Whether you’ve found them through personal recommendations, a nanny agency, a local parenting website, or even a chance encounter at the playground, you’ve narrowed your potential-Mary-Poppins list down to a few great choices. Now it’s time to conduct the in-person interviews. But can you really figure out, in one meeting, which caregiver will be the best fit for your kids—and for you? With preparation and some self-reflection, you can use a caregiver interview to help decide whether this is someone you feel not just comfortable with, but excited about. Read on for the top eight interview questions to ask in a caregiver interview.
To help you get the most out of your caregiver interviews, we turned to the professionals for advice. We chatted via email with Dr. Susan Fox, founder of Park Slope Parents and architect of the Park Slope Parents Guide to Hiring a Nanny/Babysitter
; Tammy Gold, author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer
and owner of the Tammy Gold Nanny Agency
; and Grace Hagen, MPT, pediatric physical therapist and early interventionist. According to our experts, the key questions to focus on in a caregiver interview fall into three categories: expectations, background, and fit.
What are your expectations for a caregiver taking care of your new baby?
1. What are our needs and expectations?
This question is not one for the nanny, but for you—and it's probably the most important in terms of getting the most out an interview. Really think about your parenting style and what you want for your child while they are with a caregiver. And think about your own childcare needs in realistic terms. Sure, you hope you can make it home by 5pm every night, but do you actually need a caregiver who can be available until 6pm? The clearer and more specific you can be about what your needs and expectations are, the better the interview and eventual caregiver relationship will be.
Topics to think about:
Time expectations: What specific hours/days do you need someone with your child? Do you need your caretaker to be flexible? What is your policy on sick leave, paid holidays and vacation?
Compensation: What are you offering for compensation?
Feeding: Does your child have dietary restrictions or do you have dietary expectations that the caregiver would need to be able to work with (allergies, for example, or baby-led weaning)? Do you expect your caregiver to cook for your child?
Screen time: What are your expectations on screen time, both for your child and the caregiver?
Additional duties: Are you looking for someone to do tasks beyond childcare, like cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping?
Routines: What routines do you have in place now for your child that you would expect a caretaker to follow? Is it important to you that your child follow a strict schedule?
Activities: Do you want your caregiver to take your child to lessons, play dates, or other activities? Do you expect the caregiver to spend a certain amount of time outside?
Skills: Would you like a caregiver with specific skills, like a second language?
Discipline: How would you like a caregiver to handle disciplining your child?
Of course, we all want to hire the Super Nanny, but do a gut check to make sure you’re not setting unreasonable expectations. Fox sees overly high expectations, where "parents expect the nanny to be able to do more than even the parents can get done," as one of the common themes among family/caregiver relationships that don’t pan out.
RELATED: Questions to Consider Before Picking a Pediatrician
Make sure a potential caregiver is okay with your family's needs and expectations.
2. Are you okay with our needs/expectations?
Now this one is for the candidate. Once you’ve figured out what it is, exactly, you’d like a caregiver to do, you need to spell that out for the candidate. Don’t be vague. Gold says parents “often fail to communicate their needs and expectations properly from the outset,” and so she always counsels her clients to “lay out all of your expectations so that there are no misunderstandings.”
Responses to the Park Slope Parents 2017 Nanny Survey back up this sentiment. When asked what parents wished they had done differently in a caregiver relationship, the most common responses had to do with communication and expectation-setting at the beginning of the caregiver’s employment.
You’ll have to decide what combination of prior experience, education, certifications, and skills are important to your family, but keep an open mind. Your ideal candidate on paper might not have chemistry with your child, while someone with less experience may be an instant fit. Gold often sees parents who get hung up on the more formal aspects of the hiring process, like a perfectly proofed resume or completely composed answers during an interview, but thinks instead, “what's most important is their ability to care for and connect with children in a safe and reliable manner.”
3. Can you tell me about your prior childcare experience?
You probably already have this information from their resume, but the Park Slope Parents Guide to Hiring a Nanny recommends asking open ended questions like this one to allow the candidate give you more of their story. Follow up with questions about why they left former employers, and ask for their thoughts about how prior employers handled work arrangements like hours, additional duties, and sick days.
4. What certifications do you have?
Let the candidate know what you require and ask whether they are willing to get any certifications they don’t currently have. For Hagen the non-negotiable certifications are CPR and First Aid.
5. What is your childcare education/training?
Again, the level of training you're looking for in a caregiver will come down to personal preference. For example, Hagen says, “It would be ideal if the caretaker had experience in early childhood education, but more critical to me is that he or she loves this type of work. I can tell when caregivers like their jobs and when they don't, and I am certain the children they work with can too.”
If you've found someone who understands and is willing to meet your employment terms and expectations and who is great on childcare experience and training, then the real goal of the interview is to figure out whether the candidate is a good fit with your family. You'll get some of this information from their answers to your questions, but a lot of it just comes down to attitude and personality. A great, fun, over-the-top persona may just not mesh with your reserved child, or maybe your kid instantly takes to the sweet-as-pie interviewee, but you don't get the feeling she'll set the boundaries you'd like. Trust your instincts!
6. What is your caregiving style?
This is a chance for the candidate to give you their childcare philosophy and for you to figure out if it jives with yours. If there are values you’re working to instill in your kid, it’s helpful to have a caregiver who respects and will help uphold those values. Here’s where you want to ask tough questions. Park Slope Parents suggest asking about emergency situations, handling temper tantrums, or strategies to soothe crying babies.
7. What is your employee style?
The parent/caretaker relationship can be a pretty intimate one, so it’s important to figure out not only whether your child will love this person, but whether you will also enjoy working with them. Ask questions about how they have handled differences with previous employers.
8. Would you like to meet our child/children?
Make sure that a portion of this interview or a subsequent interview includes your children. Watch how the candidate and your kids interact: It will tell you so much! Among other things, Hagen counsels the families she works with to “look for someone who not only is willing to, but finds joy in being on the floor, on the child's level and playing with a variety of toys in a variety of ways.” She notes that “there are significant developmental advantages that come from play-based learning for young children, so that is what I encourage my clients to spend their time on.”
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