QUESTION: I keep being asked at interviews what other companies I am interviewing with. Why do they ask? To gauge my popularity or to see if I am really interested in their specific position? Should I answer this question?
ANSWER: The motivations you suggested in your question for why an interviewer might ask are good possibilities, and there are additional reasons as well. Interviewers may be trying to get a sense of what is going on in the job market more generally. Or they may be trying to get a sense of how broadly or narrowly you are focused on a specific job function or industry.
It would be difficult or at least awkward not to offer some response to this question when it’s asked. Your response needs to be an honest one, so your specific circumstances will influence how you answer. For example, your answer depends on whether you are in fact interviewing elsewhere, interviewing with a company’s competitors, or pursuing a tight cluster of roles within an industry or a wide variety of jobs or jobs across industries, among other things. Whether you’re conducting the search while still employed can make a difference to your answer as well. This article offers some good examples of how you might respond in specific circumstances.
Here are some general tips:
Do not name the other companies you are interviewing at or considering offers from; instead, use generic descriptions of the opportunity (or opportunities) and company (or companies).
Don’t disclose more than you need to about your job search status for the interview to move on unless you are genuinely in the position of having—or being close to having—another acceptable offer on the table; in this case, explaining that you have an offer on the table may speed up the company’s decision whether or not to also make an offer.
If you are pushed to disclose more than you want to, remind interviewers that you would extend the same courtesy in talking about them in any discussions you have with other companies.
Reiterate your requirements for an opportunity to be of interest.
Reiterate your interest in and value to the company; remind them how your skills, values, and interests align with theirs.