Making A Mistake At Work: One Of My Many Stories…
“Unreal. We need that kit for work happening tonight. Several inspectors are going to be there so there’s no way we can not have that stuff onsite. Do you know if we have any more kits we can look through?” I said.
- The person on the other line: the manager of our bustling warehouse.
- The “stuff”: Concrete testing equipment.
- The testing kits: Non-descript grey plastic boxes full of various pumps, scoopers, gauges, rods and other items. Think of a giant version of a basic tool box.
- Other project(s): The many construction projects our company had going on statewide that involved similar concrete work. All had different hours, workers, schedules and distances from the office. Many were bought specifically for one project aka they weren’t easy to get your hands on (think handcuffed-to-briefcase), and it’d take hours to get one if you could. The nature of our departments projects meant that we had no field offices. In other words, a Chevy regular cab truck was the field office.
- Work happening tonight: A scheduled concrete pour at a ‘high profile’ location. For anyone familiar with construction, there are typically more stressful than other work, since concrete dries quick (those trucks can only spin for so long!), it’s expensive, and a lot can go wrong. Couple that with several inspectors who’s only job is to show up and test the concrete, who were scheduled a few days before, and it’s cranked up a notch.
- “A bunch of loose equipment”: a hodgepodge of leftover stuff from old kits that won’t include everything missing.
- “The box from the picture”: A cellphone photo I had taken of a complete testing kit we used a couple weeks before, with the parts included that we need. Note: this included the non-descript grey plastic box.
I already had a stacked to-do list, and this was a nightmare. Through a couple of coordinated foreman pick ups/drop offs from the field to the office, the concrete kit we need somehow went missing, or at least some items did. We don’t have the testing kit we need TONIGHT. It was about 10am, and through a couple of quick conversations, there are no kits available. I’m a dead man if I don’t pull off a Hail Mary.
After relaying this to my very busy boss, he told me to make some calls, get the equipment we need from a local supplier or two, and get that kit ready for tonight ASAP or we’ll be in deep doo doo.
I call a couple of places – Murphy’s Law affirms that nobody has everything from the missing item list. So I got in the car and drove around a 15 mile radius to a few different places. Over the course of the next 4.5 hours, I ran around and painstakingly found everything. I raced back to the office in the first car I bought myself (I was 22 at this time). About 10 minutes from the office, the boss calls. He said they found the kit, and that he needs to speak to me when I get back. Oh damn.
Turns out, there were several non-descript grey boxes in the warehouse (“the shop”). The one from the picture? The handle had broken on it shortly after I took the picture. Naturally, a foreman who needed the kit took out the equipment, found another grey box with a good handle, and switched them. The broken-handle box now had some of the miscellaneous testing sh*t in it that normally collected dust in the shop. The concrete testing kit switched hands several times after, and it’s anyone’s guess how many other things were bartered, traded and exchanged between foremen since. Regardless, the complete kit was sitting in the shop, less than 10-ft away from the original box.
- No one said anything about switching boxes, at least not to me.
- I asked one foreman to coordinate getting the testing kit he was using to another foreman in the field.
- They met on the highway somewhere at night and exchanged the box.
- The other foreman dropped the box off in the shop on their way home (about 4am), in a room where there were a few others.
- The shop manager, upon request, checked the specific box out that I told him to look for, and he relayed the info to me in the morning.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY:
- I didn’t go over to the shop and look myself! After all, it wasn’t these guys’ responsibility to coordinate the test equipment between project – they had plenty of other things to do. It was mine.
- I didn’t dig deeper. It was my assumption that someone had rifled through the boxes (not uncommon), taken a few key components that morning and took it to a daytime project somewhere.
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In general, if you are ‘new’ most people won’t expect perfection. The biggest thing to do is have the right attitude. Accept responsibility for the mistakes you made, ask questions to learn how to correct, then go the extra mile to fix them (even if working really late or on weekends).
There is a learning curve to any role and I assure you that you are not the only new hire making mistakes. It’s very easy to feel incompetent when most of your coworkers have been in this role for years and you are still learning the ropes. Unless they joined the company with experience doing something similar, everyone started where you are now. What matters right now is showing that you’re willing to admit where you might need help and doing what it takes to learn from your mistakes. Put in some extra time and ask for feedback often. Now is not the time to compete with your more senior coworkers- it’s the time to learn from them.
You were hired right out of college, so chances are that your employers were aware that you are pretty green when you started. Early in your career, employers are really just looking for someone coachable who is willing to put in the effort to learn and improve. Try not to make the same mistakes more than once. Keep working hard to show improvement and you will be totally fine!
I can’t believe I didn’t think about that. I just went through all the employees that are in my age range and all of them have at a minimum 1 year more experience than me. Definitely need to adjust my expectations of myself.
Try to look at your work holistically whenever you finish, but before you hit send, and see if there are any obvious outliers or numbers that don’t make any sense. So many calculation mistakes are just adding or not adding a digit here and there.
Write down a to-do list and be super strict about not crossing things off until they’re completed. This will help with missing steps. My memory is shit and I use check lists religiously.
Don’t continue to make the same mistakes. When you are called on something or told you did something wrong, internalize that feedback and triple check that specific thing every single time. This shows you are coachable.
Ask yourself why you’re making the mistakes you are and fix that underlying issue. Are you rushing? Do you not understand a concept? Are you being lazy and looking for shortcuts that you’re not experienced enough to pull off yet? Are you overwhelmed?
This is company dependent, but at some places it’s not unheard of to pull a more experienced person aside for 30-60 minutes to go through your work with you before you “turn it in” to the boss. It is a much better use of a company’s time to deep dive with you once than have you make mistakes continuously, IMO, but not everywhere thinks that way.
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On #1, senior members of your team should not be the first people to review your work, you should. Spell check and print everything that you plan to circulate internally. Its quality control, easy to do, and if you can’t be trusted to spell or format correctly, why should anybody trust your analysis. It instills confidence when the easy things are done right and allows your team to focus on reviewing/discuss the more challenging and intellectual concepts — the analysis.
On #2, don’t just be a mindless Excel monkey. Although attention to detail is so important in the analyst role, don’t lose sight of the big picture — e.g. if model changes are requested that logically should result in positive/negative movement, make sure that happens! If it doesn’t smell right, it probably isn’t right, and more senior members of the team will spot that immediately.
On #4, if changes/updates/corrections to your methodology or process are requested on a specific task, often it is expected that you will make this change across the board. If there is doubt on whether it’s a global change or a one-time thing, ask. People relying on your work will appreciate you asking for clarification at that time, rather than finding the same “mistake” weeks later in subsequent work product.
Completey agree on printing everything and I’m someone who has and still shares the op’s anxieties after 8 years in the business. Seeing stuff in the analog world provides a level of filtration that you can’t get off a computer screen.
Gerat advice, espceially the last point. That requires a bit of confidence and humility to approach but if you find that person who will vet your work it makes a huge difference.
Don’t be hesitant to ask intelligent questions when necessary. just make sure you aren’t repeatedly asking rudimentary questions you could address through research or lower level colleagues. Try only to ask your superiors questions that require their experience, don’t waste their time. Good questions can demonstrate commitment and growth potential within the company. Bad questions can show incompetence or lack of initiative, be aware of this.