Interview Question: "When Can You Start?"

Job Interview
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During job interviews, employers are likely to inquire about how soon you may be available to start work, especially if the position you're applying for is currently open and essential to the company’s operations.

This may be a question on a job application, too. Applicants are often asked what date they are available to start work if they were to be hired. The most common time frame for starting a new position is two weeks after you have accepted the job offer. That's because companies assume you will offer two weeks' notice to your current employer.

It is possible to negotiate a different start date if you are interested in starting sooner than two weeks (or later), have an employment contract that requires you stay for a longer period of time, or want to take time off before you begin a new position. Even though you don't have a job offer yet, it's a good idea to think about a tentative time frame for moving on if you get the position.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

First and foremost, the interviewer wants to know when you’ll be available to work. They’ll likely be hoping that you’re able to start sooner rather than later.

But, they’ll also pay attention to how you answer, not just when you’ll be ready for work. If you seem willing to leave your current employer high and dry, the interviewer will worry that you’ll do the same to your new employer, should you get the job. This is another reason why it’s best to give two weeks’ notice (or whatever is required by any employment contract).

© The Balance, 2018

How to Answer Interview Questions About When You Can Start Work

What should you do if your current employer wants you to stay longer? How about when you want to take some time off between jobs? There are several different options to choose from when you're discussing the start date of a new position.

When You Can Start Right Away: Generally, the best response is to convey a willingness to start work as soon as possible. The employer will be thrilled with your flexibility, and it will help ensure a smooth transition to the new role.

However, if you do have another job while you're in the application process for a new one, you need to be tactful with your answer. This type of question can be a mechanism to test your ethics. As such, avoid the temptation to say "tomorrow" if you're currently employed. If you do, your interviewer may wonder if you would do the same thing to their organization.

Providing very little or even no notice when you quit can leave companies in the lurch and make transitions painful. It can also jeopardize your chances of getting a good reference from your former employer.

If you’re out of work or if your current job is about to end, then, of course, it’s fine to tell the employer you can start immediately or as soon as they would like.

When You Need to Give Two Weeks' Notice (or More): You may have a commitment that requires giving an even longer notice. In that situation, if it's an option to use vacation days for training/orientation, let the prospective employer know about your availability.

Keep in mind that while you should offer a two-week notice, your current employer may offer you the option to leave earlier. It’s unlikely, but there are cases when an employee is told to leave right away once they give notice. If that happens after you’ve been hired, you could mention that you’re available to start earlier than you expected. Again, don’t mention any exceptions to the standard guidelines at this point in time.

When You Want More Time Off: Often, employees are eager to take some time off between jobs. You may want to take a vacation or need to relocate. If you need to relocate for the job, it's fine to inquire about what timing would work best for the company; after all, you'll need time to move to the new location.

Or, you may simply want to take some time to decompress, so you'll feel fresh and recharged on your first day in the new position. This scenario is a bit more challenging to navigate.

It’s not a good idea to share that information before you have a firm job offer. Instead, you can turn the question around and ask the interviewer about the preferred start date for the position. You may find that their time window is more flexible than you thought.

Overall, it's generally acceptable to indicate your need for an adjustment period as long you also express great enthusiasm for the job and some flexibility to accommodate the employer. And, you can always frame your response as beneficial to the employer, since a few extra days will leave you ready to hit the ground running.

Examples of the Best Answers

Under the terms of my contract, I’m obligated to give three weeks’ notice. However, I can start the next day, as soon as I’ve met that requirement. I’m eager to meet the rest of the team and get to work.

Why It Works: Your enthusiasm and desire to start ASAP are more than apparent in this answer. While the hiring manager might wish that you could start sooner, they’ll respect the fact that you’re loyal to your current employer. Remember that interviewers will assume that you’ll treat them the way you treat past employers. So, be positive even if you have gripes with the company or your contract. 

I can start right away, if that’s convenient for you. When are you hoping to have the team in place?

Why It Works: Any hiring manager will be delighted to hear that you’re available immediately. However, this answer doesn’t provide excessive detail about why you’re able to start right away. There’s no need to remind the interviewer that you’re unemployed, for example.

I’ll want to give the standard two weeks’ notice, of course, but then I’m ready to get started.

Why It Works: Again, hiring managers want to know that you’ll be loyal to their company and treat your new coworkers with consideration. This answer makes it clear that you won’t leave your team in the lurch.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Be flexible and accommodating. Your response to this interview question should address the employer’s needs. Thus, do aim to be as flexible and accommodating as possible in your answer. Avoid making it about you, even if you do have conflicts that will prohibit you from starting earlier.

Be honest. If you know you will need an extra week after your two weeks' notice and won't be able to start until three weeks after the job offer is accepted, be straightforward during the interview and application process. If you are not, you could start the job off on the wrong foot— with your manager feeling that you are dishonest.

What Not to Say

Don't give too many details. The interviewer doesn't need to know your full life story! No need to go into all the nitty-gritty details of your planned move, the honeymoon you have on the calendar, or the ins and outs of your contract with your current employer. You can simply say "I'll need to double-check the specifics of my current contract, but I'd certainly be eager to start right away" or "I do have a trip on the calendar in August, so we may need to schedule around that, but I'd be eager to start right away."

Avoid specific dates. Interviewers are more interested in a time range and your attitude. Unless this question is preceded by "We'd like to offer you the job," it's not a job offer! So, you do not need to give an exact date at this point — just let the interviewer know if you'd be able to start right away, in two weeks, or if you'll need a bit more time.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

BE FLEXIBLE: If possible, try to accommodate the employer’s needs.

BE HONEST: If you need more than the standard two weeks, be forthright about that fact when asked.

DON’T GIVE TOO MUCH DETAIL: There’s no need to get into the nitty-gritty about dates, etc., before receiving a firm job offer.