The four steps to recover from failure at work

Work failure
Andrea Murad By Andrea Murad, CA Today

9 June 2017

Whether you were passed up for a promotion, a presentation didn’t go well or you couldn’t see a project through to completion, failure happens in any career and shouldn’t prevent you from moving forward.

Mistakes are a natural part of growing and progressing, and often bring clarity to risks taken and skills learned.

“Sometimes these mistakes will be harder to swallow than others, but failure is often the price of your education,” revealed Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume.

While it can take years to build a positive personal brand, only one epic failure (or a series of mistakes) can do serious damage. Although unpleasant at the time, these missteps can turn into blessings in disguise.

Failure is often the price of your education... Handling the aftermath with professionalism and tact will put you on the right track.

“The severity of your mistake will determine your next course of action,” said Amanda. “You won’t be able to fix things overnight, but handling the aftermath with professionalism and tact will put you on the right track.”

Whether it was a miscalculation that caused your firm a significant loss of revenue or a proposal for a new initiative that didn’t pan out during a beta test, for example, the impact of your mistake will determine how you handle the situation moving forward.

1. Pause and reflect

“The first thing you need to do is pause and remove emotions,” said Vicki Salemi, career expert for “What can you learn from this?”

Thinking about the underlying roots of the setback will help you to develop a long-term solution, explained Rosemary Haefner, Chief Human Resources Officer at CareerBuilder. Don’t be afraid to talk to family, friends or a mentor about what happened to get an objective view as well.

“You can’t continue with the daily grind without evaluating what happened,” said Vicki. “It’s good to just exhale so you can come up with a plan for what to do next. If you don’t pause at all, then the failure was wasted.”

2. Be proactive and take responsibility

“Everyone makes mistakes, and if making them is not the norm for you, chances are one mistake at work will not destroy your reputation,” said Rosemary. “To minimize any negative effects from a setback, be sure to proactively own the problem and come prepared with a plan of action on how to salvage the situation.”

What you do next sets the tone for your recovery; the faster you accept the situation, the quicker you can rebound and focus on future success.

Moving on is the ultimate goal, and “if you need to, admit your mistake and look for a solution - don't wallow in your disappointment,” says Rosemary. “What you do next sets the tone for your recovery; the faster you accept the situation, the quicker you can rebound and focus on future success.”

3. Shine your reputation

Your next steps can show resiliency, strength, and that you can come back and thrive.

“You don’t want to let this failure take the wind out of your sails so that you become too cautious and never venture out of your comfort zone again,” said Vicki. “Consider how you can add value to your organization so that you can prove yourself again.”

4. Consider Plan B

Looking for new opportunities is a last resort, but it may be the right option depending on the mistake you made, the impact it had on the business and your organization’s reaction.

If this was a one-time occurrence, the mistake may not be as bad, but consistent setbacks are good reason to question if the organization is right for you.

Reflect on whether your manager provides you with enough feedback and whether it’s you or if the organization recognizes your capabilities.

“If you’ve done your penance and your performance has improved, yet you continue to be passed over for promotions or projects, it’s time to move on,” said Amanda. “Sometimes your personal brand may be too damaged to recover at the organization.”

About the author

Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest,, Global Finance and


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