Have you ever been asked "when can you start?" in a job application interview, only to never receive an offer?
"When can you start?" is one of the most common questions asked in job interviews. It's not uncommon for hiring managers to ask this question in every single interview they conduct. While it can be exciting to hear, it isn't necessarily a signal that you're likely to get the job...
While at first glance it might seem like an innocuous question, your answer does factor into the hiring decision. You can never really be sure why the interviewer is asking and the way you answer this question shows interviewers what kind of employee they can expect you to be.
A well-prepared answer to "when can you start?" is your best strategy. Here's how.
Why interviewers ask "when can you start?"
"When can you start?" and common interview questions like it, are likely to be asked at every stage of the interview process with a prospective employer. This question can feel like a curveball if you're unprepared, but it doesn't have to be. Regardless of your current job and where you are in the interview process, it pays to understand why interviewers ask this question to prepare the best answer ahead of time.
Note: you can get asked this question in other forms, but the hiring manager is usually looking for the same answer. For example:
- Could you start this week/month?
- What's your notice period at your current role?
- Do you have a start date in mind?
Regardless of how this question is framed, here's what hiring managers are looking to learn from your answer:
- What your notice period is: The most obvious reason is hiring managers need to know when you’ll be available to work. They’ll likely be hoping that you’re able to start sooner. If you're currently employed, your contract will usually stipulate a "notice period" — a period of time that you need to give your current employer notice before leaving. Generally, this is 2-4 weeks, but can be longer for employees with long tenure.
- Whether you're going to give notice: This is one to be careful of! "When can you start?" can be used as a mechanism to test your ethics. If you're currently employed, you'll need to give your current employer a heads up if you're accepting another job offer. While it can be tempting to respond with "I can start immediately", this eagerness can reflect very poorly on you as it can show that you're willing to leave your current employer without any regard for the notice.
- What your current employment situation is: Prospective employers will quite often ask this question to gauge what your current situation is at a deeper level, especially if this hasn't been discussed in detail. Your answer will usually reveal what your current employment status is and can even hint at what your relationship with your current employer is like. These nuances matter to hiring managers as they can be interpreted as a signal to what kind of employee you're likely to be if hired.
- How eager you are for the role: The way you answer this question can reveal how eager you are for the role. While the hiring managers want you to be enthusiastic about the job application and potentially working for the company, it's best to avoid answering along the lines of "I can start tomorrow", even if you can. This can come across as being a little too eager and borderline desperate for the job. Instead, it's a good idea to frame your answer in a positive light and indicate that you can be flexible and start whenever is convenient for them.
How to answer "when can you start?"
If you're looking for a remote job, you should prepare to be asked "when can you start?" just as you would for any other interview question. Remember, don't get ahead of yourself if you're asked this question. It doesn't necessarily mean you've got the job yet, but a well-thought-out answer will give you the best chance.
If you follow the steps and example answers below, you'll dramatically increase your chances of making a great first impression and getting a job offer, especially when the majority of job application candidates try to improvise an answer to this question on the spot.
1. Understand your current notice period and responsibilities
If you're currently employed, even in a part-time or contractor role, you'll need to let your employer know that you're accepting a job offer with a new employer. A notice letter is your opportunity to leave your previous job in a professional and positive manner to ensure a smooth transition to a new job.
Start by checking your employment contract or onboarding information when you started at your current role. Giving advanced notice is a common courtesy and, in some cases, a legal requirement to formally resign your position. Depending on your employment contract, your notice period is likely going to be 2-6 weeks.
Helpful tip: When it comes time to resign from your current job, it's a good idea to send your resignation letter via email and CC or BCC in your personal email as well. You can give your previous employer a physical copy as well, but sending it via email ensures you have a record of your formal resignation with the exact date it was sent.
2. Consider a break or time off before your new role
Before starting your job search, think about whether or not you'll take some time off before starting at a new company.
We highly recommend this if you're in a financial position to do so — leaving a job and starting at a new company can be a stressful period, and taking a few days or weeks break is a great way to decompress and mentally prepare for the transition.
Remember, when starting at a new company, it will likely be several months before you'll be able to take leave for a break. Factor this into your decision whether or not you'd like to take time off from your role and don't be afraid to ask for a few weeks before starting your new job.
It's almost always acceptable to ask for a bit of extra time as an adjustment period. If you're the right person for the job application and willing to be flexible to accommodate the new employer, hiring managers are happy to accommodate. This way you can start fresh and are less likely to get burned out.
3. Factor in more time if you'll need to relocate
What's more stressful and mentally draining than starting a new job? We'd argue moving house. Especially if it's interstate or internationally!
Make sure you factor this into your timeframe and try to avoid any overlap — it's hard to focus on getting up and running in a new job if you're preoccupied trying to find a place to live, coordinating removalists, or setting up in a new city.
Helpful tip: It's also a good idea to ask the hiring manager if they have any relocation support! Many companies, particularly larger organizations, offer financial or logistical support to help new job candidates relocate and get settled.
4. Understand the needs of the new company
When preparing for the job interview, try to get an idea of when and how urgently they're looking to hire for the role. While it's not ideal, in a competitive job market, this can be used to your advantage — especially if you can start immediately.
If you're in a position to do so and don't need time off, the best response is to convey a willingness and flexibility to start work as soon as they need you to start. If they're looking for someone urgently, the hiring manager will be thrilled with your flexibility and it might even edge you ahead of other job candidates who have long notice periods.
Conversely, if the new employer doesn't need someone urgently and is looking to hire slowly, the best strategy is to usually indicate that you're very interested in the role and happy to continue in your current role until they're ready to make a decision. This will convey that you're committed to getting the job and your professionalism will stand out.
Example answers to "when can you start?"
The best answers to "when can you start?" are honest, brief, and delivered well. The goal is to be prepared, allow enough time for yourself to give notice, take time off, and/or relocate if necessary, while still remaining flexible for the new position.
Here are a few example answers you can learn from.
Example #1: When you can start right away
"I'm pretty excited for this role and to work with the team at Square. I'm confident it's a great fit and available to start whenever is most convenient for the company. I've already finished up at Canva."
Why it works:
This answer is great because it conveys that you're willing to be flexible and accommodate their timeline without being overly eager or presumptuous. It says, calmly and professionally, "I'm the right person for the role and can start whenever — all you need to do is say yes." It reinforces that you're keen on the job and committed to the role if they decide to make a job offer.
Example #2: When you can start right away but need a break
"I’m looking forward to meeting more of the team at Doist — it sounds like the perfect job for me. I'm pretty flexible and keen to start as soon as possible, but I do have a previous commitment I need to take care of... Does 2 weeks from Monday fit into your timeline?"
Why it works:
Hiring managers want you to start fresh and ready at your new job. If you're the right person for the role, they're usually more than happy to accommodate for some extra time!
This answer is a good way to approach this situation because it indicates that you're very interested in the role and are flexible in your request. By finishing with a question, this answer leaves the hiring manager with a window to discuss this further if they need to so you can come to a compromise if necessary.
You'll notice in this example answer that you don't necessarily have to stipulate why you are requesting a little extra time — if you're planning on relaxing with friends and decompressing, that's your prerogative! Most of the time hiring managers don't care about these personal details.
Example #3: When you can start right away but need 2 weeks to relocate
"I'm available to start whenever you need me to start, but I'll have to move of course. Ideally, it would be great to have 3-4 weeks to find a new place and get settled so I can hit the ground running at Clevertech."
Why it works:
When you're excited about a new role but need to relocate, it's tempting to just think "I'll figure out something temporary". It's always a good idea to give yourself a realistic timeline to move for a new job — you never know what might come up or if you'll have issues finding accommodation, so plan for a buffer.
This answer is a great signal to the hiring manager because it's flexible and shows you're committed to the role if you get a job offer.
Relocation is a huge investment and hiring managers understand this. Don't be afraid to ask for at least 2 weeks to move and get settled, even longer if you have kids or the move is interstate/international.
Example #4: When you need to give 2 weeks notice
"I'm definitely interested in the role and joining the team at Maze. I'm flexible with my start date, but I'll need to give 2 weeks' notice at InVision before I leave. They've been really great to work for and I'm sure they'll understand and appreciate the heads up."
Why it works:
Giving notice at your current job is expected. A 2-week notice period is usually the minimum amount of heads up you'll need to give. New employers understand this and will respect you for speaking highly of your previous employer and doing the best by them.
If you're in the middle of major projects at your current job or manage a team, it's never a bad idea to give additional notice if you think it will help you leave on a positive or professional note. It's up to your discretion if you'd like to disclose in your answer whether this additional notice is not mandatory! In most cases, hiring managers will completely understand and it will reflect positively on the kind of dedicated employee you'll be at the new company.
Example #5: When you need to give 2 weeks notice but need a break
"I'm a contractor at Stash which means I'll need to give them 2 weeks' heads up — they've been great to me and I definitely don't want to leave the team there in a tough spot! I'd also appreciate an extra week to tie up any loose ends. I'm very keen on this role and working with the team at Wealthsimple, so hopefully, this works with you."
Why it works:
While it's never a bad sign for a job candidate to request a short break before roles, this can be a little tricky if they're in an obvious rush. This is a good example answer because it reinforces that you're keen on the role but want to make sure you're not leaving your previous team in the lurch.
Requesting an extra week to "tie up loose ends" can be interpreted in a few different ways. Most employers understand that finding a new job doesn't fit into life neatly but this example is a good way to frame your answer because it positions a break better than simply wanting time off to do nothing. There's really no need to disclose personal details like this if you don't necessarily need to.
Example #6: When you need to give 2 weeks notice but need 2 weeks to relocate
"I made sure to check my employment contract at Mainstreet. I'll only need to provide a 2 weeks notice period, but I'll obviously need to move for this role if it's based out of Dropbox's San Francisco office. Does 4-6 weeks work on your end? That should give me enough time to find a place."
Why it works:
This isn't a general answer. You've obviously prepared for the interview by checking your formal notice period at Mainstreet and have considered the logistics if you were to get a job offer.
It's also a great example answer because it factors in implied flexibility in your timeframe which is always appreciated by hiring managers! You'll find that for roles that require relocation, hiring managers are most likely to accommodate 6 weeks or more in this scenario.
Example #7: When the company's start date doesn't work with you
"I'm 100% interested in the role. That start date will be a little tricky for me because I'd like to give 2 weeks' notice to my team at Circle — they've been really accommodating and I'd like to leave on a positive note. Would you be open to [alternate date]?"
Why it works:
Don't be unprepared if the hiring manager is after a job candidate who can start sooner. This is more common with recruiters, who are incentivized to find someone as fast as possible.
Most hiring managers, however, are completely open to finding a compromise and discussing a date that works for both parties. They understand that calendars rarely line up perfectly.
This is the perfect example answer to this scenario because it keeps things professional. Hiring managers respect that you need to give notice at your previous job and you've proactively suggested a specific date.
Possible follow-up questions
- Do you have any questions for me? Read our guide on the best questions to ask in an interview.
- Tell me about yourself
- Describe your work ethic
- Why are you interested in this position?
- What are your career goals?
- What makes you unique?
- What can you contribute to this company? This question is similar to "Why do you want to work here?" And will only be asked as a follow-up if you weren't able to articulate your value in your answer.
- Any number of behavioral interview questions. Be sure to use the STAR method when answering.
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