Caregivers: Ask yourself these questions to know if a family is right for you

Aug. 2, 2018

When walking into an interview, it’s easy to get caught up trying to prove you’re the right fit for a family. There’s pressure to outshine, outperform and out-qualify the competition by showcasing all of your certifications , references and degrees. You want to be the perfect candidate, but that may lead you to forget one very important thing: You need to make sure the family is a good fit for you, too. If you’re anything like me, this is your biggest struggle when finding a new family.

As a professional nanny, I constantly struggled to balance what I wanted in a family with the families and positions that were available to me. I accepted — and kept — positions that were nearly 35 miles from my house (each way!), or that paid much less than I had originally requested. I also accepted positions that required me to work with parents I didn’t connect with, or with children whose needs exceeded my own abilities.

Over time, I learned that, if I was going to be able to do my best work and provide the best care for my charges, I really needed to focus on finding a family that was right for me. Once I did this, I found families that I really connected with — and to this day, I am still close to them, years after my role with each family ended.

It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of interviewing, considering and even negotiating things like salary and schedule to find a family. But it worked, and I knew that I was thriving as a nanny when I was in these situations I had created for myself, and with the families that employed me.

So how do you find the right family fit? Here are five helpful questions to ask yourself when deciding if a family meets your expectations.

1. What are the parents like?

Getting a feel for the parents can be one of the most important aspects of a caregiver interview. The ways in which you interact with your employers can tell you a lot about how your time with that family will go. Try to ignore the typical awkwardness that comes with a first interview and really pay attention to how you feel around them.

“Focus on your presentation, not your qualifications that already got you in the door,” says Rachelle Gershkovich, of night nanny agency Maternal Instincts. “This is your time to let who you are shine through.”

When interviewing with a family, ask yourself the following:

  • Are they courteous and kind?

  • Do they seem open to communication? If so, would I feel comfortable having difficult conversations with them, like if I made a mistake?

  • Do their values align with my own?

  • Is their parenting style compatible with my caregiving style?

If you’re unsure of any of the above, ask questions about what they do for a living, what they’re looking for in a caregiver and if they’ve had one before. You can also ask about their parenting styles and any schooling, religious or health beliefs you feel are important to caregiving. Getting a sense of their communication style, as well as hearing their answers, will tell you if you’d work well with them.

“You want a relationship that fosters the open communication that is required to care for the child,” says Natalei Shafer, of Colorado Nanny.

If you don’t feel that a family is going to offer that to you, it may not be the best fit.

2. Are you comfortable with the location?

For many caregivers, the job's location is considered a "secondary" concern to what the family and position will be like. But it’s important to take location into account when interviewing with a family, as it can quickly become a make-or-break deal for you. When you interview with a family, take in the feel of the home, the neighborhood and any amenities that could make your job easier.

“Research the area to seek out places or activities to take the children: parks, classes, libraries, etc.,” Shafer says.

Here are a few questions that can help determine if the location is ideal for you:

  • Does the house feel comfortable and welcoming?

  • Is the neighborhood safe?

  • Are there parks or other places nearby that I can take the children to?

  • If I need to take the kids somewhere, are there public transportation options available? If not, will I be allowed to drive the kids?

  • Is the commute manageable and realistic for me?

Surroundings can have a huge impact on your ability to provide the best care for your charges. If you don’t feel safe in the neighborhood or can’t easily get to activities that you’d enjoy doing with the kids, your job may become more difficult. Taking this extra step in your evaluations can result in more satisfaction with the position you finally choose.

3. Have you asked all the important questions?

With any interview, it helps to have the full picture of what the position entails. Many caregivers get so excited about a good connection with a family that they tend to neglect their “must-haves,” such as benefits, fair pay and manageable schedules.

It’s also important that you know what sort of work you want to do and what sort of work the family expects of you. During the interview, get a feel for the position by asking:

  • Is the position limited to child care, or will I be expected to pick up additional duties like housekeeping, cooking or homework help?

  • What's the schedule? Am I comfortable with the days and times that they expect me to be on the job? Are there times that they will be late? Do I have any non-negotiable conflicts that would prevent me from being there when they need me?

  • What's the pay? Is it hourly or salaried? How and when will they pay me (e.g., weekly, biweekly, monthly)? Will they pay me directly, by check or through direct deposit? Do I feel comfortable negotiating my salary with them if it’s not what I hoped for?

  • Will they provide me with benefits? Will I get any vacation, holidays or sick days? Will I have to travel with them? Will they offer me other benefits like health insurance?

  • Do they need anything from me to set up nanny employment taxes?

  • Is there a formal contract? Am I comfortable with the terms?

These questions will be unique to you and the positions to which you’re applying. Determine which items are “must-haves” and which ones are just “nice-to-haves.” Know what your standards are in terms of your pay, your schedule and your benefits so that you do not accept a job that won’t be a good fit in the long run.

Establish your rates before the interview. Check out what other nannies charge in your area, or use an income calculator to find an hourly or salaried rate that supports you.

4. Do you get along with the kids?

Sometimes, parents prefer to meet you alone before introducing you to the children. However, once you meet the kids, it usually seals the deal. Just make sure you know exactly what would be involved in properly caring for them before you say "Yes." Ask yourself:

  • Do any of my interests overlap with the child(ren)'s? Can I cater to those interests? Are the child(ren)'s interests things that I can help them pursue?

  • Do they have any allergies, special needs, behavioral concerns, etc.?

  • Do I have adequate experience with their age group? Am I comfortable with their age?

  • Am I capable of handling the child(ren)'s needs realistically?

You might get a little doe-eyed when first meeting your potential future charges, but you should always be cognizant of your own abilities, the needs of the child and the expectations of their parents so you can provide the best care possible.

5. Are you trusting your gut instinct?

Since most nannies are looking for a long-term position — or at least a stable one — it all boils down to more than finding just anyone who wants to hire you. You can search for families by number and age of children, by hourly or salary rates, by location and more. But to really make sure that a family is the right fit for you, you’ll have to get to know them.

“Building a relationship beforehand to get the best feel for who will fit personality-wise” is very important, according to Gershkovich.

At the end of the day, trust your gut and know your worth. If something doesn’t seem right with the family or they’re not willing to compromise on one of your “must-haves,” remember that you have the power and the right to turn down a job.

“I know a family is right for me when our philosophies align, and [when] I feel at home when I walk in,” says long-time nanny Jeanette George. “I trust my instincts and my ability to hold and interact with the children.”

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

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