18

A bit of context. I am about to get my PhD soon and a few months ago I started applying for R&D positions1 , both in academia and in the industry. A few things to note here:

  • I am interested in applying to positions in a limited number of countries (in Europe)
  • The positions I applied to may be very competitive (especially the ones in industry)
  • The COVID situation may be impacting the job market

So the result is that I ended up with a very limited number of applications (~15) and absolutely no feedback from them, except one rejection and one invitation for an interview. The latter is in an academic research lab.

Now I have been thinking, if in this upcoming interview I'm asked: “Are you currently interviewing elsewhere?”, should I be honest and say that I’m not?

My concern is that I don’t know how this could be seen. I thought of 2 options:

  1. they will think that I’m not “in-demand” and that I don’t have successful applications so perhaps that may discourage them from hiring me.
  2. they instead would be understanding of the fact that I don't have other options, given the global context and my personal preferences. Then, if the interview goes well and they do make an offer, I'd have to provide them with a response fast since they know that I don’t have other options. My concern here is: what if (miraculously) another/better option opens up for me in the meantime such that it would be better for me not to respond to the first offer right away.

Note that my question is not very related to: Should I tell other interviewers where else I've interviewed?, as that one deals with the case where the candidate had other interviews and it is about graduate school admissions, while mine is related to a later career stage. In addition, as there is an academic component in the situation, I preferred to ask the question here instead of Workplace SE.

Any thoughts would be welcome.

1 What I mean by R&D positions are those positions where you work in the context of EU R&D projects. I hope that's not too vague as a definition.

5
  • 3
    Very similar question Why do interviewers ask if I'm interviewing with other companies? on Workplace SE. – scaaahu Aug 21 '20 at 6:41
  • 3
    When interviewing candidates for any job (including post docs) I never ask that question. They applied and looked good enough to interview. Done. Should I move forward with an offer, then I would like to know if it is time critical since I can only ask so many favors from my HR folks. – Jon Custer Aug 21 '20 at 14:53
  • 3
    My organisation tends to move slowly on offers. If I ask the question what I really mean is "do I need to put pressure on the rest of the organisation to get this candidate an offer quickly". So yes, if you have other irons in the fire, let me know so I can get back to you in time. – drxzcl Aug 21 '20 at 20:17
  • 1
    It is none of their business, and an improper question. If they ask you should answer 'of course', even if you aren't. – user207421 Aug 23 '20 at 4:28
  • This is clearly one of those "don't ask, don't tell" questions. If they violate the gentlemen's agreement, you are not obliged to answer, or even answer honestly. (During interviews, of course. It's very legitimate after they've written "we want to make you a formal offer".) – Karl Aug 23 '20 at 9:19
31

Short answer: Yes, you should answer honestly.


Long answer: your question contains, implicitly and explicitly, several (mostly) flawed premises.

Premise 1: professors are superficial people who can’t be bothered to come up with their own idea of how good you are as an applicant based on the strength of your application, so will resort to relying on an (essentially) irrelevant piece of information to guide their decision.

The reality: almost no professor would care whether you have an interview elsewhere, or, to the small extent that they might care, it’s mainly to help them figure out if there’s any time pressure to reaching a decision on your application. In the case of truly stellar applicants the knowledge of other pending interviews/offers may affect the salary the professor might offer, but in normal cases it won’t.

There’s also a small number of professors for whom the assumption you’re making may be valid. But by and large the premise is not an accurate description of reality.

Premise 2: you are as good of a liar as you think you are.

The reality: you aren’t. In your question you only factor in the perceived cost of acting honestly (and are incorrect in how high you think that cost is, see premise 1 above) but completely ignore the very real - almost certain in my opinion - possibility that the alternative approach of trying to make yourself look much more desired than you are by not telling the honest truth would come across as clumsy and clueless in the best case, or shady and dishonest in the worst case. That eventuality will lead to a much worse outcome (certain rejection of your application, and a bad reputation that could follow you far into the future) than the eventuality you are actually expressing concern about.

Premise 3: if you say you don’t have any interviews you will have to accept an offer very fast since “they know [you] don’t have other options”, even if in the meantime you do receive some other offer.

The reality: this is false. You seem to have the misguided notion that by stating you don’t currently have other interviews you are committing yourself to never having any interviews. That’s not how the world (academia or anywhere else) works.

Hope this helps, and good luck with your interview!

9
  • Also, even if you have no other interviews you don't have to accept an offer. One can always keep looking a little longer, especially in Europe where many labs are happy to keep graduated PhDs on the payroll for a while during job hunt. – xLeitix Aug 21 '20 at 6:30
  • @Dan Romik, thanks for sharing your perspective on this. "There’s also a small number of professors for whom the assumption you’re making may be valid." -> yes, I was worried about those. "trying to make yourself look much more desired than you are by not telling the honest truth would come across as clumsy and clueless in the best case, or shady and dishonest in the worst case. " -> agree, although I did not mention this in the post, I was worried about that – acad-user Aug 21 '20 at 10:24
  • @xLeitix , I know I don't have to, I just felt I may feel the urge to, given that my job search is not going well. Regarding "many labs are happy to keep graduated PhDs on the payroll for a while during job hunt." not necessarily. It depends on funding. Funny enough, in my case it's feasible given that my grant allows it, but I know other colleaguess who were not given such a possibility. – acad-user Aug 21 '20 at 10:29
  • 1
    @acad-user IMO it would be illogical for a professor to allow your answer to the question to influence their hiring decision. Now, people do behave illogically sometimes, so in that sense you‘re reasonable to worry. However, it does not make sense to worry about this any more than you worry about not being hired for any other illogical reason (say, because of your height, or because you wore a green shirt to the interview). On the flip side, not hiring you because you come across as dishonest or untrustworthy during the interview would be extremely logical. See what I’m getting at...? – Dan Romik Aug 21 '20 at 11:59
  • @acad-user But the hiring professor does not know any of these things. Hence, they cannot conclude that you have to accept an offer very quickly just because you aren't negotiating elsewhere at the moment. – xLeitix Aug 21 '20 at 12:38
28

In general, honesty is a good thing. But you can be honest without giving out too much information. Some possibilities that may work for you.

Not at the current time.

I'm awaiting some offers.

I'm only getting started in this process.

None that I'd care to discuss at this time.

But you can also turn it around a bit.

This is the one I'm most interested in at the moment. (a non-answer)

Not all of these are equivalent, of course, but you may be able to come up with something that fits your case.

7
  • 10
    I think a non-answer is best. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 21 '20 at 1:06
  • 6
    @AnonymousPhysicist can you be more specific? How would you answer the question exactly? @Buffy’s suggested “non-answer” is actually a dishonest answer rather than a non-answer, as it implies the existence of other offers. – Dan Romik Aug 21 '20 at 1:38
  • 9
    @DanRomik I'm not going to be more specific. – Anonymous Physicist Aug 21 '20 at 2:13
  • 15
    @AnonymousPhysicist answering a question about a non-answer with a non-answer? How meta. :-) – Dan Romik Aug 21 '20 at 2:16
  • 2
    @TheoreticalMinimum I look forward to reading your detailed answer elaborating on this idea. Note that I did not claim one must always be maximally honest or transparent about everything. I stand by my answer in the specific context being discussed though. – Dan Romik Aug 22 '20 at 19:06
5

To offer another perspective on the question; you may be attributing incorrect meaning to the question.

It may sound as if a question asking if you are interviewing other places is gauging how many other places 'want you', but may just as well be gauging how much you 'want them'. I.E., are you interviewing for other job opportunities that are completely unrelated to this one? Is this your main target?

For each example you think of that suggests they would think less of you, there are equal numbers of examples in which they are instead trying to understand your own interests (which links to how well you fit in their department) or even where they stand in relation.

So it is not a good idea to lie, as I can imagine the next question could even be "so where?". Academia is a small world, and it is likely they will know the other job openings.

Having been on both sides, I can say at least a few times there was a question of if the department could even attract a person, and understanding the state they were in for other offers was a way to rush their application through administration. Similarly to my last point, when there is a faculty position posting we also do an extensive search to find what other peer institutes are searching for, so it is usually expected someone is applying to other postings we are already aware of.

2

While the answer may seem a bit similar to one offered by Buffy, I will suggest one more very specific answer with some explanation:

I'm involved in few other recruitment processes but I didn't have any other interviews yet.

It doesn't disclose the information that you didn't even have invitations to interviews. But it gives the information that you are involved in other processes and that you didn't have interviews yet so you may have also something else in the future.

It is fully sincere and safe. It offers accurate information to the interviewer and shows the possibility of other offers for you. At the same time, it does not disclose how far are you in the other processes. If something comes up in the future, you will not surprise the respondents of the current process with this information.

2
  • No offense but your suggested answer comes across as a bit insecure and evasive. If I heard that it would be clear to me that “involved in a recruitment process” is a euphemism for “applied to”. – Dan Romik Aug 21 '20 at 15:56
  • 2
    I don't feel offended at all. Actually saying something along lines "I have applied to few other places but you were so far fastest to response" could be an answer as well. I guess there can be a bit of cultural difference also. I was answering this kind of question and usually it was more a matter-of-fact answer. On the other hand, I was in a different situation since I was already employed. – Ister Aug 21 '20 at 16:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.