The Right—and Wrong—Way to Interview a Nanny

07/28/2017 01:49 pm ET

Like most parents, I’ve interviewed my fair share of nannies for my kids. I have my list of go-to interview questions, but I’ve often wondered if there are better questions to ask. To that end, UrbanSitter surveyed more than 500 nannies to share their insights on what parents should and shouldn’t ask in a nanny interview to get to what they both really want to know—whether or not they’ve found a match. Here are five top tips for finding a top-notch nanny without sending her running straight into the arms of another employer!

1. Avoid assumptions or surprises.

Know what you need—live-in or live-out nanny, full or part-time, short or long-term, infant/special needs/school-aged childcare. Be upfront by discussing regular duties—including requirements for meal prep, carpool duty, homework assistance, general housework, and shopping—and also expectations for occasional needs such as staying late or overnight and traveling with the family. Clearly and honestly define the role you are looking to fill. Don’t forget to also ask the candidate what she wants and needs from you to make sure your needs are compatible. Many hiring mistakes can be avoided just by ensuring you are on the same page.

2. Get creative with your questions.

Certainly, you need to ask basic interview questions to gauge experience and qualifications, thoughts on discipline and pay expectations, but don’t stop there. Nannies surveyed recalled several creative interview approaches that enabled them to open up and share unique qualities that ultimately sealed a job offer. For instance, ask about her favorite children’s book (you’ve found a red flag if she can’t name a children’s book title!), how she coaxes rambunctious tots to stick to a naptime routine, and about her proudest accomplishment as a nanny or parent. Your goal is to get to know a stranger who may become an indispensable partner.

3. Respect her free time and acknowledge that it’s as important as yours.

Everyone is late on occasion. If you’re regularly stuck at the office or hopeful that your nanny will stay later than her normal hours, so you can hit the gym or meet up with friends for happy hour, be upfront about it. While one nanny may be understanding and welcome the over-time pay, another may closely guard her personal time or be less flexible due to other responsibilities, such as being home for her own family or getting to a second job. Same goes for weekend duty and family travel—assume her off-hours are off limits unless she tells you otherwise.

4. Make it personal without getting too personal.

A perspective nanny should understand that your intentions for digging deep are good—she may be spending as much or even more time with your child than you do—but do respect her boundaries. For instance, do not ask why she intends or doesn’t intend to have kids of her own or why she isn’t pursuing a more intellectually stimulating career. Instead, ask what experience she has with children—her own, younger siblings or cousins, and job-related—and whether she foresees the position as a long-term career or a temporary role, for instance, while attending or saving for school or travel. You’ll get a sense of whether or not you’ll be in the market for a new nanny sooner than you may like, without making the current candidate squirm or feel offended.

5. A face-to-face interview is essential, but don’t overlook your homework.

In addition to the interview, do some investigating to get to know a candidate. If you’ve found her through an online service, closely review her profile and read reviews from other parents, especially noting character traits that are most important to you, such as reliability or an energetic personality. Also check references, review photos and posts she’s shared on social media, and consider a background check. Additionally, research your local childcare market to understand going nanny pay rates. You’ll avoid over-paying or losing qualified candidates to more generous offers.

Parents and nannies, alike, often find it helpful to follow a successful interview with a working interview—a candidate spends time with the children while the parents are home—or a trial period to test the waters and ensure a good fit before committing to each other. Ultimately, a successful match boils down to asking the right questions, trusting your intuition, and clearly communicating to ensure mutual compatibility.

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