These days most wealthy families are using nanny services. To meet this demand, lots of agencies specialize in nanny selection. The Internet is teeming with ads from both employers and job seekers. In spite of all this, we do not always come away happy with our choice.
How can this be explained? One main reason is that we often look for a nanny in a rush, totally relying on the agency or friends’ recommendations. The choice of a nanny, however, is a difficult and responsible job requiring time and patience. In this particular matter it is important to trust our own judgement. This is the person we are going to trust with somebody we absolutely treasure the most — our own child.
Let’s take a very careful look at how we might best approach this and break down the process of nanny selection into three stages: preparation, casting and decision-making.
We need to set the search requirements for the agency. We therefore must decide what kind of a person we are looking for, what will be the scope of her work, and on what conditions.
Understanding what we expect from a nanny. Everything may seem quite obvious. We are looking for somebody to assist us with taking care of our child. With moms being increasingly busy, however, the nanny’s role becomes even more important. I would like to specially draw your attention to this matter. In certain cases, mothers, while intending to employ a helper, finish up giving her a mother’s role in spite of themselves. It is best to determine the nanny’s functions up front, right away. This is crucial for your selection process and your ultimate relations with her. Moreover, understanding the role assigned to your nanny, makes it easier to set up the requirements for her personality, experience, education, cultural level and even her physical appearance.
Sketching a portrait. Before even starting the search, let’s sketch a portrait of your ideal nanny. That will make us realize what kind of person we want to see in our home. It is sometimes easier to go about this in the opposite way: «What kind of a nanny I definitely don’t want to employ?»
I believe that certain qualities, that I call malicious, are definitely not compatible with the nanny’s profession. They are envy, aggressiveness, excessive sensitivity, emotional immaturity and hypocrisy.
Another important «danger signal» could be anxiety. Overconfident or too serene nannies will typically have a low anxiety level. But somebody who is way too anxious and panicky about everything is not an option either.
We probably won’t like a slack nanny — sluggish, passive and sedentary. She would be too quick to turn on the cartoons on TV or pop the baby in a playpen while watching TV in the kitchen herself. Overenthusiastic nannies are not great for a young child either. They may find it difficult to concentrate on him while fussing around and missing doing something important.
It is best to look for a nanny who has «everything in moderation». We need a simple, adequate, friendly person with an optimal level of anxiety, reasonable and prudent. On the one hand, the nanny must follow the rules that we make for her. On the other hand, she should be able to make independent decisions within her field of competence and take responsibility.
Think carefully about the working conditions. It is important to decide on her working conditions: is she a live-in or live-out nanny; what is her working schedule; how much we are willing to pay her; what about her holidays and weekends etc. Write it all down for yourself. When discussing the contract, even if only verbal for the moment, it is good to have a written draft handy. The candidate will often try to lead the conversation — ask questions and require answers. And here we are, making concessions in spite of ourselves — changing the schedule or salary. If you have a well-thought-out list of requirements, it becomes more difficult to lead you away from your own clearly defined goals.
Draft a conversation plan. It is good to think about it in advance and prepare 10–15 questions for the candidates to answer. Questions may relate to the nanny’s background, parents, school and university studies, her family and children. Try to understand why she chose to become a nanny, what she likes about this profession, what is she struggling with in her own life and why, what kind of children does she prefer working with, how does she spend her free time when she gets to relax. It is worth checking on her former employers — what she liked and didn’t like about them, why she left or is about to leave them.
Some unusual, unexpected questions will encourage her to talk, to open up. And then we can get a better idea of what kind of person we are dealing with. It would make sense to prepare similar questions for all the applicants. We can then compare their answers.
To do a good nanny casting, you need to employ all your intellect, intuition, and life experience. You will have to draw some serious conclusions based on simple and obvious things: what the applicant looks like, the way she behaves, the way she answers and asks questions. Her language, tone, posture, manners, clothes, any of these details might be helpful in telling what she is like. This non-verbal information could be very revealing.
Summing up my many years of interview experience, I would suggest focusing on three key aspects — the way the nanny looks, what she talks about and what kind of emotions she shows.
Evaluating the appearance. Applicants know how to please us. The manager from their agency would have told them about our preferences. It is quite likely therefore that you will find yourself face to face with the «nanny of your dreams» at the interview. Were you dreaming about a flawless Mary Poppins in front of the agency? You will be offered a lady dressed in a pencil skirt and a sensible white blouse. Did you mention a soft, warm nanny? Here she is, a leisurely auntie with a shawl over her shoulders. If we are really happy with her looks, we may think that this is truly the one we are looking for. And we may be ready in our own excitement to forgive the nanny’s being late for the interview or having forgotten her references at home.
If we are not happy about something, if the nanny doesn’t seem to be dressed appropriately (either under or overdressed), this should give ground for more reflection and questions. If she is dressed accordingly, that speaks in her favour. This means that she is serious about the interview and her future work.
Listening carefully. During the interview, we need to have enough time to evaluate our future nanny’s professional and personal qualities. Her professional background may be more or less obvious — knowledge, competence, experience can all be «measured» with the help of her CV and relevant questions. As to her personality: character, motivation, efficiency, cultural background, decency, stress tolerance — there is no diploma to back it up. We therefore need to give her an opportunity to speak as much as she can. This will help us find out things that are particularly important to her.
If the nanny says: «I have never had conflicts with my employers …» And then she comes back again to the same topic with a comment like: «I’ve never had a conflict with any mom …» It’s worth looking into her CV and checking how often she changed jobs and for what reasons.
We don’t need to jump to conclusions either. Coming back to the same subject may only mean it is important to her. Whether it is in a negative or positive way, is for you to figure out.
Watching facial expressions. Observe the nanny’s emotions between pauses in your conversation — when you are interrupted by a phone call or suchlike. It is likely that she will use this moment to take a break and be her real self. This is when her face may reveal her key emotions: interest, hope, optimism or melancholy, hopelessness, depression. Her key emotions may tend to manifest themselves towards the end of the interview. She may think that the main part of the meeting is over and she can get to relax. This is when she becomes «her real self» and lots of things may be revealed to us, resolving our doubts and conjectures.
An uncompromised decision. While changing job for a nanny may be something she is used to, a sudden disappearance of someone your child gets attached to may mean a disaster, a real trauma for many children. That is why you can’t afford mistakes in your choice. A nanny replacement should only be an emergency, not a common matter! Do make a serious and uncompromising choice and be prepared to spend as much time and effort on it as need be.
Having studied the nanny’s CV and talked to her, we move ahead with compiling some kind of a portfolio. We can then compare, evaluate and choose the candidate.
It may be difficult to make a choice based on just one meeting. You don’t have to decide straight away; take your time. Maybe it is worth meeting the nanny of your liking once again. Once you finally make up your mind, introduce her to your home. Observe her as she enters the «sanctuary» and holds your child in the nursery … You need to see and feel that she is just the right person to integrate into your family. If there are any doubts whatsoever, say no there and then. There should be no compromises like «time works wonders» or «we employ her now, and then we shall see». It is simply black or white. If there is any doubt at all, this nanny is not right for us.