Jedi Nanny: The Professional Professional Interview.

December 3, 2009

Now you’ve got your good jeans on, you’ve set a date and time to meet the parents and the coffee shop and you’re getting prepared to answer the serious questions. Hooray!

I stressed this before, but it bears repeating: nanny interviews are not like other job interviews. You can not game them. There are no strategies to employ. There are no right answers (though I can think of some “wrong” ones off the top of my head). If asked what your weaknesses are, the right answer is NOT “I work too hard.” (My weaknesses? I’m stubborn and bossy. These actually DO come in handy as a nanny, but just about nowhere else. Yeah, it’s ok to say “Well, I’m bossy, but it helps in redirecting problem behaviors with kids.” but not… “I try too hard to make people happy!” These people are potentially trusting you with their children, you need to be HONEST.)

So, you need to come up with honest answers, without crossing the line into total oversharing weirdo answers. Yes, you’re still trying to create the best impression you can, and yes you want to tailor your answers to the situation so you don’t sound like a robot (though a robot nanny would be pretty badass),  but you’ve got to be 100% sincere about your answers. One of the first, and most important, things you’ll be asked about is your discipline strategy: if you’ve always handled discipline via time-out and the family indicates that they use re-direction… if you imply that “Oh yeah! I always re-direct!” you’re going to have shot yourself in the foot if you actually land the job and have to follow through on a totally unfamiliar discipline strategy.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about here and you’re not an Early Childhood professional, don’t worry. If you ARE looking to become a nanny – or a babysitter – or a preschool teacher – read up on discipline strategies ASAP. Know what the different tools are and the pluses and minuses. Know what the research indicates is most effective.  Know what is absolutely not effective in any situations. If you don’t have a lot of experience with discipline strategies, that’s ok, and tell the parents honestly that you feel that you would be most comfortable taking their lead and working with them to learn how THEY set and implement limits with their children. For me: I use a combo platter of positive re-inforcement and re-direction, which I could talk about endlessly, but the point is that I don’t use time-outs and that my limited experiences with families who use time-outs exclusively hasn’t been positive for anybody. The kids end up confused, the nanny ends up frustrated, and the parents are left with a mess. There are plenty of families using all sorts of disciplinary strategies, you WILL find one that you fit with. Recognize that if your answer sounds “wrong,” the solution isn’t to change it to what you think the parents want to hear, but to enjoy the rest of the interview, hope for the best, and keep looking for a family that you truly connect with.

The other biggie that you will surely be asked is your child-rearing philosophy. Again, you need to have one first. Read up if you don’t have direct experience. Research popular philosophies such as Montessori and Waldorf education. Think about your own childhood and values. You don’t have to have a fancy-pants answer for this, but you have to have an answer beyond “I think children should be reared!” Again, I could yammer on about my own child-rearing philosophy, but it boils down the idea that children learn best in situations where the education is organic and I try to create as many opportunities for learning as possible while making children feel comfortable in an atmosphere with positive re-inforcement, predictable scheduling, and consistent limits. (If none of these terms sound familiar to you – do more research!)  One interview “cheat-sheet” site says:

It is important for your answer to demonstrate a respect for the family’s child raising beliefs and values and the ability to be flexible in your child care approach according to this. A rigid personal philosophy can only lead to problems. Focus on how you are constantly learning about child-rearing.

I DISAGREE COMPLETELY. No, you should not be too rigid in your philosophy unless the children you’re caring for are your own, that’s true. On the other hand, if you have solid beliefs about child-rearing that you’ve developed through experience and education, you are selling yourself short if you pay lip-service to what you think the family wants to hear. Again, you are not trying to get ANY job, you are trying to get the job where you and the family “click.”

The last point I’d like to make is that by the end of the interview, the last major decision that you have to make is whether or not you’re willing to do housework and where you draw the line at “light” housework. This is fine to handle on a case by case basis, but understand that it’s the nature of life that if you agree to take on X amount of housework, there will come a day where you will be asked to do one extra chore. The best way to deal with this if you’re absolutely not ok with doing anything beyond normal child-clean-up is to hold the line firm that you don’t do housework. The other option, if you really connect with the family, is to suck it up and recognize that your ideal job involves sweeping a few more floors than you had planned. That’s totally up to you, but know ahead of time that you will eventually need to do more than what’s outlined and that’s not the family trying to take advantage of you – that’s the nature of life and having kids. Some day, mom won’t have time and there will be a huge mess. It’s just how it goes.

Try to have at least a bit of fun at your interviews. Let your enthusiasm for your work and your love of children show through. Do remember that you’re talking about serious stuff: the interviews I can look back on where I know that I “bombed” and I would like to go back and staple my own mouth shut were the ones where I tried so hard to create a connection with the parents that I made a joking comment that while not totally over the line, obviously did not help anything. There’s another one of my weaknesses: trying to use humor to compensate for my own flaws. Don’t force a connection that isn’t there. Be polite and amiable, but stop yourself before you start saying things that feel out of character or strained.

4nannies has an excellent run-down of questions that you should be prepared to answer. Yes, it’s overwhelming, but honestly, if you’re not prepared to be overwhelmed, Early Childhood work probably won’t be a good fit for you in the long term. I do absolutely 100% LOVE my job and wouldn’t want to do anything else, but I’m overwhelmed at least six times per day. (I’ve also done enough interviews that I could answer these questions in my sleep, and probably have from time to time.)

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