You’re in a job interview. Everything is going smoothly. You ace the “biggest weakness” question; you crush it when they ask, “why should we hire you?” But then you get thrown a curveball.
“So, where else are you interviewing?”
It’s a simple question — one you could easily answer without having to think too hard. But it’s actually a lot trickier than it seems, and how you answer this question can make or break the interview.
“It can be a slippery slope because you’d like to be honest and demonstrate you’re not bluffing about your other opportunities,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, leadership coach, and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.” “But don’t fall into the trap, as there’s more downside risk.”
To have an effective response, it’s helpful to first consider the interviewer’s objectives when asking this question, she says. “They typically want to determine how marketable you currently are; how they stack up against the competition; and how far along you are in other negotiations.”
You don’t owe this information to a hiring manager, but how you handle it will demonstrate your level of diplomacy and your ability to navigate sensitive questions. “And these people skills are valued today more than ever,” Taylor adds.
So how do you appear cooperative, sincere, and marketable, while maintaining your privacy?
“There’s a fine line between being honest and putting yourself at risk. It’s a small world in every industry, and you never know if your interviewer may compare notes with another of your interested hiring managers in your mutual network,” says Taylor. “For example, if you reveal a firm’s hiring intentions to a potential competitor, you risk a reputation of not being discreet.”
Here are five tips for responding to this tricky question:
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1. Speak in general terms.
By showing your hand, you may potentially weaken your position. It’s better to be vague. Try something like:
“I’m interviewing with several companies in the industry currently, and I’m at different stages with them.”
Few employers will push for names beyond that, but they may ask you a point-blank follow up query about whether you’re currently considering any other offers, Taylor says.
“It’s to your mutual benefit to be specific about your status, without giving names in that case. They should be aware if you may be off the market soon.”
2. Mention proprietary issues.
Since many jobs today are unadvertised or hidden, your other prospective hiring manager may not want their proprietary hiring plans revealed. You might explain:
“I would prefer to keep confidential the names of these companies for their privacy. I would apply the same to our discussions, out of respect for your proprietary hiring and business plans.”
For example, if unbeknownst to you, you’re replacing someone currently at the company and aren’t discreet, that could ultimately jeopardize your prospects, Taylor explains.
3. Focus instead on your criteria.
Once you’ve given your general response, try to steer the conversation to what you’re looking for in an employer, rather than leaving the topic on a sensitive note. For example, say something along these lines:
“I can tell you that I’m most interested in growth companies that have a strong vision — and offer a product or service I can be passionate about.”