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When I get calls from recruiters I sometimes get asked if I am currently in a selection process, or which companies I interviewed recently. Sometimes, they ask me that even before offering me an actual position. This happened a lot when I was living in London, and happens quite less in Tokyo.

My question is: With this behavior, are they just researching the market to know which companies are hiring, in order to send them other candidates who will compete against me?

Also, if this was the case, what would be a good way to politely refuse to answer this question?

EDIT: Someone said that this question may be a duplicate of another one. In my opinion, while both questions are quite related, they are not the same. The other question is asking if it is a good idea to share the information, and mine is specifically asking on a good way to deflect the question from the recruiter.

  • Don't you think it makes you a better looking prospect if there are other companies interested in you? You may not want to say that at the next interview, but recruiters can get away with promoting you more than you can promote yourself. – user8365 Oct 28 '15 at 17:52
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Asking if you're interviewing elsewhere is quite normal. Asking you to list the companies or positions isn't, though it's becoming common.

Recruiters (whether internal or external through an agency) ask if you're interviewing anywhere else because they want to get a sense of your timeline. That's because there's a fair chance that you might get a job offer from one of the other companies, at which point you'll be faced with a difficult decision. In most cases you would have a few days to consider such an offer during which you'll go back to any other companies you're interviewing with, mention the offer and ask them if they can accelerate their process. If they're truly interested in you they'll often then make you an offer as well.

But if their interview process is slow or there are potential issues with stakeholders being away the recruiter will generally attempt to clear your candidacy for fast-tracking in advance if he knows that you might get an offer elsewhere. In that sense it is useful for them to ask in advance. Note that you would generally only mention that you're interviewing elsewhere if you've actually gotten a few interviews for those applications, meaning that you've passed the initial screening. It's also courteous to mention that you're in the later interview stages for other positions when you've reached that point in an application.

Asking specifically for what positions and at what companies you're interviewing is a question that's probably born out of a recruiter's idle curiosity but it's really none of their business. I could only justify asking that question of recent graduates to get a sense of their attitude towards job searching and whether the position you're hiring for matches the types they're applying to. One other exception pointed out by WindRaven in his comment and Vic in his answer, is that external recruiters don't own your candidacy unless they bring you into contact with a company first. They may ask about your other applications to avoid a double submission (for which they wouldn't be paid).

To avoid listing specifics, just deflect the question:

I've applied to a few positions and will let you know if I get the sense that I'm in the final interview stages for any of them.

I do have a few applications in the final stages and those could result in an offer in the next few weeks.

If they persist in asking about specific companies, deflect some more:

Well I've had multiple interviews at a few companies but they haven't really made me an offer yet.

Since they haven't actually sent me an offer yet I feel it would be premature to mention them.

If an interviewer is still asking at this point they've gone from asking a silly question to being downright rude and you can just be as direct as you like in refusing to list the companies.

If you're asked this question before a personal interview such as in an online application, just skip the question.

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    Another issue pointed out by another answer is possible contract obligations IE: A recruiter cant submit a candidate for 6 months after the candidate reached out to the company (or another firm submitted them). In that case the question is very valid since it prevents the recruiter wasting time and possibly double submitting the candidate. – RubberChickenLeader Oct 28 '15 at 16:47
  • @WindRaven Good point, I've amended my answer to note the exception. – Lilienthal Oct 28 '15 at 21:06
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    You could also turn the question around and ask them which companies they need to know whether or not you've already applied to. They'll probably deflect the question, but there's nothing wrong with putting the shoe on the other foot and seeing how they like the fit. – ColleenV parted ways Oct 28 '15 at 21:13
  • @ColleenV Agreed, but vic already suggested that approach in his answer so I felt it would be disingenuous of me to add that in as well. – Lilienthal Oct 28 '15 at 21:20
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Especially with external recruiters who in recent years really became worse than the earlier "save on long distance calls" salesmen, the information requested often just furthers their own interest. I don't think it can hurt you if you give it to them, though. To me it's really just a nuisance.

If you're in the market for a new position, you indeed might want to stay polite but at the same time don't let them play you.

The only information they need to start with is what it is you actually do or wish to do, and if you're open to a new opportunity. Once they have this information, they should provide you all the details of the position and its exact requirements. Plus, they should be able to explain to you why you should choose them as your recruitment partner. Because don't forget, in the end what they receive goes out of your future salary even if they will insist that's not the case.

Only if you think that you are a good fit for the position and you feel that the recruiter is really interested in supporting you to get there, you should share your CV and other information such as where you are in the selection process with other companies.

Having said all that, an external recruiter makes money by introducing you a company where you don't already have your own link to. This is why they might ask with which companies you currently talk. In such instances I used to say "I'm already in touch with many companies, so it might be quicker if you just told me which companies you work with and I can tell you if it makes sense for us to continue this." That's why I would not accept this question from an internal recruiter. All they need to know is if the hiring timeline is acceptable to you .

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Depending on the market and how the recruiting business works there, this could be critical information. In the US and other markets where recruiters are primarily external to the hiring company, this may be important information to share.

These recruiters are paid what amounts to a finder's fee for bringing you to the company's attention. If you have already interacted with the company, either directly or through a different recruiter, this recruiter quite likely won't get paid. In fairness to the recruiter, you should divulge this information.

For your own sake, you don't want them to send your resume for a position you have already applied for. IMHO, this makes you look bad also, if you aren't managing your job search well enough to avoid this, that's a strike against you. With all of the competition for jobs, do you really want to start out behind everyone else?

Obviously, you want to avoid giving details to unscrupulous recruiters or firms, but for a good recruiter this is important information to be shared for the benefit of both sides.

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I went through the exact same thing while working up to a job a few weeks ago. The firm I was working through has recruiters that are VERY aggressive. Every time I'd speak to someone (sometimes, they'd ask more than once on the same day), I'd hear, "are you interviewing with any new companies?"

I'd respond, "here and there." Some of the recruiters would just keep on digging, and specifically ask where until I gave up an answer.

I could get a sense of which recruiters were asking because they were desperate, and the ones that weren't. For the latter group, I'd simply MAKE SOMETHING UP. It's a stupid pleasantry. They know you're in a position where you don't want to feel offensive or that you're not playing the game, because you want a job. Just play it smarter!!!

Best of luck.

  • I would never make something up since depending on area it is not just a "stupid pleasantry". Some times the recruiters have contracts where they cannot submit some one for x amount of time so knowing who you have interviewed with is necessary information. The way I handled it was by asking who the position was with and then saying if I had contact with the company. – RubberChickenLeader Oct 28 '15 at 16:54
  • That's why it's important for a candidate to ASK specifically where a recruiter intends to submit a resume. But give up all one's contacts??? That's foolish. And some recruiters get lots of new business from pumping candidates they have no intention of placing. – Xavier J Oct 28 '15 at 17:08

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