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Rebuilding Your Personal Brand After a Major Career Error

My knowledge and understanding of sports pretty much is relegated to American leagues. My father loved Premiere League soccer, but I just simply could not get into it or understand the rules. Despite that, I found myself watching the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final last week. From what I gather, this is the soccer equivalent to the Super Bowl. It’s the game to end the season, with millions tuning in around the globe. Even with my very, very limited knowledge, I could tell that Liverpool’s goalie Loris Karius was having a very, very bad game. He made two major mistakes that lead directly to Real Madrid’s victory.

The response has been awful—fellow soccer players are calling out his errors in the media, and “fans” are sending death threats to him and his family. Sadly, not only will it likely be a long time—if ever—until the public forgives or forgets his missteps, it’s hard to picture other soccer clubs wanting to take a chance on a player who made major mistakes at critical moments. However, the fact is that everyone inevitably makes a mistake at their job. And in most situations, they’re able to move past their error and continue their careers. What are some key steps any professional can take to reestablish credibility and their personal brand after majorly messing up at work?

  1. Accept responsibility and apologize. This is PR 101, but the defensive side that lives in all of us may be tempted to explain away, hide or defer blame when a huge error is made. Don’t do any of that. Simply acknowledge that you’ve made a mistake to everyone involved and affected and apologize for what you did that hurt them in some way.
  1. Take stock of your career goals. Even if your mistake does not result in severe disciplinary action or firing, it’s a good time to assess where you’re at in your career. Did you make that mistake because you’ve become bored and therefore careless in your work? If you’ve determined you’re simply not in the right place or role and choose to resign after making a mistake, thank your bosses and team for the opportunity and apologize for doing them a disservice by not giving your position everything it deserved. Taking that further step to acknowledge fault will earn you some goodwill points. And later down the road, it may help people remember you not as someone who makes egregious mistakes, but perhaps someone who wasn’t the right fit for a specific job.
  1. Have a planned response for questions about your mistake. If you choose to stay at your organization or move on, inevitably people will ask what happened. Pen a simple two-sentence explanation that describes what happens, but then quickly pivots to what you learned or why that mistake won’t happen again. Then be prepared to steer the conversation to a positive topic.
  1. Continue to act “normal.” Don’t stop posting on social media. Keep attending industry events. If you deviate from typical behavior, it’ll only call more attention to the fact that something is wrong.
  1. Reach out to your trusted network and ask them for help in expanding your circle. This is exactly the situation in which it’s so important to have a mentor and close colleagues. There’s absolutely no shame in reaching out to people who know how valuable you are and asking them for help. They can keep an eye out on new opportunities for you, and perhaps even more beneficially, introduce you to new contacts. You want to minimize the number of people who hear about your mistake before they get the chance to meet you. A soft introduction from a mutual colleague who can sing your praises is a good way to tell your story before it gets told for you. The wider the network that has a positive opinion of you, the quicker you’ll be able to move your career in a positive direction once again.