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'My Biggest Work Mistake': 7 Career Confessions

Blunder City


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You may strive to be the perfect employee, but sometimes even the most competent workers can screw up an assignment or make a bad career move. While some mistakes can be easily smoothed over, others might require more drastic measures to redeem yourself. The important thing is to take responsibility for your mistake, learn from it and move on. In fact, the mistakes you make now could even help your career in the long term.

"Making a mistake can absolutely have positive effect on the future by showing you that something does not work," says Robyn Dizes, manager of career development Services at Peirce College in Philadelphia. "By recognizing your mistakes, you give yourself the opportunity to learn from — and not repeat — the same mistake."

From oversharing personal information on social media to misspending millions of dollars by ordering too much paper, here are seven true-life career blunders that offer some pretty valuable lessons.

Mistake: Kissing a Consultant

Name: Richie Frieman Occupation: Author, illustrator and columnist www.richiefrieman.com

"I was maybe three years out of college and went with my boss to meet a consultant we hired. My boss, a female, and the consultant, also a female, had met many times before, but I had only met the consultant twice. When we got to her office, my boss went in first to greet her and did so with a kiss on the cheek. They were so happy to see each other, it was like they were old friends. I got caught up in the excitement I guess. So, then it was my turn and well, I went in for the kiss on the cheek too, without hesitation. This is only having met this person – who was a business contact – a couple times before. Hardly enough for a kiss hello on the cheek. Nothing was said of this at all, and I don't think she thought it was weird, but to this day, I can't recall anything that happened in that meeting after that kiss hello. I felt like it was a total rookie mistake.

"After this, I realized that a handshake can say a lot more and is always the safest way to go. Now, I always give a nice handshake and let my smile and words express how happy I am to see them."

Mistake: Taking Criticism Personally

Name: Terry Lin Occupation: Equity salesperson for UBS Investment Bank

"At first I had trouble adapting to the culture at an investment bank, particularly on the sales and trading side where pressure is high during trading hours. Many movies have tried to capture the energy of a trading floor, but most miss the mark. Oftentimes, it can be a feast or famine situation with regards to the pressure. Colleagues may email you and ring you up 30 seconds later to see if you've read it. Traders may yell at their colleagues one minute, then be very cordial on the phone with clients with the snap of a finger.

"I almost quit two months into the job, thinking it was too much for me. But then I realized that in a hyper-competitive industry where perfection and client presentability is important, one cannot take criticism personally. Once I got the mindset that it wasn't about me, it made things a lot easier. It's like when you meet someone in a bad mood at a grocery store — are they really a bad person, or did they just have a terrible day at work? I changed my mindset to solutions-oriented thinking, which is what your line manager cares about the most. If you can demonstrate that you've processed what went wrong, not take it personally and know how to avoid it the next time, you are well on your way to becoming a valued member of the team."

Mistake: Messing Up Important Orders

Name: Steve Belanger Occupation: Writer, actor and author

"Back in 1988, at the age of 22 and in my first big job in Manhattan, I accidentally almost put a huge company into bankruptcy. I had just gotten a job in the production department of Penthouse Magazine, and I was responsible for ordering all of the paper used to print not only Penthouse, but the dozen or so other titles that General Media Inc. produced. I somehow screwed up the initial order and repeated it for months, doubling and tripling the amount of paper I was ordering. Nobody noticed it until the resultant bills and storage charges finally almost drove the company broke.

"I was very nearly fired, but instead everyone further up the chain of command was afraid of being drawn into my blunder, so they just hid the problem and made me figure out a way out of it. We eventually used up all of the paper and I went on to have an extremely successful career in publishing. I was a vice president/general manager at Time Inc. when I left the executive side of the biz to be a writer.

"The 'big picture-ness' of that event didn't really hit until further on in my career. In later years, when I'd run into big problems, I would think back to how I recovered from that massive error and know that no matter how huge the problem, there was always some type of solution. I include the story of my paper debacle in my memoir My Penthouse Past: Failing My Way Up the Corporate Ladder of an Empire Built on Skin."

 

Mistake: Putting Up With Verbal Abuse

Name: Heather Taylor Occupation: Social media manager, MyCorporation.com

"I think the biggest mistake I made in my career happened really early on, and that was staying in a place for too long where you get verbally abused constantly. When I graduated from college three years ago, I worked as a copywriter in a small advertising agency where getting talked down to every day was the norm. There was a ton of micromanagement on everything you did and how you did it. No Facebook or email checking, no text messaging, and you had to keep a log every day of what you did and how long it took you to do it. Any kind of talking — from just regular chitchat to even asking a work-related question — was off-limits, which is literally insane to do in an advertising environment.

"I was there for nine months and job searched constantly to get out and finally did in the ninth month. Once I did get out, and was made a social media manager at my current job over a small team of two additional people in my department, I knew from day one that I wanted to be the kind of manager who would never go on a power trip. Lots of open communication is key to how I work as a manager. I sign off on almost all of my emails to my team with a little note saying that if they ever have any questions or comments, to let me know. And I definitely don't yell at them or make them feel incompetent. Nobody should be sitting in their room or their cars before starting the work day crying, because they dread it that much."

Mistake: Not Paying Attention to Detail

Name: Carly Fauth Occupation: Director of marketing and outreach, MoneyCrashers.com

"When I was younger, I worked for an independent retail company and every item in inventory for sale had a 12-digit bar code associated with it. One day when I was working on an inventory audit, my supervisor asked me to transfer a few item numbers to the home office to clean up the in-store inventory on the computer system. The computer system had options to transfer selected items or to transfer all of the items. I had done plenty of audits in the past and knew full well that you should never click on the 'transfer all' button, but I wasn't paying attention and that's the one I pressed, which resulted in my major mistake.

"It happened on a Saturday and there was no one at the home office who could fix it. We had to write down the item numbers for all sales for that day and could only take cash payments. After we got the problem fixed the following Monday, we had to enter in all of the sales from the previous Saturday. It was quite embarrassing.

"I learned that no matter what you're doing at work, whether you think the work is mundane or not and whether or not you've done it many times before, it's still important to pay attention to detail. It did make me a better worker in the long run."

Mistake: Oversharing on Social Media

Name: Joel Ehrlich Occupation: President, The Harmony Group, LLC

"One of my biggest mistakes was going overboard with social media postings that didn't truly represent the personal brand I wanted. I posted silly photos on Facebook and even made some political comments on Twitter. My way out was saying that as a big-time marketer, I had to live the life as one of my client's targeted consumers and without that knowledge I couldn't plan a proper marketing roadmap/strategy. I learned that social media can be very dangerous."

Mistake: Not Planning for the Future

Name: Ian Aronovich Occupation: President and co-founder, GovernmentAuctions.org

"When the recession first set in, we thought our business would hold up and that there was no way we would be affected. However, the recession eventually caught up with us.

"Back in 2003 when we first launched our business, the membership fee for subscribing to our website was $39.95 per year without any free trials to start or automatic rebilling at the end of the membership term. Each customer whose membership expired would have to go back, put in payment information and start a new subscription. And we did not even send them a reminder. When the recession hit, the rate which we acquired new members and retained old ones put us in a position where our business reached a growth plateau. In fact, we actually began to decline to a level we could not be comfortable with given our monthly expenses.

"If we couldn't come up with any redeeming ideas, the business would end in failure. My business partner and I had meetings to deal with the crisis. During the process, we realized the key to our problems was that our initial revenue model was not as focused as it should be on the future.

"After tossing a few ideas around, we decided to adjust our revenue model by providing every new customer with a free trial upon membership activation along with a monthly rebilling system, all while simultaneously collecting payment information to bill them monthly until they cancelled. We tested dozens of monthly billing price points and eventually came up with a three-day free trial to go with a recurring $18.95 monthly subscription fee after the trial period is over. Had we not come up with a creative plan to change the way we handle our customer memberships, our company may not be around today."

--Written by Kristin Colella for MainStreet

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