Senior caregivers: How to know if a family is right for you

Dec. 12, 2019
Senior caregivers: How to know if a family is right for you

When it comes to searching for a new client as a senior caregiver, it can be hard to find the perfect fit. You might ask yourself questions like: “Do I have the right skills and certifications,” “Do I have enough experience?” or “Will I be the right fit for the senior’s needs?” While these are important questions to consider, they all focus on whether you’re the right fit for a new family — not the other way around, which is crucial to consider, as well.

As professional senior caregivers, it’s normal to feel pressure to be the right candidate for potential families. You not only want to care for elderly individuals, but you want a stable job that pays your bills and takes care of you, too. Factors like this can lead you to accept jobs that aren’t a great match, which can eventually lead to burnout.

What does that mean when it comes to searching for the right family? It starts with shifting the focus toward finding the right fit for you. Here are four helpful tips senior caregivers can consider when interviewing with new families and/or their aging loved ones.

1. Set (and manage) expectations

For many caregivers, the job you agreed to do may not be the job you end up actually doing. Whether it’s taking on extra duties you weren’t expecting or working beyond your set schedule, you may find yourself in a position that isn’t ideal for you or your client(s). Anne C. Sansevero, RN, GNP, CCM, confirms that “some families may expect a caregiver to do skilled care tasks that are beyond their scope of practice.”

To prevent this, and to find a senior whose needs you are able to meet, start any interview with an open and honest conversation about expectations. Be up front and truthful about your education, qualifications and availability. You can also request a more specific job description before or during the interview, which can inform the questions you’ll ask to get a better idea of what the job might entail. Those questions might include:

  • Will I be expected to work outside my scheduled hours?

  • Will I be contacted in an emergency situation?

  • Is your care provider expected to give opinions or weigh in on medical decisions?

  • Do you need your caregiver to be on call?

  • Are any additional skills or certifications required that you haven’t already mentioned?

  • Will I be expected to go through any specific training

  • Is there anyone in the house who might also need care?

The last question is very important, according to Sansevero. This is because “couples cases” can be an unexpected hiccup in a senior caregiver’s work. Make sure you won’t be expected to care for one elderly client and end up having to take care of two, she warns.


Asking these questions upfront ensures a family knows what’s expected of you, and — just as importantly — you know what to expect from them.

2. Find a match for your skill sets

When it comes to honing in on the specifics of a senior care job, try matching your skills to the needs of the person you will be caring for. During the interview process, ask for exact tasks you’ll be expected to carry out or if the senior has any illnesses. Getting this information up front is crucial, as families may forget to share certain details, like health or physical risks that could drastically change the type of care you’re able to give.

You should also consider if the client has a medical condition or needs that you’re comfortable with or have experience handling. 

“You need to match up your skill set with that person's required care. For example, do they have severe dementia? Do they have Parkinson's?” asked Dwayne J. Clark, CEO of Aegis Living. 

If so, are you prepared to help the client and his or her family with the effects of that condition?

If you’re unsure about the client’s health, or if a family’s job description is unclear, you’ll want to get a better picture of the situation. Before or during the interview, you can ask questions like: 

  • Will I have to take your loved one to and from doctor appointments?

  • Will I have to administer any medications?

  • Does he or she have a special or restricted diet?

  • Does he or she have any physical limitations, such as difficulty getting up and downstairs, in and out of bed, or going to the bathroom? 

  • Does he or she exhibit any unusual behaviors or violent outbursts?

Asking these types of questions can help you identify the right job for your skills while also assessing whether a family has expectations within the realm of what you can provide. 

3. Sweat the small stuff

Although your No. 1 priority as a senior caregiver is helping those in your care, it’s important to remember that you are providing a service for the whole family. Your job is no easy feat; you want to feel confident that you’ll be fairly compensated and treated well. 

Once you feel you’re ready to take on a new family, be sure to ask about details that go beyond senior care, such as:

  • Paid time off.

  • Overtime pay.

  • Taxes and withholdings.

  • Workers’ compensation.

  • Employee benefits.

  • A backup plan in case you’re unavailable.

These details are important when it comes to your overall job satisfaction and happiness.

4. Look for compatibility

Finding the right family is more than managing expectations and having the right skills; it also requires a strong bond between senior caregivers and the entire family. And although you may be a great match for someone on paper, it’s just as important to establish solid rapport.

That’s why it’s critical to get a feel for a family’s personality, according to Carrie Laffen, whose family owns Family Matters In-Home Care in the Bay Area. Laffen says that her company always considers personality when pairing a caregiver and a senior. She adds that while the caregiver-senior relationship is important, the one between the caregiver and the rest of the family is, too. If you’ll be working closely with adult children, spouses or other family, take the time to get to know them during the interview.

Some great questions caregivers can use to connect with a senior’s family members, according to Laffen:

  • Do you prefer someone who is more hands-on or laid back?

  • Do you prefer someone who is quiet or engages in conversation?

  • Do you prefer someone who acts in a more professional manner or as a friend?

  • What are your (or your loved one’s) interests? Do you have any favorite foods, shows, restaurants, music, activities or games? 

  • What do you like to do together as a family?

  • What is your family’s cultural background?

Even asking questions about health and religious beliefs is important when it comes to compatibility, as it could affect things like paid time off, religious celebrations, medical permission, how you care for your new charge and how you interact with their family.

Asking questions like these can easily help you gauge the family’s personality, communication, lifestyle and overall caregiving wants and needs. Plus, the more you have in common with a new family, the easier it is to care for their loved one.

5. Trust your gut

If you’ve done your due diligence during the interview process and are still unsure about taking on a new family — trust your gut. It can be easy to get wrapped up in details like schedule, pay, location and other factors that make a job seem like a good choice. But if something doesn’t feel quite right, there’s probably a good reason.

As you search for a new client, remember to know your worth, know your boundaries and know that you have the right to turn away any job at any point. Ultimately, these moves will benefit both you and the family searching for care. 

As Rick Lauber, author of “The Successful Caregiver's Guide and Caregiver's Guide for Canadians,” says: “Senior care providers play an important role in helping and supporting an aging loved one. The proper fit is necessary to better guarantee satisfaction for all parties involved.”

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

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