The lovely and amazing Diana over at Hormonal Imbalances just wrote up a hilarious (and sad because it’s so true) list of inappropriate questions parents asked her when she was interviewing to be a nanny. I saw that a parent commented, essentially, that while extremes like “Are you planning on getting pregnant in the next two years?” are, indeed, crazy, it’s really hard to know what to ask a potential babysitter.
You want to get to know this person before you leave your children alone with her! Of course you do! The questions a HR rep might ask, though, won’t help you. Well, some of them might. But how do you know what to ask? I’m going to try and help. Here are five questions that I was impressed with parents for asking. Oh, and my first tip? Do not be afraid to write down your questions, but ask us in person. Write them down, read them from your paper (so that you don’t forget exactly what you wanted to say), and then look us in the eyes as you listen to our answers. Yes, you should be worried that she might be lying. No, you shouldn’t assume that she is.
- “Our kid drives us crazy at times, and we expect him to drive you up the wall at least once. Can you tell us what do you do when you’re really frustrated with a child? Can you give us a specific example?” Hands down, best question anyone has ever asked me during an interview. These parents were concerned about toddler behavior. Yes, toddlers are particularly contrary. But babysitters get frustrated! I’ve gotten frustrated with infants because I couldn’t figure out how to soothe them or help them stop crying, already. Ask us about a time we were frustrated and what we did. Because don’t you want to know? And by the way, if a potential babysitter says “I don’t know, that’s never happened” then she is lying. Do not hire her. She should be able to think of ten frustrating situations off the top of her head and tell you exactly what happened. If she’s so afraid to tell you what happened, be worried. She may just be nervous. She may also be someone who yells. Ick.
- “Can you tell us a little bit about each of these references you’ve given us?” Getting her to talk about other families might give you some good ideas about questions to ask her references. It’ll also give you some stories about her interactions with other kids/families. This is a question that sets her up to give you an informative and honest answer.
- If you are hiring a full time nanny and don’t know how to pay her legally: “We want to pay you legally, but we’ve never done this before. Do you know how we should go about this?” Yes, we want to be paid legally for full-time work. Yes, this is how you should ask. Avoid any awkward “So, do you usually get paid in cash, or…” (Don’t worry so much if it’s just a couple hours here and there!)
- “Can you tell us about how you dealt with a difficult or tense situation that cropped up between you and former employers?” You want to know how she deals with parents when she’s not interviewing. This is a bit like the discipline question I mentioned above–she should have some effective strategies in mind to deal with tension. Let’s face it: you’re inviting someone into your home to spend time with your kids while you’re not there. Some awkward, tense, difficult stuff can come up in such a close, personal environment. It’s not a problem, as long as she can deal. A good answer should show you that she won’t mind coming to you if she feels uncomfortable about something and that she knows how to articulate that discomfort in a way that is helpful and leads to a peaceful resolution.
- “What made you decide to look for work as a nanny/babysitter?” There should be something resembling a story in her answer. “I just love kids!” is not good enough. Lots of people love their own children and don’t want to spend time with other peoples’ kids for a living. Before I did this full-time and had a whole I-left-grad-school-to-do-this story, my answer was something like this: “I’ve been babysitting since I was a teenager, but it’s still the most rewarding job I’ve found. I tried other part-time work and thought about retail, but even though working with kids takes a lot more energy and concentration, I get to laugh and spend time outside. I feel like I’m doing important work, even in my part-time, spending-money job.”