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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 12, 2019

Start Dates: How Much Time Is OK To Take Before You Start Your New Job?

Julie Q. Brush

I have a job offer and the hiring manager asked me how soon I can start. I want to take 3 months before starting my new job, but the hiring manager is irritated and says it’s too long. Is he right or should I insist on the 3 months?

Congratulations on making it through, what some believe to be one of the most stressful endeavors a professional can undertake: The Job Search. Your networking, resume writing, interview prep, thank yous; and attention to personal presentation have paid off in a big way.  And your savvy negotiating skills have secured a great offer, one which you will surely accept. But before your Yes is signed, sealed and delivered, a final question remains:

“How soon can you start?”  

Back in the olden days, a departing professional provided a two week notice to his/her employer and began the next career chapter immediately thereafter. “Right away” was the start date norm – and the expectation of most every employer. But the times, they hava’ changed. Today’s legal profession is approaching a shadow of its old self with many customary and now antiquated “rules” retiring to the Florida beaches.

When it comes to start dates, the Modern Day Candidate is taking longer to show up for work. What used to be two weeks, is now a typical 4 – 6 week gap between jobs. Preplanned vacations, weddings, honeymoons, time with family, bonus payouts, vesting stock; and a need to decompress are a few reasons driving today’s candidates to stretch their start dates. Employers are not exactly jumping for joy about this new trend (they still need help yesterday), but the current market dynamics are forcing them to readjust expectations and be more flexible. At times this can create friction at the end of the courting process, potentially cratering the opportunity for both sides.

You are currently requesting a three month break before beginning your new job. Even in today’s market, that length of time is an outlier. So I do not recommend that you “insist” on your ask. Instead, be flexible and try to find a middle ground where you can accomplish what you need and accommodate your soon-to-be boss as much as possible. If there are important events transpiring for you in the next three months, let him/her know and be open and transparent with a win-win approach. Perhaps you can start earlier, but pre-negotiate the time off? If you need to stay put with your current employer in order to realize a stock or bonus payout, explore whether your new offer can include a signing bonus (or a larger one) and/or a larger stock grant to bridge the gap so you can start earlier. Whatever the situation may be, I would shoot for 6 – 8 weeks as a compromise.

As the legal profession continues to evolve, so do the trends that accompany varying economic cycles. Currently, hiring activity for lawyers is way up and candidates are enjoying increased leverage. One byproduct of this leverage is the longer start date. So hiring managers: take heed and bake this reality into your expectations. For you candidates: I recommend the following best practices approach to the start date dynamic:

  • Be Transparent. Whether you can start in two weeks or two months, be transparent about your availability early in the interview process. Don’t wait until DocuSign time to make your timing known – especially if the date is far into the future. Being transparent will reflect positively on you and will manage employer expectations, which is ultimately better for everyone.
  • Be the Employer. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes for a moment. S/he needs help right away. The department is busy and people are taxed. And it’s likely taken a good long time to complete the hiring process. You probably can’t swoop in soon enough. Relating to the employer’s perspective will help facilitate a better outcome for both of you.
  • Be Flexible. Yes, you have leverage right now, but a consistent best practice (for nearly everything) is to be flexible. You may not get all the time off you want in between gigs, but you’ll get what you need. By exhibiting flexibility, you will preserve goodwill and the virtue of your next beginning.
  • Be Thankful. Whether you’ve finished a start date negotiation or just finished an interview process, expressing appreciation for an employer’s time, consideration and flexibility is a class-act move.

It’s uncertain how long the trend of longer start dates will continue – or whether the winds will change if/when the hiring climate cools. But for now, the trend is holding…and both employers and candidates should be prepared to negotiate this offer term. With transparency, managed expectations and flexibility on both sides, a positive outcome can be reached and pave the way for a great new beginning.

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