A reader writes:
I’ve just had my last interview for a new job in a very niche area. There aren’t many experts in this area — so chances are that I would know, or at least be familiar with, most of the other candidates. If they were competitive enough to get an interview, they are a probably a current customer or a competitor of the product I sell today.
If I get and accept an offer, do you think it would be weird or inappropriate to ask my new boss who the other candidates were? I’m not interested in patting myself on the back and gloating that I was chosen over anyone. Being hired is enough evidence in itself. And I also know that it’s possible someone more qualified than me might have turned it down for other reasons. In that case I’d be a second, but still good, choice. I’m comfortable with all of that. And anyway, chances are anyone turned down would still be a future customer, competitor, or other colleague in my new role. It’s the same thing if I’m not hired. I will continue to be a visible expert with niche knowledge and experience.
So professionalism and preserving my reparation are important here…I’m just curious who I was up against. What do you think?
I totally get why you’re curious, but I wouldn’t.
There are times when there’s good reason to ask a more narrow version of that question — for example, if you’re going to be managing people, it can be helpful to know if any of them applied for the job and are potentially upset that they didn’t get it (so that if you pick up any weirdness, you have some context for it).
But if it’s just because you’re curious, I’d skip it. There’s too much of a chance that your manager would feel uneasy about it and like you were asking her to violate someone else’s privacy. There’s not a ton of privacy attached to job applications (when you apply for a job, you usually have to accept that anyone in that organization may learn that you applied there), but your manager might rightly feel uncomfortable tipping you off that so-and-so is job-searching if your only reason for asking is curiosity.