As we've all watched the story unfold around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website disaster, one thing is certain: more than a few people will be named responsible for this large-scale failure. This kind of highly publicized mistake is mainstream. As the finger-pointing escalates, people (i.e. hiring managers) will remember the company - and its key players by name.
However, what about all the employees who did a great job, but will be "guilty by association" for working at the company that created such a mess?
When you find yourself in the unfortunate position of working for a company with a terrible reputation, you've got two challenges:
Remember: It's a Small Professional World
The first thing to keep in mind is in the professional world, we're all connected. You never know who might find yourself potentially working with (and for!) again someday. Be very careful not to say something that could get back to your co-workers or dysfunctional employer's management team.
Everyone Makes Mistakes, Your Day Could Come
Next, get yourself in the right frame of mind. Yes, you're angry and embarrassed by your employer's actions. In fact, I'm sure you can point to specific people in the organization who you're certain are responsible for the failure. But, before you start singing like a canary about their mistakes, ask yourself, "Am I so perfect I might never make a mistake that could be criticized publicly?"
Use the "Experience = Learn = Grow" Model to Explain What Happened
As you get out and network (Did I mention you should be networking since your company could end up going out of business as a result of their mistake?), people will want to hear all the nasty details. They'll push you for the inside scoop. Don't fall into the trap! Bring them back to reality by sticking to the facts. More importantly, use your employer's misfortune as a way to show your professionalism. Here are the key points to make:
Your Career Isn't Fatal - Unless You Choose It To Be
There's an old saying that applies here: "That which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger." Your employer's mistake won't kill your career. But, to keep your career on track, you will need to use the experience with a troubled company to showcase your professionalism and to prove yourself to be even more valuable to future employers as a result of it.