“So, Where Else Are You Applying?”

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Picture this: You sit down for a job interview at a fairly prominent startup that builds mobile apps. Midway through the allotted hour, the interviewer asks you: “So, where else are you applying?”

Among all the potential landmines that await your average job candidate during an interview, this is a big one, because there are a number of wrong answers. Sure, you could say, “I’m not really applying anywhere else,” but even if you modify that with something like, “because I’m only interested in this company and its mission,” you might have a hard time convincing the interviewer that you’re telling the truth. Most serious job-seekers apply for a great many positions, and take a handful of interviews, even if they have their eye on one or two companies in particular.

If the interviewer buys your “I’m only applying here” answer, and the company decides to offer you a job, it might take a harder line in salary negotiations. “Why would you not take this offer?” the hiring manager might declare. “It’s not like you have offers from anywhere else.” Things could get awkward.

On the flip side, telling the interviewer that you’ve applied to lots of companies, and then naming those companies, can likewise backfire. Whether or not it’s the truth, telling a smaller company that Google and Apple are about to engage in a bidding war for your skills is a good way to kill any potential job offer, because no employer wants to get into a round of salary one-upmanship with a major corporation.

Your best course of action: Say that you’re exploring other positions that would prove a good match for your skills (without dropping any company names), but follow up with a sentence or two about how much you like what the interviewer’s company is doing in the space.