Being asked when you’re available to start working is a great sign. It doesn’t always come at the same time as a job offer, but it can be enough to fill you with hope. While it seems like a straightforward question, it’s important to give pause and think before you respond. Just like every other aspect of the job hunt, there is a strategy that should be applied here, and we’ll tell you how.
In this article, you’ll find
How to apply strategy to being asked about your available start date
Examples of how to respond when asked about your start date
How to provide your availability on a job application
How do I answer “When would you be available to start?”
So why is there so much to be considered surrounding the question of a start date? After all, it seems like such a simple question.
While this may be true, there’s a hidden purpose to being asked about your start date: It’s a character gauge.
Avoid these common misconceptions
When you are first asked about when you can start work, there’s probably one of the following three responses going through your mind:
“I’m so excited and want to express it, so I’ll appease them by saying I’m available immediately!”
“Oh no I haven’t even told my current employer that I plan on leaving!”
“It’ll reflect poorly on my professionalism if I can’t start immediately. I don’t want them to retract their offer!”
Of course, these thoughts can show up in a myriad of ways, but the same sentiment is usually there. Let’s dive into each of these trains of thought to better understand why we react these ways, and what the recruiter is taking away from these responses.
Don’t be over-eager
While it seems logical to answer the question of your start date by stating your willingness to start the job immediately, you should actually avoid answering this way.
Because eagerness can look like desperation or a lack of any prior engagements. Basically, it tells the recruiter that you are either currently unemployed, or that you don’t respect your current employer enough to give a two-week notice.
Whether or not that’s true doesn’t need to be disclosed in this scenario. In reality, there are many reasons why an individual is available to start immediately. But because interviews and employment-related emails aren’t the best environments for sharing personal details, it’s best to sidestep them. All the recruiter needs to know is a date in the near future.
Common questions about giving a start date
Will they revoke the offer if I can’t start immediately?
Definitely not! Even for an urgent hire, employers know that people aren’t typically ready to start work the next day or even the next week.
Take your time and offer a thoughtful response. It’s better than answering prematurely.
Can I mention my current employer?
Yes, you can, and it might even reflect better on you to do so.
If anything, telling an employer that you need to follow through in your commitment to your current employer is a selling point. It tells them that you honor professional courtesies, and therefore will not screw them over if you ever decide to move on from their company. Truly, it’s a good thing and you should feel comfortable letting them know you need some time.
Similarly, if you have a prior engagement with your current employer that you want to follow through on, let the recruiter know about it.
Try saying something like:
“In full transparency, I have been working on a project for my current employer, which will be concluding at the end of the month. I know they are depending on me, and I would hate to let them down. Is it okay if I cap my time at 20 hours per week for this month, then move into a full-time workload beginning the first of next month?”
What if they don’t respond well?
If you answer the question about the start date by saying that you need a few weeks, and the recruiter doesn't respond well, that’s a red flag. Consider it a blessing to have seen their expectations of you before you’ve even signed the paperwork, because now you can respectfully decline and find an employer who values your commitments.
But I actually am able to start immediately
There are a lot of reasons why someone is available to start immediately that have nothing to do with their current employer. Perhaps you recently finished coursework, moved to a new town, or had been working as a contract worker or freelancer. In these circumstances, a simple and short explanation will suffice.
If you aren’t in urgent need of income, it’s recommended to give yourself at least a few days to begin work. This gives you time to figure out your professional wardrobe, prep your lunches, and run any daytime errands. When you do start, you will be more comfortable by already having put effort into establishing your work-life balance.
Examples of ways to answer “When are you available to start?”
“I have already given my current employer my notice of resignation, so I am able to start as of [insert date]”
“My employer and I have been in regular communication about my job search. While they regret losing me, they respect my decision. That being said, I am available to start [insert date].”
“I just recently moved here so I’m available to start immediately.”
“What does ‘availability’ on a job application mean?
When a job application asks about availability, they are referencing your future schedule more so than a start date. To answer the question, write down your preferred schedule.
What does full availability mean?
By signaling that you have full availability, you are essentially saying that you can work any time of the day or week.
While you might literally have full availability, this again is a time to use some strategy. Consider your lifestyle before you respond.
Are you a student with evening classes?
Do you have a child in school or daycare that needs to be picked up daily?
Do you have regularly scheduled therapy sessions Tuesday afternoons?
This is where you can state those needs in a non-negotiable way.
It’s not common, but it can happen when a stakeholder or executive makes a sudden change to the schedule or to staff expectations. You might be asked to help out in another department or participate in events. This section of your application, where it asks for your availability, will be your ticket out of working spontaneous or odd hours.
It’s recommended to put your specific hours of availability down just so that down the road if it ever comes back, you can say with confidence, “As a condition of my hiring, my hours of availability are 8 am-4 pm Monday through Friday’.
4-10’s and other preferences
This section of the application can also be utilized for listing your schedule preferences. If you know that you work best early mornings, let them know that your preferred schedule is working 8 am-4 pm, rather than the traditional 9 am-5 pm.
Similarly, working four days a week, ten hours each day is a common preference. Let your future employer know by writing it down here.
You will likely be invited to discuss your scheduling options further during the interview. It’s at this time that you’ll decide if your preferences are a deal breaker, or if you’d be willing to comply with a company schedule that differs from your ideal.
Can I change the start date after accepting the offer?
It is best to avoid this practice.
While yes, it technically can be done, it requires your new employer to agree (which they don’t have to), as well as reflecting poorly on your professionalism.
If you find yourself in the position of needing to push back your start date after agreeing to an earlier one, it’s in your best interest to have a really good reason for why. Ideally, a reason that somehow relates to the job. An example would be getting a certificate renewed or creating a new bank or retirement account to which your funds will be sent.
Otherwise, make the necessary considerations ahead of your interview, and be prepared with a specific date in mind that will work for you.
Giving your available start date takes more strategy than you’d expect.
It does not look bad to need a couple of weeks before you’re able to start a new job.
Provide your schedule availability early on and accurately.
Give yourself a week. There’s probably something you’re forgetting to do–don’t jump in too quickly.