Damage Control: How to prevent small mistakes from destroying your "rockstar" status

We'd all like to imagine that work will go smoothly 100% of the time. No mistakes, no blow ups with our bosses, no frustrations with the people below us. Just sunshine and rainbows every day. Huzzah!

Unfortunately, for most of us mere mortals at least, that isn't how it always works out.

So I thought it would be helpful to talk about damage control.

Specifically, here are two things you should do when things aren't going super smoothly.

Damage Control #1: When you're going to miss a deadline

The first thing I want to discuss is what to do if you're going to miss a deadline.

Most often, this happens because work is either taking longer than you expected, or you're being hit with multiple projects with competing deadlines.

The most important thing is, you have to correct your boss's expectations as soon as possible.

This is something most people do not do.

In fact, most people do the opposite! They pretend things are going a-okay right up until the last minute, when they finally have to admit to themselves (and their boss) that there's simply no chance to meet the deadline.

The wrong way to handle it

So, let's say that you're given an assignment due 4 days from now.

2 days away from the deadline, you realize, 'Oh, man. This is going to take me at least 4 more days. But I said I could get it done 2 days from now, so I'm going to try really, reeeeeally hard to hit that deadline!'

Then 1 day from the deadline, you think to yourself 'there's no way I'm going to hit this deadline, but I'm going to try, try, try!'

And now the day of the deadline you have to go to your boss and tell them "Boss, this isn't going to be done in time." This is NOT a good strategy.

Not only is this basically guaranteed to piss of your boss in the short-term, but in the long-term you've ruined your credibility and your boss's faith in your ability to get things done.

And now your bosses think of you like this guy.

The better way to handle it

The truth is, when you first got the assignment you probably knew it was a tight timeline. The best case scenario would be to bring it up right away and reset expectations before you even get started. Ideally you don't ever commit to something you shouldn't do, aren't qualified to do, or can't do within the requested deadline.

But let's say you decide to try and pull it off, because maybe you can pull it off and be the office hero.

With 2 days left, you realize this is definitely going to take another 4 days. You're going to miss the deadline.

As soon as you realize that you're likely going to miss the deadline you agreed to, THAT'S when you want to correct the expectations with your boss.

So go in with 2 days left to spare and talk to your boss.

You're much more likely to get a positive response and if you do that with enough heads up then the senior person can plan around it.

Maybe they can extend your deadline or say that it's a hard deadline, but they may assign you some help or cut down on the scope of the task. You'd be AMAZED at the number of 100 slide PowerPoint decks that I've seen cut down to 25 once the partner gets a call saying the meeting has been moved up a few days.

Either way, you and the partner are on the same page, and you have an achievable assignment.


(Here is something to think about in terms of the psychology of that conversation. Don't go in and say "Hey, I just want to let you know, I realized this is going to take me 4 days instead of 2."

Frame the conversation so that you and your boss are on the same team. Don't talk about it in terms of "Sorry I'm so slow". Talk about it under the assumption that you're great at your job, but because the work and the project is so big, you can't finish in the timeframe you initially agreed to.

Imagine the difference in your boss's perception of you, based on "Hey I can't get the work done in time" vs. "Sorry I'm so slow, I can't get the work done in time", vs. "Hey, I just realized this is 4 days' worth of work.; I've been pulling all-nighters to try to get it done by Thursday, but it's going to be a really tough deadline to hit without sacrificing on double-checking the work. Is it possible to extend until Friday?"

Yes, some bosses are just dicks, and it can't be helped. But most of them are reasonable and will respond well to a proactive employee who sets his/her expectations early and often.)

Damage Control #2: When you screw up

It is a fact of life - work long enough and you're going to screw up on the job.

I've screwed up on the job. The person you're working with has screwed up on a job. We all screw up and we all make mistakes.

The key is, you want to own your mistakes right away.

When a lot of people screw up in business or in life, they try to pretend it didn't happen.

They hope no one notices, and they don't say anything because they just want it to go away.

The problem with trying to hide your mistakes is that at least some of the time, you're going to get caught. And when you do, your boss is going to be pissed.

From a happiness point of view, hiding it is also going to leave you incredibly stressed and on edge, anxious that you might be found out.

You're much better off owning your mistakes and owning them immediately.

There's a great example from Charlie's work in the consulting world that I think really illustrates this.

Before helping me start Charisma On Command, Charlie worked in consulting. One day, he had to do a PowerPoint presentation for a client

So he drafted a deck, showed his boss the slides, and everything looked good.

They took the slides to the client, passed it around to all the people in the meeting, and when they started to go through it together it turned out that he just straight up botched a few numbers.

The senior consultant whom he worked with noticed and went through those slides as quickly as he could. Everyone in the meeting noticed the errors but it wasn't a huge deal and it didn't kill the meeting.

However, Charlie knew he screwed up and there was a call scheduled the next day with the whole team to talk about the meeting.

On that call, this senior consultant basically said "Charlie, wtf?! You really dropped the ball."

Now, Charlie could have started defending himself here.

He could have said "No, well, it's not really my fault, here's what happened" and tried to deflect blame.

Or he could have said "Oh, it's not big a deal" and tried to minimize it.

But instead, he says "You're absolutely right, I'm sorry I screwed it up. It's totally my fault and it won't happen again."

If Charlie tried to defend himself, he will put his boss in the position of an accuser and Charlie takes the position of defendant. Instead, he switched it from a blame game to owning it and going towards the solution.

And what ended up happening was amazing. The senior consultant actually ended up defending Charlie! He said "No, don't beat yourself up too bad. It could happen to anyone, it's not a big deal. Let's just talk about the next meeting."



A.) Charlie had a great relationship with the guy.

B.) Charlie took the blame. There was nothing left unsaid to scold him for. So the guy could either keep piling on and repeat himself, or he could move on.

So if you screw up, own it right away and change it from a conversation about blame to a conversation about solutions going forward.

The bottom line

Your bosses expect that you're going to screw up, miss deadlines, and make mistakes.

They might like to pretend otherwise (ESPECIALLY in finance), but they know it's coming. Even their all-time favorite "rockstar" analyst, the one they still daydream about longingly when their current analyst screws up, even THAT analyst makes mistakes.

The key is to get in front of your mistakes early, own them immediately, and move on. Make up for it on the next assignment.

It isn't very complicated.

  1. Do good work
  2. Have a good attitude
  3. Go out of your way to form relationships with your bosses
  4. When you screw up, follow the advice in this article.

You'll be killing it in the game in no time!

by the way, let me know in the comments if you guys like posts like this and I'll do more! Otherwise we'll stick to YouTube videos :-)

Mod Note (Andy): This week we're reposting the top content from 2016, this one ranks #50 for 25 of silver bananas.

Comments (38)

Aug 23, 2016

Best tip I ever received, when your sending bad news to clients, better a bullet than a thousand paper cuts. Worse news, more concise.

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Aug 23, 2016

Great advice. Would you also try to include the solution or action plan to fix it (when you had one)?

Aug 23, 2016

One of the best posts I've seen on this site.

Gonna checkout Charisma On Command as well ;)

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Aug 23, 2016

Glad you liked it!

Aug 23, 2016

You are the man! Keep posting gems

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Aug 23, 2016

If this one is well received I'll definitely post again soon :-)

Aug 24, 2016

Good advice, thanks!

Aug 24, 2016

Is there a way to bookmark post to read later?

Aug 24, 2016

Yeah you can just bookmark the post to read it later.

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Aug 24, 2016

hit the "Bookmark" link under the post, then you can see them all here: http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/tracker/bookmarks

WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My Linkedin

Aug 24, 2016

great post brother!

Aug 24, 2016

Fantastic post! Keep it up! :)

Aug 25, 2016

I've seen your YouTube videos. Saw one on a sidebar one day and clicked. It was good. Was surprised to see you here and that you're into finance. You're all over the place.

Aug 25, 2016

Amazing tips! Wish I knew this earlier :(

Aug 25, 2016

Would love to see more career-oriented stuff from you guys.

Aug 25, 2016

Great post.

Aug 25, 2016

Both tips have been very useful.Love to read more of your posts.

Aug 25, 2016

Great advice. I wish I read this when starting off as an analyst...I learned all of this the hard way.

Dec 26, 2016

Would like to add that being the first to address your mistake (if you suspect others are aware of it) is always a good way to own it and not allow others to think twice.

Dec 26, 2016

No voicemail? Just relax and wait a little longer, if it was them they will call back

Dec 26, 2016

Lame troll.

Dec 26, 2016

You should probably just cold call all the firms you emailed as a follow-up to your email anyway. It's the best way to get results.

Dec 26, 2016

It was probably your grandma

Dec 26, 2016

press *69 on your phone immediately. you're welcome :D

Dec 26, 2016

give it a couple days, then follow up the firms with a call

Dec 26, 2016

I sent out about 20 cold emails to various firms with my resume attached and didn't think much of it. Later I checked my phone and since I was using my old one since my BB broke, it showed I had a missed call but it didn't give a number. I have like 3 people who would ever call me (my other friends text) so I'm pretty sure it was a firm reaching out. Is there anything I can do now? Should I just re-email all 20 of them again telling them to give me a call again? Or am I pretty much fucked?

I was really hoping this was an arrested development comic relief post. Why dont you just call up the phone company you use and ask who called you?

Dec 26, 2016

you can view the details of your incoming/outgoing calls online if you have AT&T (not sure about anyone else). It's also in your phone bill.

Dec 26, 2016

A firm would have left a message 90%+ of the time. The fact that you only have three friends doesn't preclude you from receiving telemarketing calls or 'wrong numbers'. That said, I'd do as previous posters have suggested and cold-call to follow up. Checking with your phone company is another option.

Dec 26, 2016

Call from Skype (secret number), public pay phone, or a friend's phone and ask around to find out who called you. Once you know who called you, you can call them back. Of course, wait a couple of hours.

If you are afraid they will recognize your voice then ask a friend to do it, or get a program to change your voice and use skype.

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain

Dec 26, 2016

Wrong number.

Dec 26, 2016

There isn't really anything you can do at this point about the transcript. Just wait until it pans out and see what happens. If they offer you a job, take it and don't look back. If they don't, keep trying. Your grades are in the past, and there's nothing you can do to change them. Focus on the other parts of your application (presentability, networking, etc. - i.e. everything you're doing now) and set yourself apart that way.

Dec 26, 2016

Nothing is ever a lost cause, broski.

How bad are "my grades suck"? Sub 3.0?

Are you an engineer or physics major or something?

Please don't quote Patrick Bateman.

Dec 26, 2016

Nothing is ever a lost cause, broski.

How bad are "my grades suck"? Sub 3.0?

Are you an engineer or physics major or something?

Just a few basis points south of 3. Initially focused on business and entrepreneurship, but ended up graduating in a dual focused major for economics and business management and marketing. I did a lot of extracurricular work as you might have noticed I just posted in one of your threads. Always told myself I will not like investment management up until a week before graduation when I happened to land a wealth management job. Reluctantly took the job as I figured it'd provide a good experience and development of core skills. A year later, every misconception and trading mishaps friends use to tell me became noise and I quickly learned what it meant to be a true investor thanks to reading some value investing books. So now I'm serious about it and doing everything I can to make it. Studying for CFA right now, and will be focused on entering a masters of finance program at my alma mater if I don't land a job by June. This time around I'll be sure to get a 4.0.

Dec 26, 2016
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