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I had a phone interview and was asked where else I have been applying. This rubbed me the wrong way so I told the interviewer I wasn't interested in the position anymore.

I did tell the interviewer that I feel that information is between the other companies I have applied to and I, and that I felt sorry she was asking me that question. However, all she said back was "Okay, no worries."

Is it okay for an interviewer to ask questions like that? Or am I wrong?

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    I just refuse to answer that question. One reason why they do it is so they can know who else in the area is hiring so their company can get in there too. I don't need more competition so they don't get that info out of me. I simply say, "I'd rather not say" and most are ok with that. – Chris E Aug 24 '16 at 15:15
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    You could have asked them the same question, "who are the other candidates you are considering for the job?" – Masked Man Aug 25 '16 at 0:42
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    This rubbed me the wrong way so I told the interviewer I wasn't interested in the position anymore If you have that short a fuse you are severely limiting your chances of finding a job. Your verbal response was on the mark, your emotional response costs you. Try to keep it professional. – user8036 Aug 25 '16 at 8:52
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    I think that the company is lucky that you are not interested. Do you really have such a short fuse? Why not just say a variety of companies that I cannot remember off the top of my head (or some similar vague answer) – Ed Heal Aug 25 '16 at 10:16
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Is it okay for an interviewer to ask questions like that? Or am I wrong?

Of course it's okay.

Interviewers are just doing their job to the best of their abilities. And that doesn't mean you have to answer, just because it's okay for them to ask. Good interviewers won't press you for an answer if you tell them you aren't comfortable providing one.

You seriously overreacted by deciding you weren't interested in the position solely based on that question. You may have "rubbed me the wrong way" out of a good job.

Next time you are asked that question, you'd be better off just saying something like "I'd rather not say." Most interviewers will not take it any further.

The interviewer may have been trying to judge how in demand you are. Or may have been trying to determine if time was of the essence in your interviews. Or they may have simply been trying to be polite.

You can always choose to politely decline to answer any question posed of you. But getting offended by a simple question during an interview isn't usually the best approach.

  • The answer "I'd rather not say" would have plus points and minus points. I think it depends on the culture and locality that one live. In here, it will consider as you don't respect the person who doing the interview. – sandun dhammika Aug 24 '16 at 17:02
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    On the other hand, what do asking a question that amounts to "tell me about your dealings with other companies that may have been held in confidence" and the fact that they might hire someone who'd answer it say about the asker? – Blrfl Aug 24 '16 at 17:33
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That sort of question is quite common. There are plenty of benign reasons that an interviewer might want to know where else you're interviewing:

  • genuine curiosity
  • wanting to know who else is hiring for the same skills
  • trying to find out about prevailing salaries in the area
  • trying to gauge how likely it is that you'd accept the job with them (e.g. if you tell the manager at a tiny software company that you're also interviewing at Google they might figure you're less likely to join)
  • etc.

However, anyone asking that question will probably be OK with you declining to answer: "I'm sorry, but I'd rather not share any specifics about other companies. I also wouldn't tell them anything about my meeting with you." A reasonable compromise is to give them an idea of what else you have going on without sharing details (i.e. keeping company names confidential). It's your judgment to make.

NB. This balance shifts quite a bit if it's an agency recruiter interviewing you. In that case it is near-certain that they want to get sales leads from you, so my default position would be to share no details unless you have a compelling reason otherwise.

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    Thank you. I guess I was reading into it a little too much. Do you think I could have handled it a little better? I did not even let allow her to give me more details about the job. Now I feel I might have passed up on a good opportunity. – hayobt14 Aug 24 '16 at 15:17
  • It could be to do with them wanting to check what the salary range other companies are offering, and potentially adjust their salary offers accordingly (for better or worse) – gabe3886 Aug 24 '16 at 15:18
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    They may want to see if you get all huffy when asked a relatively innocuous question. Could indicate you're hard to work with. – Amy Blankenship Aug 24 '16 at 15:24
  • As to whether you could have handled it better: I don't know, it isn't for me to say. I would reframe your question like this: if you were in the situation again, would you react the same way? If not, and if you feel like the position may have been good for you, why not just call the manager? "Hi, I think I may have taken your question the wrong way, would you be prepared to pick up the conversation where we left off?" She may say no, in which case you can just put this down to experience. But I don't see what you have to lose by trying. – hamedbh Aug 24 '16 at 15:24
  • @gabe3886 yes, this is often a reason for asking about other interviews. I'll edit my answer to include it as it's an important one! – hamedbh Aug 24 '16 at 15:25
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In the United States, there's nothing preventing anyone from asking about where you've applied. However, you don't need to answer them specifically or at all. Personally, I wouldn't feel comfortable giving specific company names or how far along in the discussions I am (unless I had an offer and needed them to expedite their process). However, I may say a geographic area where I'm looking, industries of the companies, positions that I'm applying for, and a rough number - an example may be "I'm talking to a few companies in the greater Boston area for positions related to backend web development."

I'm not sure what the interviewer was hoping to gain from asking the question. I've never had a need to know where else the candidate was applying. I do see the need for recruiters or hiring managers to know if you have or are expecting offers to know if they need to speed things up, but not where else you have or are scheduled to interview.

  • Thank you for your response. If you don't mind my asking, why would you feel uncomfortable disclosing specific company names or how far along in discussions you are? – hayobt14 Aug 24 '16 at 15:13
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    @harryobt14 Because it's none of their business. The only thing that they may need to know is if I have verbal indications of a coming offer or an offer in my hand so they can decide if they want to meet my schedule or, if they can't, let me know and move on to other candidates. It's not wrong of them to ask, and some people may not have a problem sharing it. I don't think it's wrong of them to ask, I just choose not to share that information. – Thomas Owens Aug 24 '16 at 15:16
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Is it OK?

There's nothing illegal in it.

Why?

The most relevant and legitimate reasons for asking are:

  • trying to figure out how closely your interests align with the role they are interviewing you for. Both in terms of role and company.
  • trying to figure out timeline - if you are close to closing a deal with some other company, then the recruiter may have a vested interest in accelerating the process and making sure you have an offer (if you get one) before your decision point on other options. Recruiters don't want to push speed on EVERY process, or they lose credibility with the hiring managers.

Certainly there are better ways of asking the question that are not implying that they want very specific information. The information they need is NOT the laundry list of your current interview activities with details on exact role and exact company - but it is easy to get the wording wrong here.

Do you have to answer?

Nope. As with any question - your ability to give useful information while not sharing things that make you uncomfortable is part of the communication skills that are under review during an interview. So if you say "hell no!" and hang up, you probably won't make a good impression. If you say "I'd like to understand why you're asking" - you make a much better impression.

Recommended answer

I'd go with general information that gives the interviewer relevant info without disclosing details that should be irrelevant to them.

Examples:

  • answer for timeliness - "I am in process with several other companies. I may well have an offer in hand by X, so I'd appreciate hearing from your company by X-N"
  • answer for interest - "this is the only company I interviewed for in this industry/role - you really caught my interest with your very cool (aspect of the job)", or "I have a number of interviews for this role/industry, it's my primary interest, so I'm pursuing several opportunities"
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It's Ok to ask. It's not Ok to expect a truthful answer. It's Ok to ask to see how the person reacts to being asked to do something they shouldn't do. So your proper reaction should be something like "sorry, but that's not a question that I would like to answer". In the case that you are applying for an HR position I would expect an answer like "sorry, but that's not a question that I would like to answer, and you shouldn't be asking that".

Telling them where you have applied would be an inferior answer. It won't benefit you. It may actually make a bad impression to the interviewer. And going all stroppy or even leaving the interview would be a bad move.

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I go stone-cold when I am asked this question by a recruiter. Particularly, one that I don't already have a working relationship with (I've done a lot of shorter contract gigs, and have a 20-year span with consulting firms and their recruiters all over Southern California). If I give that information to these people, they go digging. Some will even say, "who did you work for over there?" They are looking for new business. I am very careful with what I share. If it will benefit someone I've worked with successfully in the past, then I don't mind as much.

This doesn't apply with a corporate (in-house) recruiter or HR person.

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