can I ask how many other people are being interviewed for the job?

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A reader writes:

When the interviewer opens up the floor for questions, is it appropriate to ask approximately how many other people the manager is interviewing for the position?

I would not ask this in interviews for administrative/office positions since the company would presumably have received a couple hundred applications for one position. However, I’m also applying for a lot of positions in food service, and there, more places tend to hire for multiple positions at a time, generally two or three, and I like knowing how many people they plan on interviewing so I can better estimate my chances on receiving a job offer.

Would this question come across as too intrusive and pushy? Or is this a valid piece of information to inquire after?

It’s not that it’s intrusive or pushy, exactly; it’s more that it raises the question of what conclusions you’re planning to draw from the information, and it can be mildly awkward.

The thing is, you say you’re asking because you want to estimate your chances of a job offer, but it doesn’t really work like that. They could be interviewing 15 people, but if you’re a great fit, your chances are better than 1-in-15. And they could be interviewing only two people, but if you’re not a really strong candidate, your chances aren’t 50-50. So it sounds a little naive — because offers aren’t mathematical probability equations — and also slightly lacking in confidence.

So given that, plus the fact that the question doesn’t give you truly useful information, I’d skip it.

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Kimberlee, Esq.

    I totally agree with Alison’s take. I’ve had people ask this when I interviewed them; I tell them, but I do hold it a little against them, for the very reason Alison cites: it doesn’t give you any useful information. I don’t dock major points, because in my experience it’s a mix of good and bad candidates that ask, but I do remember.

    So you have nothing to gain from knowing, and you stand to lose some status by asking.

    Reply
    1. KarenT

      I’ve had people ask me this before as well. I don’t like it, not because it’s secret information, but because I don’t like any conclusions they may draw from it. If I interview 5 people for a job, I still not may hire any of them.

      Reply
      1. Josh S

        And it’s perfectly valid to say something like, “We’re currently in the process of interviewing 5 candidates right now. But we’re very particular about getting the ‘right’ person who fits with our company/department/task/whatever, so we may expand the search beyond those if we don’t find the right person.”

        It’s both honest to their question while answering the (assumed) reason behind it.

        Reply
    2. Chloe

      Seems a little unnecessary to hold it against them, I’ve asked this before just out of curiosity really – no more than that, I’m just a naturally curious person. They might just be making conversation. Such a small question, I’d be a little alarmed to think an interviewer would actually hold it against me.

      Reply
        1. Chloe

          *Now feeling even more paranoid than I usually do about any potential comments I’ll make in future interviews* :-)

          Reply
        2. Jessa

          Exactly, and it’s not really a question that leads to a useful answer, like “do you have any idea as to what your timeline on hiring for this position looks like?” Or something belike.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            You’re welcome to read into every little thing if you want, but it will make you miserable and often mislead you. That’s why I urge people not to.

            Hiring managers rarely spend time trying to read the tea leaves to determine if the types of thing that candidates try to determine or agonizing over what something means. Two very different situations.

            Reply
      1. Jake

        Not only that, but I recently had an interview that wanted to know every other company I had applied to in the past month. It seems unfair for them to ask that information and then hold it against me for wondering the same about them.

        However, The process isn’t really about being fair I guess.

        Reply
  2. Brett

    We’ve had positions where we had one applicant, who was the only person interviewed, and they did not get the job.
    But I could understand more or less writing off a position if they interviewed 35 people for one position (had to do that once).

    Reply
  3. WWWONKA

    I generally do not ask but a few interviewers have volunteered that info. I even had a guy tell me they received 600 resumes and they whittled it down to 30 phone interviews and 10 face to face where I was at. This guy sounded as if he was bragging about the quantity. Then I found out the pay and really wondered why so many moved forward. This is the same guy that was texting with his daughter while interviewing me.

    Reply
    1. Jen in RO

      For the job I recently accepted, the HR manager told me they received 300 resumes and they selected one candidate – i.e. me. They told me this during the offer conversation and it didn’t raise any red flags – they were looking for someone with experience in a domain that’s only started developing in the past few years, and I know there’s only a handful of people who would meet these requirements.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        The job I’m working now interviewed three people. I know this because all three of us were there at the same time even though we were interviewed individually.

        Reply
  4. Anonymous

    I have to disagree actually, I would not mind if a candidate asked that. To my mind, it equivalent to asking when a decision will be made. No harm, no foul, and it shows continued interest in the job

    Reply
      1. Jessa

        Yeh, how does knowing how many people tell you how long it will take? They could have 10 – 15 minute interviews in one day, or spend a week on each person.

        Reply
  5. College Career Counselor

    Eh, I think people just want to know a rough estimate of who else is in the interviewee pool with them (although I agree the information is of limited utility). Are you interviewing 15 people (warning! this place can’t decide what it wants!), or is the candidate one of three finalists (that’s fairly common in higher ed)?

    The better question to ask (in my opinion) is something along the lines of where they are in their interview process. Sometimes you’ll find more than just when you could expect to hear whether you are going to be offered a position. I remember being told (by HR) that there was an internal candidate in addition to two external candidates….

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve done 35+ phone screens for a single job before — a senior job with extremely tricky requirements, many of which were things that couldn’t be discerned from a resume (manner, judgment, philosophical approach to managing, ability to establish quick rapport, etc.). So it’s not always a red flag, at least not at the phone interview stage.

      Reply
      1. Meganly

        I just got off the phone with an interviewer who said he was doing 75 phone screens. (I had asked for the timeline, for the record, not numbers!) That seems insane. A full work week of phone interviews…

        Reply
            1. Joey

              Eh, I wouldn’t call it crazy even then. I know some people that do hiring for jobs that are hard to keep filled so they interview in waves so they have multiple alternate selections lined up. I know others who are more regimented about the whole process and may spend 5-10 minutes calling everyone who’s qualified because they’re so anal about not missing someone good. Or others even have to call a lot of folks because they’re looking for something obscure. There are all kinds of reasons for it.

              Reply
      2. College Career Counselor

        Good point. I was thinking primarily of 35 in-person interviews (which sounds like a nightmare).

        Reply
  6. Right on

    I completely agree. It’s pointless to rationalize your chances this way. Better off asking timeline for making a decision, which will give you a better sense of hiring process than asking about other people.

    Reply
  7. Em

    I have asked this question before, but not in the first interview. When I’ve gone through several rounds, I will ask how many candidates are still in consideration. It helps me understand how close to the end we are. When I hear that I’m one of the last two candidates standing after a few rounds, it makes me feel pretty strong. If I hear I’m one of five at that point, however, it makes me think that it’s going to be forever before a decision is made, and makes me wonder if they don’t really know what they’re looking for, which is useful information to have.

    Reply
    1. Joey

      Why not just ask “what is your hiring process like?” Or “whats your timeline for hiring?” Like someone else mentioned multiple times I’ve had one final candidate that ended up not working out. Or I’ve had two final candidates and have taken “forever” to make an offer because something came up.

      Reply
      1. Chloe

        Asking about timeline is honestly just as meaningless in my experience – they might intend to recruit quickly but totally fail to do so. You have no way of knowing.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Even knowing what they expect their timeline to be, even if they don’t stick to it, can be useful. Hearing “1 week” tells you something different than hearing “3 months.”

          Plus, it means you can follow up with them when that timeline has passed.

          Reply
          1. seeking a new career opportunity

            The timeline passed for me. The interviewer said she would send me an email this week with the interview possibly Wednesday. Today is Wednesday and I never got anything. Do I follow up again with where they are?

            Reply
        2. Anonymous

          You know what’s interesting is when candidates ask me my timeline I usually give them my “if everything goes perfect timeline”. Lots of times I miss it for all sorts of reasons and when people follow up I tend to put a little more pressure on myself to get it done in part because I don’t want my top candidates thinking nothing gets done at the expected timeline. Not that I wouldn’t hurry anyway, but I’m definitely cognizant that my top candidates are going to form opinions if I take too long.

          Reply
  8. Joey

    The only thing I would ever use to gauge my chances in an interview are:

    1. Whether I would have changed any of my answers.
    2. Whether the interviewer was engaged in the conversation.
    3. Whether I spoke to the points I wanted to make as they relate to the job.
    4. Whether the interviewer made any sort of commitments to me.
    5. Whether I was confident that I would be successful doing the job.

    And then I’d only say there’s three possible options: good, not good, I have no idea.

    Reply
  9. brightstar

    I’ve been searching for a job in my field for a while now, and in looking for jobs just to pay the bills I’ve had a lot of interviewers offer up this information. It really does no good to me, as if you’re not a good fit for the job it doesn’t matter how many persons they interview.

    Reply
  10. Parcae

    I wouldn’t ask for this information, but I love it when the interviewers volunteer it. It’s helpful in exactly one way: it gives me something to tell my mother and my best friend when they express utter (loud, angry, extended) incomprehension as to why I didn’t get the job I was CLEARLY perfect for. “Well, she said they were interviewing eleventy-billion candidates. There’s a tiny chance one of them turned out to be qualified, too.” It’s the only thing that seems to calm them down.

    Reply
  11. kdizzle

    I’ve found that employers freely offer this information if they don’t think they’ll hire me…as some kind of crappy consolation prize…

    “You’re one of the last two candidates out of an original pool of 200! Good for you! There’s the door.”

    Reply
    1. Bean

      Kdizzle,

      When they say something along the lines of “You’re one of the last two candidates out of an original pool of 200! Good for you! There’s the door.”, it is to help you feel accomplished in the fact that although you did not get the job, you were better than 198 other candidates.

      Reply
    2. Felicia

      Kdizzle – I’ve gotten that too and I hate it. If I don’t get the job, what does it matter that I was in the top 3 candidates who got a second interview out of 300 applicants? I want to get a job and if I don’t get one it just makes me feel worse to hear that I was better than 297 other applicants. Because in the end I still don’t have a job, and when you’re a finalist it generally means you did fairly well and are pretty qualified, so it’s not like you can comfort yourself in thinking “oh i wasn’t really qualified anyways.

      Reply
        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

          Maybe, but after being told five or six times in a row that you’re in the top 2 or 3 and then not getting the job– the message starts to feel like “You’re good, but you’re not good enough,” which is incredibly demoralizing.

          Don’t ask me how I know.

          Reply
          1. Felicia

            @Emily, I won’t ask, but I think I know the same way that you know. I know they mean well, but it’s demoralizing when it’s like the 5th time you’ve heard that.

            Reply
            1. Jen in RO

              I guesses it depends on your personality. I would feel better if I knew I was one of the top candidates, otherwise I tend to go the way of ‘of course I suck, why would anyone want to hire me, I don’t know anything’ etc.

              Reply
              1. Felicia

                I think I have the opposite personality. In that if they didn’t tell me that I’d think “well I never could have gotten the job anyways, i’m not qualified”. But then if they tell me I’m one of the top candidates and I still dont get the job, I wonder why I didn’t get it, and my requests for feedback are usually either ignored or unhelpful e.g. “We went with someone with a little more experience in x.” when I have some experience in x, in fact I have as much as they asked for in the job description, and I’d like to gain more which is why I’d wanted t he job. There’s not really anything I can do about it other than try and get more experience.

                Reply
          2. Bean

            Emily,

            If you are being told multiple times in a row that you’re in the top 2 or 3 and then not getting the job, it would be a good idea to ask for feedback from the interviewer as to why they decided to proceed with another candidate.

            Reply
    3. Laufey

      But being in the top 1% of applicants for that position implies that you are competitive in that field, that you are applying for the right level/experience job, that your resume is attracting attention, and that your cover letter is opening the right door.

      Even if they’re exaggerating on how many people applied, it’s still useful information to know.

      Reply
      1. Shannon Terry

        Yes, Laufey nails it. I’ve had clients that were also frustrated to not to be the #1 candidate —- YET —- and wondered if we still should tweak something (resume, practice interviewing more, or whatever) …. but odds are, each time you’re top 3, 5, top whatever, you’re closer to top choice next time.

        AND, again, the key here is: that company likes you! Who knows if & when they might have another opening just like it, or, similar, but slightly different that makes you the best candidate for THAT job. Keep the channels open with good relationships, regardless. Graciously thank them for letting you know about their decision & you’d be interested in future opportunities, if you aren’t already connected and seems appropriate to do so, stay in touch on LinkedIn (sometimes this may not be, though). Think networking, if possible.

        BTW, a recent client had *11 interviews* before a job offer – good grief, I wouldda been insane by then. It was ED level for a non-profit, but still – yeeesh!

        Reply
    4. Jesicka309

      I recently got a rejection email that said that I ‘made it to the top 6 out of 36, if that reassures you, but did not make through to our short list.”

      It frustrated me to no end – I hadn’t even made it to the interview round! They couldn’t interview their top 6? Grrrr.

      They also blamed HR for not rejecting me on time – I sent a follow up email as an auto email said they’d definitely get into contact with me via email or phone…I never heard. Another case of a follow up reminding the company to reject me.

      Reply
  12. MrSparkles

    From my experience, I’ve never directly asked this question, however I have been informed upon asking about the next steps of the interview process.
    Even then, they’ve usually said they have more than one person left to interview.
    I agree that the information they give isn’t all that useful when, as already mentioned, you can be the only person being interviewed…but due to whatever reason, still not get the job. Public sector positions are notorious for randomly cancelling positions even after qualified candidates were interviewed.

    Reply
  13. Mallorie, the recruiter

    I would say that rather than asking how many people they are interviewing, it may help to know if they are filling more than 1 position. When I interviewed for my first HR position, I felt like I was a strong candidate but knew that in this job market, there is almost always going to be someone with more experience. When I learned they were filling 4 identical positions though, I instantly felt more confident. The OP mentioned industries where it is common to fill more than 1 position at once, and I think that is valuable information. Knowing how many are being interviewed is not. I have phone interviewed more than 40 candidates and still not found a ‘perfect match’ for a hard-to-fill job! Good hiring decisions are made despite the number of candidates (big or small!).

    Reply
  14. Claire

    This information has been given to me and to my boyfriend. To me it was delivered thus: “We’re filling four positions and I have interviews over the next few days. I’ll call you saturday to let you know.” I got the job, but I was called on sunday, though I was thankful for the interviewer’s apology (seeing as how no call on saturday made me extra anxious). My boyfriend was told, “You’re one of two candidates for one position, I’ll let you know in a few days,” followed up with, “we hired the other guy,” but with the potentially hopeful, “we really like you though, and if there’s another opening, we’ll call you first.”

    Reply
    1. WWWONKA

      All the numbers data does not matter when you come in second place. And, the “we’ll call you first” just makes the person calling you feel better. Will they really call you?

      Reply
      1. Cody C

        Right I got a we went with the other guy but we really like you and we have this other opening so submit for it which I did aaaaand crickets.

        Reply
        1. ClaireBear

          I am inclined to believe they’re telling the truth since one of our friends works there & I would not be surprised if that friend gave us the job opening alert first. (I had asked the friend about where he works, and he told me they were looking for someone to fill a recently opened position.) Unfortunately, I suspect an immediate start was the deal-breaker. If my boyfriend had started immediately, twice a week he would have to work Morning Job 6-2 then Evening Job 2:30-9.

          Reply
  15. Claire

    I’ve always just asked what the timeline is, and most times companies will give me a general sense of how many people they have left (IE “we still have a few people to talk to” or “you’re the last of five interviews” or “we’ll be interviewing through the rest of the week”). You get as much info as they’re willing to give you.

    Reply
      1. ClaireBear

        Sorry, I had forgotten about that until shortly after posting that comment! I’ll stick to calling myself ClaireBear. You can be Claire. :-)

        Reply
  16. seeking a new career opportunity

    I recently went on a job interview for Customer Service Representative. The person conducting the interview says we have several more to do and we will call you for a second interview with the owners. Leaving this interviewing feeling great, thinking I got this! A week went by and they never called, so I called them to follow up and she says we are still going threw the resumes, we had an overwhelming amount come in. You are still in the running, I will send you an email by Wednesday with the time for the second interview. Wednesday came and is gone! I really don’t understand it! I didn’t inquire on how many applicants there was!

    Reply
    1. some1

      I think you can assume you are still in the running, but the second interview is not a sure thing.

      If they are still going through resumes, that means they still want to see if there are any candidates they want to give a first interview, too.

      It’s also really, really common for employers to take longer than they say they will to make a hiring decision.

      If I were you, I’d keep searching for another job. If you find something else, great, and in the meantime this employer might get back to you after all.

      Reply
      1. seeking a new career opportunity

        I have been applying for other positions, nobody is calling me for an interview. I am looking to change career paths and I’m having a hard time doing it. I am looking for an opportunity that doesn’t have rotating shifts, nights and weekends. I want to finish my degree in Paralegal Studies. Not many people want to hire anyone that has done retail other than other retail industries.

        Reply
        1. Joey

          Shift work usually begets shift work. Its tough to break out of. Instead of trying to get away from all of those things maybe you look for shift work that’s more consistent. If retail encompasses the skills you offer Id consider manufacturing, a library or some other shift work that can lead to m-f 8-5. I can tell you that 1st shift m-f jobs are the most coveted and have the most competition. Its much easier to find say a steady 2nd shift job.

          Reply
          1. seeking a new career opportunity

            I have thought of that. Was hoping to be home early and more than what I am now. I miss out on so many things with my daughter. I would love to have the weekends to spend doing stuff as a family instead of one weekend. I’m gone by 7:30 am and not home until the same time at night if I open and when I close I don’t get here until 11:30 sometimes midnight. It takes me 45 minutes to an hour to get work and back. I’m feeling frustrated and stuck!

            Reply
            1. annie

              If its just a matter of having more normal hours, I’m not sure what kind of retail you are in or how big your city is, but I’ve noticed a lot of more boutique-y stores and smaller specialty retail shops have hours closer to 9-5. For example high end kids clothing stores, small gift shops, vintage furniture stores, etc. They’d probably still include rotating days and some weekends but you’d be home earlier – might be worth looking into some of those places.

              Reply
              1. Anonymous

                Hi Annie,
                I just looked online and there’s not many boutiques around me. Everything is open until 9. I did see a few bridal shops around here. I’m going to look into that.
                Thanks!

                Reply
  17. Felicia

    This isn’t a question I like to ask because then I just obsess about the people I’m competing with. Something I hate though which happens sometimes is when interviewers tell me how many people they’re interviewing. Like they say “we got 200 applicants and we’re only interviewing 10 people so we were really impressed with you.” I guess it’s kind of nice and they’re trying to compliment me but I don’t know what to say to it. Plus even if I was better than 190 other applicants, if I don’t get the job that doesn’t matter

    Reply
  18. Bobby Digital

    At the risk of sounding naive…how many people -are- usually interviewed for a single position? I know there’s no rule, but judging from some of the above comments, there must be customs.

    5 on average? 10?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Really depends on the position, but when I interview for junior to mid level positions, I usually do 12-15-ish phone interviews (sometimes more) and 4-5 in-person interviews. For more senior level positions, it’s usually more phone interviews and sometimes more in-person interviews. For very tricky senior positions, it can be a lot more, especially on the phone interview end.

      Reply
      1. Bobby Digital

        Thanks! For whatever reason, my guess would’ve been much, much higher. Also, the correlation between seniority and number of interviews would’ve been counter-intuitive, though it makes perfect sense.

        Reply
  19. Lindsay H.

    Missed it by that much! I

    was wondering the exact same thing for my interview yesterday. Normally I wouldn’t ask. I don’t know if it’s an “ignorance is bliss” or what. I liken it to dating. Until I’m your actual girlfriend, I don’t need to know about the other girls you’re taking to dinner.

    Anyway, the position I interviewed for I kept getting the feeling I was the only one being considered for it. I asked the HR manager (Side note: This is after three interviews and a year’s worth of time so I felt like it wasn’t a complete “who do you think you are?” situation with her.) She affirmed that I was the only one she had in mind for the role. My AAM sensibility knows it’s not official until my butt is behind a desk, but it was nice to know I wasn’t completely off in my feeling.

    Normally, I wouldn’t ask.

    Reply
  20. Christine

    I don’t ask, but I do find it interesting to know what the candidate pool looks like for my area/field when they volunteer the info. For example, I’m job hunting in part because my team is routinely understaffed, and I constantly work crazy amounts of overtime to help keep things going. I have been told that the candidate pool in my area/field is nonexistent and we can’t find many qualified applicants to staff at appropriate levels, but I’ve had interviews with 2 other area companies in the last year, who shared info that let me know they had a healthy candidate pool to pick from. It isn’t terribly relevant in the context of the interview, but I still find it interesting in the context of my situation. Even outside my situation, I don’t think it’s bad to know what one’s job microclimate is like.

    Reply
  21. Diane

    It’s different in academia, where this kind of information usually is useful and where for all its eccentricities, there are ways things are usually done.

    For example, years ago I was asked to fly out of state for an interview at my own expense. If I made it past round one, I’d have had to fly down for a teaching demonstration, and a third time to meet with the VP, all at my own expense. I asked how many candidates were being interviewed and how many were from out of state. They wanted to interview seven people, five of whom were in the same city, one who was in another part of the state, and me. My mentor said that many candidates indicated the college didn’t know what they wanted, they probably wanted to hire a local but had to look like they were doing a national search, and didn’t value candidates’ time or money.

    Reply
  22. Anty

    Could a better question be, ‘How many openings are there for this position?” That’s the question I use to estimate my chances.

    Reply

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