Ask the intern: 6 steps for fixing a mistake at the office
“Hi Fiona, I’ve been at my internship in Melbourne for about 2 months, it was all going pretty smoothly until I made a bit of a mistake today. I accidentally sent an unfinished document to one of our clients and now I’m really worried that my boss will be furious, or possibly even fire me! Do you have any advice on how to correct mistakes in the workplace?” – Cristina
Interning abroad is an amazing experience filled with loads of great days – it’s only inevitable that a bad day will pop in every now and again. It’s all swings and roundabouts as they say. My first piece of advice is don’t panic! Everyone makes mistakes, especially us interns who are completely new to the company. Saying that, there are a few things that you can do to make the situation a little better. Here are my six top tips for fixing mistakes in the workplace.
1. Don’t wait to be found out
First things first, tell someone! It’s much better if it’s coming from you rather than a customer or another person in the office. Your boss will appreciate you giving them a heads up. That way, they can fully understand the situation and not get blindsided by any possible consequences. Make sure that you’re very calm when you are explaining what happened. Don’t run in crying or in a panic because that will make you seem unprofessional and will also make your mistake seem infinitely more stressful.
Say sorry. Don’t burst into tears in your boss’s office and grovel at their feet, but make sure they know that you are aware of the problems that your mistake may have caused. If you act like nothing ever happened, your boss may think that you haven’t realized that you made a mistake. Apologizing calmly will break the ice and immediately put you in a better light.
3. Don’t try and cover it up
It may be very tempting to try and implement some kind of short-term fix to the problem to cover it up, but that’s not a solution. Someone will find out eventually and it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll be more annoyed that you hadn’t told them sooner. That way they could have gotten ahead of the problem. As an intern, making a mistake feels like the end of the world, I know. However, the chances are that when you explain it to your superior, it will seem like only a small error. Experienced professionals are used to dealing with problems, and they understand that making mistakes is the best way to learn.
4. Don’t blame it on someone else
The worst possible thing that you can do in this scenario, besides possibly throwing in the towel, packing your bags and jumping on the next flight, is blame it on someone else. Workplace relationships are so important. Everyone that you meet at work is a possible contact or source of knowledge for your future. Pointing a finger at a colleague when you have made the error may burn some of these really important bridges.
5. Come up with a solution
Coming to your boss with an idea of how to improve the situation will put you in a better light. They will appreciate your critical thinking and see that you are attempting to remedy the problem rather than ignoring it. It doesn’t have to be the answer to world peace, just try and think of a way that you can take some of the pressure off your boss or supervisor. In this case Cristina, I suggest drafting an apology email to the client with the finished file attached to show your boss.
6. Don’t worry!
Don’t panic or stress yourself out. It seems like a big deal now but in a week all will be forgotten. Mistakes in the workplace happen all the time. We are all only human at the end of the day. Just make sure that you stay on the ball with the rest of your work and by the end of your internship, the only thing you’ll be remembered for is your fantastic contribution to the team.
An international internship is an amazing experience and it will show you all parts of life within a company. This of course means both the good and the (very occasional) bad. The best way to learn and grow is through occasionally making mistakes. It’s how you handle these mistakes that shows what a fantastic intern you are.
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