Jedi Nanny: Becoming a *professional* professional.

December 1, 2009

Dinosaur nanny is the consummate professional.

“Professional professional” is a phrase I lifted off of the “Job Title” field of one of my friend’s LinkedIn pages (not that I’ve ever figured out how to actually use LinkedIn – can someone explain it to me? It seems exactly like FaceBook for Jobs, you just end up connecting to people you already know.) and I think it’s a really descriptive phrase for what I’m talking about here – being professional ABOUT being *a* professional.

I definitely consider myself a “professional” or a “career” nanny – that is, this is what I do, this is what I want to be doing, and this is what I intend to do in the future. I’ve always wanted to work with young children, and this is the niche that I’ve found that suits me the best. This isn’t to fill a gap while I look for another job, or something to do until I got to grad school. Not that those are bad things, but that’s not the place where I am at. People have actually said to me “Oh, nannying! I should try that, I love kids!” (People have also said to me “Oh wow, I don’t know HOW you do that!” but that’s another matter.) So, I’ve put together this little bullet-point list for getting started on becoming a professional nanny, as opposed to a casual nanny. Later, I’ll tackle interview strategies – though that could really be an entire book.

(Note: This is nothing against the casual nanny – you ladies & gents are awesome!)

  • If you are not already working in childcare, get into it. Babysit on weekends. Volunteer at a preschool/daycare center – even better, sign up as a sub if you can. Start building solid references ASAP.
  • This is actually the most important piece of getting a childcare position, any childcare position: Make sure you can pass criminal background, credit, and driving tests. If you have so much as a speeding ticket on your record, you need to recognize that whether or not it’s actually fair, your chances of getting a childcare position are very slim. I used to work in a preschool setting and have had to go so far as to not only have a criminal background check, but to have my fingerprints put on file at the local police department. You absolutely, absolutely must have a clean criminal and credit checks to work in a preschool – and a clean driving record if you’re going to be a nanny. Whether or not you should have to pass a credit check is another matter entirely, but I have had to submit to them more than once and can tell you that it’s a crucial piece to landing a job. I can’t stress this enough: if you can’t pass the background check, you won’t get a job. Background checks for nannies are more rigorous than anything other than perhaps FBI clearance, no lie.
  • Be aware of everything you’ve ever written online, ever. I’ve had interviews where potential employers have asked me about information that I had no idea I had ever posted publicly. Thankfully, this was nothing that hindered me from potentially getting the job (or I wouldn’t have gotten the interview in the first place), but it was enough to make me go back through every site I’d ever posted to and edit/cull some details from my archives. There’s a lot that you can find out about me online, and I’m fine with that, but if you’d rather not have your employers know about what you had to drink at your best friend’s birthday party, get that picture off of Facebook RIGHT NOW. Don’t think that someone couldn’t access something, but rather go with the assumption that if it’s online, anywhere, even if you think it’s private, someone will find it. As I say, you could probably find out any amount of incriminating information about me, and this is totally my choice to live openly and accept that what I say online may be a filter for possible job situations in the future. I’m fine with that since if someone has a problem with my online persona, they probably wouldn’t connect well with me as their nanny anyway. Make sure that if you do choose to keep information public, that it is an accurate representation of who you are – even if viewed in the worst possible light. Again, people check into their potential nannies with a fine toothed comb. This is much more serious and exhaustive than a simple Google search. I have no idea how some people do this, honestly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some light hacking skills were involved. (Again, whether or not it should happen is another issue, the fact is that you need to be aware that it does.)
  • If you are male, you have a much lower chance of being hired as a nanny than if you are female. I’m very sorry. This is absolutely totally bogus, but I have seen ads placed for nannies that specify that they are only interested in hiring a woman, and most are written with female as the default pronoun whether or not the implicit statement is made that they’re only looking for a nanny with two X chronomsomes. Consider teaching instead.
  • Decide if you’re willing to be live-in, or being live-out is a must. If you are willing to live-in, you have an extra market of potential jobs to tap into, but you’ll do so at the cost of some of your privacy/personal freedom.
  • Decide if you want to go through an agency or if you want to do the legwork yourself. An agency will take care of background checks and screening for you, though you may have to pay a slight fee for this. Agencies will have extensive screening processes where you will have to answer questionaires with the most intrusive questions you can possibly imagine. I have actually refused to sign up with several agencies due to the invasiveness of their questions. You will have to provide a full medical history if you go through an agency. You will have to write more about yourself than if you were applying to grad school. However, you will be in the market for higher paying jobs and you won’t have to go through the hassle of checking pages upon pages of ads every single day and pushing your resume upon every family that posts to Craigslist. Speaking of: I’ve heard moms talking about how they wouldn’t get a nanny off Craigslist EVER since they would never even get a couch off of Craigslist. Don’t look down on Craigslist or Sittercity or other sites: I got both of my positions in the past two years via Craigslist. Yes, there are some flakes, but there’s absolutely no reason not to use every resource at your disposal when job hunting. You do have to be vigilant about updating your ad and responding to positings if you choose to go this route, but for me, it definitely paid off.
  • Get your immunization records and make sure you’re up to do date on everything you could possibly be immunized for, ever. Get a TB test and a certificate of your results and test date.
  • Develop solid references. Your employers will not only want to know about your work habits, but about your character. Get the best references you possibly can – childcare references are a must, but a good character reference or two will go further than your old boss saying that you were never late to work.
  • Get infant-child CPR & First Aid training and keep records of your certification. (I lost mine, and totally should get re-certified anyway. It hasn’t been a big deal, but it’s something I absolutely want to rectify.) Some parents absolutely require this, some are more flexible. In any case, it will show a solid commitment to the job and to the responsibilities involved. It’s absolutely necessary that you realize that you may very well have to use these skills some day and it’s 100% necessary that you are able to stay calm and know how to manage the situation in an emergency.
  • Know what separates you from other potential nannies and highlight these skills. For me, it’s my artistic background coupled with my former EMT training, which goes above and beyond basic first-aid knowledge. I stress these things on my resume and in every interview that I have with parents – the bonuses that I bring to the job are creativity and love of art and willingness to get messy with kids and explore art together, and the training to handle full-on medical emergencies as a first responder (I hope I never have to use this training, but having it has served me well in showing that I’m serious about my job.)
  • Be aware that if you will have to go on many, many interviews that this system is not unlike dating. Every family has a specific vibe that they want (consciously or subconsciously) from a nanny, and they’re going to hire the person that “clicks” with their family. Don’t get discouraged. Keep putting yourself out there until you find the family that you “click” with. Both times I’ve been hired, I was hired on the spot by families who didn’t want someone else to nab me first – and both times, I went through countless “failed” interviews to get to that point. When a family finds you and wants YOU, you’ll know. Take the chance and don’t look back. Don’t dither over a potentially higher paying job if you click with a lower-paying family. Your happiness and sanity will be well-served by going where you have the best fit.
  • Once you land the job, stay positive, and follow the Nanny Guidelines to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with your work-fam!

For a good perspective on the other side of the equation – Nannies4Hire gives a great run-down on what parents should look for in a prospective nanny. It’s uncanny that I stumbled upon this after I wrote my article, since they really hit all the same points.

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