Overcoming Setbacks at Work

Setbacks may occur over the course of your career but it is how you handle them that can set you apart going forward.

Making Mistakes

As human beings we all make mistakes, we are not perfect.  How we handle our mistakes can differentiate us.

  • Carefully review your work before submitting it to others.  Double or triple check all your data.  Look at it different ways to ensure that the numbers tick and tie.  Build a reputation for providing quality, accurate information.
  • When you do make a mistake, own it.  Take responsibility for your mistake and do not point fingers or assign blame.
  • Learn from the mistake.  Identify ways to prevent that type of error going forward.  Understand what you did wrong and build a process to ensure that you learned from the experience.
  • If someone working for you makes a mistake, use it as a teaching moment to help them understand what went wrong and to avoid the problem in the future.
Image Courtesy of CartoonStock.com

Image Courtesy of CartoonStock.com

Getting Passed Over for a Promotion

It felt like the perfect opportunity but they gave the position to someone else and you are very disappointed.

  • Congratulate the person who received the promotion and ensure them that you look forward to working with them.  Sour grapes will only damage your career in the long run.
  • Get over your emotional reaction and then ask to meet with the hiring manager for feedback.  Seek honest and constructive feedback on why you didn’t receive the promotion and what you need to work on to be considered for future opportunities.
  • Identify a specific plan to develop and enhance the skills necessary to prepare you for future opportunities.  Monitor your progress and hold yourself accountable.
  • Seek opportunities to take on special projects or assignments to increase your experience and exposure.  Demonstrate your interest and commitment.

Getting Fired

Being terminated from a position can be a big blow to the ego.  It is important to pick yourself up, refocus your energy and move forward with your career.

  • Learn from the experience.  If you did not meet expectations understand what you should have done and learn from that reflection.  If it was a cost cutting measure reflect on what you might have done differently to make yourself more valuable to the organization.
  • Focus on the skills and expertise you bring to the table and begin networking earnestly to land you next position
  • Do NOT speak poorly of your former employer, stay positive.

Customer Complaints

If a customer complains to management about how you handled a situation, resist the urge to get defensive.

  • Review the situation and consider how it felt from the customer perspective
  • Brainstorm with your manager other ways to handle the situation in the future
  • Use it as a learning experience
  • Is there an opportunity to follow-up with the customer to make amends?

Not Receiving the Special Project You Wanted

The special project would have given you great experience and good visibility with management but you were not selected.  What can you do?

  • Once you can past the emotional reaction, ask for a meeting with your manager and request feedback on why you were not selected.  Learn what skills or experience you need to bring to the table for future assignments.
  • Update and implement your personal development plan to address these shortcomings.
  • Consider asking for a mentor to help you with your career goals.

Having a setback can actually spur career growth if you handle it professionally, learn from the experience and demonstrate your commitment to delivering results.  Getting emotional can lead to saying things you will later regret.  Stay calm and professional so you can learn from the experience and move forward.


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