Some people are able to take several career mulligans during their careers, while others are fired due to a single mistake.

Wikipedia defines a mulligan as a “do-over… without… assessing any penalties.”  While golf’s rule book does not allow mulligans, they are often tolerated among friends (and occasionally in business).

I’m defining a career mulligan as continued employment after either making a significant error or badly under performing on an important project.

Career savers allowing a career mulligan cluster into five segments:

Before the project or problem begins

  1. Being known as a very valuable employee
  2. Being known as an essential part of a critical team
  3. Setting appropriate expectations

During the project

  1. Communicating the project’s progress and actions being taken
  2. Delivering the core objectives regardless of missteps

I’m using a list of golf terms, also from Wikipedia, to illustrate why even major mistakes are barely a hiccup for some individuals rather than derailing their careers.

  • Aggregate: Had a consistent career preceding an error.
  • Back Nine: Recouped after poor performance in the first half.
  • Backswing: Completed the project and met objectives even though the preliminary work was poor.
  • Ball washer: Cleaned up the project part way through.
  • Best Ball, Four Ball, and Texas Scramble: Kept afloat by another person on your team who made up for your underperformance.
  • Blind, Bunker, Bare Line, Hardpan, Rough, Sand Trap, and Slope Rating: Worked on a tough assignment and bosses didn’t expect a better outcome. This recognition allows people to take on difficult assignments.
  • Bounce Back: Did excellent work immediately after a mistake…before negative action could be taken against you.
  • Eagle and Hole in One: Performed significantly better than expected on an important facet even though the total performance was poor.
  • Fore: Warned bosses of the potential of failure in time to adjust expectations.
  • Foursome: Seen as part of an important team that is well thought of.
  • Handicap: Did as well as your bosses expected based on your past performance.
  • Majors: Failed on a minor project while the major projects were successful.
  • Medal Play: Total score counted much more than results on a single project. Similar to aggregate.
  • Member’s Bounce: Got lucky.
  • Scramble: Saved the project at the end after a difficult start.
  • 19th Hole: Known and liked by the decision makers.

Golf uses colorful language, and it is fun using its words to think about how careers can overcome errors and underperformance.  The conclusions merely reinforce the obvious:

  • Do a good job on many projects to set up a reservoir of goodwill
  • Select and join quality teams
  • Set appropriate expectations
  • Communicate progress and actions
  • Meet expectations on everything important

(This content was originally posted at MENGonline.com.)


Richard is Chairman Emeritus of the Marketing Executives Networking Group, founder of Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and Marketing Corporation of America. He’s also a volunteer counselor for SCORE assisting small businesses in upstate New York. You can follow his communications about marketing, job search and careers here and at mengonlineENTREPRENEURS QUESTIONS, and on Twitter at @Sellers_Richard.

About Richard Sellers

Richard is Chairman Emeritus of the Marketing Executives Networking Group, founder of Demand Marketing consulting firm, and former Sr. VP of Marketing for three multi-billion dollar companies: CEC, WLP, and Service Merchandise. His early career was at GE, P&G, Playtex, and Marketing Corporation of America. He’s also a volunteer counselor for SCORE assisting small businesses in upstate New York. You can follow his communications about marketing, job search and careers here and at mengonlineENTREPRENEURS QUESTIONS, and on Twitter at @Sellers_Richard.

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"Taking a Career Mulligan" by @ShellyPalmer

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