Questions you should be asking during a nanny interview

Seeking out a nanny for your family can feel overwhelming, so we've rounded up some questions you should be asking your future Mrs. Doubtfire.

Photo: iStockphoto

No matter how much you will it, Mary Poppins isn’t going to float down from the sky and land on your doorstep. Instead, finding the right nanny can take quite a bit of searching, whether you’re relying on word of mouth, sponsoring someone from overseas or using an online agency like Nannies Inc. and CanadianNanny.ca, which help to connect parents with local nannies. It’s like online dating, but instead of seeking a soul mate, you’re finding Mrs. Doubtfire!

Mrs. Doubtfire dances with vacuum
Photo: Giphy

Like with any job, interviewing is a crucial part of the process, which should begin a few months before you needs your caregiver to start. John Phillip Green, CEO and founder of CareGuide, which owns and operates CanadianNanny.ca, explains that parents can get the most out of a nanny interview by asking the right questions and trusting their own instincts. First, he recommends screening the best candidates on the phone—much like in the broader job market—to see if they check certain boxes on the family’s nanny wish list. Depending on how those go, parents would then narrow the candidates down to a handful of top picks before scheduling more formal, in-person interviews, often held over 30 to 60 minutes in the family’s home, which Green says allows potential candidates to “get a lay of the land.”

Once you’ve gotten to this stage, it’s just a matter of getting to know the individuals so you can select your perfect Nanny McPhee. You can always do an online search to see if they have a presence on social media, which could give insight into their hobbies and family life. Then, with a mix of questions covering each applicant’s relevant experience, lifestyle, ability to handle various scenarios and desires for the position, your in-person interview will offer a well-rounded sense of who you’d be welcoming into your home.

We’ve gathered a slew of sample questions that you should be asking during a nanny interview.

Experience and Credentials

In past interviews he and his wife have conducted, Green prefers to order his questions chronologically, beginning with the candidate’s work history, and when you’re interviewing for a nanny position, you want to question the applicant specifically about their experience with children. It’s also a good idea to ask for references and request a background check if the agency hasn’t already done both. Here are some relevant questions to ask:

  • Where did you previously work?
  • How long were you at your previous job? Why are you leaving?
  • What is your experience working with children, particularly those who were the same age as mine?
  • What do you love about working with children? And what do you find challenging?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
  • Are you trained in infant CPR and first aid?
  • Did your previous job require any housework?

Lifestyle

Besides their past experience, you want to get to know your nanny personally. This means questioning candidates beyond basic information that you would have gathered during the initial phone interview. Instead, ask about their habits, interests and what they’re looking for in a family.

For Fern Brody, finding someone who was comfortable in a close family setting was really important. The working mom of two and her family have had a live-out nanny for the past three-and-a-half years. Brody encourages parents to be extremely upfront with their expectations and seek out someone whose personality and way of being match with what you’re looking for. “Look beyond the employer-employee relationship,” advises Brody. “Someone could potentially become a part of your family.” Some questions you can ask during the interview are:

  • Do you have children of your own? Family in Canada?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • Can you cook and prepare meals?
  • Do you drive or are you comfortable taking public transit?
  • Are you comfortable with pets?
  • What do you like to do on your days off?
  • What other weekly commitments do you currently have?

Handling Children

Jessica Alba sitting on couch with nannie connie and her baby in her lap. 5 baby care secrets from Hollywood's favourite nannyIn a similar manner to inquiring about experience, you want to ask your potential caregiver about their attitudes and approach to childcare. “If they say something that was interesting, like ‘I worked at daycare,’ then you sort of drill in on that,” says Green. You want to get to know what kind of philosophies they may bring to raising a child. Be sure to ask questions such as:

  • Why did you choose to become a nanny?
  • What do you find to be the most challenging part about working with a child this age?
  • What kinds of activities would you do with a child this age?
  • How do you handle a crying baby?
  • Have you bathed children, dealt with diaper rash, given medications, etc?
  • Are you open to following specific sleep-training methods? E.g. cry it out vs. rocking to sleep
  • Can you swim? Have you taken care of children at a pool or beach?
  • Are you comfortable taking children to music and other classes or playdates outside the home?
  • Are you able to follow our specific parenting style? E.g. positive parenting vs. time outs and consequences
  • What kinds of meals would you give to a child this age?
  • In what instances would you use your cell phone while with the children?

Scenarios

Once you’ve thoroughly questioned the candidate about their experience, lifestyle and overall approach to childcare, next throw some hypothetical scenarios their way, covering a broad range of topics like discipline and medical emergencies. This allows parents to understand how the nanny might react in certain critical situations, explains Brody, while also offering insight into their sense of judgment. Some scenario questions you can ask are:

  • You are at the park with a child and they fall, hit their head and are unresponsive. What do you do?
  • What are the signs that a child may be sick? What would you do if a child had a high fever?
  • What would you do if you were feeding the kids lunch and they broke out in hives (having no known existing allergies)?
  • What would you do if there was a fire in the house?
  • If a child started choking, what would you do?
  • Our younger child bites our younger child. What do you do?

Job Description and Salary

Towards the end of the interview, you want to clearly define the job description to the candidate and ensure that they understand what is expected of them while in your household. This is where you can ask whether they are willing to assist with household chores or available to work extra hours when needed. It’s also important to give the applicant a chance to address their expectations from you—like their ideal salary, hours, number of children to care for, etc. Brody recommends that parents briefly introducing their kids to the prospective caregiver as well. “You can tell very quickly whether someone is comfortable with kids or not,” she says. Questions you can ask about the job itself include:

  • What are you looking for in this job?
  • When would you be available to start?
  • Are you able to make a one-year commitment?
  • What is your availability for evenings and weekends?
  • What kind of housework are you comfortable doing?
  • What are your expectations from us?

Questions you shouldn’t ask

According to Green, questions about age, race, religion, sexual orientation and relationship status should be off the table. Yes, you want to get to know the potential caregiver personally, but there are boundaries. Families often don’t realize that they’re becoming an employer just like any other employer in Canada, so they need to adhere to all the labour laws that go with that. Green continues: “That includes discrimination law and employment laws around paying taxes and, statutory holidays and so on.”

Once you’ve concluded the first round of interviews and are able to narrow down the list of candidates to the top two or three, the next step from there is to arrange a kind of trial run, during which you invite the top candidates to spend a few hours or a day watching your children, during which time you can see them in action. Green explains that he and his wife will pay the candidates during this round. Depending on how those go, you can continue to funnel down your list until you’re confident in the last nanny standing!

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