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Interview tips for caregivers: What to bring, say and ask to land the job

Latasha Doyle
Aug. 1, 2018

Interviews are an opportunity to not only highlight how well you fit a particular job description, but also to find out if the job and family is the right fit for you. Interviews can show how professional and qualified you are, and they can help you make a lasting impression. Studies show that many employers know within the first 90 seconds whether they will hire you or not, so take some time to prepare yourself for that first impression.

“I could tell right away that our nanny was right for us,” says mom of two Julie Macon. “She was prepared, professional and had thorough responses to everything we asked. She was also warm and seemed at home.”

Professional nanny Allie Borgeson agrees that the best interview advice is to impress the family, feel confident and enjoy yourself. Not every interview will go perfectly, but being prepared will help you make a great first impression and increase your odds of getting hired.

To walk you through the interview process, we’ve laid out what to do ahead of the phone and in-person interviews, as well as how to follow up once you’ve met with potential employers.

The phone interview: Get to know everything about the employer

When a family or employer likes your application, they'll often schedule an initial phone interview before an in-person interview.

“I find out everything I can about the family before interviewing,” says professional nanny Jeanette George.

George says she reads the family’s online profile, if they have one, and also searches for them on Google. This, she says, ensures her safety as a nanny and that she’ll have added knowledge of the family ahead of the interview.

In the phone interview, be prepared to discuss:

  • Services you offer. “Be sure to mention your credentials. Whether it be a CPR card, a degree in early childhood education, an online course you took and even books you’ve read,” Borgeson says. If you’re now fluent in another language or have availability not highlighted in your resume or online profile, this is the perfect time to let them know.

  • Salary requirements. Ask questions like "What salary/hourly rate are you hoping to stay within?" or "I charge $X, are you comfortable with that?" Salary can be 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 someone who smokes or if you're unable to drive a car, make sure those are laid out on the table so you don’t waste time.

  • References. This will likely come after an in-person interview, but have your references ready ahead of time just in case. Ask permission from new references before including them in your list, but try to provide 3 to 5 references. If you’re new to caregiving, ask for references from families you’ve babysat for, or even provide character references from teachers, neighbors, etc.

The in-person interview: Arrive early, come prepared

If your phone interview goes well, your potential employer will likely schedule an in-person interview with you. The setting for a caregiver interview might be slightly more casual than the average job interview. For example, you may meet at a café, park or the family’s home. So you should plan on dressing professionally but comfortably.

For child care interviews, “most families allow some time at the end of the interview for the nanny to interact with the children,” says Natalei Guardiola, of Colorado Nanny. “[So] wear something that you would feel comfortable in playing on the floor or in the yard with a child.”

Plan on spending an hour or more with the family, just to be safe. People can run late and conversations can turn into chit-chat, and you don’t want your interview cut short as a result. You should also arrive at the interview location 10 to 15 minutes early. This will show your prospective employers that you're serious about this job and that you can be trusted to be on time when they need you.

“This may mean you will have to sit in your car outside of their house [or meeting place] for a few minutes before going in, but you won’t risk arriving late,” Guardiola says.

Have the family’s contact information handy in case you have to cancel or are running late. You should also bring your portfolio, which will ideally include:

  • Your resume or CV

  • Certificates and proof of education (e.g., your CPR certification card, a copy of your diploma, etc.)

  • References with full names and up-to-date contact information

  • Printed background check information (or permission for them to access it)

  • A list of questions to ask the employer (see below)

Once you arrive at the interview, be friendly and introduce yourself. Allow the employers to guide the direction of the conversation and get the interview started. Try to determine if your personality aligns with the family by getting to know each other a bit before diving into the nitty-gritty of the job itself.

What you might be asked during your interview

Here’s a sampling of some of the more common questions a family might ask. Practice answering these questions ahead of your interview:

  • Questions about your experience:

    • Tell me about your experience working with children/pets/seniors/etc.

    • At what age did you start caregiving?

    • What age ranges do you have experience working with?

    • Is there a preferred age or type of person/pet that you are most comfortable working with? Why?

  • Questions about activities you do:

    • What activities do you like doing with kids/pets/seniors?

    • Are you willing to go on short outings nearby? (e.g., to parks, museums, etc.)

    • What activities did you enjoy growing up?

    • What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

  • Questions about discipline:

    • How do you comfort and discipline children or pets?

    • Are you comfortable enforcing routines?

    • Have you had problems in the past following parents’ preferences in terms of discipline?

    • Have you had a difficult caregiving moment? How did you handle the situation?

  • Questions about safety:

    • Have you ever had to handle an emergency?

    • Are you CPR-certified? Do you have a basic understanding of first aid skills?

    • Have you ever worked with children or seniors with allergies?

    • Would you be willing to do a background check?

Although this isn't an exhaustive list, it does cover the broader themes that many families may discuss when they're interviewing a candidate. As your potential employers are 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?”

What you should ask at an interview

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

“It’s up to the candidate to use her intuition — and questions — to determine if they could mesh well with a family,” Borgeson says.

Get more details about the potential role with questions like:

  • 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/pet/senior to local parks or playgrounds, or would you prefer we stay at your house?

  • Will you provide “petty cash” for fun experiences/outings, or do you provide reimbursements?

  • What resources and contacts do you have if there is an emergency?

You should also ask questions about the child/pet/senior like:

  • Are there 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 favorite activities, books and toys?

  • Does your child have any nicknames or imaginary friends?

  • Is there anything that frightens your child/pet/senior?

  • Are there any 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, such as sharing or playing with others?

  • What sorts of behavioral issues arise, like tantrums or dog aggression, and when?

To get a better feel for the family, 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? At what point should I contact you if a disciplinary issue arises?

  • What are your rules for talking on the telephone, watching television or using the internet?

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

“Often times, we don't think of many of the questions we would like to ask until after the interview,” says Lewahn Wallace, of Modern Nanny. “Do research online the night before so the questions are still on your mind.”

When you’ve asked all 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 want.

The follow-up: Send a ‘thank you’ but keep applying

Don’t wait around to hear back from your potential employers — even if you feel great about the interview. Instead, send a “thank you” message via email to let them know you appreciated their time. If the family asked you to send any additional details or documents, include those in the message. Keep it short, 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. It will also help you find the best fit for you and will ensure that you’re not left without a job should the first family find someone else.

Borgeson also recommends that caregivers stay up to date on early childhood development  or senior care with books and articles while you wait for the right family to come along.

If you hear back from the family that they've found someone else, don't panic. That just means the situation wasn't the best fit.

If the family does extend a job offer, and before you accept, it’s recommend to have a contract that you’re comfortable with. A nanny contract can include everything from your schedule and pay to what the parents want their children to do, eat, wear and even learn while they’re in your care. You should also have a good feeling about working with the family. After all, your job is a major part of your life and you want to enjoy it.

Read next: Ask yourself these questions to know if a family is right for you. 

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