Career-Killing Lessons from the Oscars (and 8 ways to fix them)

2017 Oscars blunder, career coaching

Photo by Al Seib of the Los Angeles Times

The 2017 Oscars ceremony likely will be remembered not for who took home the most Oscars (La La Land) but for the potential career-killing blunder that occurred at the end of the awards show. Fans who watched the nearly four hour presentation were as stunned as the audience was when the wrong film was named Best Picture. How could a Steve Harvey Miss Universe moment happen again at one of the most tightly scripted award shows?

Inattention to detail. It made the Oscars (and makes job search candidates) memorable for all the wrong reasons.

In the excitement of the show, one of the two people entrusted with the results took his eye off the ball. Apparently, to snap a photo of Emma Stone. PwC accountant, Brian Cullinan, whose job was to ensure the integrity of the awards, mistakenly handed the wrong envelope to the presenters. And craziness ensued.

With that one mistake, Brian got his fifteen minutes of fame. He also thrust his company, PwC, and its previously stellar reputation, into the midst of the melee.

So, what lessons can you learn from the Oscars to ensure that your job search doesn’t go off the rails?

  1. Have a plan. Failure to have a plan is like trying to cast a movie without a script. Your plan doesn’t need to be fully baked but you need a rough outline to start your search.

  1. Double-check and adjust your plan as needed. Both Brian and his PwC counterpart, Martha Ruiz, had the Oscar results and had also memorized them. Yet it took agonizingly long to correct Brian’s now infamous envelope mix-up. If your job search is not going well, you need to review your strategy and revise your plan as needed. If you are applying for jobs for which you are wholly unqualified and hearing nothing then you’ll likely be as out of work as most actors. Time to change your plan.

  1. Have a backup plan. For PwC it was having 2 accountants yet even that wasn’t enough. Both Brian and Martha realized the error immediately but they didn’t react quickly. In life, things don’t always go as planned and you need to be prepared to deal with unexpected curve balls. You need a plan B, sometimes a plan C, when things go awry. A career is a journey. You might have to take a job that doesn’t fully meet your ideals to get the experience you need to move toward your dream role. Your first job will not determine your life’s path yet a good first job will get you moving forward.

  1. Avoid distractions. In our mobile phone addicted culture, it’s far too easy to be distracted even during the most important moments of our lives. (See Emma Stone remark above.) Learn to put your cell phone away, turn it on silent and be present. Life is something to experience. Plus, your new boss will expect you to be working when you are at work, so get in the habit now.

  1. Pay attention to the details. In an interview prior to the awards show, Brian Cullinan said about his job at the Oscars: “It doesn’t sound very complicated, but you have to make sure you’re giving the presenter the right envelope.” Talk about inadvertent foreshadowing. Details matter. A typo or missing punctuation mark in your resume or cover letter will kill your job application faster than you can hit “delete”.

  1. Own up to your mistakes. Don’t passively accept responsibility for your errors, really own them, learn from them and vow to do better in the future. Even Jimmy Kimmel, who had nothing to do with the envelope mix-up, said “Well, I don’t know what happened; I blame myself for this.” That’s what real leaders do. They accept responsibility when things go wrong.

  1. Apologize sincerely to everyone whom your actions impacted. PwC has apologized publicly and likely is scrambling behind the scenes to make things right and they need to. They have an 83-year relationship with the Oscars that is at stake. A heartfelt, sincere apology will get you much farther than a hollow “I’m sorry.”

  1. Never make the same mistake twice. Everyone (even famous actors, on live television!) makes mistakes and you will too. Don’t be paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, it will only slow your learning (and make you miserable).

So craft your plan, do your best work and give it everything you’ve got, every day. Learn from your occasional mistakes, accept the feedback and move forward. Taking this kind of proactive approach will help you avoid being the person on the wrong end of the envelope.







About Lisa

Chief Career Catalyst @C2C, former Fortune 500 businesswoman, dog lover, avid skier, mediocre tennis player, golfer, new SUPer, aspiring surfer, cyclist, yoga & exercise enthusiast, happy wife & home chef. I am a regular contributor to the Bangor Daily News, and have appeared on WCSH6 where I offer career advice for college students, recent graduates and young professionals.
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