Taking a “Mulligan” for a career mistake

Taking a “Mulligan” for a career mistake

  • Posted by Stephen White
  • On June 1, 2018
  • bad career choices, Mulligan, overcoming bad career mistakes, Taking a Mulligan, tips for overcoming bad career decisions


There is a concept in golf known as a “Mulligan”.  Webster’s dictionary defines it as “a free shot sometimes given a golfer in informal play when the previous shot was poorly played”.  So, the question I ask is:  are employees entitled to a Mulligan?  Is it possible for employees to take a Mulligan for a career mistake that goes awry, and if so, how do you rationalize it to a prospective employer?


Golf is a bit like one's career in that we all make mistakes.

Everyone makes a bad shot once in a while…both in their career as well as golf.

There is no such thing as a perfect career

In a perfect world job applicants would be privy to all the necessary information they need to make well-informed, rational and sound decisions regarding career choices.  They would go through interviews and after having done so, would gain a solid knowledge and understanding of their prospective employer, their role and, of course, their supervisor.  Their employment decisions would be driven by logic and common sense, and as a result, mistakes or Mulligans would be non-existent.  Sadly, this is not the case.

People are human, and humans are both complex and fallible.  We are all susceptible to flattery.  We can be deceived.  We can be misled.  We can be emotional.  And yes…sometimes we make lousy career decisions based not on logic or sound judgement but rather, in the vain hope that things will somehow work out all right.  And yes…sometimes when this happens things go terribly wrong.


Speaking from experience

Twice in my career I changed jobs and lived to regret it.  The first time I was contacted by a search consultant.  I was flattered by the call, and the recruiter’s description of the job sounded great.  The job was in a great location with, what I was told, was a reputable and successful organization.  The pay and benefits were good, and the person to whom I would be reporting was, according to the search consultant, very professional and well-regarded.  What he didn’t tell me, what I learned shortly after starting employment, was that there had been three predecessors in my role in the past two years, they had all been terminated, and my boss was, to put it kindly, a tyrant with a massive ego and a temper to match.  I lasted a little over a year.

The second time was seven years later.  A friend put me in touch with an individual I casually met years before, and who was recruiting for a position in in his department.  I recall that this individual had a quixotic personality, and despite a vague awareness I admittedly felt uncomfortable in his presence. I had always felt there was something odd about his behaviour.

In spite of my reservations I went through the first interview but gained little insights on what my role would be.  After being invited back to meet with several co-workers I still, after three rounds of interview, had little conception of what I would be doing.  After receiving an offer I hemmed and hawed, and was ambivalent about whether I should accept.  Naively, I assumed I could clarify my role over time, and I even thought I could eventually figure out how to manage my boss.  I was wrong on both counts.  I lasted two and a half years in what was surely the worst employment relationship in my career in an organization I absolutely hated.


Hindsight is always 20-20

Both of these missteps occurred about ten years apart.  Despite these errors I survived.  That being said, here is what I learned from the experience:

  1. Never accept a position on the assumption that a lack of clarity or information can be determined later.  In a job search employers hold the upper hand.  As an applicant it is your role to find out as much about them and the position as they are expected to determine about you.
  2. Go with your gut instinct.  If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  If there is something that doesn’t seem right about a prospective employer do not dismiss it out of hand. Intuition is pricelessIn a previous blog I detailed the list of questions and issues candidates should ask a prospective employer. 
  3. Before you accept an offer be sure to get things clarified up front. After you start employment it is likely too late.  Probe, ask questions, press if necessary, and don’t be content with evasive or incomplete answers.  And if you don’t get the answers you expect, walk away!
  4. Do your research.  Check out both the organization and your supervisor online.  Reach out and connect with former employees.  Ensure that the feedback you receive is consistent, and don’t casually dismiss negative feedback regardless of how minor it may seem.

Explaining your Mulligan

If you find yourself in a situation having to explain a Mulligan here is my advice:

  1. Admit it.  Explain in detail the context, the circumstances, and what you learned.  Be sure to outline what you gained from the experience.
  2. Don’t bad mouth your former supervisor or co-workers.  Difficult as it is try not to defame others.  Prospective employers are not interested in hiring people with baggage, and they aren’t in business to help you deal with your personal issues.
  3. Analyze what went wrong and learn from it.   Evaluate what happened.  Identify specific acts or incidents that contributed to the culminating event.  Ask yourself:  if I had to do it over again, what would I have done differently?
  4. Don’t get caught repeating the same mistake.  Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result each time.

A final thought…

There are still some who persist in the outdated assumption that any career misstep is avoidable and unacceptable.  Thankfully, most of us are more human and tolerant, and are also honest enough to admit our faults, failings and shortcomings.  Golfers who take their Mulligan, whether it is on the fairway, in a bunker, or at a water hazard, just play another ball or take another shot.  In short, they get on with it.

If you need to take your Mulligan do it quietly, and re-focus on getting on with your career instead of dwelling on the past or ruminating on things that cannot be changed.


Special Note to Readers:

Check out my September 2017 blog entitled “The 12 Things Every Applicant Needs to Know” for important, related information on this subject.





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