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4 Ways to Answer the Interview Question “When Can You Start?”

Updated: May 9, 2021

I remember my first time hearing “When can you start?” while interviewing for a job. I had finally gotten the call to meet with a prospective employer and spent hours beforehand practicing responses for the standard interview questions.

But I was totally unprepared for the interviewer to ask when I could start. Caught off guard and slightly panicked, I blurted, “Tomorrow!”

The interviewer smiled and jotted down my answer in her notes. Ultimately, I didn’t get the job. Whether it was because of my response on availability, I’ll never know. Yet I realized that as simple as “When can you start?” sounds, it’s a question that still requires strategy.

If you’re like me, you may be tempted to answer that you can start immediately. After all, most of us believe the best way to land a job is to be as flexible, eager, and accommodating as possible. But most of the time, that’s not a realistic option—in which case, it’s ideal to communicate in a way that shows your excitement for the job while still being thoughtful about the start date you have in mind.

“You can approach it from a couple different angles,” says Muse career coach Angela Smith. “Of course, you want to think about what works for you. But you also want to consider the employer’s perspective because they likely have a timeline and ideal date for when they would like a candidate to start.”

Smith points out that most employers are simply asking this question to get a feel for whether your timeline aligns with theirs. So there’s no one perfect answer to this question. But whatever your response, it should be as polished as your answers to other interview questions.

Here are a few examples of what to say, depending on your situation.

1. When You’re Ready to Start Right Away

My rushed interview answer was partly due to being on the job hunt for a while and the desire to start ASAP. Still, there’s a fine line between enthusiasm to start a new job and desperation. It’s best to play it slightly cool, even if you’re available right now.

“They may want someone to start right away, but they don’t need to know all the details of your life, even if you’ve been job hunting for a while,” Smith says. “You want to give yourself a breather, and also set the expectation that you won’t be at the employer’s beck and call.”

If you’re ready to start a job sooner than later, it’s great to communicate that—calmly and professionally. Try this answer to convey your prompt availability:

“After learning more about this role, I am confident it would be a great fit for my experience and skill set. I can be available to start as soon as the beginning of the next work week.”

2. When You Need to Give Notice at Your Current Job

A common scenario is if you’re currently employed and need to give your notice of resignation prior to starting the new job. A two-week notice is typically the minimum amount of time to give your employer. However, depending on your position and responsibilities, you may feel you need to stay a week or two longer to help complete any major projects.