Hearing this question in your interview is always a good sign. When they inquire about your availability, it means that they are considering to hire you. (Unless they blindly follow some interview template, and basically ask each candidate the very same questions, from the start to the end of the interview, which is rarely the case nowadays.)
But how should you answer this question? Should you show enthusiasm and eagerness to start as soon as possible, even immediately? Or should you be more reserved in your answer? And what to do when you are under an employment agreement and have to oblige to a long notice period, for example two or three months?
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this question first. Below the answers you will find some additional explanations and advice on how to deal with different scenarios.
7 sample answers to “When can you start?” interview question
- To be honest, I can start even from tomorrow. I applied with some other retail companies, but you are definitely my first choice. If you decide to give me a chance to prove my abilities, I am ready to start virtually immediately. Of course you certainly have some processes in place–orientation, drug test, as far as my knowledge goes. After passing them, I am ready to start.
- I can begin working here as soon as you need me. This is a new field for me, however, and I will certainly need some time, and at least a few days of training to learn how to do my job–because I want to do it well. But once this is addressed and I know what exactly is expected from me on a daily basis, I can start.
- I am under the employment contract with my current employer. Following the legal terms, I need to stay for 2 more months after giving them my resignation letter. However, I have a good relationship with people in HR, and with my superior. They know that I’ve been looking for a better job for some time, and I believe that they will allow me to leave sooner. If you decide to hire me, I will definitely discuss this option with them.
- I could possibly start tomorrow, but it won’t be responsible from my side. Look, I need to train my successor, and help them to takeover my existing projects. I had a good relationship with my present employer, I learned a lot in the company, and simply do not want to leave just like that. Considering this, I may need two or three weeks to help them with the transition, and then I will be ready to start the job with you.
- Honestly, I can start immediately. I see that you lack waitresses and the place is packed. You need a helping hand right now. If we can sign an employment agreement, and if you want me to help you out even tonight, I am ready. I’ve been working as a waitress for a long time, and should be able to ease into the job in a matter of hours.
- This is my first job application, and I am not bound by any contract. However, they also invited me to interview for a job in two other companies, and I already accepted the invitations. It would be irresponsible not to come. But I had a great impression from the interview with you. I like the way in which you run this business, and this company has an excellent reputation. I am inclined to work for you, and after my last interview (takes place in two days) I will be able to tell you. If I decide for you, I can start the training immediately.
- I am not only able to start immediately–I want to start as soon as possible. I am eager to have this job, and do not consider any other working opportunities at the moment. Of course it depends on your preferences, and on the employee I should replace. If you prefer to sign an employment contract that starts from the first day of the next month, or even later, I will respect it.
Your attitude matters more than anything else
Responsible employee won’t leave their existing employer on a day’s notice. They will help with training their successor, or at least with describing the processes and preparing some manuals for the person who will replace them in their job. Just then will they leave and start somewhere else.
Unless you face some extreme situation in your present job, you should never say that you can start in your new job tomorrow. It just won’t throw a good light on your personality and attitude. Oppositely, you should explain why you need to stay for a few days or weeks with your current employer. Each sensible interviewer will understand such reasoning.
If they really want you, they can wait. And they happily will wait, seeing that you feel some responsibility towards your present employer, and will likely have the same attitude in your new job.
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
Other interviews are not a showstopper–if you explain them correctly
Job search is a game of numbers, and the hiring managers do not expect you to apply for a job only with their company. Having said that, you should explain this properly in your interview. You should always give them an exact time for making your decision.
Be honest with them. You do not have to share the details of other companies or jobs you apply for. But you should tell them when you interview for the jobs, and when you will make your decision.
What’s more, you can stress that you had a good feeling from the interview, and perhaps they are even your first choice (or it is a close call), and if nothing extraordinary happens, you will accept their offer. Give them some belief, and they will wait for you, at least for a reasonable time.
If you say that you have an important job interview in two months time, however, they won’t hire you. Nobody will wait for such a long time…
Avoid referring to rest, holiday, etc, unless you have a very serious reason
The following situation happened to me three or four times: I interviewed someone for a job, things went well, I asked them when they would be able to start, and they said that they needed a rest, and would be able to start in a month or in two months.
I found it really strange, and think that other interviewers would look at it in a similar way… Surely, you may be tired, you’ve worked somewhere for a long time, maybe you experienced burnout, or you simply want to enjoy summer vacation.
When you need rest, however, it’s no time to start applying for jobs. Because companies do not conduct interviews to hire someone in two months time, or three months time.
If you do not fit well enough to start working right now (or in a reasonable time, when you end your commitment with your present employer), do not apply for jobs. Wait, take a rest, and resume your job search when ready, both physically and mentally…
Conclusion, answers to other tricky interview questions
“When can you start?” is typically a buying question, and you can be happy to hear it in your interview. Show some enthusiasm to start as soon as possible, but at the same time do not dismiss the obligations you have with your present employer. When you explain your reasons correctly, they will wait for you, at least for a few weeks.
Ready to answer this one? Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- What challenges are you looking for in a position?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- Why do you feel you are qualified for this position?