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.)
December 2, 2009
So, you’ve wowed your potential employers with your resume, you have clean background checks and your First Aid/CPR/Vaccination records in hand and you’re ready to start interviewing! Hooray! Now to ace the interview… Or… not.
The first thing you need to keep in mind about nanny interviews is that you can. not. game. the interview. All of those strategies you hear about for other interviews – know about the company, ask why the position is vacant, etc. DO. NOT. APPLY. If you know anything about your employers beforehand, you’re kind of a creepy stalker person. Do not ask why they don’t want to continue with the childcare they have now. They will tell you if you need to know, otherwise you’re inviting them to smack talk their previous nanny/day care/grandmother, and that’s not the way to start off a working relationship. You may want to dress to impress… but my best interviews were conducted wearing jeans. Nice jeans. And loafers. But still – I was dressed so that when the four year old child I work with now asked me to paint with him, I was ready. Slightly worried about my shirt, but ready. Don’t go in your sweats, look nice, but do not wear a lot of make up or anything that you can’t bend down or pick up a child in. Not that you’d have to do those things on an interview, but you need to be able to. My go-to outfit is jeans, ballet flats or loafers, black t-shirt dress or white button-up shirt, pearl necklace, beaded earrings, and a bracelet. I do wear a small amount of perfume and make-up on interviews but never on the job. (I’m all up in a baby’s face all day long. He really doesn’t require that I smell like roses.)
If you have a visible piercing, TAKE IT OUT. If you have a visible tattoo, COVER IT UP. I used to have a lip ring (back when I taught preschool) and have since removed it and found that parents do indeed take me 900x more seriously without it. Don’t do anything to give even the subconscious impression that you are going to leave work and go to a biker bar. Again, whether or not parents should care whether their nanny whose idea of a good time is a crossword puzzle has a giant nautilus tattoo is irrelevant – the salient factor here is to create the best first impression possible, which involves mitigating any factors that could potentially make a parent uneasy. If you have pink hair, don’t go out and dye it just for an interview if you’re really dead set on keeping your hair pink, but recognize that it will make the process more difficult to find a family who wants a pink-haired nanny.
The nanny interview process is more like dating than it is like other job searches. You’re looking to find a family that you have chemistry with, and that’s not something you’re going to be able to do via a kickass resume (which you should have) and a snazzy cover letter (which should be able to write in your sleep blindfolded with both arms tied behind your back). The process TAKES. TIME. Be prepared. If you have a definite end date for your job, start your search for a new family at least three months ahead of time. Keep in mind that most families start their interview processes at least six weeks in advance and that a family that really wants YOU will make arrangements for childcare until you are available. (Don’t push it, but if you know you’re going to end in March and you interview in January, the family will find something to do in February – just don’t keep them waiting until April.) If you’re working a job where you haven’t given notice, or you don’t have a specific end date, start your search with the time frame in mind that this will take at least two months. I did at least two months of solid interviewing before landing either of my jobs. (And ironically, after I accepted my positions, I was offered other jobs that I’d interviewed for. Such is life.) This is the bare minimum. If your job ends before you’ve found a full-time gig with the right family, temping is a good short term solution to ease the stress of “ZOMG. MUST PAY RENT.”
I can see the gears in your head wondering how you’re going to take time off work for interviews while you’re still working. Simple. You interview on the weekends. This is often better for families looking for prospective nannies as they don’t have to find childcare to cover the interview period or take time off of work themselves. A lot of families also conduct interviews in the evening for the same reason.
If you can, do two interviews. Interview the first time outside of the home with one or both parents, but without the children. It is so overwhelming for everybody to have a new grown-up in a room and try to figure out the chemistry between prospective nanny and children and still get the important interview questions answered. My Boston work-family interview was conducted with mom & kids and went just fine, but I’ve been to plenty where it’s been an absolute zoo. And of course, if the kids go mental because it’s raining or they have a stomachache or they’re overwhelmed or anything, the parents will be less likely to hire you because they may believe (rightly or not) that you were creating the disturbance in the force. If you have a first interview with just the parents and then kids go batty when you meet them at the second interview, it will be easier for the parents to judge if you don’t have the right chemistry with the child or if the child is simply upset because life is hard. The second interview should be held in the home, if possible, so that you can see the kids in their “natural environment” and so that the children aren’t disoriented by a strange place in addition to a strange person.
Remember that you’re interviewing with the parent, not the child. Tempting as it is to suck up to the child or just spend the whole interview playing, your relationship with the parent is what’s important at this stage. You and the child need to be able to understand and trust each other, but right now, you have to be sure that the parent will be able to trust having you in their home every single day taking care of their children. It’s easy to forget what a HUGE responsibility this actually is, and in the interview stage, your job is alleviate any fears that your parents might have from whatever horror stories they’ve heard or experienced.
Take your time. If you have experience, a clean background, a love for children, and patience, you WILL find the right family. Don’t push it and don’t take the first job that comes along if you feel like you and that family would be more like oil and water than salt and vinegar. Remember that no interview is a “failure” and there wasn’t something you necessarily could have done better (unless you’re five minutes late because you didn’t have the mom’s cellphone number – not that that happened to anyone I know), it just wasn’t the right family. Interviews are exactly like a first date, except that instead of dating, you rush right into being “married.” As a nanny, you’re not a part of the family (and shouldn’t be, unless you actually ARE family), but you’re a part of the household and that’s a serious commitment.