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Lisa Belkin Headshot

Wouldn't A 65-Question 'Nanny Survey' Scare Mary Poppins Away?

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What to ask a job candidate who wants to take care of your children?

Do you take the "gut feeling" approach -- have a chatty conversation and get a sense of whether they are someone you want in your life? The "references are everything" philosophy, believing that the best way to hire a babysitter or nanny is from within your circle of parent friends? The tryout plan -- have your finalists come work for an afternoon while you hang around nearby, eavesdropping?

A couple in Sunnyside, Queens appears to have decided on the "ask intrusive, and possibly illegal, questions which are more likely to reveal your own control issues than they are to learn something truthful about the interviewee" style. Gawker reports that a recent Craigslist posting links to a 65-question survey of everything from the state of the nanny-hopeful's health ("#6. Will you be able to provide a letter from your primary care doctor stating that you are in good health and able to perform the "rigorous job of caring for two small children? #7. Will you provide a letter from your doctor listing all your current prescription drugs?") to how often she bathes (More than once per day? Once per day? Every other day? Once every third day? Once or twice per week? Less than weekly?)

The listing has apparently been taken down, but the survey can still be found at this link. Reading it I had mixed feelings.

"These people need to chill", I thought, followed quickly by "they will never find anyone willing to work for them." To my surprise, though, the one that lingered was "Lord, I didn't ask any of the right questions when I was hiring, did I?"

Most of the questions on this questionnaire, after all, are the questions that any parent really wants to know about anyone they leave their child with. (I exclude the psychobabble ones like "Where do you fall in the birth order?" the ones that hint at an agenda, like "What age do you feel is the oldest a child should be breastfeeding?", and the just plain hovering ones like "Would you be comfortable maintaining short, neat fingernails while under our employment?")

But some of the rest. Heck yes, I would love answers to those. "How often do you have a hangover?" "Do you take any of the following prescription drugs? Ritalin, Percoset, Adderal, Vicodin, Tylox, Oxycontin?" "Have you ever spent the night in jail?"

Because everyone I have ever allowed to look after my kids was, in the end, a gamble. That includes all their teachers, and the parents of their school friends, and, in a way, their father and grandparents. You can never know everything about anyone -- never predict when they will snap, or turn, what is really going on in their heads. In the end, all you have is a leap of faith.

These 65 questions sure seem to shorten that jump. "Which recereational drugs do you use? Inhalants, Ritalin, Percocet, Adderall, Vicodin, Cough meds, Mushrooms, Meth, LSD? Coke? Ecstasy? Heroin? Other?" "What was your high school GPA?" "Have you ever been expelled from middle school?"

The problem is, no one in their right mind (and we all want to hire someone who is) would give you an answer other than the one they assume you want to hear.

And no one in their right mind wants to work for the person who sees them as a deviant to be unmasked.

Which is why I predict this family will never find the "magical Mary Poppins" who loves to "play, pretend, create, teach, and nurture," that they describe in the introduction to their survey.

"You are reliable, warm, and fun, but also know how to say "no" when necessary," they continue, addressing their ideal candidate.

"You" also probably don't exist.

But if you think you are that vision, know that this job is for two days a week, from 11:30 to 5:30, and it pays $15 an hour.

Oh, and there is a confidentiality agreement to be signed. They can know everything about you. But you can't repeat anything about them.

(By the way, I filled out the application, honestly. If I am given an interview I will let you know.)