How to Deal

Be Prepared to Answer Probing Questions About Your Job Search

By Lily Garcia
Special to
Thursday, March 13, 2008; 12:00 AM

I really enjoy your chats and appreciate your insight. I recently had an initial phone interview for a job and was asked what other companies I had applied to. I felt the question rather nosy, but what are your thoughts? I've never come across this before, but am fairly young.

If an interviewer wants to know what other organizations you are considering, they are probably just sizing up their competition, which is a good sign that you are under serious consideration. To answer your question, this is not uncommon, although it usually does make for a somewhat uncomfortable exchange. The likely follow-up question is: Which of these companies has granted you an interview or extended an offer?

Your answers to this question can be a double-edged sword, casting you as either a hot commodity (if your dance card is relatively full) or an easy recruit (if your other options are limited). That is why, especially if you have had a difficult time finding work, you should be prepared to answer such questions so that you are presented in the best possible light.

If you have not been able to secure other interviews, for example, explain that you are early in your job search process. If you have had interviews and no offers, say that you have been talking to a number of different organizations but have not yet found the right fit.

When you reveal the organizations to which you have applied, keep in mind that this tells a story about your interests and ambitions. Make sure that the employers you mention are not so vastly different from the organization at hand that it will leave the interviewer wondering whether you are genuinely interested in the job. If you are interviewing for a marketing position at a small nonprofit, for example, and the other employers you are considering are all major advertising firms, your interviewer might suspect that you will quit prematurely as soon as another more attractive opportunity presents itself.

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Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.

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