Ask The Work Buzz! Tricky interview question

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helpFrom Violet: During an interview, I’ve been asked “Do you have any other pending offers?” Why do interviewers ask this, and what is the best response? Generally, I don’t have actual offers on the table, but may be in the interviewing process with other companies when asked this question.

I suspect most job seekers want to hear, “Because interviewers are mean people just playing mind games with you!” That’s not likely true, however. Interviews are full of these questions that make you question the other person’s motives. Then you start wondering what you should be saying. In a split second, you’re calculating the pros and cons of each potential response. If you don’t get the job, you’re left wondering if that answer ruined your candidacy.

The first thing to remember is that no one can be certain why an interviewer asks anything other than the reviewer. His or her motives and desired answers are only known to the interview. Frustrating, but true. But look at it this way: They’re also trying to decode your answers, too. Sometimes, this question is just the start of a line of inquiries that reveal what they’re after.

But often there are clear indicators of what the interviewer’s questions is getting at. Here are some possibilities.

  • Earnest curiosity.
    Giving interviewers the benefit of the doubt here: They want to know what they’re dealing with. Their ultimate goal is to hire someone, but until you’ve signed on the dotted line, they’re playing a waiting game just as much as you are. Their first choice might decline and accept another offer. Or maybe that person was just practicing interviewing and had no intention of taking the job. So in this instance, they just want to know how things might line up. If you’re the first choice, but you’re courting other offers, they want to be prepared to seriously consider someone else if you decline.
  • Testing your desire for the job.
    This isn’t quite as sinister as it sounds. Some employers want to know how badly you want the job. If you’ve got two other offers lined up but you’re still interviewing, maybe this proves you want this job more than the others. Or maybe you’re trying to get a counteroffer to take to those employers. Don’t be surprised if the next question asks why you haven’t accepted the other offers or when you’ll make your decision or what the positions are.
    This is what’s so frustrating about the process. You’re thinking, “If I say I have other offers but this is my first choice, do I sound desperate or passionate?” And the answer is: It’s all about how they perceive your response. Some interviews might think you’re just searching for a paycheck; others will think you’re keeping other offers at bay because you really want this one. If you mention that you have several offers and each one seems to be a radically different job, and perhaps they go against some of the career goals you mentioned in the interview, then you’ll sound like someone looking for a paycheck, not a career.
  • Testing your reaction to the question.
    This one’s a little trickier, but some questions that come at you are just to see how you handle them. Do you have a quick and believable response? Are you flustered and obviously lying? Can you maintain composure or do you panic and start to weep? Some employers ask mind benders to assess your reasoning skills. Others ask this question to gauge your ability to think and act quickly.
  • Fact finding.
    Some employers like to understand the behavior of the people who interview with them. They simply want to know if job seekers are actively looking to be part of their company or just stumble upon the position. They might even ask where you’ve applied so they know who their competition is. It’s not really about you in this case; it’s all about them.
  • A combination of the above.
    Sometimes it’s all or some of the above reasons. Maybe the interviewer wants to know how badly you want this job and is also judging how well you handle the question. Or they want to know if they need to have back-ups ready to go and knowing about your other offers gives them an idea as to why their most desired candidate is choosing someone else.

Like most interview questions, there’s no certainty. Based on interviews I’ve gone on, expert opinions I’ve read, and even friends’ anecdotes, you can only make educated guesses at this because everyone has a different experience. The bottom line here is to answer how you’re most comfortable. I don’t condone lying, but I also know several people who feel that this question isn’t anyone’s business and are offended when it’s asked. I know someone who said (and I paraphrase), “I’m looking to leave my current job to find something more fulfilling, so I am interviewing at multiple places. But I assure you I’m not wasting your time or mine interviewing for positions I don’t want.” Again, how the employer reacts is anyone’s guess, but you want to make sure you’re comfortable with the answer you give so that you don’t regret it down the road.

Readers, if you’ve been in this situation, how did you handle it? What was the result?

20 Comments
  1. I like to answer these kind of questions with this method:

    1. Give a nugget – “Offers pending…not to that stage yet…”

    2. Pitch it back at them – “Why do you ask?”

    If you look them directly in the eye and smile when you say it, you’ll almost always get them to tell you what’s behind the question.

    And you’re right in your post – there’s always more to the question than what’s on the surface.

    Great post!

  2. I’ve said, “yes,but I really would like to work for you, that is why I came to the interview today, I really like the effort this company puts out and really respect it.”

    I’ve had many interviews and even panel interviews. Some I get the job, some I don’t. The panel interview I did though!

    I guess just gauge it out, figure out how much you want to work for that company, be honest, because they read the classifieds too and know what their competitors are up to. Just don’t mention you got or had an interview with a competitor…

  3. Thanks for posting this — it’s all really useful information. I have an interview Friday so it’s good to have an idea of what might be going on inside the interviewer’s head.

    And while I’m on the topic of my interview, I’ve been thinking of getting a new suit at SYMS seeing as I’ve had the same one for 5 years…good idea? I hear they have really good discounts on designer suits…

  4. Transition essentials is a new service established for people whose companies haven’t paid for outsourcing and don’t want to have money to waste on expensive career counseling. We cover everything from resume writing, job searching, networking, interviewing (like behavioral interview questions mentioned above) to getting a offer. An intensive one day workshop for $100 can help prepare you for todays competitive market. Check out our website http://www.trasistionessentials.com. Dates scheduled for Auburn Hills coming up.

    • i reply with a “NO” I have never been fired but i was asked to leave a company i worked for because i would not  Lie to one of the corporate contracts that the company had when i was asked to lie about something that they would eventually have found out about.. I will go beyond the call of duty with any company I work for but i wil not lie to anyone that i see on a regular basis, who would eventually find out about the lie, then i would lose all integrity that the company had in me at the beginning. Thus, i became unemployed because i was forced to make a decision in disobeying my employer and keeping my integrity intact. sorry folks but no job is worth that kind of misery and further more i would never want to work for any one or any company that  lies to their clientele to make a buck..  It’s just not worth it..

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  11. I’ve been on both sides of the hiring desk.

    I think that an interviewer might ask this question for a variety of reasons. In the current job market, it’s sometimes asked to get a feel for how low a salary they might be able to get away with, unfortunately. A candidate who’s only talking with one company and who is currently unemployed might be less expensive than candidate who is currently employed and who’s in the final stages of negotiation with several firms.

    I’ve also seen it asked as a potential guage of how interested the candidate is in that particular role. More in the old days than today, but still somewhat today, if someone was employed and NOT in discussions with other employers, it typically said that something about that potential role or employer was really attractive to that candidate. And even today, as another poster said, if you’re talking with several companies, but state that you’re really most interested in this role, it helps indicate that you’re looking for more than just a paycheck. In that case, it helps to state WHY this role or employer is most interesting to you.

    I recently did this. With a full-time offer on the table, as we batted the package back and forth, I interviewed for a 9-month consulting slot that would be placed at the same company. I wasn’t sure that the full-time role was the best one for me, and the consulting slot was a similar position for a different department. Being unfamiliar with the company, I preferred the opportunity to go in as an expert-for-hire and take a look around, learn the people, learn the business, and then make a decision as to which (if any) role there was best suited for my skills.

    Yes, I got the consulting gig. And yes, I had to tell the parallel department that I was no longer interested due to accepting the consulting gig. How to explain this is left as an exercise for the reader, as what worked well for me might not work for everyone.

  12. How to answer the “have you ever been fired?” question, that depends on why you were terminated.

    Me, I will frankly state that I was terminated from a position early in my career for refusing to promise to lie in court about some objective facts related to a former employer’s business practices. Of course, the company phrased the reason as “failing to obey a direct order from a superior”, but I preferred risking my job to engaging in the requested illegal behavior. And I always add, thank goodness that that situation hasn’t come up again, because it’s a tight spot to be put into as an employee.

    If I had been the one acting illegally and was terminated for it, I’m not sure how I’d answer it.

    If I had been terminated for simply not succeeding on the job (this rarely happens in business any more, they call it a layoff instead), the answer would probably look like, “The needs of the business changed significantly and the role I was in no longer fit my skills. Given that, and the lack of suitable positions elsewhere in the company, they let me go,” or “The position ended up having very different responsibilities from what I’d understood from 8 hours of interviews, and although I worked hard to meet their expectations, they didn’t have time for the learning curve. Ever since then, I’ve done much more due diligence during interviews to learn about the role for which I was interviewing.” IE, indicate where I fell short, and explain why it would no longer be an issue.

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