An interview can be a stressful occasion for a candidate as is, and particular questions can make the situation even more uncomfortable. One question that can leave an interviewee slightly squirming in their seat can be along the lines of “are you applying to other jobs?” or “what other jobs are you applying to?”
It’s debatable whether asking candidates what other jobs they’re applying to is appropriate or not. Therefore, we should first discuss what the reasons may be for asking the question, because every question in an interview should have a purpose with the intent to gather valuable information.
Reason #1: Provides further insight about the candidate’s interests and goals
The first step to determining that a candidate is a fit is getting an idea of the candidate’s values, preferences, and goals. Josh Spector gives an interesting example that illustrates how an answer to this question may provide such information:
“If you're hiring a tech position at a non-profit organization and the other jobs a candidate applied for are all at other non-profits, then you know the non-profit piece is a priority for them.”
Getting a brief idea of the types of positions the candidate is pursuing can provide insight into what about your position is attracting the candidate.
Reason #2: Gives you a timeline of how quickly to make a decision
From the job seeker’s perspective, it can become quite confusing when you’re continuously applying to positions, get a few interviews, and then start getting offers at the same staggered rate. What if you get an offer from one employer, but haven’t heard anything from that other employer who you really want to work for? It’s a scenario most people are probably familiar with.
As an employer, if there is a candidate you are particularly interested in hiring, it’s a good idea to get an idea of their job search so you can determine how quickly you should get back to them with an offer, if that is what you ultimately decide. Not only will it ease the situation for the candidate- simply, a nice thing to do- but it also ensures you don’t end up letting a quality candidate slip through your fingers.
Reason #3: Use as a method of market research
Some employers ask about other jobs the candidate is applying to as a way to see what other companies have similar positions on the market and what kind of response they’re receiving. This is not a recommended approach. You don’t want to come off as nosy and disrespectful of the privacy of others.
The question is a bit sensitive, but can provide some insight into the candidate and can help guide your next step. If you choose to include this question in your interviews, perhaps rephrase it in a less stress-inducing way for the candidate, such as:
“You don’t have to give names of the places if you don’t want, but what other positions have you applied/are you applying to?”
Being open and upfront, while respecting privacy, right in the initial phase helps establish a sense of trust and approachability. It will also give you the insight you are looking for from a relaxed candidate, who may then provide further insight into their “true self”.