How to be a less shit entry level employee

“Where is the rebate in these numbers?”  There was silence on the conference call as I filled up with dread.  I had made a hundred thousand dollar mistake and circulated it to all of the directors.  I simply missed it.  There was no other reason.  Luckily it was for a prospective purchase, so I hadn’t actually lost a hundred thousand dollars (yet), but that was little comfort to me as the directors waited for my response.  “Fuck, it’s not there, I made a mistake.”

I hate making mistakes.  Yes I see the logic that you can learn valuable lessons from your mistakes.  But in the moment it feels like shit.  And as a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid situations where I feel like shit.

There are few situations that are more mistake prone than a new job.  It is hard to prioritise in a new job.  It is not clear yet what is important and what can be ignored, which only comes with experience.  Unfortunately that experience involves spending a tonne of time on all of the things only to realise that 90% of what you have just done is useless.  Now add time pressure; everything has a deadline.

I used to think that speed was the most important.  Nothing shows that you are better than the other entry level employees than finishing first, right?  However, while being slow may insinuate that you don’t understand something, poor quality of work/actually getting it wrong demonstrates that you don’t understand something.  Given the choice between slow and incompetent, I know which I’d rather be.

The lesson I learnt from this mistake is that it is always better to take to time to make sure you’re right (and to check excel spreadsheets on paper not the screen).  No one ever got kudos for coming to the wrong answer quickly.

And in the end logic wins.  Yes I was down in the dumps all week and at points irrationally feared for my job.  But I did learn a valuable lesson, one that I began to feel grateful for after I later found out one of the directors had a chuckle and would bet that I wouldn’t make that mistake again.  The moral of the story is that it is ok to make mistakes; just never make the same one twice.

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