How to Bounce Back From A Career Disaster

Sometimes disaster strikes.

You screw up.

You make the wrong choice.

Say the wrong thing. To the wrong person.

Regret descends over you. A thick grey mist that clouds your everyday life. To misquote a common phrase… it happens.

You’re not the first person, nor the last person to make a monumental balls up of something. The severity of your mistakes will differ. But you’ll probably make a few over your career. There’ll be late nights worrying. Mornings where it hits the moment you wake.

If it’s really bad you lose your job. If it’s worse than that people outside of the company find out. If that’s a client, it’s not the end of the world. If it’s other potential employers, it’s a touch worse.

If you’ve done something truly criminal, metaphorically or literally, Recruitment Grapevine might run a story about you.

For all of the above, here’s how you bounce back.


If you’ve done a decent enough job of your career mistake, you’ll know about it. If it takes you a while to realise or no one calls you out, you’ve not done a good enough job.

Go back and do it again. Properly.

The moment you realise, you need to own it.

Take a deep breath, meet it head on.

You’re going to have a lot of emotions running around, all in one go. Not all of them will be yours. With tempers flaring, denying facts or pushing back against opinion isn’t going to do you any good. You need to be cooperative and admit your failings.

This is easier said than done, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly anger fades once you say these words…

“I’ve ****** up!” (Insert 6 letter word as appropriate)


Sorry seems to be the hardest word

The next stage should follow in the same sentence.

Say sorry.

Apologise to anyone affected by your actions. Be heartfelt. Show them you understand why they’re hurting. If it’s a business contact this is the most important step.

Yes, people will be annoyed with you. They might not want to work with you again. But people are more forgiving than you think if you apologise and show you actually understand their point of view.

Be an optimistic pessimist

Based on the severity of the mistake you’ve just made, you may well know the likely outcomes.

Life’s different for everyone on the planet. And everything’s relative. The worst thing to happen to you, won’t be the worst thing for someone else. And even with all the context in the world, it’s difficult to comprehend others troubles.

If you’ve admitted your mistake, apologised and now have an idea of what’s going to happen. Plan for it.

Write down the likely outcomes. Put them in order of best case scenario to worst. Then, starting at the bottom, think with clarity about how you’ll deal with each one. Have a plan, in writing.

Know your contingency in each case. If you’re fully prepared for the worst, anything better will be a relief.

Damage control

When the sentence’s been passed, you stare down the barrel. It could be a ‘parting of ways’ with your employer. A lost client. A pissed off candidate network. Or alienated colleagues.

Now you have to deal with it.

If you’ve done the step before this and actually planned what you’re going to do in each case, all you need to do is put that plan into effect. Easier said than done, but you may find the previous steps do a lot of damage control for you.

Where a longer ‘bounce back’ seems likely you may need to earn back trust or show competence over more time.

Nobody cares mate!

James Routledge, co-Founder of Sanctus wrote a refreshingly honest article with the title above.

Having just folded his first business, months later was struggling to come to terms with everything that had happened in such a difficult time. He was apologising to advisors for their lack of success and their startup proving to be a failure.

Over a beer, months after the event, still beating himself up, his mate emailed him to say… “Nobody cares!”

Nobody cares as much about your mistake as you do.

Every single other person involved will move on quicker.


Because they’ve got their own battles to fight. They have their own lives and their own mistakes to recover from.

Once you realise this, you may well be empowered to move on quicker.

Helping Hand

Get a move on

You’ve realised the error of your ways. You’ve apologised. You’ve done your time, literally or, hopefully, figuratively. Now, it’s time to let it go and turn this whole sorry affair into a learning exercise.

When I was very young, I asked my Dad a question about making mistakes. I was hoping he’d deftly provide the secret to my future existence.

“How do you know when you’re an adult?” I hopefully enquired…

“You never do.” He curtly responded, matter of fact.

“I still feel like I’m 16. The only difference is, life throws a lot of sh*t at you. You deal with it, the best way you know how. Take advice. And then when that happens to you again, you know what to do.”

I was gutted.

I thought I’d get hit by a bolt of lightening on the stroke of midnight in my early twenties.

“The ‘adult switch’ is on, you’re good to go!”

Life doesn’t happen like that. You learn by messing things up. You learn how to cope with mistakes. Learn how to move on. Try to avoid a particular mess twice.

Each time, you become better. You move on quicker.

You’ll learn to cherish the disasters so you can grow and bounce back higher. Sure maybe not at the exact moment you realise, but certainly retrospectively. And if you need help with that process, click here.