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  • Writer's pictureGenna McGahee

Meaningful Interview Questions to Ask Nanny Candidates.

We all know that job interviews typically feature a standard set of questions, yet these questions often aren't very effective at truly gauging a potential employee's values and future conduct. If you haven't had prior experience in HR or management, interviewing nanny candidates could be your first experience on the other side of the interview table. The questions below help to illuminate your family's needs, your potential employee's needs, and whether your styles and expectations are well-suited for working together.


THE FUNDAMENTALS.


Schedule.

Begin by reiterating the work schedule and the job description. These are the cornerstones of the position. The interview is the time for everyone to be honest and candid about their schedule needs, their expectations, and limits around household duties.

  • "We are seeking a nanny for [insert preferred length of time you need a nanny]. Do you have any preference of contract length?" If you have a young infant and hope to find a nanny who will be with your family for the next several years, specify that the contract is a one-year agreement that can be renewed annually. Even when both you and the nanny desire a work commitment of two years or more, things could change for either party in unforeseen ways.


  • "We will need a nanny's services for [days of the week/hours per week]. Do you have a preference of start time/end time each day? How many total hours do you want to work per week?"


  • "We would like a nanny to start on _______. Are you available on or around this date?"

If you are hiring for full time and a candidate truly only wants to work 30 hours per week, it's best to find out now. The same is true if you are hiring for 25 hours per week and a candidate truly wants full-time hours. No surprises. When a candidate responds, "I can work any hours," or "anything works for me," this can indicate that the job you're offering is not actually the ideal fit, and the candidate will need move on if they find something more suited to the hours they truly need.


Nanny Duties.

  • "Are you comfortable driving children to activities?"


  • Driving is a common nanny duty and many nannies seek positions where they will be able to take children to music classes, children's museums, etc. So, it's equally important to tell your candidates if they won't be doing any driving or if you prefer that they stay near home. "This position will not call for any driving, I will perform drop-off and pickup for any activities. We are looking for a nanny who is comfortable with walkable activities, crafts at home, and playing around the house. Are you comfortable with this type of arrangement?"


  • "We will ask our nanny to perform the following childcare-related tasks: [list any tasks such as child's laundry, vacuuming playroom, sanitizing toys once a week, planning a weekly outing, stocking diaper bag, changing diaper pail bags, sorting seasonal clothes and clothes that no longer fit, etc.] "Are all of these tasks you are comfortable with and if not, which ones?"


  • Pets. Let the candidate know about any pets or livestock on your property, cats in particular. Some candidates may be allergic.



OTHER DUTIES.

  • If you need help with general support tasks such as family dishes, errands, groceries, family meal prep, parent laundry, or walking the dog, describe this during the interview. These tasks are the purview of a family assistant and will call for an increased hourly rate for work performed beyond childcare and child-related tasks.


  • "Are you comfortable loading/unloading the dishwasher each afternoon as part of job duties?"


  • "We could really use some help with family support and light tidying tasks but we don't want to cause our nanny to feel like a housekeeper. The tasks we need help with are [insert tasks]. Are there any tasks you do not feel comfortable doing as a nanny, or tasks you were asked to perform in the past and it made you uncomfortable?"​

These questions are helpful to match styles too. A nanny who loves organizing and tidying up won't be happy with a family who only wants the nanny to perform childcare. Vice versa if you really need someone who doesn't mind taking out the trash and will make sure the family laundry got switched over to the dryer, a nanny who wants to fully focus on childcare won't enjoy that or feel respected as a childcare professional.

AGE-SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE.

This is your opportunity to hear about your candidate's expertise and their work style. These questions are particularly relevant for ages 0-3:

  • "Our child is ____ months/years old. What activities do you enjoy doing with a child this age?"


  • "What milestones/new developments would you look for at this age, and over the next 6 months?"


  • "What types of activities do you think will be age-appropriate & good learning activities for our child in the next 3 months?"


  • If you need a nanny to prepare fresh baby food or cook fresh children's meals be sure to describe that now.


  • For older kids: what types of activities do you think go over well with teens? How do approach conflict resolution or "pushback" with an elementary schooler or a teen? What do you like to do with kids who have outgrown the playground?


​​

SAFETY.

  • "Are there any common safety hazards you find in family homes as a nanny, or any safety products you like to recommend?" This can tell you how safety-conscious your candidate is at work.


  • "Can you tell us more about any experience and training you have handling a childcare emergency or urgent situation?" Not all nannies have experienced an emergency but they should be able to speak to their CPR/first aid training and the steps they would take. Most nannies have handled an urgent or challenging event such as a questionable person around the playground, a child quickly coming down with a fever, the car got a flat tire, etc.


  • "What steps would you take if a child hit their head?" Correct answers include check for uneven pupil dilation, notify the parent even if the bump seemed minor, ice (or apply pressure if bleeding), and keep the child awake/conscious.


  • "Have you ever had an experience where a parent's instructions differed from what you thought was appropriate or safe, and if so what did you do?"


  • "What do you think is a reasonable policy and expectation for cell phone use during work?" Excessive phone use is a distraction, however, a charged phone kept nearby is an important safety tool! You also want to be able to easily reach your nanny.


  • "What are your current COVID-19 safety practices for your work with children?" Notice that this question inquires about safety yet does not pry into the candidate's personal life, who they live with, etc.


  • For young infants: "Do you have TDAP booster or willing to get that? Annual flu shot or willing to get one?" You would pay the nanny for their time to complete these boosters and shots if this will be a job requirement.

Right now is also the time to explain any affective needs, physical disabilities, emotional support needs, medical conditions, etc. that your child has. Do not minimize. This can be really tough because the tasks associated with supporting your child's needs may have become very routine for you and might seem simple. The candidate has not had that same daily experience and initially the tasks might seem intense or complex until they get the hang of things.



PERSONAL EXPERIENCES.​​

  • "Tell us about a positive moment with a child that has really stuck with you or is really special to you."


  • "Are there any favorite activities or learning games that you always try to incorporate into your childcare work?" Many nannies have a super fun activity, a favorite park or museum, or a meaningful life skill they wish to impart to each child.


  • "What do you think 1 or 2 of the top challenges of being a nanny in a home are, and how do you approach those?"


  • "What do you most want to contribute to a family, or when did you feel like you really made an amazing difference as a nanny?"


  • "Have you ever had a moment that you felt like you did not come through for a child or you made a significant mistake, and what did you learn from that experience?"


  • "Have you ever experienced that "stuck in the house" feeling as a nanny, or like it had become the same every day and the work wasn't fulfilling anymore? If so, what did you do?"


  • "How do you approach discipline or redirection as a nanny?" Nannies often have a wide variety of experience with behavioral redirection techniques, consequences, Love & Logic, gentle parenting, time outs, etc. It is so important that your expectations and the nanny's style match when it comes to discipline. For example, a gentle parenting household and a nanny who uses time outs are unlikely to see eye to eye. A nanny may or may not accept a position in a home where spanking is part of a parent's discipline strategy. If spanking is one of your parenting tools, let the candidate know even if you don't expect a nanny use that tool.


​​COMMUNICATION.

You will need to check in with your nanny in a regular and predicable way. You will also need to communicate with your nanny about tasks to be completed, and broach conversations with your nanny when you need them to do something differently. Ask your candidates about their communication style with parents.


Does the nanny like to do a debriefing in person each afternoon before their clock-out time? A written log you can review whenever, connecting once a week? Meeting once every week on Monday? What would work best for you? What would the candidate prefer? This can tell you a lot about your candidate's communication style and their ability to have difficult conversations.


PAY/BENEFITS.

Pay and benefits need to be clear and candid. Avoid vague phrases such as "pay negotiable for the right person," or "benefits possible/TBD."

  • "Our pay rate range is $__ to $__ per hour. Do you have any questions about the pay range?"


  • We will offer the following benefits: [list your benefits]. Are there any benefits that are particularly important to you, or any benefits that you would like to negotiate?"


  • "We plan to use legal payroll with a W-2, and pay our employer taxes. Do you have any questions about using payroll?"


  • "Do you have any travel plans or pre-planned trips in the next 6 months that we need to know about for the schedule?"​


​​BE HONEST AND CANDID ABOUT BEHAVIORS.

Be candid if your child is currently hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, screaming, scratching, hair pulling, running out of the house without notice, hiding, experiencing explosive anger, etc. Many nannies have experience with these behaviors. However, nannies find it disrespectful for a parent to omit or minimize this information during the interview. They will see the full extent of these behaviors after they accept the job, and that surprise will harm your working relationship. It is one of the top reasons that nanny contracts dissolve earlier than planned. Omitting or minimizing these behaviors is not in any child's best interest, either. The child's caretaker needs to be aware of the behaviors and the triggers, and their caretaker needs to have the proper skills to respond calmly and keep the child safe.


GREAT GENERAL QUESTIONS

  • Was there anything in particular about our family's job posting that stood out for you or sounded like a match for you?


  • "What do you think a family can do to be a great employer to their nanny? What can your nanny family do to ensure that you feel respected and valued?" An interview is a mutual process; your candidate is assessing you as a potential employer in the same way that you are assessing them. Communicate to them that creating a healthy workplace is one of your priorities.


  • "Overall, what will a great nanny job look like to you, this year?"


  • "Do you have any other questions for us?"


POOR QUESTIONS and OTHER THINGS THAT DERAIL YOUR INTERVIEW.

  • "So tell us about yourself." A great candidate will have read your family's information and they will be prepared to ask you more detailed questions. They hope that you have read their resume and have more detailed questions for them, too.


  • If you and the candidate seem like instant BFFs, stay on track with gathering the information you need and asking key questions. Sometimes a match seems so magical that both parties forget to ask some key questions, and this can create issues and big feelings of disappointment later.


  • Avoid making any comments about shortcomings or flaws of a prior nanny. This is a red flag. Frame your comments in terms of the skills your next nanny will need to have, rather than the skills that your last nanny failed to have.


  • Avoid making any comments about shortcomings or flaws of your child's other parent. This is a red flag.


  • "Why should we hire you?" This is outdated and condescending.


  • "Is there any wiggle room on your hourly rate?" This is a passive question that beats around the bush. Be direct! If a candidate's hourly rate is not in your budget, share that before the interview and clearly state the rate you can pay. Maybe there is something else you can afford to offer such as a cell phone stipend, adding the nanny to your Costco membership or your gym, etc. Being direct about pay rate range before the interview demonstrates that you are a communicative, straight-forward employer. It also shows respect for the candidate's time. If you have scheduled an interview with a candidate, that candidate has made the reasonable assumption that you've considered their hourly rate and you would be willing to pay it.


  • "Are you flexible about start and end times?" Be more specific about your needs. Do you often end up staying 45 minutes later at work? Does your schedule change each month? Are you a surgeon who could have a schedule change the night before? Tell the candidate these things and offer guaranteed hours to ensure that their paycheck remains stable, regardless of changes to your schedule. Candidates perceive vague questions about "flexibility" as a sign that the parent might be chronically late, might change the nanny's work schedule without notice, or cut the nanny's hours and not pay guaranteed hours.


  • "Are you ok with planning your vacations around our vacation dates?" No! Ask yourself -- would you base your family's vacation time on when your boss takes a vacation? That said, do share during the interview process if there are certain blackout dates for taking time off; for example, if you attend a work conference every year and you absolutely must have childcare coverage at that time.


  • List professional benefits only in your job posting. Leave out jokes such as, "The benefits include working with two great kids!" Applicants perceive jokes like this as a sign that the parent may not really think that employee benefits are important for a nanny. Working with kids is a joy for nannies but it is not a benefit: it is the job. Imagine that you are an engineer applying to a job at an engineering firm and the benefits listed include, "Working at a great engineering firm!" What would you think of that?


  • Questions about an applicant's personal life are never appropriate for any job interview. Some examples of inappropriate questions, below:

  • "Are you married?"

  • "How old are you?"

  • "What does your spouse/partner do?"

  • "Are you religious?"

  • "Do you want kids?"

  • "Are you planning to start a family in the next year?"​

An applicant's personal life and home life is not an employer's business, even when you are hiring a nanny. Parents are not entitled to details about their nanny's personal life. These types of questions indicate to the candidate that you may not have appropriate boundaries, or you do not understand how to be an employer.


FINAL THOUGHT ABOUT THE RIGHT TIME TO HIRE A NANNY

If you are currently going through a lot of changes and tumult, taking on a new in-home employee to manage, train, and support may or may not be the solution. If you are feeling any of the following ways, it might not be the right time to hire a nanny:

  • "We are looking for a nanny to help create stability for our children."

  • "Our kids have been through a lot this year and we are looking for a special nanny."

  • "We are looking for a nanny who helps bring balance and flow in our home."

​Creating a stable and balanced work environment is actually the responsibility of the employer. Nannies are often more than happy to care for children who are going through a hard time, however, they will not be able to single-handedly create a stable environment for the children. They can support your efforts. They also have to continue to prioritize what is best for their own family; for example, if they experience a family emergency while working for your family, they may have to step away. Even when you need someone to be a stable and reliable presence in your child's life, you have to remain realistic about the level of dedication to expect from an employee.


If you're struggling to keep up with your dishes, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, and dirty laundry, a nanny cannot become the adult in your life who handles that. A home manager or a family assistant, at a higher pay rate, may be an employee who handles that. A nanny or family assistant may also be able to help you research a housekeeping service.


That said, sometimes you do need a nanny even though you're in the thick of hard things and will struggle to be the ideal employer. If you do need to proceed with a nanny search when life is extraordinarily hectic, these things can go a long way:

  • showing your employee gratitude and appreciation

  • ensuring accurate pay on time every week

  • letting the nanny know this is your first time as a nanny employer and you are very interested in communicating and collaborating to make it a great experience; a lot of experienced nannies will be very open to this

  • being flexible with them and working together on a schedule that works best for you both

  • offering the best hourly rate you can do

  • holding appropriate boundaries by not divulging your personal problems to your employee**

** A nanny can grow to become a family friend who cares to hear about these things, but that happens down the road of an established working relationship and it happens on an organic, case-by-case basis. Especially early on, bear in mind that the nanny is not there to listen to personal issues such as your finances, why you are separated or getting divorced, legal troubles, your co-parent's bad behavior, etc.



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