Unless you’re a truly passive job seeker recruited to interview for a position while you’re currently employed, most interview candidates are actively applying to and interviewing for a number of job openings. When in the interview it’s not uncommon to get put on the spot and asked: Where else are you interviewing?
The question can come in several forms: “Where else have you applied? Are you currently interviewing with any other companies? What other positions have you applied for?” and so on.
It can feel like a bit of a trick question. If you start rattling off all the other job openings you applied for it might sound like you’ll take just about any job and aren’t necessarily interested in the one you’re sitting in an interview for. If you state you’re not interviewing anywhere else it might sound like you’re not in demand.
First you should understand why a recruiter or hiring manager is asking the question. And there could be several reasons depending on who you’re interviewing with and at what stage of the process you’ve made it through.
If you’re interviewing with an agency or 3rd party recruiter, they have a very legitimate reason to ask, the fear of the ‘Double Submittal.’ They want to make sure they’re submitting you for an opening you haven’t already been considered for. If you’ve already applied to their client or have been submitted to the client by someone else, you risk the chance of being removed from consideration because of the conflict of who to pay the placement fee to should you be hired.
Every once in awhile, outside recruiters might also be fishing for other companies that are hiring in order to try to submit candidates to companies not on their current client list, but don’t let this sway you.
If you’re interviewing directly with an employer, they also have their own reasons for asking these types of questions. They want to know if there is a sense of urgency around making a hiring decision. If you’re interviewing with competitors or other companies who are in the later stages of making a decision, they want to give consideration to how long they have to turn around a hiring decision to you.
Some candidates like to take a risk and always make it sound like they’re in demand and interviewing elsewhere and that they have offers on the table. This can work in your favor, but if a company is on the fence about you or wants to take their time in making a decision, it can also backfire. They might think that you already have options and they’d rather hire someone else that they won’t have to negotiate as much with on their offer or remove you from consideration because they’re not ready to make a decision yet.
The safest bet is to have an honest, tactful response that also showcases your desire and focus on the position at hand. Don’t go into lots of detail about where you’re interviewing or all of the places you’ve applied. If you do have other interviews going on, be open about where you are in the process, but bring your response back to how much your interest lies with the company’s position.
If they ask about where you’ve applied, be open, as long as the positions are similar to the one you’re interviewing for. Don’t tell an interviewer you’ve applied for retail positions when you’re interviewing for an HR role. Discrepancies such as this can make them feel you’re not serious about the opening they have or make them question what your goals are.
Sometimes general responses such as the following can be useful, “I’m actively applying to positions in my current field (or for roles that make use of my __________skills/experience) with organizations where I feel I can make an impact and grow with over time. A few of the other job openings I’m in consideration for (or are considering) are with X, Y, & Z companies. (The company you’re interviewing with) is my preferred choice of employers and I’m very interested in pursuing this job opportunity.”
“I’ve applied to a variety of organizations, but this job opportunity is the one I believe is the best fit for me. I’d love the chance to be considered for the (position title) role because I feel that I can make the most impact here…” (and then tie qualities of the job description and company attributes to your own skills sets and experience.)
Responses like this keep it short and sweet and remind the interviewer of what you’re looking for and where your interest lies. Don’t be afraid to ask about the decision timeline and if the company really is your top choice, let them know that should another offer arise, you’d like to contact them before making a decision because they’re your first choice. In most cases if you are in top consideration for the role, the recruiter may ask this of you without your having to state it.
There is no perfect response to this question. Try to read the subtext of the person you are interviewing with and how interested they seem in moving forward with you or if they are just asking as a formality. You are under no obligation to divulge the information if it makes you uncomfortable for any reason.
Do your best to assess the situation and determine what your response should be, based on where you are in your current job search and how interested you are in the position, or just have a few prepared statements ready pending how you feel in the interview. Sometimes letting your instincts guide your judgment can be your best bet.
Just remember, be as honest as possible, keep it short, and focus back to the job you want and reminding the interviewer where your priorities are: in landing this job (if, it is of course, what you want.)