A start date is the date on which someone begins working for your company as an employee. It is the first day when they begin to fulfill their contractual obligation, including onboarding, training, and assigned tasks.

The start date is also the first day an employee is added to the payroll. They aren’t paid for any activity that precedes this date—such as interviewing or meeting the team—unless you’ve arranged to do so.

What is a Start Date NOT? 

An employee start date is commonly mistaken for other milestones in a new hire’s recruitment journey. Read about the differences between the start date and other key dates below.

Start Date vs. Hire Date

The hire date is the date on which the candidate becomes contractually bound to work with your company. It’s usually the day that they sign official paperwork, such as the W-3 and I-9 forms. The start date—however—is when they begin working and getting paid.

The hire and start date can coincide, but often employees sign their paperwork a few days before they begin their new job.

Start Date vs. Accepted Job Offer

When a candidate accepts your job offer, you are in a non-legally binding agreement with them. They can still—technically—change their mind until they sign official employment forms on their hire date. 

The day they accept your job offer is different from the start date, which is the day they start getting paid for their work.

Actual Start Date vs. Anticipated Start Date

Sometimes, the anticipated start date agreed upon in the job offer changes. For example, the new hire may be asked to begin work later because their direct manager is unavailable or out of town.

The actual start date when the employee begins work is the date that should be considered for payroll purposes.

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Why are Start Dates Important?

The start date is important because it sets the tone for the new hire’s relationship with the company. This is the person’s first day meeting their team and being introduced to the company culture.

For example, if business activity is frantic on the new hire’s start date and there is no one available to speak to them, they may feel disengaged and understimulated. However, if onboarding and training materials are ready for them and the employee spends time with their team, they are more likely to feel comfortable and engaged.

How to Choose a Start Date

You should choose the start date strategically to maximize your new hire’s first experience in the company. Often, that date is on a Monday, two or three weeks after the job offer is made, but this should be adapted to your business needs.

Consider if there are any obvious distractions happening on the anticipated starting date. If there is a client deadline that the team is focused on, there may not be much time available to help the new employee adjust.

Secondly, is there any reason why onboarding and introductions may not happen as planned? For example, if a key HR team member is on vacation before the start date, employment forms may not be ready in time.

Lastly, think about the job itself. The new hire doesn’t need to start straight away if they don’t have any tasks to complete for a few weeks. However, you may invite them to start sooner than needed if there is a risk they will accept a competitor’s offer.

If there are multiple new employees joining the team around the same time, you can save resources by organizing one start date.

What to Prepare for the Start Date

Preparation is key to ensuring a successful start date for your employee. You should help your new hire feel knowledgeable, confident, and excited about their role in the company.

Here is a checklist you can use to prepare for a new hire’s start date.

  • Welcome Packet: Many companies have a standard welcome packet ready to go whenever a new employee starts work. You may want to personalize this with information about the team or project they are joining, for example. Welcome packets tend to include information about company history and values, health and safety, policies including dress code and booking time off and using digital tools like the employee directory software.
  • Introductions: Take the new employee on a tour of the office or job site, give them an overview of the company’s departments and customers, and provide health and safety instructions for their specific role. 
  • Meet the direct manager: The new hire should meet their manager to discuss their role in more detail. They can be shown practical examples of their tasks while shadowing another team member, for example. It’s also important to understand the manager’s working style and expectations to develop a positive working relationship.
  • Onboarding buddy: Some companies pair up new hires with onboarding buddies—employees who help them adjust to the company processes and answer any of their questions.

🧠 Did You Know?
Companies with formal onboarding programs see 50% better retention and 62% greater productivity among new hires.

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Conclusion

A start date is the day when a new employee starts working with your company and officially gets added to the payroll. It shouldn’t be confused with the date when they sign their employment forms or when they accept the job offer.

It’s important to choose a start date when your staff isn’t under much pressure, so they can get to know the new hire. To help the employee feel engaged and knowledgeable, prepare a welcome packet, schedule introductions, and introduce them to their manager and onboarding buddy.