How to interview for child care jobs

July 9, 2018
Image via Reed

No matter whether you're a seasoned nanny, a veteran mother's helper or a babysitter who's just starting out, parents will have a lot of questions when you apply for a job caring for their children. And, as with any other type of job interview, you want to make sure you go into this meeting as prepared as possible.

It's important to keep in mind that interviews are a great opportunity to not only highlight how well you fit a particular job description, but also to find out if this job is a good fit for you. It’s also a great way to show how professional you are, so take the time to prepare for the interview to make a great first impression.

How to prepare for a phone interview

When a family or employer likes your application, they'll often schedule an initial phone interview before moving onto the in-person interview. To get ready for the phone interview, be ready to provide:

  • Your name, email address and phone number: This makes it easier for the employer to contact you in the future.
  • Any services you offer that aren't on your profile: If you’re fluent in another language or now have a degree in child education, this is the perfect time to let them know.
  • Any salary requirements: Make sure you ask questions like, "What salary/hourly rate are you hoping to stay within?" or "I charge $X per hour. Are you comfortable with that?" Don’t be shy about this; salary is often the deciding factor for both parties, so get it out of the way sooner rather than later.
  • Any non-negotiables: If you can’t work with a parent who smokes, or if you're unable to drive a car, make sure that those are all laid out on the table so you don’t waste anyone’s time.

If they don’t perform a phone interview  or you’re immediately scheduled to meet them in-person  you'll need to get together a few key items to bring to the interview with you.

How to prepare for an in-person interview 

Just like a “regular” job interview, a child care interview is incredibly important. Sometimes, though, they’re slightly more casual than the average interview. For example, you may meet at a café, park or even at the family’s home. For this reason, you should dress professionally but comfortably  so don’t expect to wear a blazer and heels.

Bring the essentials

In addition to your wardrobe, you should also figure out what additional information this prospective employer might ask for during the interview. Here's a handful of documents that you should consider bringing with you to have your bases covered:

  • Your child care resume or CV
  • Certificates and proof of education (e.g., your CPR Certification card, a copy of your degree, etc.)
  • References with full name and contact information
  • Printed background check information (or permission for them to access it)
  • A list of questions to ask the employer (Keep reading for a list of these.)
  • The potential employer's contact information, in case you get lost, have to cancel or are running late

Plan your interview timeline

  • Know where you're going and how long it will take. Whether you're taking public transportation or driving, make sure you plan your route to the interview ahead of time. Use a GPS-enabled map application to find the less-trafficked routes and to predict what a particular commute will look like, based on your specified departure or arrival times.
  • Get there early. Plan on arriving at the interview spot 10-15 minutes early. This will show the prospective employer that you're serious about this job and that you respect their time. (This also will give you some breathing room if your commute goes a little longer than expected.)
  • Plan enough time. Figure that you will spend about an hour with each family/employer, just to be safe. People can run late, and conversations can turn into tangential chit-chat, but you don’t want your interview cut short as a result (or be the one to cut it short!).

Prepare for the employer's questions

Child care questions are way different than traditional job questions. Parents and employers can ask you anything from, “How long have you been caring for children?” to “What would you do if my child spilled ketchup all over the floor?” These broad-to-specific questions are designed to help employers identify those caregivers who actually have the experience they say they do  and those who don't.

To make your skills and background shine, review these sample interview questions and practice answering them as part of your overall preparation. Although this isn't an exhaustive list of questions, they do cover the broader themes that families and employers may try to cover when they're interviewing a potential child care provider.

During the interview

Once you arrive at the interview, be friendly and introduce yourself to the parent or employer. Allow them to start the interview and guide the direction of the conversation.

You want to see if you’re a good fit personality-wise, so keep an eye on how you feel about the parent/employer. Try to get to know one another a bit more before you dive in to the nitty-gritty of the job itself.

When it comes time for the Q&A session, the parent/employer hopefully will have a little fun with the questions and will give you some insights into what they actually want from a child care provider in the process. As they're asking you questions, feel free to add follow-ups like, “Could you clarify on that?” or “Do you think that will happen a lot when I work with you?”

Interview questions to ask the employer

Don't forget that you're interviewing the employer as well, so come prepared with a list of questions that will help you get a better idea of whether this job is the right one for you.

If the job description and interview hasn’t clarified the position enough, you should ask about your role:

  • Can you walk me through a typical day?
  • What are your family routines and who is involved?
  • How many hours per week would you want me to work?
  • What do you expect of me? Will I cook meals? Do housework? Wash clothes? Provide homework help?
  • Are you open to me taking your child to local parks or playgrounds, or would you prefer that we stay at your house?
  • What resources and contacts do you have if there is an emergency?

You should also always make sure to ask questions about the child:

  • Does your child have any medical conditions, such as asthma or allergies? Is he or she on any medications?
  • Does your child have any chores and responsibilities?
  • What are some of your child’s favorite activities, books and toys?
  • Does your child have any nicknames? Imaginary friends?
  • Is there anything that frightens your child?
  • Does your child have unusual habits? Should I try to help him break that habit?
  • Is there any behavior you would like me to reinforce?
  • Should I pay special attention to certain issues you would like your child to work on, such as sharing or playing with other children?
  • Are there any behavioral issues, such as tantrums or sibling rivalry, I should be aware of? If so, when do they arise?

Take time to get to know the family's or employer’s personality and lifestyle to make sure that it's a good match for you. Ask questions like:

  • Should I be aware of any religious, political or cultural preferences?
  • How does your family handle discipline issues (e.g., time out, grounding, etc.)?
  • How do you expect me to discipline your child? At what point should I contact you if a disciplinary issue arises?
  • What are your rules for talking on the telephone? Watching television? Using the internet? (for both you and the children)

It helps to bring a list of these “must-ask” questions, whether in a notebook or printed off, so you can check them off as you go.

When you’ve asked all of your questions, the parent or family will usually let you know when they’ll make a decision. That said, there are a few things that you should do after the interview that will help you get the job you really want.

After the interview

Once you get home, it’s time to get back to work. No, you shouldn’t wait around to hear if you got the job  even if you feel great about the interview.

Instead, you should immediately shoot a “Thank you” message to the family/employer to let them know you appreciate their time. If they asked you to send any additional details, include those in the message. Keep it short, just a few words, and close with a line like, “I look forward to hearing from you.” Then, get back to applying for other positions. Having multiple interviews will sharpen your skills and give you a better idea of what “sells” in your specific field.

If you hear back from the family that they've found someone else, don't panic. More often than not, their decision was not personal  it just means that the situation wasn't the best fit for them at the time. The good news is that, in the meantime, you’ve kept yourself on the market by continuing to apply for jobs. Keep applying; you’ll find the right family.

If you did get the job, congratulations!

Before you accept the job, make sure that you have a good idea of what the parents want their children to do, eat, wear and even learn while they are in your care. You should also have a good feeling about working with the parents and the children  after all, your job is a major part of your life and you want to enjoy it.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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