’t even invent a scenario (because they seem so ludacris to me) where he would be fired…

    3. Not So NewReader*

      A clear example of self-fulfilling prophecy. In effort to protect his job, the intern lost his job.

      OP, there are ways of protecting your job. This intern is a “what-not-to-do” guide.

      The first step on the right path is to forgive yourself for making a mistake. Other people can forgive and forgive, but if you don’t forgive you, no progress will be made.

      There is one nugget- I don’t believe anyone has mentioned yet.
      And that is if you decide to own your mistakes, that alone, will help you to make less mistakes.
      I kind of think of it as a pressure relief valve.
      I have stood in front of the boss and said “I made this mistake. I am sorry. I will fix it…. as soon as you tell me HOW.”

      Sure, I felt really crappy about that.

      But I also felt FREE. I was free from the shackles of lies, deception, worry, and guilt. Yes, it was a piece of humble pie to go over my own work a second time. Here’s the key- once it was all fixed, it was OVER. Done.

      Oddly, the next day I would sometimes feel stronger for having confronted my own failures.

      The reason there are so many comments here is because every person here remembers being where you are, like it was yesterday.
      No, wait, it actually was yesterday. There is no way of totally avoiding mistakes, that is just part of the work world.

  25. Kate*

    I’d like to echo the references some other commenters have made to the differences between academic life and professional life. I’m about a year into my first full-time professional job, a few years out of school, and this is something my friends and I are all kind of going through as we struggle to learn how to do our jobs. Back in school we were overachievers; I remember crying over a B on a test once because I really didn’t want a blemish on my GPA. But grades don’t really exist in an office setting, except kinda for performance reviews. (And even if you get bad performance reviews, they shouldn’t really be a surprise, and your superiors should have ideas to help you improve, at least for some allotted period – not summarily fire you.) If you turn in bad work, it doesn’t get factored into your permanent evaluation (like a GPA), and as the other commenters have been saying, just own up to it, ask how to fix it in the future, and try really hard not to hear feedback as criticism. The professional world values people who can learn and adapt more than it expects anyone to get it all perfect right out of the gate. Also, it’s generally much harder to fire an employee than to flunk a student, so hopefully that’s reassuring. :)

  26. Eric at CorporateChess*

    I apologize in advance for being the Contrarian, but the advice given and the commenter idealism need caveats. In the *non-corporate* world, yes, one should own up to her mistakes. In the *non-corporate* world, those who admit their mistakes are forgiven and admired.

    But like I always say, the *corporate* world bears little resemblance to the *non-corporate* world. In many, many corporate environments, dare I say most, corporate environments, these principles do *not* apply.

    Therefore, I think it a bit naive and potentially irresponsible to fail to tell the OP the *whole* truth about the immorality and injustices that often characterize corporate bureaucracies.

    So, my advice to the OP would be to first observe what kind of office culture are you in. Are you in a fear-based culture? Are you in a Cover-Your-Ass culture? It is a painful fact, but the truth is there are many work environments in which mistakes aren’t tolerated.

    Next, observe what kind of boss you have. How does s/he deal when others make mistakes? Does she scream and yell? Does she write people up? Is he calm and forgiving? Does she ignore it? Is she a finger-pointer or blame shifter?

    Then assess the political climate of the office. Who’s making the decisions? Who rubs noses with your boss? Does that person know about your error? Etc.

    You need to take into account all these things to give a full and considered answer. Perhaps the OP works with a gossipy coworker. Or a disgruntled coworker who loves to throw people under the bus.

    My advice would be: If it’s clear to everyone that you made the mistake, then it may help to own it, admit it, correct it if possible, and move on. But if no one knows *who* made the mistake, I’m not sure I’d go to the confessional booth right away. I have experienced on more than one occasion admitting a mistake actually doing employees in. In fact, I’ve seen this scenario more often than not.

    My general rule of thumb is: don’t admit you made a mistake unless you absolutely have to. We mentor people to keep at the forefront of your mind – especially in the first few weeks on the job – don’t make unforced errors. It is better to do fewer things and make no mistakes than to try to be a star player and make a blunder. In fact, you should play not to lose, not play to win. In many work environments they quickly forget the 10 spectacular things you did and zoom in on the 1 mistake you made.

    …I didn’t make the rules. I’m telling you how it *is*.

    The commenters suggestions are nice and all, but we’re talking about corporate bureaucracy – which is often irrational, unfair, nonsensical and unreasonable. It can be dangerous to try to apply the same moral values we live by outside inside the office as we do outside it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Plenty of people here are experienced in corporate bureaucracy.

      My general rule of thumb is: don’t admit you made a mistake unless you absolutely have to.

      This is horrible advice in most environments. In most environments, this will destroy your credibility and your reputation and negatively impact your career in a serious, serious way.

      While it’s certainly true that there are some highly toxic environments where any admission of a mistake is used against you, those are the exceptions, not the rule. By giving this advice above, you’re telling people to do something that will hurt them more often than it will help them.

      1. Eric at CorporateChess*

        Please allow me to address your points:

        “..those are exceptions, not the rule.” I disagree. First, I can say with absolute certainty that it has been true of all my work experience. In my work experience, the exception was being forgiven for making a mistake.

        Sociologists and social psychologists have known of the dysfunctions of corporate bureaucracy for quite some time. That corporate environments tend to become dysfunctional along these lines has been well documented.

        But even if I grant your premise, let me be clear: I did not say, “Cover up your mistake. Lie about your mistake. Or, blame someone else for your mistake.”

        I simply said, “If no one knows you made a mistake, no need going off and potentially hanging yourself out to dry by confessing it.”

        Look, there are many mistakes I might make which others don’t even know is a mistake. We assume because we made an error that someone else necessarily notices it, or even knows it’s a mistake.

        All I’m saying is: a prize fighter doesn’t go in leading with the chin.

        I have seen people admit mistakes, the boss smilingly says, “Don’t worry about it. You caught it, you’ll fix it, and try not to let it happen again.” And then *right after that charade* go write it down, send it to HR, put it in the person’s personnel file, and use it to build a case to terminate the employee.

        I’ve spoken with HR Directors who have told me that this is a common routine in many offices.

        I’m not saying you don’t have some valid points. I’m just saying, “Let’s present all the ramifications of what can happen to people when they confess mistakes in the office.”

        Thank you for letting me express a contrary opinion.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        And this is why I read AAM.

        For one thing, it’s an oasis in the desert of the employment world.

        Before I started reading here, I would have agreed with about 95% of what Eric wrote.
        My one hope was to learn how to pick better employers. That was the only part of my story that I could control.

        Some days I read for hours, my dishes and laundry pile up because I am sitting here reading. (Probably most people who read here are having a similar experience.)

        Over the last two years I have picked up two part-time jobs with bosses that I can only describe as exemplary. It’s a privilege to work for these two people.

        OP, you don’t indicate what kind of a work place you have. If you find it is like Eric describes, get out. For the moment, go forward with being honest and sincere. Go ahead, test the waters, see what kind of a work place you have. Better to find out now than later.

        Eric, yeah, there are some miserable companies out there doing horrid things. Maybe someone will come along and change that. Maybe not. All we can do is take a hard look at what we ourselves are doing and go from there.

    2. Another English Major*

      I’m sorry, but most of this is horrible advice. I’ve worked in both corporate and non-corporate environments and it’s hard generalize that admitting mistakes in non-corporate environments is good but in corporate environments it’s bad.

      Only part I agree with is this:

      So, my advice to the OP would be to first observe what kind of office culture are you in. Are you in a fear-based culture? Are you in a Cover-Your-Ass culture? It is a painful fact, but the truth is there are many work environments in which mistakes aren’t tolerated.

      Next, observe what kind of boss you have. How does s/he deal when others make mistakes? Does she scream and yell? Does she write people up? Is he calm and forgiving? Does she ignore it? Is she a finger-pointer or blame shifter?

      However, understanding your work culture and boss’ expectations is good in either environment. Jobs where mistakes are not tolerated can be corporate or non-corporate, but they are not the norm.

      A good manager will appreciate when you own up to your mistakes and show you are learning from them/working to avoid them.

      1. Eric - Corporate Chess*

        Hi, English Major,

        Please allow me to clarify what I mean by “non-corporate”. All I meant by that is “outside of the office, outside of work.” I didn’t mean, non-corporate in the sense of, say, a start-up, a college, a government agency.

        What I was trying to say is: In the real world, in the world of friends and family and church etc – yes, you’re supposed to admit your mistakes, correct them and “repent” (i.e., try not to repeat them). But at work that can get you killed in action.

        A good manager will appreciate when you own up to your mistakes and show you are learning from them/working to avoid them.

        Naturally. But most managers are not good. And I’m not event totally blaming them; the Matrix made them that way. Most bosses are absolutely terrible. And it’s not their fault. Most aren’t trained, aren’t given the proper resources and professional development to really learn how to manage people. And unrealistic goals creates a fear-ruled environment. And we all know how humans respond to fear: fight or flight.

        As I said, these phenomena have been well-documented in corporate environments. They are the norm not the exception, as the author claims. Sure, one can “get out” and find a better place of work. But that option isn’t open to everyone all the time. So, our perspective is: you better learn to play the Game or you’ll wind up getting checkmated.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The problem here is that you’re wrong. If you’ve always worked in environments like that, that sucks and I’m sorry it’s been your experience. But it’s absolutely not the norm.

          Everyone commenting here has experience in workplaces; that’s what we’re all here talking about. And you have a load of people telling you that what you’re describing hasn’t been their experience.

          Moreover, by tailoring your behavior for what works with the worst managers, you’re ensuring that you’ll never succeed in healthy or even semi-healthy environments environments. You’re ensuring that you’ll fail in those places, and you’re encouraging others to go down that path too. That’s not good.

        2. Another English Major*

          I understood what you meant by non-corporate. I’ve worked retail, restaurants, bars, schools, billing offices, and law firms. I still disagree with you and don’t think one should “keep their head down” trying to avoid mistakes.

          Your experience is not universal, and while I agree not everyone has options to find a better job, it is possible to find one where mistakes are part of the learning process. I’ve worked at many such places and so have a lot of the other commenters.

          1. CorporateChess*


            Thank you for your response. I did not say, “Keep your head down to avoid mistakes.” I won’t go into what I meant by that here as it is a longer discussion.

            Just because you or I have worked at many such places doesn’t mean that this is the norm in work environments. Additionally, we tend to think that everyone’s experience even in the same workplace is the same. But in reality it’s not. Two people can work in the same dept., under the same boss, and have two radically different perceptions of what’s going on.

            But research is research. The sociology of bureacracy is the sociology of bureaucracy. Meaning: there are some broad trends and patterns that have been observed and studied, systematically. I know because one of our advisors is a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology who has made it his life’s work studying this. I’d be happy to show you the research if you’re interested.

    3. NavyLT*

      The problem here with this advice is that if you’ve made a mistake that’s not easily corrected at your level, someone will find out about it. At that point, you’re not only someone who makes mistakes, you are also a liar. Mistakes happen to everyone, and are, by definition, not intentional. Lying is a choice. Avoiding work to avoid mistakes is also a choice. Neither choice is impressive, and while both choices may help you get by in a toxic work environment, neither will help you in a normal situation.

      1. CorporateChess*

        You make some good points, Navy. What we do is challenge these deeply held assumptions about work, careers and corporate environments. In this case, let’s look at the concept of “mistake” and see just how thorny and elusive it can be.

        Let me give you a real and recent example from one of our mentees. We’ll just call him Bob.

        Bob is a webmaster. His boss, Susan, comes to him and says, “I’m tired of getting emails from employees who no longer work here when people come to our website and fill out a contact form. Please remove these employees from the website.” Bob says ok, and sets about the task of doing this.

        In solving this problem, Bob has a conversation with IT. IT first tells him that Susan has been complaining about this problem since before he even started working there – and that they already gave her a simple fix but she didn’t accept it.

        But Bob isn’t satisfied with that. He wants to please Susan and be the hero and make her happy and save the day.

        So, IT then tells him that there is a place where he can go in and remove former employees. When Bob can’t find it, David, the IT guy, says he can’t find it, either. But he knows it’s there somewhere, and to keep looking.

        Days pass, and Bob can’t figure out how to do this. Susan comes to him 2 more times and says it’s urgent and figure it out. Bob goes back to IT, this time to Pauline (since Dave was no help). Pauline says to go in a delete the former employee user accounts from the system and that should solve the problem.

        Makes sense, right? So, Bob goes in and deletes them. All goes well for a few days – until folks start noticing that pages are suddenly “disappearing” from the website. No one knows why. IT runs tests, does some digging, and “determines” that Bob’s action of deleting the user emails also accidentally deleted these pages.

        Now Susan is pissed. She comes at Bob with a fury. She doesn’t know what IT just told Bob, namely that his actions caused the pages to disappear. “Why the hell are these pages disappearing? Can you find out why and report back? ” Bob confronts Pauline: “Pauline, you told me to do this and that it would fix the problem and look at this mess!” Pauline tells Bob that she did not mean that he delete the email accounts totally from the system. “But we are partly to blame – we should not have made that option to delete user accounts available to you in the first place.”

        … You can guess how the story ends.

        You see – mistakes can be very complex. And they can have multiple people – even entire departments – at fault. What I’ve found in corporate environments is that typically they are looking for a scapegoat, a fall guy. Why? Because everyone’s terrified of losing her job. And corp. environments make people that way. It’s just the nature of corporate bureaucracy.

        Nevertheless, why should I take the fall for a mistake that multiple people may have contributed to? This may seem rare, but in today’s work world, where every dept. is connected and where the org. is like a mobile, it’s actually quite common. Mistakes are shared across personnel and departments. Mistakes can have long histories that predate the actual person who made the mistake. All sort of things come into play.

        The name of the game is not to get checkmated.

        1. NavyLT*

          Yes, I can see where someone’s going to get thrown under the bus in that scenario. What was IT’s simple fix, and why didn’t Susan like that one in the first place? It sounds like Susan wasn’t doing a great job of managing, in that she was making impossible and vague demands (fix this, but not that way, the other way), or else IT wasn’t explaining things well to begin with. Did Bob try to find out what the deal was with this initial fix? In a normal work environment, communication is key, and asking Susan and IT exactly what was going on probably would have fixed the problem. In other environments, yes, you have to play this bizarre guessing game about what Boss really wants, while taking into account what Boss said in one meeting before contradicting it in an email, then reiterating it in a chat with Favorite Subordinate. But I would always argue that the default should be to assume that Boss is competent until proven otherwise, and give him or her the benefit of the doubt as far as communication skills.

        2. LBK*

          This environment you’ve described sounds insanely toxic. Susan allowed these items to sit out there for ages without continuing to work towards a solution? IT never followed through to make sure Susan understood how to remove them and got it done? Bob was so scared of Susan that he wouldn’t even talk to her about the issue at all after the original request? The IT team is so disorganized that they can’t have common procedures and a track record of the items raised by both Susan and Bob around this issue? Susan and Bob are both so aggressive that they choose confrontation over discussion when a problem arises? Everyone here is so bad at communication they seem to barely be speak the same language.

          Let me posit how this would go in my company, with my manager being Susan and myself being in place of Bob:

          Susan asks me to remove the people from the website. I go to IT and ask for assistance. IT tells me here’s the way to do it, and they’ve actually told Susan before but it never seemed to get done. I go back to Susan and say here’s how to do it, I don’t think I have the access but if you can give that to me then I’ll fix it or we can walk through it together since the system is a little weird. Susan is not so egotistical that she can’t admit she doesn’t understand the system, so I walk her through it on her computer, she now understands how to do it and finishes up the process and continues to maintain it going forward.

          Done and done. And I’ve actually done something pretty similar to this with my real boss, so I am positive this is how it would play out.

          I agree with your advice to gauge your environment and your coworkers when handling errors. I disagree with your statement that toxic environments are the norm and that you should be constantly worrying about covering your ass and being afraid to admit any misstep or issue along the way.

          I also strongly disagree with the idea that being the star employee means never asking questions or never going back to your manager with anything but 100% success. A star employee knows a lot and succeeds a lot, but is also aware of what they don’t know and able to acknowledge when they haven’t succeeded. A star employee learns as they go instead of assuming they have nothing left to learn. A star employee is comfortable with communication flowing in both directions between her and her manager, and so is a good manager.

          You make a lot of really negative assumptions in your comments here. I’m sorry if this kind of toxic environment and horrible management has been your experience, truly – that kind of thing can give you “work PTSD” and color your view of any job moving forward, and that’s something really hard to get past. Just know that it isn’t the majority, and I don’t think it’s even the plurality. There are places where you don’t have to play these kinds of games, where people are honest and fair and where bad employees get moved out. I work in one, as do a lot of others who read this site.

          1. LBK*

            Oh, and for the record I work in a very large, very well-established corporate environment in an industry known for being very conservative and very bureaucratic.

          2. CorporateChess*

            This was an excellent response. However, I cannot give you every detail of a very complex situation in a blog comment. Plus, it’s easy to have the answer when you’re not involved and stand outside and can think through the situation objectively.

            What I didn’t mention is that the initial fix that IT gave to Susan was rejected by her. Yet Susan still complained ever so often of the problem. But Susan is the Big Boss, is my point. So in a sense, it doesn’t matter how rational or irrational she is, Bob still has to do what she asks.

            Dont take the story too literally because there were many nuances that just can’t be captured in writing. The point of the story was to illustrate how complex irrational, qnd dysfunctional a corporate department can be. And to drive the point home that, in such an environment, you may need to handle things in a much more strategic and tactically contrived manner to ensure success.

        3. Jamie*

          The biggest mistake here is having people with access to things they shouldn’t – no one should be deleting or touching anything they don’t understand.

          One person or department (depending on size) should be in charge of requests for changes to the site and if they aren’t doing it properly or timely then managers can take action – but dispersing the responsibility this much so it’s diluted to the point of no accountability from anyone is madness.

          And I’m using this example which happens to be IT, but it applies to anything. If something is “everyone’s job” it’s no one’s job – the buck has to rest somewhere and it needs to rest with someone who has the skills and ability to do it properly.

          1. CorporateChess*

            @Jamie –

            Thank you for your response. You may be right that one person or dept. *should* be responsible for changes. However, that just *isn’t* the way Bob’s. workplace functions. So talking about what should or shouldn’t be the case doesn’t help Bob figure out how to navigate what *is*.

            And I didn’t finish the story. It’s not that the responsibility was so dispersed that no one could be held accountable. Bob actually was the one blamed for this mistake, and IT wound up “being the hero” when they fixed it. (Even though they were partly to blame for the problem in the first place)

            See, my point is: confessing and owning up to mistakes makes perfect sense in a world of moral justice. But many corp. environments are not a world of moral justice. And everyone’s recommendations here are contingent upon being in a more or less rational, just working bureaucracy. Which is simply not the case for most environments.

  27. SherryD*

    A lot of people commenting here have talked about procedural mistakes, but there are also mistakes of etiquette, like when the OP didn’t reply to their supervisor’s email, or in another example in the comments about entering someone’s office without knocking.

    When I was a receptionist in a sales office, I learned the hard way the sales people didn’t want me to say a word about sales to their clients, not even the Mickey Mouse stuff that I could easily answer. They wanted to control the entire client experience, and I know I annoyed them a couple of times until I figured that out.

    As another example, at another job, a new hire decided he was going to work from home for the afternoon. He thought it would be no big deal, as he’d done it at previous jobs, but, boy, the boss was NOT happy!

  28. Weasel007*

    Everyone makes mistakes. Your attitude, ability to take feedback, ask for feedback and learn from them are very important.

  29. Chris*

    Oh, I so made the not responding to email when I started my first job. If my boss sent me an email that said, “Chris, can you take care of X?”, I just took care of it. It wasn’t until my 6 month review that he mentioned that people need confirmation when things are taken care of. Of course, I was so embarrassed and wished he hadn’t taken 6 months to tell me this.

  30. Alex*

    This is great advice. You’re not expected to be perfect at the start of any job, particularly a first one. You are expected to show good judgement, which it seems like the OP has done. Any decent manager will be understanding, particularly if their employee shows a genuine desire to learn and take constructive feedback on how they’re going.

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