3 Ways to Answer "When Can You Start?"

a picture of business person and date available for work

Interviewers are going to ask you, “When can you start?” or “What’s the date you’re available for work?” Here’s the great news about this question being asked of you by the interviewer or HR manager, it means that most likely you got the job. There are many times during interviews that we aren’t exactly sure whether or not the job will be given to you. There could have been signs that the interview went poorly and then there could be signs the interview went well. This question is one of the signs that the interview went well.

Usually, this question is asked in anticipation of a job offer being accepted. In your employment agreement, which is normally sent by the HR department head or your manager directly, it will contain a start date. For the company to get you a contract to sign, they need to know the answer to this question.

It can be difficult to answer this question because you might be thinking to yourself that you have to leave your other job first. Or maybe that you want some time off before you begin the new position. Or maybe that after interviewing, you really aren’t interested in this position, and you want to withdraw yourself from the interview. All three of those reasons are incredibly valid. But we have to navigate this interview question with those factors in mind.

When You Are Interested In The Position And Want To Start Right Away

If you want to start right away, then you’ll first have to consider how soon you can leave your last job. You’ll want to provide them at least two weeks' notice so that you don’t burn a bridge. And you’ll also want to make sure you are available to the new employer for any training or onboarding that they may want to do with you.

Using vacation or sick days can help you in your current role. And be sure that you sign your employment agreement with the new company before you put in your two-weeks notice at your last position. This will help to make sure that nothing goes wrong in the hiring process with the new company before you quit your other job.

An example answer when these factors are the case would be:
I’m interested in starting right away. This job is of the utmost importance to me. I do have a prior commitment to my old position. But I would like to sign the employment agreement with you as soon as possible, set a date that’s most convenient for your team, and then ensure that I am here. That will be my highest priority.

By giving this answer, you can flip the script a little bit, and the employer will let you know when they want you available for the position. Then your goal will be to leave your other position gracefully and transition smoothly.

When You Want To Take Some Time Off Before You Start Your New Position

If you want to start this position, but you need a little time to take “a breather” in between your positions, then there’s a way you can gracefully handle this. Explain to the new employer that you have a vacation planned. Don’t tell them that you’d like to take a vacation before you begin. Unfortunately, that won’t look the best. And may make you seem a little arrogant. You don’t need to share every personal detail of your life. Just explain that you have a vacation planned and that you’d like to start afterward.

The way to do this is by saying the following:
“I have a vacation planned in the short-term here; I’d like to start right after that. It wouldn’t be any more than 3 weeks from now. I want to get back to you this evening by email on a few possible start dates and see if that works for you and the rest of the team. How does that sound?”

In that example, we are direct; we say that we need a little more time to prepare when the best start dates are. And we do this all without sounding arrogant or not interested in the position as a whole.

When You Aren’t Sure The Position Is Right For You

If after interviewing, you are starting to feel like the position might not be right for you, but the interviewer wants to proceed anyway, then you’ll want to start to remove yourself from the process gracefully. There are two ways that you can handle this. You can be utterly honest and upfront about how you are feeling and say something like, “I’m extremely honored that it sounds like you’d like to proceed with the opportunity of employing me. Though, after the interviews, I need some more time to reflect on the conversations and see if this position is right for me.” You can say this as your answer to “When can you start?” because it is honest, to the point, and the interviewer will understand. You are genuine.

The second way to handle this is to be a little more evasive. Some people aren’t comfortable with small degrees of confrontation. That’s okay. If that is you, you can say that you’d like to get back to the interviewer later regarding when you can start. And then later that evening you can write a letter on withdrawing yourself from the interview process all together.

An example answer for that would be:
“I’m extremely grateful for this opportunity. And it sounds like you may want to proceed with my employment. Can I get back to you this evening by email one when the best start date would be?”

What The Interviewer Wants To Know

With this question, the interviewer really is looking for a tactical answer. Yes, they may be looking at your body language and determining your interest in the position from it. So if you are genuinely interested in being employed by this company, be sure that you are showing enthusiasm when giving your answer. If you need a little more time to get your answer together, explain to the interviewer that it is only because you don’t have your calendar in front of you and don’t know about any personal commitments or work commitments that may conflict with your start date. That level of honesty is going to go along way. Try to avoid creating large lies that will bubble and make it difficult for you to establish a good relationship with your new employer.

Tips On Answering “How soon can you start?”

The best way to answer this question is to be honest, be open, and communicate with enthusiasm. Know that you have the opportunity to be employed by this company, and they are looking to proceed to the last level of the job interview process with you. Be grateful, be sincere, and if you need more time to answer the question, you can always say that. Try to avoid long answers that contain a lot of personal details of your life. For example, you don’t want to explain that you have plans with your friend Chrissy and that you and she oftentimes don’t agree on the date and time of when you meet. You don’t need to explain these details. Be crystal clear with your answer and keep the HR manager's needs in mind; they need this question answered to get you an employment agreement or contract.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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