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I have messed up a lot in job interviews—here's how to avoid my worst mistakes

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The job interview is nerve wracking — but there are plenty of ways to prepare to help you feel confident. Find out about the company's dress code and mirror it. Research the people interviewing you and ask about their careers. Finally, make sure to ask about any problems you can solve for them on day one. If you get the job, you'll be able to dive in right away.

There are, however, many faux-pas to keep in mind as well. I myself have messed up during job interviews and while I can't be sure to what extent these mess-ups had an impact, I didn't ultimately get offers for any of the jobs.

Here are three mistakes I made in job interviews and why experts say you should avoid them.

I was 20 minutes late to an interview

I once interviewed for a magazine writer job downtown in Manhattan. While much of the borough is clearly laid out in a numbered grid, downtown has a far more difficult to navigate mess of winding streets. I had no idea where the building was or how to get there, and I ended up showing up 20 minutes late to my interview. It made for an uncomfortable and slightly tense conversation in which I apologized repeatedly.

"As a first impression, you want to see that a candidate is there and ready to go at the time that's agreed," says Octavia Goredema, career coach and author of "PREP, PUSH, PIVOT." "And if there hasn't been any communication prior as to why that person might not be there on time, then I think that's a red flag."

When you have an interview in an unfamiliar location, try using tools like Google Maps to see how long it takes to get there and plan to get there about 15 minutes in advance.

I wasn't ready for the assignment

Another time, I was interviewing for a reporter position at a news site. When I was talking to the editor who'd be my direct boss, she asked if I had any ideas for stories I could dive into right away. And I froze. I had not thought about the work I would be doing in the job and didn't come prepared with examples of what I could contribute.

When you're doing a job interview, "your interviewer is asking themselves, can you do your job?" says Gorick Ng, a Harvard career advisor and author of "The Unspoken Rules." Managers "want someone who can hit the ground running on day one," he adds.

And that's what they'll be checking to see when they ask you questions. In not coming to the interview prepared for job-related asks, I likely made my interviewer wonder if I could perform the basic functions of the role.

When you're going in for a job interview, use the job description, your experience of like work and any informational interviews to get a sense of the tasks you could be doing. Then come prepared to show how you would help your prospective company solve problems right away.

I asked my interviewer a personal question

During the job interview process for the aforementioned news site, I ended up meeting with a woman in charge of the whole team. As she was walking me out, I asked her where in the city she lived — and she did not look comfortable. She begrudgingly told me her neighborhood and we awkwardly parted ways.

Every organization and the workers within it have an idea of what is acceptable to talk about at work. "Some will want a colleague to be open about their personal life," says Ng. "Others will prefer that work and life be separate."  

"One of the most important things that any interviewee can suss out in the first few minutes of an interview is what is deemed acceptable," he says. Pay attention to how that person starts the conversation and how they carry it. Are they casual? Are they talking about their personal life and asking about yours?

However they carry themselves in the interview, mirror their behavior.

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How to dress for any kind of job interview
How to dress for any kind of job interview