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Is it generally acceptable to ask how many applicants there were to a position I applied for, and does it depend on the current stage of my application? For instance, immediately after applying, at an interview, after receiving an offer, etc.

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    why would you ask that? getting a position is not a stochastic process.
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 6 '21 at 22:54
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    @EarlGrey: Getting a position is, by all means, a stochastic process (it just has a lot of complicated properties). Dec 7 '21 at 0:03
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    You should never ask a question if you can expect that it won't be answered in a useful way. At best, you come across as inexperienced.
    – Roland
    Dec 7 '21 at 8:43
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    @ZeroTheHero: Well, it is in many cases impossible to savely predict the outcome, even if one knows all parameters that are typically considered relevant (including the political and social parameters within the hiring committee). So there is some randomness involved, which makes it appropriate to model the situation stochastically. Dec 7 '21 at 9:01
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    @EarlGrey ...that is just incorrect. There are a lot of applicants for the position of "rock star", but very few openings. There are not so many applicants for the position of "extremely underpaid manual labor" but many openings. Students often base their choices on what they enjoy studying rather than the prospective future job market. Some areas have large markets outside of academia to provide more jobs but some just don't. This is why it's recommended to ask not just what percentage of graduates got a job, but what percentage got a job in their original field. Dec 7 '21 at 14:53
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You should generally stick to asking pertinent questions whose answers are meaningful to you, rather than asking questions simply to satisfy your own curiosity. The number of other applicants will usually not have a major effect on your own interview process, and knowing that number won't make you any more or less likely to get the job. The hiring process is usually not something that's shared outside of a company, so you may come off as asking about irrelevant information that the company would be reticent to share anyway.

I could see asking about the general number of other applicants if you're trying to get a sense of the interview process time frame. If they tell you they'll call back after a first phone interview with other applicants, it might be reasonable to ask in a general sense how many there are and if that will take days, weeks, or months. But idly asking just for the heck of it serves no real purpose, and may not be received well.

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    I disagree with "The number of other applicants will usually not have a major effect on your own interview process". Imagine if there is a million applicants or there is just 1. The chance of getting the position when there is only 1 just depends on whether that 1 person is better qualified than you, If there is a million it is so much more likely that there are people better qualified for the position Dec 7 '21 at 7:29
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    @IvoBeckers I don't want to speak for Nuclear Hoagie, but I don't think they meant that the number of applicants doesn't affect your chances of getting the job. Rather, I think they meant that the number of applicants shouldn't materially affect how you are interviewed, how you answer interview questions, how you prepare, etc. Dec 7 '21 at 8:37
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    @IvoBeckers it doesn't matter how many applicants there were, only how many are left. Asking "How many other candidates are being interviewed?" might be reasonable, but "How many candidates applied for this position?" is not, and the latter seems to be what OP wanted to know about. Dec 7 '21 at 11:37
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    @IvoBeckers I'm not saying the number of applicants has no effect on the likelihood of getting the job, I'm saying that the information is not actionable. Asking serves no purpose other than to satisfy your own curiosity. Whether there are 1, 10, or 100 other candidates, all you can do is your best is your own interview. Dec 7 '21 at 14:09
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    @emory Such a situation would never occur - why would a company bother to interview someone that they believed had a 0% chance of being hired? If you have an interview, the company must believe you have some reasonable chance of getting the job, or you wouldn't have an interview at all. I suppose you could have different levels of "acceptable chance" than the company (e.g. if the company will interview people with a 1% of being hired, but you won't interview for less than a 10% chance), but now this gets into estimating probabilities based on a lot of conjecture. Dec 7 '21 at 15:53
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I would recommend not doing this. It is probably done rarely and when done not always responded to. The numbers also change, both up and down during the process.

But, it also makes you sound a bit desperate rather than confident.

Some places will publish some numbers from prior years, so you can get an idea.

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  1. After a position is filled, it is fine to politely inquire about how large the applicant pool was.
  2. If you are interviewed or short-listed, it is fine to politely ask how many other interviewees or short-listers there are.

The basic parameters here are that you don't want to do anything to compromise your application, and you don't want to be a bother, but you do want to get information that might help you in future applications.

Asking right after applying is probably going to seem overly forward, and will probably be incorrect information since the application hasn't yet closed.

If you are (unfortunately) rejected, there is probably no downside to asking whoever communicates with you regarding the rejection how large the applicant pool was. Most hiring committees will be fine with sharing this information. The worst that will happen is that your request will be ignored.

If you advance in the process, it is OK to ask how many applicants are at the same stage. In fact, many hiring committees will proactively share this information. In academic hiring there is often a short list (on campus interviews) of 3, and applicants may want to know if the short list is more or less. Long lists are often more variable (e.g., 8 phone interviews). Hiring committees may proactively share this information (i.e. "We are doing four on campus interviews."). I might not ask this during a phone interview, but if you get an on campus interview, there is probably little harm in politely asking how large the applicant pool was. For example, "Do you mind if I ask how large the applicant pool was?" If the person asks why--and, frankly, anyone on a hiring committee will know why--you might say something like "I'm just trying to get a handle on how competitive hiring in physics/economics/English/sociology/biochemistry is this year."

In short, it's probably OK to ask, but be polite, and ask after you have advanced in the process or been rejected.

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