If you're considering an au pair to provide child care, the most important decision is who to hire. Typically you screen candidates via a phone or Skype interview, before that person leaves their home country. So it is vital that your interview questions accurately assess whether the candidate can handle the demands of an au pair job which are providing full-time child care in a country far from their family.
Go beyond the questions you've received from your au pair agency like about the person's child care experience and skills. When you do it gives you the opportunity to discover whether the people you're considering are a good fit for you and your family. After all this person will be living in your home!
Here's a list of questions you could ask and what type of answer you want to hear:
What happened in your life that made you want to become an au pair?
Their answer will reveal whether they have thoroughly thought through this decision or whether it was a spur of the moment thing. It also provides an opening for them to share their story. Perhaps they've experiences a life trauma, such as losing a job or failing out of university that helps explain this back up plan they are following through on. Or hopefully they share a story about their deep-seated passion for child care with an interest in living abroad.
Take us through your day from morning until now. What did you do today?
This will give you a sense of the au pair's personality and intrinsic motivation. If she slept late and lazed around the house, you'll have a very different child care provider from one who went for an early-morning jog, visited her grandmother or volunteered at a local nursery school.
Remember that an au pair spends most of the day with small children, so someone who's used to socializing with peers may feel isolated in a suburban American neighborhood.
Look around your bedroom. Can you describe it for us?
The answer to this question will give you a sense of the au pair candidate's interests, tastes and style. You also may learn whether she's neat or messy, how organized she is and whether she's used to a large living space or smaller sleeping quarters.
Suppose our daughter has trouble sharing toys. She often tugs on another child's toy and tries to take it. (Feel free to adapt to your own child.) What would you do if you saw this?
Hopefully the candidate gives a well-thought out answer that shows that they experience supervising multiple small children and negotiating their battles. You'll also have an opportunity to see whether they ask your opinion and how open they are to your own parenting choices.
You could follow up with another like what type of discipline would they use if the child continues to grab toys from a friend.
What type of discipline did your parents use with you?
Sometimes we revert to the discipline we experienced in our families of origin, unless we make a conscious choice to raise our children differently.
(And even then, it can be hard!) Your au pair's experience of discipline growing up -- and what they says about it now -- can tell you a lot.
What scares you the most about coming here? What excites you the most?
This set of questions really exposes individuals who haven't thought through the biggest challenges of an au pair job. If you get a pat answer like, "nothing scares me," they probably doesn't understand the reality of life as an au pair. If what excites them about an au pair job doesn't involve child care or is unrealistic, perhaps you should be the one who's scared!
What do you do when you are sad? Happy?
These questions give you a glimpse of the au pair candidate's personality and lifestyle. You'll also learn about her coping skills and personal habits, so you can judge whether they'll work well in your family and home.
Why should we choose you over all the other au pairs? Or you could ask, what can you teach our children that no other au pairs can?
With this question you'll not only learn what makes your au pair candidate unique, but also see what their self-image and self-confidence are like. And you never know, it may turn out that they have an unusual and very handy skill that they can teach your children.
Do you want to get married and have children of your own one day?
This questions will show you whether the au pair is desperate to get married or sees it as a natural progression some time in the future. Also, beware of a potential au pair who doesn't want children of their own! While it is a valid life choice to refrain from procreating, you want the person caring for your child to absolutely adore children.
What do you want to be doing five years from now?
This gives you more information about the person and her life goals.
What's your favorite kind of beer or wine?
This is a trick question, designed to elicit whether -- and possibly how much -- the au pair drinks. If you had asked, "do you drink alcohol?" you'd surely get the "right" answer of "no," whether it was true or not. Same goes for the next question you should ask: how much do you smoke?
When was the last time you were sick?
First of all, it would be wonderful to have an au pair with a strong immune system -- given the number of colds that kids catch. Also, you'll learn how she handles an illness, whether it's toughing it out, staying in bed or using drugs and seeing a doctor. If they don't share what they were sick with, ask.
Any follow-up questions that occur to you.
These questions are just a starting point for your first interview for an au pair job. As you chat, you'll most likely come up with more questions. Because you aren't in the same geographic location, be prepared to screen more thoroughly than you would have to for an in-person nanny.
Ideally, interview the au pair candidate via Skype or video chat. If you must use an interpreter because of a language barrier, ask the interpreter to relay questions on the spot -- don't just give this list to her and accept translated answers.
The decision of which au pair to hire is going to be key to your work-life balance and your children's happiness. The more thorough you can be now, the happier you'll be later.