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by Vault Consulting Editors | April 14, 2011


By Kristine Schoonmaker,

(Kristine recently returned from a pair of successful speaking engagements at Penn and Georgia Tech, where prospective consultants asked the former Accenture exec questions like "How do I rebound from a rookie mistake?".  She shares her thoughts on the subject here.)

Everyone has had those moments: You accidentally send an email to the wrong "Jane," dial into a client meeting an hour late because you forgot you were in a different time zone, or call your partner by the wrong name. I once had a consultant on my team that made the mistake of assuming a director-level client was a firm exec on her first day. While meandering through the cafeteria line together she asked him how the client was to work with. Whoopsie! If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid these little hiccups, don’t laugh just yet. Your time will come. But when it does, don’t panic. You absolutely CAN recover from these embarrassing moments even if they are a little painful. Here’s how to do it:

1.Own it. Everyone gets embarrassed, but recognize that these things happen to the best of us. Own up to what you did and apologize, if appropriate. But, whatever you do, don’t try to blame someone else or pretend it never happened. Others will see right through what you are trying to do and start to question your integrity.
2.Do some damage control. How bad was the mistake? If it was bad, like sending something confidential to someone you shouldn’t have, you should probably solicit help from someone like your manager right away, so they can help you take the appropriate steps. If it was something minor, like one typo in a half-page email, most people won’t even notice. Don’t draw attention to it unnecessarily by replying to all and correcting your mistake.
3.Learn a lesson. When you own up to what you’ve done, tell others (and yourself) what you have learned from the mistake and what you will do differently the next time. Generally speaking, people are very compassionate. Many times you can even head off a firestorm (and a lecture) by showing you already know what to do differently in the future.
4.Move on. The worst thing you can do for your self-confidence is continue to harp on what you’ve done. Tomorrow is another day and it will likely bring plenty of new things to stress about. What’s done is in the past, so don’t try to drag it with you.
5.Don’t do it again. The only real failure you can experience is if you continue to make the same mistake over and over and over again. So don’t. Find one thing to change or do differently so you don’t fall in the same traps. Otherwise, you’ll always be seen as a "rookie" and not a "pro."

As you can see, it is possible to quickly recover when you mess up. Sometimes, the bigger challenge is actually making mistakes and NOT realizing it.

Kristine Schoonmaker is The Career & Lifestyle Coach for Consultants and founder of Her bi-weekly ezine Accelerate offers practical insider advice and quick tips from a former consulting exec to help YOU take greater control of your career and stay engaged in your personal life from the road. If you’re ready to have it allan amazing career in consulting without giving up the lifestyle, relationships and experiences you want, get your FREE subscription now at


Filed Under: Consulting

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