How to Answer “When Can You Start?” (With Examples)

By Sky Ariella - Oct. 10, 2020
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Many job applicants underestimate the importance of the “when can you start?” question from an interviewer. It can seem easier than it is.

Without preparation, you could be lured into giving an ambiguous answer, like “as soon as possible” or “immediately”. This has the potential to deter an interviewer. The purpose of this question is to find out if your needs and their start requirements will be compatible. Telling a hiring manager you can start immediately doesn’t do much to give them what they’re looking for.

While this question may not secure you a job you weren’t going to get, it absolutely can diminish an otherwise strong interview. Considering your response about your start date before an interview can impress a hiring manager with your preparedness, enthusiasm and respect for your current employer.

What the Interviewer Really Wants To Know

Asking a candidate about when they’re available to start the position is a way for an interviewer to not only learn more logistically but also to get a read on your consideration for your current position. Even a question that seems very direct, like this one, will display your strengths and weaknesses.

Employers often want applicants who are readily available to start the position soon. However, unless you are jobless, saying you can start immediately may come across as inconsiderate to your current job.

Interviewers evaluate your answer to see how you will behave as an employee, even on your way out of a position.

A hiring manager will commonly ask your start date to see how enthusiastic you are about the position. An applicant who hasn’t considered their start date or responds with over a month away may worry about an employer because it seems like you just aren’t excited about beginning the job.

On the contrary, an applicant who jumps in with an overeager answer can seem desperate to the interviewer. While excitement for the position is always a good look to have in an interview, desperation is not.

The main thing that the interviewer wants to know is a solid answer. This answer has to be a range of specific dates or an exact amount of time until you begin working if hired.

How to Answer Interview Questions About When You Can Start

The best way to answer the question of your earliest start date is by reviewing your situation and being straightforward, without sounding desperate or careless. Answering this question is a little different than any other in your interview because your answer needs to take into consideration your current employee, and that requires some forethought.

Perhaps, you’ve been unemployed on the job search for a while and need to start working sooner rather than later. Your answer in this circumstance would be very different than it would be in a situation where an employee is leaving a long-time position for this job offer and needs to train their replacement.

Think about your circumstance carefully, and decide on the range of your start date before the interview (preferably).

Examples of the Best Answers to “When Can You Start?”

  1. When You Want to Start Immediately

    Adaptability is a soft skill that employers greatly value, and being able to start as soon as possible can definitely solidify a good impression if articulated correctly. While being able to start immediately is often valued, if the interviewer knows that you’re currently employed somewhere else, it can make them think you’d be willing to leave their organization just as hastily.

    Offering two weeks’ notice to an employer is standard for most industries. Not providing it is unprofessional and will reflect poorly on your performance as an employee.

    If you are available to start right away because you recently graduated or don’t have a job currently, you can let them know that you may be available to start sooner than most. Keep in mind that blurting out a haphazard answer such as “right now!” may be unappealing to most interviewers.

    Example Answer

    This position sounds like a fantastic opportunity to utilize my computer skills. I’d be happy to start by the end of next week. I can make myself available anytime after October 13th.

  2. If You Need to Give Your Current Job Notice

    A hiring manager expects at least some candidates to be working in another position at the time of interview. If this is the case for you, let them know exactly how much time you’ll need to fulfill your duties before moving on. Two-weeks is a common time-frame, but try to give a specific range of dates for when you’ll be available.

    An interviewer is paying closer attention to your consideration for your current and former jobs in all your answers. Make sure that respect is conveyed in the time-line you provide.

    Example Answer

    I’d be thrilled if I was offered the position of a restaurant manager. At my current position, I would need to train a replacement and finish all my tasks. I’ve discussed it with them already, and two-weeks should be a sufficient amount of time. I should be available to start working the week of October 24th-30th.

  3. If You Need More than Two Weeks Notice

    Sometimes, the standard of two weeks is just not enough time before you can start a new job. Whether your current position will require more time to exit appropriately or you just want a few weeks to recharge before continuing the daily grind.

    Not all positions will be accepting of a start date that’s way off in the future, however, those jobs may not be for you. Put all your cards out on the table and tell them when your earliest start date is.

    If you need more than two weeks because that’s what your current position will require, let them know that. It will come across as responsible. However, if you’re just looking for more of a break between ending and starting a new job, it’s probably best to keep that reasoning to yourself and just give them your start date range.

    Example Answer

    I am very eager to begin working for your public relations company. My current company does have a policy of three-weeks notice, so I will need that time to respect our original agreement. I can be available as of November 1st.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Return the Question to the Interviewer. When being asked by an interviewer when you can start, it’s an instance where it’s appropriate to flip the question back to them. This can be helpful if you’re looking to take a few weeks off to decompress between jobs, as well as if you’re eager to start right away.

    Asking the interviewer when they would prefer you to start by also lets them know you’re willing to work around their needs, to the best of your abilities. While at other times during an interview it may be seen as avoidance to flip a question around, in this circumstance, it comes off as accommodating.

    It can be useful for you, as the applicant, to know when you’re expected to start by. It’s okay if you can’t start the exact day that they say, but it opens up question for discussion.

  • Don’t Assume It Means You Got the Job. Many candidates leave feeling like they’re definitely gotten the job after hearing “when can you start?”. Only to be disappointed later when it turns out this assumption was wrong. Don’t think that just because an interviewer asks this question it means you’re hired.

    Asking when you can start is a common interview question to gain insight on the applicant, regardless of if the interviewer is planning on making them a job offer. You still need to put just as much thought and effort into this question as you would any other.

  • Express your Excitement to Begin. While it’s best to steer clear of sounding desperate for the position, being excited to begin a new job is a completely different story. Interviewers look for candidates who exude enthusiasm for the position and are excited to start. These applicants stand out to hiring managers because they want employees who bring this passion to their organization.

    Even if you’re looking to secure a few weeks off between your current and new position, you should still articulate your start date with sincere excitement for the day to come.

What Not to Say

  • Don’t Give an Overwhelming Amount of Details. This isn’t a situational question like many of the others you may hear in an interview. Meaning that the answer you give should be more succinct than if they were asking you about a time you faced conflict or your greatest accomplishment. You don’t need as many details to answer this question as you might for others.

    The interviewer isn’t interested in all the mitigating factors that determine your start-date unless it involves a two-weeks notice requirement by a current job. Stay on topic and try not to bore them with irrelevant details.

  • Give a Start Date Range. While you probably have a good idea of the exact date you’d like to start, an interviewer is asking the question in order to collaborate on a start date that works well for both of you. After considering how much time you’ll need, give them a range of when you would be available to start working.

    Remember, asking about when you can start is not a job offer unless it has been explicitly stated as such. There’s no need to settle on an exact day right then and there. Giving a range of availability allows the interviewer wiggle room to decide on the best start date for the company once you are ultimately hired.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

There are many common questions that you should be at least a little familiar with before going into an interview. After asking about when you can start working, the hiring manager may continue with one or more of the following questions.

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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