Honest Mistakes Can Still Be Fatal

January 20, 2011

I have conducted my fair share of terminations.  I certainly do not say that to brag, in fact, just the opposite.  Regardless of whether deserved or not, telling someone they no longer have a job is not something I enjoy.  Even more difficult is when the person made an honest mistake.  Unfortunately, even honest mistakes can be fatal.

I spent the last seven years in a call center environment and as with any customer service job, there are very specific rules on dealing with the customer.  Since so much of the customer interaction was over the phone, verifying identity, using names and proper handling of credit card information were all a very big deal.  A few times we would have very good employees who missed a step, a big one, and we would have to let them go.  Honest mistake, but fatal.

It is tough to get an employee with a good track record and no prior disciplinary history, why that one mistake is costing them their job.  It was sometimes hard for me to understand myself.  Inherently, people feel like if mistakes are honest and their intentions were good then they should be overlooked or at least treated with less force than termination.  Nine times out of ten they can be, but not always.

That is why doing the work you do every day to the best of your ability is crucial.  Even if you hate it.  Even if you are actively seeking employment elsewhere.  Even if you have done it for ten years and could do it in your sleep.  One simple mistake could ruin everything.

A termination for performance on your record is never a good thing.  Regardless of whether it seems unfair, all future employers are going to see is that you were terminated.  In my career, I have never sided with a candidate who tried to justify a termination.  HR/Recruiting minds know there are two sides to every story only hearing one side makes us leery.  All things equal, we will choose the person who has never been terminated – honest mistake or not.

So take your job seriously and try to minimize the opportunity for mistakes as much as possible.  Doing less can really come back to haunt you.

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