Recently, a student at Toronto’s York University became an Internet sensation during an exchange with a potential employer. When inquiring about an open administrative position, 20-year-old Vanessa Hojda accidentally attached a hilarious yet terrifying photo of Nicolas Cage in lieu of her resume. Then, she blogged about it on her Tumblr, where the post now has over 60,000 “likes” and reblogs.

If nothing else, the gaffe earned the student her 15 minutes of fame—and potentially embarrassment—as a variety of news outlets picked up the story, including Gawker, ABC News, and the Washington Post. Hilarious for some, no doubt, but this incident leads us to draw some important conclusions regarding how to handle these types of personal branding blunders in our careers.

Here are a few tips on how to handle a personal branding mistake, inspired by Vanessa Hojda and Nicolas Cage:

Don’t let your mistake follow you. If you make a personal branding mistake, which is bound to happen at some point, carefully think about the situation before laying out your next steps. In Vanessa’s case, it probably would have been best not to blog about the slip-up on her Tumblr. Though she may not have anticipated the media would pick up her story, her personal brand will forever be affected by the fiasco, as is evidenced by her Google search results, most of which are now related to the incident.

If you make a mistake, keep it among only the people who need to know, and try not to widely broadcast the mistake on your social media accounts or blog, no matter how much you need to vent. While it’s never advisable to totally sweep mistakes under the rug, you also don’t want your mistake to follow you any time down the line when you’re trying to move beyond it.

Don’t forget your sense of humor. Personal branding mistakes happen, and it’s important to handle them with maturity. Own up to your mistakes and work to move forward by focusing on all the positive things you’ve done, and strive to continue being a competent and knowledgeable professional in your field.

Once you’ve patched up the error, remember to maintain a sense of humor about it. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take these lessons seriously, but it’s important not to get hung up on the negatives, either. After the Nicolas Cage incident, the Washington Post asked Vanessa if she changed the file name of her resume so she wouldn’t have another mix-up. Her response? “I renamed my résumé file to thisisaresumeyoudumba**notaphotofnicolascage.” The ability to eventually make light of your mistakes will ultimately make your personal recovery process much easier.

Remember, a mistake doesn’t have to be the end-all for your carefully crafted personal brand. Your hard work doesn’t have to unwind after one slip-up, as long as you handle the situation with maturity—and maintain the ability to laugh at yourself once in a while.

Have you ever made a serious personal branding mistake? How did you handle it?


Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and/or employers. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011), #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010), and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.