I'm drawing near the end of a contract position I am not wanting to extend (although it hasn't been completely ruled out). I have an interview lined up, and I am curious to know how much competition I am up against (it's a great company, but my city is not Software Development location so there may not too many other's trying).

Is it ever appropriate to ask at the interview how many other applicants they are interviewing?

Also, semi-related, but at previous interviews I have been asked about whether or not I have received any offers or interest from other companies. I always answer honestly, but I've been wondering if this is asked to determine if I will accept a lower salary due to having no other offers on the table.

Is this normally what that question is about? If I say that I've been talking to other companies would I be helping myself or shooting myself in the foot.

  • You're right in comparing your question "are there any other applicants" to their question "do you have any other opportunities". Do note that theirs can serve more than one purpose: not only do they check if you are "wanted" in the market, but they might also want to know how fast they have to decide in order to "get" you. I always responded with something along the lines of "I already have one offer from another company, and a final meeting with another next week, but I find your company very interesting and really hope for a suitable offer here."
    – Konerak
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 11:38

4 Answers 4


It is entirely reasonable to ask, but they may not give you an answer.

While it's an understandable thing for you to want to know, letting you know that they weren't interviewing many people, or didn't have many candidates, would give you a significant advantage in any salary negotiations. So while they may give you a vague statement you are probably not going to get details.


Ask away, you'll either get some useful information or you won't. That's a much better chance than not asking at all.

As far as shooting yourself in the foot goes, it doesn't seem likely. Honesty is always a good policy. Second guessing the interviewers is ok up to a point, but straightforward honesty is a big plus in any interview situation.


Yes you can ask, but they may not give you an answer, but there is really no advantage in them not doing so.

There is no strategic advantage as far as salary in knowing how many are on the leit (Scottish phrase). All you can learn is how serious they are about you as a candidate. The practicalities are as follows:

  • At an early stage, it lets you know if they have actually put together a short list, or are just interviewing everyone/ anyone as their details get past across.
  • At a later stages, you get an idea of how serious they are about ANY hire, if there is still a cast of thousands they are likely time wasters, or don't know what they want.
  • If it's the final stage, any more than 2 or 3 is a red flag, but conversely being the only one ISN'T normally an advantage, it just means they are interested in you for the role. It is still possible for you to lose to NO-ONE if you blow it.

The last point can be untrue in the public sector, I know of some sectors (like education in the UK) where a short list is drawn up, and the best candidate on the day will be chosen, no matter how bad they actually performed. Part of this though is they will have regulated salary, no negotiation involved.

As regards salary, this is a fallacy it's to your advantage. The hiring manager will have a budget, and you will need to fit that. They won't really pony up if you are the only gig in town, the likelihood is they'll more likely think they can hold off and get someone better no matter how much they liked you. In a multi-person scenario they are more likely to choose one over the other.

  • A lot of companies are always passively looking for new possible hires, should a suitable candidate come along. You can still be a no-hire even when you are the ONLY applicant, if you don't quite match to what they are looking for. Perhaps they have a task in mind that is nice-to-have, but is not really critical for their business. Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 14:52
  • It's a listed position, seeking Web Developer. Hopefully not just having a looky-loo.
    – Wompguinea
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 20:03

Don't do this.

  1. It will make the people who are interviewing you uncomfortable. It would be difficult for them to tell you that you're not competitive with the other candidates. On the other hand, if you're the top candidate, they won't want to tip their hand and cede too much bargaining power to you when you're negotiating a salary.
  2. It will imply a lack of confidence. Companies want to hire the right person for the job. The right person for the job must be confident that they can do the assigned work. Although your intent for asking may be inspired by more pragmatic motives, your question will be construed as, "So, do you think I'm fit for the job; because I'm not sure." Instead, it's far better to keep your head up and appear confident.
  • Not really. You're not asking details of each candidate. It's perfectly normal to know what the leit of candidates (Scottish phrase) is, I.e. how many others. In many public sector roles (teaching springs to mind) they will have a fixed number on the shortlist, so there is nothing to be gained by knowing. At the final stage, if they have more than 2 or 3 they are likely to not decide on one person anyway. Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 12:43

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