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In the old days, getting through an interview was an ordeal. The path was filled with traps. You had to slalom between obstacles: a trick question here, a test there. Every element carried a significant risk that you would fall flat on your face. And to avoid being knocked out, you had to manage everything at once. When you thought you had finally reached the end of the track, the final trap came: “Are you pursuing any other opportunities?” Total panic! Whatever your answer, the risk of failure was high. Having other options threatened to keep you out of the recruiting process but not having any meant you risked losing the recruiter’s interest. In short, a dead end. Fortunately, according to industry professionals, interviews have changed. Today, whether or not you are pursuing several possibilities, you must manage the interview with transparency and motivation.
Are you pursuing any other opportunities? The other side of the question…
Marie-Agnès Deharveng, who has worked in recruitment for some time, says this question used to mean something else entirely to her. It was “the opportunity to get information . . . A sales approach on my end,” she said. Today, her role of talent manager at Early Metrics, a group that rates start-ups, has given her a new perspective. “When I ask this question in an interview, I want to know where the candidate is with their job hunt and whether I need to speed up the recruitment process or not,” she said. “The goal is simply to avoid missing out on a good candidate committed to another prospect.” She still asks it every time. That’s “because it lets me dig deeper into the background of the person in front of me, to better understand their state of mind and what motivates them,” she said.
Martin doesn’t have a background in recruitment, but as chief executive of a restaurant start-up, he has learned how to conduct interviews. With hindsight, there is no doubt, this question is essential, he says. “It’s a great way of getting information from a candidate,” he said. “In an interview, there are a lot of questions that will just get vague answers. With this question, it’s different. I see it as a way to break the ice. It can sometimes make the candidate uncomfortable, because it’s a test of authenticity and honesty. In fact, the answer says a lot about how the candidate has gone about their job search and how they are being received in the job market. Depending on whether or not they have other prospects––and more importantly, what kind they are––it lets me see if their application is focused or not and if there’s coherence in what they’re after.”
Marie-Laure Deschamp, a former HR development officer who now works in professional coaching, said, “It’s gone from an attempt to put you on the spot to a sincere and constructive dialogue.” Previously, the question could be difficult to handle, since it was part of a power struggle in which anything was to be expected including little white lies. That’s no longer the case: “By questioning the candidate in this way, the recruiter is trying to get a little insight into their job search. Whatever your situation, whether you have leads or not, you should assume that the recruiter is open and listening to your answer.”
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Bringing it up yourself? Bad idea
Do you have a job interview? Be confident. Go about it calmly, let yourself go along with the recruiter’s pace. It is likely that they will ask you this question sooner or later. Don’t bring it up yourself thinking it will work in your favour or speed up the process. Such an abrupt shortcut could be dangerous. “If I were being interviewed, I wouldn’t bring up this question myself,” said Deharveng. “As a recruiter, I’m suspicious when a candidate tells me right away that they’re pursuing several options. I get the impression that they are trying to stand out, that they have a big ego. In general, the more the candidate talks about this, the less focused they seem and the more dubious the prospect is.”
Martin has rarely encountered this phenomenon. “It could happen with someone with a sales-oriented character with the hopes of ‘closing the deal’, in other words, trying to evoke a feeling of urgency in the recruiter and pushing them to make an offer,” he said. “If it’s done in a subtle way, why not? But, more often than not, it’s counterproductive. The recruiter could get the impression that they’re not your first choice. And if the candidate brings it up as if they’re proud of the fact, it could come across as arrogant.”
So keep in mind that bringing up your other interviews or opportunities without being asked is a bad idea. Deschamp also advises against it. “If the recruiter doesn’t ask you the question, don’t bring it up yourself. They might think you’re trying too hard and, on top of that, recruiters know well that a candidate can say anything,” she said. So what if you do have several prospects? “That would put pressure on them,” she said. “If they opt not to ask this question, it means they’ve got their reasons.”
Learn more about: Prepare for an interview
Several prospects? Be honest and transparent!
“Recruiters know very well that at the beginning of a job search some candidates embellish their CVs, cast a wide net, then narrow it down,” Deharveng said. “So it’s completely normal to be pursuing other opportunities. What the recruiter is interested in is what the candidate has to say about them. I will, of course, dig deeper when other prospects are brought up. I want to know if they’re at the beginning, middle or end of their job search to figure out where I stand.” The goal is not to trick you or pull the wool over your eyes, but to figure out the timing. If they are interested in you as a candidate, they need to know whether you will be interested or if you’re following through with another opportunity.
And what if you feel really strongly about another prospect? “I’d rather be told,” the HR Manager said. “It lets me dig into what their motivations are and to know if my offer could make a difference. An interview is a dialogue, no more no less. We’re getting to know one another and reassuring each other that our respective expectations line up.” Don’t hold back, be frank, she adds. “Answering honestly is the only way to find a job that truly matches your expectations. This lets the recruiter know what the candidate knows about the position. And, when the working conditions are more or less the same, they are looking to know what they prefer and why.”
Meanwhile, if you have other opportunities but you want to stay in the running, you’ll have to be clever about it. “It’s fine to say where you are in the recruitment process,” she said. “But try to keep a focus on your interest in the position.” Don’t start off thinking that you will show them that they are not your only possibility, but instead focus on explaining what interests you most about the job you are interviewing for. “This is an opportunity to talk about your motivations and to explain why, to date, you prefer this position over another,” said Deschamp.
Following through seriously on a lead? Be clear about it!
You’ve gone through a ton of interviews, have reached the end of a hiring process and have been offered a job. Don’t beat around the bush with the recruiter. “Be honest,” said Deschamp. “Be straightforward and explain that the job in question has grabbed your attention. But don’t close the door. Keep the dialogue open.” You could say, for example, “Do you think that your offer could match my other offer?” or even, “Is such a role possible in your company?” If, on the other hand, you have a prospect that you expect to come through but has not yet been finalised, be careful. “Send an email at the end of the interview to restate that you are interested in the job,” said Deschamp. “You still have the possibility, in the following days, to send a message to say: ‘I wasn’t expecting it to happen, but I got a job offer, but I’m still interested in the position with your company. What’s going on with it on your end?’ ”
Competing opportunities: slippery terrain?
In certain fields, candidates can boast of having an embarrassment of riches when it comes to potential roles. Their very select profile affords them so many possibilities that it is difficult to select one in particular. They can find themselves in a process with two competing companies. “Getting into this question about other options will provide additional information,” according to Martin. “I want to know which types of business––start-ups or large companies––the candidate has applied to and in which field. But I never ask directly if they have applied for a post with a competitor. It’s too intrusive and it can make the candidate feel uncomfortable. What I look for is the relevance. Are their applications focused and coherent?”
Is a competing offer necessarily slippery terrain? “As far as I’m concerned,” the HR manager said, “it’s not a problem. On the contrary, it’s going to reassure me. I’ll think that I’ve found a good CV, a sought-after talent. I prefer to be told truthfully. It’s the chance for me to ask the candidate, in their opinion, how our company can make the difference. And, if they interest me, I can speed up the steps.” What’s important for the recruiter is knowing if you have a preference for another opportunity and how far along you are with it. So this information won’t be a determining factor.
No other prospects? It’s a matter of preparation…
You don’t have any opportunities? These things happen. But just thinking about that question from the recruiter makes you shiver. You might think: “After all, working in a little lie never killed anyone.” Well, that’s not what recruiters say. A sincere question requires an honest answer. “The recruiter’s role is to put the candidate at ease so they can speak confidently,” said the HR manager. “If they do their job well, the candidate will not feel like they have to embellish their situation. They will stand out because of their authenticity. A candidate who is comfortable can say that they have no other prospects at this time. I am certain that this is never taken as a bad sign!” This situation can be explained in many ways: you may have refused offers that did not meet your expectations; you may have come close in a recruitment process that didn’t work out; you may be employed and pursuing few positions; or you may be at the very beginning of your job search.
“It’s actually quite rare for someone to have no other prospects,” said Martin. “I’ve recently found myself in this situation. The person told me very simply and I appreciated their sincerity. I wanted to know why they didn’t have any. In fact, they had only been looking for two weeks, so their situation was quite understandable. When you don’t have anything serious, it’s better to simply say it. This avoids the neutral response: ‘I have other possibilities’, which is often accompanied by a candidate’s closed-off attitude. On the contrary, this honest and frank answer is a good thing.”
Whatever your reasons for not having any other options at this time, you should not be ashamed of them. After all, being on an atypical track means you are different from other candidates. “There’s always an explanation,” the coach said. “What you need to do is anticipate the question and prepare your answer. Maybe you’re one of those people who have valuable skills but who can’t sell themselves well in an interview? Then say so. The recruiter is not looking to tick off boxes on a piece of paper. They’re looking for a candidate with a personality that matches the position.” At its core, the interview is a conversation.
When going through the recruitment process as a candidate, you need to be flexible. If you go into an interview filled with fear, assuming that it’s a dangerous exercise and that the recruiter is there to trick you, it is more likely to go badly. If, on the other hand, you approach the interview calmly and honestly, this question should not pose any great difficulty. Stay focused on your needs and be the master of your own path, the rest will come naturally.
Translated by Kalin Linsberg
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