“When can you start?” may seem like a simple interview question, but if handled incorrectly, how you answer could cost you the position.
So, like any of the most common interview questions, it’s best to prepare ahead of time.
But what’s the best way to answer? I’ll go over some tips so you know what to say and what not to say. I’ll also give you example answers you can use for different situations to help you better prepare for your next interview.
The best way to answer, “When can you start working?” is to be truthful and clear while providing the employer the soonest possible date that you could realistically and comfortably start the job.
You don’t want to commit to a start date that will put your current employer in a tough spot, but you also want to give yourself adequate time to wrap up any existing commitments, provide your current employer with two weeks’ notice if needed, and prepare to start your new job.
You also shouldn’t burn any bridges. However, your potential new employer likely has a date they’d like you to start by, and if you’re unable to accommodate that they might look to another candidate.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider, so let’s look at some specific scenarios below to help you prepare the best answer possible for your situation.
While it might be tempting to say you can start immediately, a hiring manager won’t look favorably upon you if you’re willing to leave your current employer without any notice. So if you have a job, say you’re available to start after your notice period with your current employer ends.
Never leave for a new position without giving your current employer proper notice. Doing so may also jeopardize your chances of getting a positive reference from that employer in the future, and it also won’t look great to your next company.
As a former recruiter, I would think poorly of a candidate willing to leave their current job without a notice, even if it meant they could start right away at the new position.
Even if you’re unemployed, you still shouldn’t say you’re available to start the next day. Saying you’re able to start immediately implies that either this job is your first choice, or that your job search isn’t going very well. This will hurt your negotiating power if you receive a job offer.
So if they ask in your interview about a potential start date and you’re not currently working, I’d still recommend saying you’d need one week to prepare yourself.
Make sure your prospective employer knows you’re willing to work with them to try and accommodate their timeline. After providing your answer, you can ask if that fits their timeline, and you can tell them that you’re willing to discuss and adjust based on their needs.
So you don’t need to provide an answer and just hope they like it. That’s one of my favorite pieces of interview advice in general; it’s okay to ask the interviewer for feedback and have a real discussion, instead of simply answering a question and then waiting silently for the interviewer to ask the next one.
If you know for sure you need to give two or three weeks’ notice before starting your new job, be honest about it. You don’t want to say you can start immediately and then have to backtrack after you’re offered the job. In general, it’s best to be honest in your interview answers, and it’s especially true when they ask when you can begin working.
During the job interview process, employers are just looking for a time range. You don’t have to agree on a date until you actually receive an offer. You can simply say, “I’m able to begin my next job two to three weeks after being offered a position. Does that fit with the timeframe you have in mind?”
There’s no need to give specific details about why you can’t start a job right away. They don’t need to know your life story, just a rough estimate of when you’ll be ready to begin work. After an official offer is made, you can provide the interviewer with more detail and close in on the exact date you want to start.
Most jobs expect you to give at least two weeks’ notice. However, some may require more. If that’s the case it should be in your contract. Make sure you know exactly how much notice you need to give before committing to a start date with your new company.
If there’s nothing in your current contract around giving notice then two weeks is the standard. Hiring managers expect you to give some notice and will have no issue with you asking for two weeks.
Starting a new job is exciting, but don’t get ahead of yourself. Wait to give notice until you have a job offer in writing. Make sure you’re happy with it and everything you agreed upon is included before breaking the news to your current employer.
There are a number of situations you might find yourself in during your job search. You may be currently employed, you could be out of work, or you might need to relocate. Each of these scenarios will require a different answer.
Below are a few examples of how to answer this question during an interview:
I’d like to give my current employer two weeks’ notice to ensure a smooth transition. After that, I’ll be ready to get started.
Why it’s a good answer: It shows you respect your current employer enough not to leave them high and dry. It also conveys that you’re excited to start your new job.
As per the terms of my current employment contract, I’m obligated to provide three weeks’ notice. Once I’ve fulfilled my obligation, I’ll be available to start.
Why it’s a good answer: It shows you’re eager to get started but makes it clear that you’re unwilling to break your employment agreement.
I’m currently working on an important project and I don’t want to leave my teammates in a bad spot. I’ll need to give [number of weeks] notice to ensure a smooth transition. After that, I’ll be happy to join your team.
Why it’s a good answer: It honestly describes your current situation and shows you’re a team player.
I would be happy to start at the beginning of the following work week after I receive a job offer.
Why it’s a good answer: It lets the employer know you’re able to start soon but doesn’t come across as overly desperate.
I’m available to start as soon as I’m needed. When are you hoping to have the position filled?
Why it’s a good answer: In some cases, the company needs someone immediately. If you know that’s the case then by all means let them know you’re available. This answer works because it conveys you can start right away without providing too many details.
Since I’ll be relocating, I’ll need [number of weeks] to leave my current job and get situated in [city].
Why it’s a good answer: If you’re interviewing for a job in another city or state, the hiring manager will expect you to need some time to relocate. It’s best to just be clear about how much time you require.
As you know, I’ll be relocating from [city]. What timeline do you have in mind for someone who’s relocating?
Why it’s a good answer: You may be unsure how much time you’ll need, or how quickly you’re expected to be available for the job. By simply asking them you can see when they’d like you to start and determine whether that works for you.
I’d like [insert timeframe] to get my affairs in order, but I’m willing to be flexible if you need me to start sooner.
Why it’s a good answer: It honestly conveys that you’ll need some time before beginning work, but it also lets them know you’re willing to be flexible.
When were you hoping to have someone in place?
Why it’s a good answer: Many employers won’t have a problem sharing when they’d like to have the position filled by. Their timeline might be longer than you expect and will allow to you take the time you need before transitioning into your new role.
After you give your answer the interviewer may reveal that they were hoping to fill the position sooner.
First of all, don’t panic. Your start date is negotiable and in most cases, a company will be willing to adjust the schedule for the right person.
If you find yourself in this situation you have a few options:
Remember, there will always be other job opportunities. If you can’t come to an agreement about when you should start then the job likely isn’t for you.
Also, if they’re pressuring you to start right away without giving your current employer ample notice they’re probably not a company you want to work for.
As you advance through your interviews, you can almost guarantee you’ll be asked when you could potentially start, so make sure you know what you should and shouldn’t say, and then have the right answer ready.
The best way to handle interview questions about your availability is to prepare for them ahead of time. So consider your current contract and notice required by your employer, plus your personal obligations and schedule, and then provide an honest answer to this question. You’ll be more likely to win the job if you’re ready with a clear, direct answer.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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