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How to Interview an Au Pair
I get many questions from host parents, usually "new" host parents, about how to interview an au pair. It is a daunting task because you are calling a stranger in a foreign country to "check out" if she or he will be appropriate to care for your children! Many new parents don't get it right the first time, and they will go into "rematch" - the industry term for a broken contract where they need to find you a new au pair, and they will need to place your fired au pair in a new home.
Here is our article on "How to Interview an Au Pair" - I am sure it will be helpful to the many parents who have emailed me over the weekend:
How to Interview an Au Pair
Choosing an au pair for your children is a process that should be organized and performed carefully, to ensure you find someone who can be trusted, who will contribute significantly to the development of your child and integrate well into your family.
The step-by-step process described below will help you make an informed decision and choose the best possible au pair for your family, ensuring their well being and safety.
1. Define Requirements and Expectations
The first part of the hosting process is to define your exact requirements and expectations. Ask yourself questions and build a list of all requirements, then narrow it down to the most important ones. Are you looking for an au pair in a full-time or part-time position? Does she need to be flexible with your unconventional work schedule? Are you looking for a young, outgoing and energetic au pair or do your kids require an older and more authoritative person?
How important is tidiness and cleanliness? Will the au pair be expected to cook for your children? Is she expected to drive them around? Are there any additional duties she is expected to perform? If you have very young children, the au pair should have excellent English skills.
2. The Interview
Once you know what you expect and need in an au pair, you can start interviewing prospective au pairs. The interviews should be structured with a standard set of questions that are asked of all candidates. This makes it easier to evaluate and compare the candidates and to ensure that all critical topics are indeed covered.
The Phone Interview: To match with an au pair, you must conduct at least 2 phone interviews. Never match with an au pair by email and without speaking to her! Ask the au pair if she has Skype or if the au pair agency has Skype in their office (it is recommended that you use Skype or a similar program – it is important to see the au pair during the interview!).
- First, explain the requirements of the job and the duties it includes. Don't leave anything out that may be a problem later for the au pair. Examples: do you have a big dog, is your house in a remote area away from the town and other au pairs, do you have a special needs child that will require specific and more demanding work from the au pair?
- Ask about past experience with similar age groups, the motivation for choosing this sort of profession, the reasons for leaving the previous place of employment, future plans, other responsibilities which may affect the job and any other questions you consider important at this stage.
- Make sure you ask about her driving experience – where she drives, how often and what car she uses. Au pair agencies often exaggerate the au pair's driving skills and the only way you can assess their real skills is to ask lots of questions about where, when they drive and what car is available to them.
- By speaking to them at least twice, you can more readily assess their English skills. Using Skype is preferred since you can match her image with the one provided by the au pair agency. It is not uncommon for au pairs with weak English to have a friend (with better English) to take these interview calls for them!
3. Check & Verify References
Checking references with previous employers and acquaintances is an important part of the interview process. Expect the previous employer to give you a good reference, but try to read between the lines and ask questions that require a detailed answer and may reveal underlining issues. Such questions may be about what has the previous employer liked and disliked about the au pair, why has she left her position, and whether would she be rehired by the same employer. Pay attention also to the tone of the responses. Is the previous employer excited about the au pair? Is she just being polite or does he really care about helping the au pair to get a new job?
4. Follow-up Interview to Secure An Arrival Date
You should speak to all prospective au pairs that you are interested in at least twice and then secure an arrival date. At the end of the second interview, ask her if she is interested in your family. Arrange a third call to confirm that she accepts your offer and this is the time to set an arrival date. The arrival date that is registered with the agency will stop her applications from going to other, competing host families!
Go over any questions that you were not sure of and ask the au pair if she has any other questions. Review her medical records – ask her if she has ever been depressed or if she is on medications. Check to see if she is allergic to your family pets!
TOP INTERVIEW TIPS
- Never choose the first candidate you like - interview several potential au pairs! To make an informed decision you need several points of comparison.
- Remember that a great personality does not necessarily translate into a good childcare professional. You are not looking for a playmate for your child, but an experienced childcare giver who will safeguard their well-being.
- Examine her host family letter and photos that she has chosen to express herself. If you find inconsistencies in her letter or she sounds "flighty" that means she is! Most au pairs reveal why they are leaving home to become an au pair in the first paragraph of their letter! Look for red flags and emotional baggage, such as: "My parents divorced when I was 5 and I don't get along with my father..." (she will not get along with her Host Dad either); "My boyfriend and I just broke up and I want to experience some time alone from him..." (if you see this, run...). Photos that show your au pair drinking, partying with lots of friends in bars, on the beach, etc., and with no family photos are also a red flag.
- Don't Hire an au pair who has a Serious Boyfriend! If her boyfriend wants her to come back home, you will lose every time! Also, your au pair may become very homesick and jealous of the boyfriend (what is he doing, who is he doing it with, etc.) and she will not be happy, have trouble concentrating and will probably break the match to return home.
- 80% of the US Fortune 500 companies and 75% of the UK Times 100 companies use psychological tests to choose their employees. Make sure your agency uses a valid psychometric test to screen your au pair!
Cautions for Host Parents
Interviews: Most recruitment specialists agree that the validity of interviews is quite low, even when conducted by trained professionals. Interviews often fail to reveal important facts or problematic personality traits, and their predictive value is limited.
Parents are usually not trained interviewers who lack the necessary experience to properly formulate interview questions, read between the lines of what the applicant say or interpret non-verbal signs and body language, etc. This is why psychometric tests are so important and why the U.S. Department of State requires all 14 agencies to use them on every au pair they recruit!
References are highly subjective and in some cases past employers may even prefer, for various reasons, to omit certain details, which may harm the candidate in his search for a new position.
Background Checks: The accuracy of the various databases searched through background screening may be limited for a number of reasons. More than that, having, for example, a clean criminal record means a person has never been convicted of such activity but does not necessarily indicate that a person has never been involved in criminal activity or has a tendency to do so.
The Importance of Proper Psychometric Testing of Au Pairs - Read This Article Before you Hire an Au Pair!