How to Interview an Au Pair
7 tips for talking to possible au pair candidates.
An au pair is a foreign national who comes to the United States to provide child care while taking classes and experiencing American life. These caregivers receive room and board in exchange for a weekly stipend.
Hiring an au pair is slightly different than hiring a typical nanny or babysitter. One important difference is the interview. Because the au pair lives in another country, you may be interviewing her via email, phone or Skype -- rather than in person, as you would for someone living in this country. As a result, there are some unique considerations you’ll need to take into account.
Learn About the Interview Process
When you hire an au pair, you have to go through an approved au pair company. Ask what their typical procedure is for interviews. It differs for every company. Will you email prospective candidates? How many times will you interview a candidate? Do they prefer phone interviews or ones through Skype? (If you're not familiar with the technology the company uses, practice beforehand.)
Prepare Thoroughly and Thoughtfully
Help make the most out of the conversation with a little research and planning. Make a list of open-ended questions to ask that will provide you with a solid understanding of the au pair’s past experiences and current motivations, as well as how he or she might respond in a number of hypothetical situations. For example:
- Why do you want to be an au pair?
- What are some age-appropriate activities you would plan for my child?
- What is your idea of how the parent-child relationship should function?
- What are children like in your country?
- What are you interested in learning about the United States?
Be sure to think up some unexpected questions as well, advises Nancy Felix, an expert host parent who has employed fourteen au pairs. “Many au pairs prepare for interviews with scripted language that has been practiced over and over.”
Assume a conversational tone and inquire about additional topics not directly related to the au pair’s role, such as their interests and how they like to spend their time.
Involve Your Child
Your kids are the ones who will be interacting with the au pair regularly. Let them weigh in on questions to ask and have them participate in the interview.
Be Sensitive to Communication Barriers
Remember that English will likely not be the au pair’s first language. Susan Robinson, who works at Cultural Care Au Pair and has also hosted numerous au pairs, suggests talking slowly and articulately, as speaking and understanding English are more difficult over the phone than in person. Be prepared to repeat or rephrase questions and sentences if need be.
That said, good communication is important to the relationship you’ll have with an au pair. Make sure the candidate has a basic level of English to help her communicate with your family and live in a largely English-speaking country. Does your family speak another language in addition to English? It might be helpful to look for someone who has that language in common with you.
It may also be a nice touch to practice a few words in the au pair's language, to help make things more comfortable.
Stay Alert to Red Flags
For an au pair who is leaving family, friendships and a sense of cultural belonging, a move to the United States is a big adjustment. For your mutual benefit, it’s important to suss out if this will be a good fit at the right time and under the right circumstances.
Again, this often comes back to asking the right kinds of questions, such as:
- Have you ever lived away from home for a significant period of time?
- Have you visited America before?
- Do you have a significant other back home? (A long-distance relationship may cause undue homesickness.)
Although no one answer may turn out to be a dealbreaker, asking these questions will help you intuit much from answers given as well as tone of voice.
Another red flag, warns Felix, are replies that sound overly rehearsed, such as “I love children” or “I want to be a kindergarten teacher.” Dig deeper into these replies to assess whether the au pair has a sincere passion for and dedication to the role.
While questions posed to the au pair are critical to the interview, it’s equally important that you provide as much relevant detail about your expectations and the kind of au pair relationship you’re seeking. An au pair is leaving one country for another to work for you and, as such, the stakes are much higher than if you're hiring someone from the same town or city. Address family dynamics, children's ages and personalities, routines and schedules, what the au pair should provide (education, language and entertainment) and how you envision discipline to be handled.
And Expect the Same
Likewise, you should require the same transparency of the au pair. After all, “it’s better to communicate honestly with each other so that you both have realistic expectations”, says Robinson.
We hope these tips make navigating the au pair interview a simple and clear process!
Alexandra Kadlec is a freelance writer. When not writing, doing crossword puzzles or playing competitive games of Scrabble, she is known to get effusive about modern art, Jane Austen and karaoke.