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This seems to be a common question that is asked as a normal part of an interview. Can anyone speak to what the interviewer is really looking for when they ask this question?

And is it best to simply be honest about whether you are/are not talking with other companies or can answering one way or the other significantly harm (or help) your odds of being offered a position?

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up vote 28 down vote accepted

Honesty is the best policy.

The main reason the interviewers ask that question Are you interviewing with any other companies? is because they are interested in you and they want to figure out how much salary they should offer you. The other possible reasons are curiosity, job market survey, etc.

Had they been not somewhat interested in you, they would not bother(they have better things to do). They would finish the routine questions and say Nice to meet you. then let you go.

So, it's an indicator that they are somewhat interested, they want to know if you have or will have other offers.

Now, on your side, if you have not had any interview yet, just say so. It won't hurt you because you actually have nothing yet and you tell them you would be somewhat available. If you say yes you already have interviewed other companies, there would be two possibilities. One, they would make a better offer which is good for you. The other possibility is, they have budget concerns or they think you are good but not a perfect fit, they would rather wait and think about it. This would delay the hiring process. If I were you and if I want to work for that company, I want to go to work as soon as possible. Particularly if I am between jobs (unemployed), start my new job one week earlier means I earn 2% more salary this year. (I would make one more week pay.)

If you already have interviewed other companies or have scheduled interviews, give them the information. But, don't tell them what are the companies you have or will have interview with.

Honesty is the best policy. However, you don't have to tell them everything !

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@pdr Honesty is the best policy. Once you lie, you have the risk to be caught. When you're caught, you're finished. – scaaahu Feb 15 '13 at 11:34
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@scaaahu: There are very few cases where I'd disagree with that, but I think this is one of them. In fairness, I am usually at least waiting on a call on another job, so I'm not sure I've ever said this dishonestly, but I don't see how you can get caught in a lie if you say something like "I'm expecting to hear from one other company, but they're going to have to impress, now that I've seen what you have to offer." – pdr Feb 15 '13 at 11:49
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@scaaahu: I see what you're saying and part of me wants to agree. But the realist in me wonders if "Give up your entire negotiating position," is good advice when dealing with trained negotiators. – pdr Feb 15 '13 at 12:07
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@pdr All I am saying is, if you lie to get better negotiating position, you need to prepare for the worst possible consequences. That's why Honesty is the best policy. I did NOT say it's the only policy. – scaaahu Feb 15 '13 at 12:14
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@MrFox Job interview is the first step of long term employment. Once you start to work for the company, you'll have many years with them. There must be mutual trust. You work for them. They pay you. It's not a one shot deal. Buying a car is an entirely different thing. You pay the dealer and get a car. You can say goodbye to them after you have a good deal. Do you say goodbye to your potential employer right after you get a good salary? – scaaahu Feb 16 '13 at 2:28

As someone who does a lot of interviewing, I would appreciate honesty at all times in order not to waste each other's time. That said, I am more interested in general information regarding your availability than specific details.

If you are interviewing for a rival company in a sensitive or leadership role or in any jobs that might be considered conflicting in nature and you give me all the details, it will more often than not backfire.

The main reason being I might not be able to trust you to keep your mouth shut when you do start working for me...

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Would you be okay with candidates telling your competition they're interviewing with you? – Blrfl Feb 16 '13 at 14:55
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If you want to know when someone is available, why not just ask about that? When someone tells you they can start next month, what difference does it make if they're interviewing with other companies? If you want confidentiality, just ask them not to discuss the job opening with other companies. That seems like the most honest thing to do. – JeffO Jan 8 at 14:44

My general assumption has been that the biggest driver is timing. People look with all sorts of motivations and for all sorts of reasons, and there's no magic formula for figuring out what pressures exist on the interviewee's side of the equation.

I'd say the big force is urgency. Both the position and the candidate probably have an unspoken timeline that is somewhat up for negotiation, and it's generally better if everyone can get clear on it. Here's some examples:

  • You've been interviewing or applying to jobs assiduously because you're really eager for something new. You might be employed and looking for something better, you might be relocating or completely jobless - in any case, you're eager, and I won't have to wait long for you to tie up any existing commitments.

  • You've realized you are hot on the job market, you're taking crazy numbers of interviews... pressure's on the hiring company - if we want you, we better not hedge or mess around. Keep in mind - pressure doesn't equal desirability. It cuts both ways - if I have to make a snap decision, I may rule you out without considering your many possibilities.

  • You have a true, serious, competitive offer on the table, but you were too polite to say it outright. I'd rather know if you need a 2 day turnaround for an offer. Our timelines may not mesh, but at least I know there's a real deadline there.

  • No big hurry - you're looking with no strong urgency, you're just open to the new possibilities. This, too, can be a win or loose. Maybe it means the job offer process will slow down, but maybe it means that the company will take the time to consider where you fit best and if this job isn't it, they'll keep you on file.

There's really no one answer here... the goal is to prevent an "if I'd only known" moment.

Secondarily - yes, there's a competitive element here - if you have a job offer in hand, you have the option of working on negotiating a better offer for your salary & benefits. Keep in mind, though, that this isn't a situation where companies are banking with unlimited money - blow the estimate up too high and you'll hit the ceiling of "no, this guy isn't worth it to us" and "if we pay him that, the rest of the staff gets hosed, too bad, I guess we won't offer" - some companies are confident enough that they'll make a low ball offer just to see if you'll take it, but don't bank on it. Like any negotiation, the more information you have about the capabilities of the company to pay you what you want, and your own market rate, the better off you are.

But in all honesty, in asking about other interviews, my general goal is to make sure I know limitations with respect to timing.

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The answer can vary depending on your current employment situation, but they're trying to get more information about your job search: Are you available? Are you in demand? Are you seriously looking for a job? Are you working with another recruiter?

Availability is a problem in interview scheduling. If you're not available, they need to determine if they have to make additional demands on the interviewer. Recruiters and HR people run into this problem the most because they have to make this request on someone else. A manager that is working directly with you, probably won't care and I don't think I've ever had a hiring manger ask me if I had other interviews.

Some have indicated that not having other interviews is a sign that you are not in demand. That's not always true. Example: Someone with a job may occassionally "entertain" other job offers, but rarely accept an interview. They're selective and have a way above average salary requirement, so it's a waste of everyone's time. This isn't the case with a recent grad or someone who is out of work.

The more interviews you have, the odds are better of getting an offer, so they may try to interview you sooner. Again, I think this is more important to recruiters and HR people than the person directly doing the hiring.

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There are really two possibilities why you would apply for a job: One, you have a job, and then you see an advert that seems to be an outstanding opportunity for you. You would have been quite willing to stay where you are, but you'd love to get that new job. Clearly, this is the only job you are applying for, since these opportunities are rare. Clearly, that is what you should communicate as well. They are competing with your current job, and they will have to offer something substantially better, or you stay where you are.

Second, you have decided to leave your current job (or the decision was made for you). You will be applying everywhere that seems to be a decent opportunity. You will be doing as many interviews as possible, until you find the one that is willing to hire you and has an offer that is good enough. Nobody will lightly send you away for having other interviews, unless they think "he has so many interviews, he surely will find some better offer, let's not bother".

Your interview situation gives them some hint how competitive an offer has to be, and how much they might have to hurry. You should describe your situation honestly but in the most positive way. For example "this is my first interview, but I started the job search just a week ago" - that means you might accept a quick offer without looking any further. "I have several interviews, but I might have applied to some places where I am overqualified" - there's competition, but you will accept a good offer. On the other hand, there will be lots of other companies outbidding them if they make a bad offer.

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I favor ambiguity and answer that with "you should operate under the assumption that I am" for three reasons:

  • Confidentiality. It's not the candidate company's business. If you work in a highly-specialized field, revealing that you're interviewing elsewhere could give the candidate company information about its competition that the competition may not want revealed. That fact that you're not interviewing elsewhere can also be telling.

  • Integrity. You could, in theory, walk out the door of the candidate company's office, bump into an old friend on the sidewalk and end up with an interview and a job offer from his company. If you accept that offer and decline one the candidate company makes, having told them "no" at the time won't look good no matter how rational the explanation. This may get you ruled out as a candidate in the future.

  • Leverage. A company making a good candidate an offer should bring its "A" game to the table. After all, the candidate brought his to the interview and will be expected to bring it to work should he accept. Companies should do thorough interviewing and understand the business landscape well enough to determine if a candidate would be in demand without having to take a shortcut and ask. Doing this reveals a willingness to bring only its "B" game and allows candidates to apply the better biases when evaluating offers.

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@scaaahu: The company is explicitly asking the candidate how it should proceed (operate). See my edit to Leverage that explains why they don't need a simple yes-or-no answer. – Blrfl Feb 17 '13 at 13:35
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@scaaahu: Any interview where the "er" and "ee" positions don't change often is a pretty lousy interview. A hiring is an economic proposition, where each side is out to sell the other on the value of what it has to offer. Not showing one's cards forces companies to figure out how much demand there might be for a candidate of similar caliber and make an attractive offer. That's where the leverage is, and is separates the serious companies from the pikers. Come to think of it, every offer I've accepted has been from a company that didn't ask that question. – Blrfl Feb 18 '13 at 5:27

Another important reason scaaahu didn't mention is timing. If you've other procedures going they're under more pressure to reach a decision and make an offer if they want to.
It also indicates they're not the only ones considering you a potentially good asset, of course, can't hurt :)

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Answers should be full, complete, and backed up by referenced source or personal experiences. This does not meet the requirements for an answer. – Chad Feb 15 '13 at 14:16

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