How to Handle the Question of Where Else You’re Looking
An email correspondent poses an interesting query: Why do potential employers sometimes ask in interviews if you are looking elsewhere? And what should you say? I have found — and other recruiters agree — that there is often interest expressed by hiring managers about where job candidates are in their hunt. This is often justified; they want to know how serious a candidate you are about their organization and also want to gauge whether they should expend energy on your candidacy, or whether you may have another offer on the table soon.
How to answer such a query can be tricky. While you don’t want to be dishonest with a potential employer, you also don’t want to provide information that could cause them to become cool to your candidacy. Yet in some instances it can be useful for hiring managers to know that others are interested in you — especially if they have been dragging out the process and you want them to get serious. Here are some tips on how to respond to this line of questioning and try to turn it to your advantage:
*Never knowingly lie or even overstate the truth to a prospective employer. One reason is because it’s easy enough for them to check out your statements. If they catch you in a lie, not only is your candidacy finished with that organization, but they could spread the word among other recruiters and hiring managers. You don’t want to run the risk of being known as someone who couldn’t keep their facts straight about their own career. So if asked a direct question like this, don’t lie. If you don’t want to answer, politely obfuscate. A polite non-answer to this question could be: “I’m talking to a lot of organizations, and those talks are in various stages. I’m really interested in working in this office and that’s why I’m here. I’d like to focus on how I think I’d be a good fit with your organization.” If pressed, then say you don’t feel comfortable talking about your other talks, and again try to move the conversation along.
*If the hiring process has seriously progressed with another organization, but you are honestly interested in this one, use this question to your advantage. Give only as much detail as you think appropriate, but you can certainly say that talks have progressed with another company yet not to the point of having an offer on the table. Make sure to clearly state that you’re quite interested in THIS job — and give reasons why — so they don’t think you’re just fishing for an offer to bid up the other company’s offer. This may cause them to consider your candidacy — yea or nay — more quickly, if they think that soon may lose the opportunity to hire you. Though be careful with this; many organizations in this tight hiring environment have set salaries they’re willing to pay for most positions, and they may turn to another candidate if they think you could turn out to be higher-priced because of another potential offer.
*Be careful about acknowledging that you haven’t had a lot of luck yet getting other interviews and haven’t been close to any offers. Recruiters, like everyone else, like winners. If they feel that others are interested in you, that validates their choice of you as a serious candidate. They also don’t want to feel like this is an opening “practice” round. Often recruiters like the competitive aspect of fighting it out with another organization for a top candidate. Again, while you shouldn’t lie and say you’re in play if you’re not, you also don’t need to be quick to acknowledge that you haven’t had much luck. Answer somewhat generally, saying again that you’re “in touch” with a number of other organizations and are “casting a wide net” to find the right position.
*Let your references know that you have been asked this question. Also, specifically tell them how you answered the question, so that they can back up your answer if the hiring manager asks them about it. Depending on your situation — especially if you are close to getting another offer — you may want them to conversationally disclose that you’re in play and that while you would be open to their offer, time is of the essence. A reference may be in a better position to help pass along this information than you would but you need to let them know the details of this part of the interview.