When this land mine of a question is asked, the first instinct of a typical job seeker is to immediately say no—but answering this question is not that simple. First, we need to understand the reason why employers and recruiters ask this.
They want to know if they can hire you before anyone else – When employers are looking to fill a big position in their company, they only want the best available talent for the job. If you’re that person, they wouldn’t want to lose you to another company—or worse yet, to a competitor. After all, every company’s hiring process has its own pace; some take a few days or weeks, while others can take several months.
They want to know how badly you want the position – Another reason they ask this question is because they want to find out if what you say is really true. Sometimes when you’re desperate to get a job, you tend to lose focus in what you say, and this can cause you to contradict yourself. For example, you say you want to get a position in finance, but you also said that you’re interviewing for a human resources position at another company.
The next consideration in answering the question is whom you’re talking to: an employer, or a recruiter?
An employer asking you to answer this question wants to know your timeline; he wants to know how long he has before he needs to make a decision about you. Interviewing for multiple companies is a great indicator that someone is seen as a strong candidate by many employers. However, when you tell an employer that you’re also interviewing at other companies, you also run a risk—one that could hurt your chances of getting the job.
A recruiter or agency asking this question has a much simpler reason why they want to know: They want to avoid double placements if there are other recruiters looking for a position for you.
Saying yes – When you say yes, it generally means that you have other options and the employer is more pressured to hire you right away if he’s really interested. However, it also shows that you’re not really all that interested in working for that company.
Saying no – On the other hand, when you say no, it shows that this company is your only option and that they can take their time before making a decision. It can also show, however, that this company is a priority for you and that you would want them to have the first chance to hire you.
In the end, the most important thing in answering this question is to be honest. There are pros and cons associated with each option that you have. Your best bet is to be truthful about your situation. Lying your way into getting hired will always come back to haunt you.