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Admin Pro Forum

Are there some mistakes it’s just too hard to rebound from?

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Question: "Last week at my new job I made an oversight when putting together a package of materials for my boss. It was the worst possible mistake to make and led to a ruined presentation, which in the end lost us some good business. I felt so miserable, I could barely get out of bed the next day. I think it will take me months to win back any kind of trust (my boss is not the most forgiving person). Is it ever better to just start over somewhere else rather than try to slowly erase a track record that's gone wrong so soon?" - Cass, Documents Specialist

See comments below, and send your own question to Admin-Pro@nibm.net.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Becke April 3, 2015 at 11:26 am

I was in a similar situation. New executive and I made some mistakes at the beginning of our relationship as I was learning to navigate new waters. My executive was never able to let go of those initial mistakes. I never made those mistakes again and continuted to stick it for two years our relationship never did improve, no matter how much effort I put in and how many wonderful things I did.

I really loved my job and the people that I worked with, but because of my executive’s inability to forgive and forget those initial mistakes at the beginning of our relationship I finally realized that in order for me to be successful and happy it was time to find another job. I was fortunate to finnd another job within the same company and I am now working for an executive who is supportive, encouraging and actually has become a mentor to me within a very short period of time.

I beat myself up for several months over what I considered was my failure to rectify my previous work relationship. Many people don’t understand just how tough it is to be an administrative/executive assistant, this is NOT an easy career path. A great deal of our success depends on having a solid relationship with our executive, things have to “click”!

Please don’t beat yourself up, we are human and we will make mistakes especially early into a relationship. My advice is to continue to do your best while you are in your current position, but keep your eyes open for new opportunities. You will be happier and far more productive in an environment that accepts the fact that you will make mistakes. Be sure that you learn from them and don’t make similar mistakes in the future. Best of luck!!


Cathy March 31, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Cass, I agree with others answering – Do NOT Quit! Apologize in a professional and calm manner, assure the boss that you will figure out why the mistake happened so it’s not repeated, and – most importantly – do NOT make the same mistake again. You’re new to the job and you’re going to make a mistake or two while you’re learning the company’s system and how everyone operates there, but owning up to your mistake and NOT repeating it will take you a long way in the boss’s eyes.


JoAnn Paules March 30, 2015 at 7:40 am

I’m not going to allow you to absorb all of the blame.

Something to keep in mind – that presentation was only a tool. Your boss should have known the critical information he was going to cover. I’m curious why he didn’t notice it beforehand.

Yes, you made a mistake and you’re going to have to work hard to make up for it – but so did he. Unfortunately he will probably never own up to his share of the responsibility. That share is not yours to absorb. It’s time to stop beating yourself up for it and move on. You can do this!


Gil H. March 18, 2015 at 8:37 am

What I’ve found is that time passes fast, and even the worst mistake seems like a distant memory before you know it. In six months, you’ll probably shrug about it. And remember that everyone else in the office forgets about what other people did in the blink of an eye, because they’ve all got too much to worry about themselves without keeping score!


Colleen, HR Administrative Coordinator March 12, 2015 at 5:28 pm


1) Please take heart not to let this mistake weigh you down. You’ve kindly apologized and sincerely taken full responsibilitly for the error and you desperately want to make things right. I really feel for you as there is always so much to learn at a new job and how to partner effectively with a new supervisor or executive and things can and do go wrong especially when communications and expectations are not clear.

2) To ensure you have a clear understanding of what your boss wants in the future, you may wish to take notes. When starting as a temp at my current company and there was so much to learn and I always carried a notepad and pen with me at all times when discussing issues with my supervisor. My boss actually really liked that and it truly helped me to remember instructions and gave me the opportunity to ask questions and follow up with my boss when I was unsure.

3) I also have learned to prepare for the people I support by making a list of everything (or checklist-even better) of all materials needed and I try to prep materials as far in advance as possible. For some reason– I think most admins will wholeheartedly agree– when we have to rush to meet important deadlines, things get missed, copiers breakdown, fax machines act up, office supplies are missing, special order printing deadlines cannot be met, the computer freezes and IT is not available etc. etc. Constant multitaksing and this type of stress and pressure contributes to making blind errors.

4) I also try to create a staging area a little bit away from my desk so that I can assemble everything neatly and in an organized fashion. Additionally, I often meet with my boss to review all the materials in advance and try to help pack everything in a convenient way for travel.

5) Additionally, I open PDFs, Files etc. and double check to ensure I have the proper information and that the format is clean and presentable. It also helps to be able to send the files (or presentations) ahead of time to the client if possible so that they can be accessed at the client location easily. It’s always important also to have a flash drive back up! Many executives can also access presentations through their ipads and iphones connecting with client interface.

6) Last, I have learned to demonstrate a higher level of confidence and with my supervisors. I met with a CEO of governmental agency in Washington DC for an interview some years ago, and he told me that his worst complaint about administrative staff was that most lack confidence and this a lack of confidence holds most admins back. He could not understand it.

I had never heard this before but realized it was true for me and that I also often lacked confidence. Continual self-improvement, ongoing education, humility and working diligently and faithfully utlimately improves and builds confidence. I truly believe that you will completely recover from this, regain your footing, and excel at your new job. Keep smiling and shining and believe in yourself always. I truly believe in you and I’m certain that many many many others do too! Hugs, Colleen

P.S. In an effort to recover from a similar misstep, I found out my boss’s favorite food – banana nut muffins- and whenever he was angry with me (he had a well known and feared temper with staff) I left one on his desk with another little apology note and a promise to do better! Here’s the happy ending, when I did leave that position, he was nearly beside himself and told everyone that they’d never ever be able to find anyone to do my job as well as I did. Wishing you great success always! Know you are in my thoughts and prayers! Colleen


Sheila March 12, 2015 at 4:30 pm

I think it’s best to stick it out and earn back the trust. Try not to beat yourself up too much; instead show your boss that you are going to do your best to ensure that never happens again. I would start by creating a checklist for these types of presentation materials. It’s easy to forget to include documentation, especially when you are new to the job. Go over the checklist with your boss to make sure you have included everything. Most importantly, sit down and discuss the mistake with your boss (if you haven’t done so already). If there is another admin in the company that you trust to be your mentor, that will help you as well. Good luck and keep your head high!


Lisa B. March 12, 2015 at 4:24 pm

You need to schedule a one-on-one meeting with your boss. Apologize again for the mistake and explain that, while you know everyone makes mistakes, this has been weighing heavily on your mind. You should then explain that you are committed to excellence then show him/her and how you plan to keep yourself from ever making that mistake again in the future.

I recommend creating a form that you fill out by hand for each presentation/trip pack/etc. so that you can go through and check off each item prior to handing it off to your boss. Ideas for check points could be:

– Master printed document
– Participant copies
– Statistical info or important data
– (2) data sticks with the presentation {one is a backup}
– Paper, pens, presentation visuals (like posters, pictures, etc.)

If you make a plan to use a checklist, make sure you use it FAITHFULLY. Your efforts to prevent mistakes will go a long way to repairing some of the damage. If your boss is not forgiving and continues to hold it over your head a long time after the incident, you may want to consider moving on. Either way, expect that this will factor heavily into your annual review though – there is no way around it.

Good luck!


Kate March 12, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Dear Cass,

Don’t give up! These things happen. Believe me, I’ve made some mistakes from which I thought I would never recover. Stay put and spend at least a year in that job, earning back as much trust as you can. If you quit your job entirely, then this will be all that folks remember when they’re called to check your employment history/references. This is not how you want to be remembered. Besides, skipping from one job to the next too frequently also sends up red flags. Stay and fix it the best you can. Next time you’re putting together materials, ask to go over your work with your boss far enough in advance that you can fix it if something goes awry. Good luck!


Mac March 31, 2015 at 8:53 am

Forget the muffins. just do your work and learn from mistakes, that makes you better than 80% of the people in your company.

Don’t make the decision to stay or leave based on this incident. Deal with your shame and get back to work. Don’t ever flee from failure, and shame won’t help one bit.

Make your decision on leaving, based on how the job/company/boss feels for you. Get past the initial shame, rebound for a month. Then measure how it feels. If you want to move on, don’t tell a single soul at work. Keep it to yourself, find something better, and then go.

People leave jobs often having 10 to 27 in a lifetime. Most companies fold in less than 12 years. So, nothing is forever. Your dating, not getting engaged or married to a partner that will be out of business too soon even if things go right. Most family owned businesses don’t survive 3 years after the 1st generation retires or dies.

It’s only a job. Learn something and get going again. There’s something that will fit you even better.

Good luck, Mac


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