When Sara Cantwell, a San Francisco mom of twin boys, and her husband hired their first nanny, they let her go the very same week, after the nanny was repeatedly tardy. That meant the family had to nearly go back to square one, which put them behind in their search and schedule.
It was then that Cantwell, a product and marketing professional, decided that a nanny trial was necessary to ensure she hired competent, loving care that suited her family’s need and dynamic. “A trial is good for both families and nannies,” she observes. “You’re interviewing and evaluating each other to see if it’s going to work.”
Amy Osborn, founder of Genuine Nannies, agrees that trials are beneficial. “Trials can give the family a better idea on how the nanny might blend into their home life, how they interact with the children, and the way their skills harmonize with the family’s needs,” she says. “It’s an introduction to the household, routines, schedules, and neighborhood, smoothing the transition process if and when the family decides to move forward with that person.”
Indeed, setting up trial periods are common when searching for a nanny. Jennifer Talia, a placement counselor with Palo Alto, Calif. agency Town and Country Resources, a company that Care.com owns, notes that of their clients “95 percent of families will set up a trial.”
But how should families and nannies structure a trial that works for all parties? Here are seven key tips.
1. Set up a 1-week trial period
After initial interviews, Talia advises moving forward with nanny candidates by setting up a one-week trial period. “That’s typically enough time for both the nanny and the family to make a decision,” she says. Some families will do trials with multiple nannies, she notes, while others may set up a trial with just one nanny as a final step in the process.
If a full one-week trial can’t be worked into schedules, Talia recommends a short trial — or what she terms a working interview. This is when a nanny would interact with the child or children in the home and even potentially take them on activities, while the parent(s) observes. “A working interview, even if it’s a couple of days or just a few hours, can still help you both understand the chemistry and how personalities mesh,” she says.
Venture capitalist Neena Kadaba, mom to a five-year-old boy and two-year-old girl, did a trial run with her current nanny. “She came for a couple hours a day for four or five days,” Kadaba says. “I liked her and thought it would work out, but it was helpful to have her get to know the kids and their routine a bit before fully committing.”
2. Align on expectations and write them down
Families should think through what they expect from the nanny — and, conversely, nannies should be upfront about what they’re willing to do. “Have a conversation about what your needs are,” Talia says.
She offers families a work agreement template to help them identify the specifics, whether it’s light housekeeping, driving the children to school and team practices or speaking a second language with them. If all goes well, this work agreement could be used as part of a contract for full-time work moving forward. Regardless, it’s important to be clear on what’s required both during the trial as well as later on during full-time employment.
“You want to cover things like how they’re paid, what happens if you’re going out of town, time off, etc,” Kadaba says. “It really prevents issues later on.”
Cantwell even developed a handbook that covers everything from daily schedules and safety procedures to social media preferences related to the kids. “I give it to the nanny before the trial starts,” Cantwell says. “We also talk about it in person at the beginning.”
3. Remember that trials are paid
Families should generally pay a fair wage that matches what the nanny will actually make. “You should only trial a nanny who’s in the range of what you’re prepared to pay,” Talia says.
“Families should choose the hourly rate the nanny will actually be paid if she or he gets the job,” she continues. “In the Bay Area, where we’re located, we suggest families stick with $23 per hour during the trial.”
4. Set yourself up for success
A trial run should closely mirror actual home life, Talia says, whether that’s picking a child up from school or playing at home for the day.
“Don’t have a working interview where there’s no direction — remember the nanny is brand-new to your household,” says Talia. “Think through what he or she needs to be successful, whether that’s logistical information like phone numbers, addresses, and dietary restrictions or simple instructions like which parks to visit.”
5. Speak up
It’s important to open the lines of communication with nannies during trial periods to get a sense of their approach with the children and receptivity to areas of responsibility.
Try to draw out information with specific questions around the things that are most important to you. For example: Was the light housekeeping easy to handle or too much? How was trying to get the baby down for her nap? How did our toddler react when you corrected his behavior?
This helps give a better sense of how things are going — and how the nanny might handle daily job demands.
Talia recommends setting aside 10 to 20 minutes to talk when the children are not there or are otherwise preoccupied. “This is your first opportunity to set the tone and practice open communication,” she says. “Both families and nannies should be open about their impressions.”
6. Make yourself available at home
If parents can make it work, it’s good to be home for a trial run with a new nanny, at least in the very beginning, Talia says. “I do advise families to be there at first until they feel comfortable,” she says. “After that, it’s good to leave for a bit and then evaluate how things feel when you come back. How are the kids? How’s the atmosphere in the house? Check your gut and see what it tells you.”
Osborn encourages ensuring children get a chance to connect one-on-one with a prospective caregiver. “Even if you’re sticking around, find something to do — answer some email, prep dinner, fold laundry,” she suggests. “Just give them some space to feel each other out.”
7. Be honest about your feelings
If a family or a nanny doesn’t feel like it’s a good fit, it’s not a problem, Talia says. “That’s exactly why we do working interviews. Just be honest, direct and kind when you share it won’t work out,” she says.
Says Cantwell, “After a trial run, I’ve never regretted the decision to let someone go — or hire them.”