Do job-seekers know how much competition they face?

In some matching models of the labor market, a source of friction is that job-seekers do not know how many other workers are also applying (or will apply) to a job. The job-seeker cannot condition their application decisions accordingly e.g., they can not easily skip jobs that are over-subscribed and/or seek out jobs where the competition is thinner.

I was curious whether job-seekers do know anything about the count of other candidates even after they apply to a job, and if they do know, how did they know. If they don’t know the count of applicants even for jobs they apply to—or they only learn during the process—then it seems unlikely they know the application counts for jobs they did not apply to. I ran a little survey on MTurk last night asking 50 people the following question:

“The last time you applied for a job, did you know how many other workers the firm was considering, and if so, how did you know?”


A little more than 40% of the respondents reported knowing anything about the count of other applicants. Of those that knew, their reasons fell into basically three buckets: (1) the interviewer told them, at 42% (2) a friend or associate at the firm told them, at 32% and (3) they inferred it from something they observed, such as seeing an interview list, overhearing a phone call etc., at 26%.

The usual caveats about convenience samples aside, in a majority of cases, job-seekers did now know the count and never learned it. Among those that did learn but were not told by the firm, social connections to existing employees mattered. These connections seem to grease the hiring process with information at multiple points. The additional fact that a substantial fraction reporting being able to infer the count is (perhaps unsurprising) evidence that job-seekers do care about the count and try to infer it from whatever sources available. The raw data as a CSV & my R code for analyzing it is at:

Free text Responses by MTurk Respondents

  • Yes, because it was through school and I knew the particular amount of interview spots that were open.
  • Yes the last time I applied for a job they were considering two people. My friend that work there told me.
  • The last time I tried to apply for a job, I did not know how many people the firm was considering since it was a blind interview.
  • No, I had no idea. The only indication was I was not told anything other than they had “several” other people to interview. “Several” could mean anything, although I doubt they would interview more than 10-15.
  • I had no idea how many candidates were being considered for the position. I was only aware that the position was available.
  • no, I had no idea.
  • Yes, I knew how many because associate conducting the interview mentioned that there were two other applicants coming in for interviews in the coming days so the final decision would not come for a few day afterwards.
  • I knew of at least 2 because I overheard the interviewer talking on the phone while I was waiting.
  • I went to to a group interview, so I saw all of the other applicants.
  • No, I didn’t know how many other workers were being considered. It was not an open job process at all. It was a job where there were only a small number of positions in my area, and lots of people who were qualified and who would want it–so I assumed there would be a lot of competition. (I didn’t get it.)
  • Yes, the last time I applied for a job, I knew how many other workers the firm was considering, because it was an internship opportunity in which there was an information session held beforehand that told us how many applicants would be considered.
  • i had no idea how many they were considering/wasn’t disclosed to me
  • I only new a rough estimate of around 10-20 and that info came from the interviewer.
  • No I did not know how many other workers were being considered.
  • No, I did not know. Applications and resumes were submitted in person or through fax, any number of people could have been considered.
  • I knew the place where I was hired was considering one other person because I was working there in a temporary capacity at the time and someone gave me inside information.
  • The last time I turned in an application for a job I had no idea how many others were considered.
  • The last time I applied for a job I did not know how many other workers they were considering hiring.
  • Yes, I knew that there was one other person that the firm was considering because the office manager who was interviewing me told me so at the end of the interview. The office manager ended up offering me the job several days later after all because that first choice person did not accept the job when it was offered to her.
  • 3
  • I did know, but only after I was at the interview. I was told by the hiring manager how many candidates there were.
  • The firm was considering two other workers. The reason that I knew was that I over heard the interviewers talking after I completed my interview and left them room.
  • I was applying for a bank teller job and in their wanted ad they stated they were looking for 4 positions to be filled.
  • i am currently interviewing and the interviewers have indicated that there are 2-3 other candidates.
  • no unfortunately i do know know
  • Don’t know. They never like to give exact numbers.
  • Yes, I knew how many others were being considered.
    I had an acquaintance at the firm who checked the list and told me.
  • yes, word of mouth from people who worked there.
  • I knew how many were applying because I knew one of the people who worked inside the company. He was a very close friend.
  • Yes, four others, they told me.
  • I was unsure of how many other workers the firm was considering.
  • There were about 25 that were invited back for a second interview. It was down to me and the daughter of a lady who already worked there. The mother was screening the calls to make sure no one got through to speak to the department head looking for a secretary hoping her daughter would get the job. It just so happened my call came while someone else was on the switchboard for a few minutes and was not in on the call blocking plan. Long story short, I got the job and worked there 25 years. It was a great job with great benefits. I found out when I was working with the payroll department doing W-2’s and came across the folder of applications for my job.
  • Yes. The guy who interviewed me told me how many other applicants there were.
  • I was not aware of how many others were being considered for the position.
  • Yes, I knew how many other people were being considered because I had a friend who worked for the company. He was able to find out how many other candidates there were and he told me.
  • I did not know how many other workers the firm was considering.
  • Yes I was working for the job and they were expending and hiring from within.
  • No.
  • I did not know how many others the company was considering.
  • Yes, I knew how many they were considering, as my 2nd cousin was in charge of the hiring process.
  • No, I didn’t know.
  • I applied for an accounting job, five people applied. I knew because I was friends with the HR director. I didn’t get the position.
  • I did not know how many other workers the firm was considering. I did know that there were other applicants, as I was told they had to “interview more people”, but that was the extent of my knowledge.
  • Yes, I knew. It was for a civil service position and when interviews were given out I was sent a packet showing mine and the other interviewee’s time slots. It was intimidating seeing how many people I was competing against. I would have rather not known.
  • No.
  • The last time I applied for a position, I was unsure how many candidates the firm considered. I had received notification of other candidates, but not a specific number.
  • No I did not know, but i would assume at least twenty others
  • I didn’t know how many other people were being considered.
  • I did not know an exact number of how many other workers were being considered, but the hiring manager did advise me that they had several interviews to complete and would contact me when they were finished.
  • NO, when I applied for my last job I had no clue how many others where applying.