“When can you start working?” is a common question that gets asked in job interviews. But despite this, there’s a lot of misinformation about the right way to approach your answer.
This guide will teach you how to develop a great response to this question and keep the interview process moving in the right direction.
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How to Answer “When Can You Start?”
A question like this seems simple but requires thought and ample preparation to answer effectively. Contrary to popular belief, hearing “When can you start working?” during a job interview doesn’t always mean you got the job. You still need to deliver a thoughtful and strategic response.
Here’s how you do it.
1. Think of Your Potential Employer
Interviewers want to know when you can start to better understand your availability and how quickly you can begin onboarding. But it’s not just about you. Your potential new employer has hiring needs, too.
One of the most important things to consider when developing an answer is how urgent filling this role is for the company. Does the hiring manager need to bring someone on immediately, or is there some wiggle room?
If the organization needs to hire someone quickly, saying that you need a couple of months to tie up loose ends can harm your chances of getting a job offer. Why would the decision-makers choose you over a candidate who can start working next week?
Review the job posting that initially caught your attention. Look for any indicators of hiring urgency. Some listings will say that the company prefers candidates who can start working immediately. Others may provide a specific date range of when they hope to bring a new person into the role.
Remember those details and consider what’s feasible for you when developing an answer. Generally, if there are no remarks about urgency on the job listing, it’s safe to say that you can focus more on your needs.
However, pay attention during the interview. The interviewer or hiring manager may say something that implies urgency. You can also ask outright about when they hope the candidate can start. Any information you gain can help you create a mutually beneficial answer.
2. Determine If You Need A Break
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a little time off. Starting a new job can be stressful, there’s a lot to learn, and many people need time to decompress between gigs. That’s fine, and most hiring managers will understand.
You may want to take a couple of weeks to readjust, go on vacation, or spend time with your family. Whatever the case, that time off can do a lot to ensure you’re getting the support you need and can transition to a new job effectively.
If you want to take time off, make that decision before you go into an interview. The last thing you want is to realize after you answer this question that you need a breather. Go into your interview knowing how much time you want to take off.
Of course, keep the company’s needs in mind. Hiring managers are less likely to accept a transition period if the position is urgent.
Make your desire to take time off known in your response. Being honest and upfront is the best policy, but make sure you show enthusiasm about the opportunity.
3. Make Sure You’re Not Overlooking Any Misc. Conflicts
Remember to consider conflicts and prior engagements before you head into your interview. Going through a round of interviews and getting to a point where it feels like you may get an offer is exciting. However, don’t let that excitement make you overlook things in your life that will change when you can start.
For example, maybe there’s a big family reunion coming up. Or, you need to be available for a few days to help an elderly relative move. Failing to acknowledge those personal matters could cause headaches later. The goal is to go into your interview knowing when you can start.
Look at your calendar and consider the impact your starting date could have on your family.
If you’re interviewing for a job that requires relocation, consider the time it’ll take for your family to move. That’s a big transition that takes time.
You must remember all of those small details and personal responsibilities. Don’t say that you can start immediately without thinking about potential conflicts.
4. Demonstrate Your Willingness to Be Flexible
One way to stand out from other candidates is to emphasize your flexibility. Being a flexible employee is always a good trait, and showing your willingness to find a start date with this potential employer that works with their timeline is a great way to leave a lasting impression.
Of course, you must consider every factor affecting a potential start date. Conflicts in your personal life and the need to take some time off are important. But if you have some wiggle room, bring it up!
Indicating that you’re willing to adjust and find a mutually beneficial start date goes a long way. Many job-seekers treat this question like there’s a right and wrong answer. That’s usually not the case!
Hiring managers appreciate it when candidates ask for feedback and turn this question into a genuine discussion. Ask about the employer’s needs, discuss any barriers affecting your start date, and work together to find something that works for everyone.
5. Go with a Time Range
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to provide a specific date when you can start working. That will come later if you get a job offer. When this question arises during an interview, giving a time range is better.
Ultimately, you don’t know where you are in the hiring process. You don’t know if you’re getting a job offer, when the hiring manager will decide on a candidate, or when the company will start moving to bring a new employee in. Without that information, you can’t provide a definite date.
Many think that saying, “I can start tomorrow,” is the best approach. However, most interviewers will see that as a lack of consideration for your career or desperation. Plus, it’s an unrealistic answer because you don’t know when the hiring process will end. Things can also change, and providing a concrete date will only push you into a corner.
Consider saying that you can start X number of weeks or months after getting a job offer. That provides interviewers with all the necessary information without committing to a specific date.
6. Keep Your Answer Brief
There’s no need to turn your reasoning into a long, drawn-out response. Keep it short and to the point.
Specific discussions about your start date will come if you get a job offer. But if “When can you start working?” gets asked during the interview, it’s best to state your reasons, express flexibility, and move on. Interviewers may ask for more details, but there’s no need to go into details at this point.
Keep your answer relatively short and spend more time on questions that require lengthier explanations. You have limited time to sell yourself during your interview, and your response to this question should be high on the priority list. Deliver a strong answer that checks off the boxes, and save the details for when you get an offer.
7. Practice Your Answer Before Your Interview
Finally, rehearse your answer before you head into your interview. Talking about when you’re available to start can be a bit tricky if you’re not prepared.
The goal is to know when you can start and what other responsibilities you must take care of before you begin a new job. Whether that’s personal time off to decompress or family obligations, knowing your true availability makes a difference.
Get comfortable delivering your response confidently. Express enthusiasm, make your adaptability known, and provide a realistic timeline to give hiring managers a better idea of when you can start working.
Employed vs. Unemployed: Should Your Approach Change?
Your answer can differ based on your current employment status. Generally, your approach for talking about when you can start working can remain the same whether you’re unemployed or still at a job you want to leave. However, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind.
If you’re employed, you must consider the needs of your current company. No matter how eager you are to get out and start a new chapter in your career, you need to remember your commitment to your current employer. The standard is to give employers a two weeks notice before you leave.
Therefore, you must remember that professional courtesy when considering any time off you want to take or personal matters that will affect your start date for a new job.
You might feel as if you can leave immediately. But doing so will harm you in more ways than one.
First, it’s not a great look for your current employer. Despite how you feel about the job and company, you don’t want to burn any bridges. Leaving suddenly could result in you developing an unprofessional reputation.
You don’t want to damage your reputation with your former employer. They could be your references or play some part in future job searches. Keep things professional and provide as much notice as possible.
It’s also important to wrap things up at your current job. Take care of any outstanding projects and do your part to help prepare replacements. It’ll make your transition much easier!
Leaving without much notice to your current employer will also reflect poorly on you with potential employers. Even saying you’re willing to start working tomorrow can harm your chances. If you’re willing to do that now, what does that say about what you’ll do in the future?
Hiring someone willing to suddenly leave an employer is a huge risk. Give your current employer the courtesy to show that you’re professional through and through.
So what about if you’re unemployed? No matter how long you’ve been waiting for a job offer, resist the urge to say that you can start immediately. There are a couple of things wrong with those responses.
The biggest issue is that it implies desperation or makes it seem like you’re willing to accept the first offer that comes your way. Employers don’t like that because they prefer to hire people who give job opportunities the consideration they deserve.
Keep in mind, you may have other interviews in play and may need time to get the offer. You want to bake in some time to account for such possible offers.
Another issue is that it hurts your bargaining power. When you look desperate, you don’t have much room to negotiate your compensation package. So even if you’re unemployed, avoid the “I can start tomorrow” cliche.
Instead, provide a time frame of at least a week to prepare.
There are many ways to answer “When can you start working?” It seems simple, but delivering a solid response makes a big difference. Here are a few examples to guide you in the right direction.
In our first example, the candidate provides a realistic response. They show flexibility while putting their professionalism on full display.
“I’m currently still employed and would like to give my company at least two weeks’ notice. I’d like to extend that courtesy and take care of my remaining responsibilities. But after that, I’d be ready to start working for your company.”
Our next example is from a candidate who wants to take some time off. Stating that you need a little time can be daunting, but this response shows that you can do it confidently while still showing enthusiasm and adaptability.
“I can start about four weeks after receiving a job offer. I’d like to give my current employer enough notice of my departure and attend to a few personal matters to ensure this transition goes smoothly. What kind of timeline works for your company?
I have some flexibility, so I’m eager to work with you to find a suitable start date if you offer me this position.”
Our final example also asks for a few weeks off. In this case, the candidate needs to relocate, so they ask for a bit longer than most would ask for. It works because it’s a realistic timeline that hiring managers understand candidates will need.
“I’m looking forward to contributing to this team. It feels like the perfect fit, and I’m excited at the prospect. However, I would need to relocate my family. With two young children, I will need several weeks to transition to this city.
Ideally, I’d like to start six weeks after getting an offer. But I do have some flexibility there. What timeline do you have in mind?”
“When can you start working?” is an interview question that requires more thought than many job-seekers anticipate. But despite this, answering it shouldn’t be intimidating.
Simply follow the steps above, spend some time practicing, and you’ll make a great impression.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.