It’s a relatable error. You’re in the zone, applying to tons of job openings or sending out networking email after networking email. Maybe you’re reaching out to potential clients or collecting information from a few of your colleagues. Even if you’re tailoring each message so that it doesn’t read like a boilerplate memo, if you’re not careful, you could find yourself sending and then smacking your head with the realization that you forget to change that name, delete this line, or send that spell-checked doc.
A couple of years ago, I emailed an acquaintance asking for a favor. I was hoping she could put me in touch with one of her attorney pals for an article I was writing on a legal matter. I was excited to reach out to him for a quote and quickly dashed off a thank you to Wallace, which would have been fine if Wallace wasn’t supposed to be Wallis. I recognized my mistake almost immediately—I say almost because it wasn’t quite fast enough for me to opt for Gmail’s “unsend” option—and shot off another note that said, “And by Wallace, I meant Wallis, of course. Sorry about that!”
Email mistakes happen. The thing to focus on is how to recover from them. Whether you reach out to a friend of a friend about a company she never worked at (oops!) or you contact a hiring manager about a job opportunity at a company he’s not associated with (yikes!), here’s what to do if you accidentally press send too soon:
1. Accept That it Happened
You’re not going to get anywhere by willing the situation away or thinking it can be swept under the rug. It can’t. It happened. So, you sent a cover letter addressing the wrong company; you fired off a typo-filled deck of your presentation to the CEO instead of the final, polished version. The best thing to do is start handling it.
One talent coordinator I spoke with had dozens of stories of candidates who’d made small errors in applying. Those individuals, who maybe referenced the wrong company or position or who turned in an incomplete portfolio, aren’t automatically ruled out. She appreciates seeing how the person handles the error because it demonstrates how he or she would handle a bigger problem in the workplace. This is true no matter what the issue is. Accepting it with grace is the first step—most people are understanding when something goes wrong and you don’t turn a blind eye to it.
2. Acknowledge Your Error
Taking ownership of the oversight (say, for example, sending the incomplete draft of the writing sample instead of the polished final version) will demonstrate that you’re a responsible, self-aware person who cares about being professional. If you realize that you’ve flubbed your correspondence in some way, you need to try and rectify it. Send a follow up to the hiring manager or recruiter and explain what happened. The apology may not get you the interview or the job offer, but it will stop the damage straightaway. No matter how embarrassed you are about the situation, the best way to handle it is to address it head on. Once you do that, you’re ready for the next step.
3. Move On
You made a mistake. You owned it, and now it’s time to move on. For real. If the blip occurred in your current workplace, and you’ve recognized and apologized to the receiver, great. You don’t need to address it at every subsequent meeting or belabor the point. The best way to let a minor indiscretion blow over is to drop it once it’s been handled. The forgiving recruiter who brings you in to interview anyway even after you referenced the wrong company and position? He doesn’t really want to be reminded of your mistake after you’ve apologized for it. He’s looking to see how you can excel; he’s not waiting for you to fail.
If you’re a busy person (and who among us isn’t?), it’s almost inevitable this will happen to you. In spite of how awkward you feel or how much you’d like to go back in time and have a do-over, the fact is that being an adult and accepting responsibility is your smartest move. If the circumstances require more than an apology, then you should figure out how to fix it. Will the hiring manager give you another opportunity to send the correct file? Will the new client be open to having you resend the material as she was supposed to receive it? Avoid getting defensive, and do your best to turn the situation around.