Tuesday, August 5, 2008- Guest Column by North Jersey Nanny
A few weeks ago, I read H’s post about interviewing/hiring a nanny with great interest, as I am a career nanny and I was in the process of searching for a job. Although I was did not like her tone through the piece, I agreed with the underlying sentiment – you can NEVER be too careful in selecting a caregiver for your child. However, like most professional nannies, I am also extremely selective in the interview process and believe in taking my time and finding the perfect fit. It took me three months to find my current position and I am so glad I waited, as I can picture myself here for years to come.
Why did it take me three months to find this position? It wasn’t for lack of interviews, or job offers, for that matter. It was the communication gap between potential families and myself – the vague e-mails that led to pointless interviews, the bait and switch scenarios, and the desperate desire to find the ONE job that had to be out there. I’m hoping that this post helps parents understand a nannies’ point of view during the interview process and helps at least one family find the perfect nanny. Hopefully it won’t take three months!
Please note that I found my current position through a community posting board and am not an advocate of using nanny agencies. In my experience, agencies push both nannies and employers to settle for less then perfect, in order to collect their finder’s fee. I am comfortable with extensive record checking and reference verification; in fact, I encourage it. I am not comfortable with someone else representing me.
Be realistic from the get go: Craig’s List in my area (Northern New Jersey suburbs of Manhattan) is like a car crash sometimes. You just can’t look away, as horrible as it might be. Craig’s List Crusader, among others, gives you a good idea of what people are looking for (and what they are willing to pay) and it really gives me pause. There is a pervasive sense of entitlement that really bothers me among families. I understand wanting the best possible care for your child and I also understand the realities of the current economic situation. However, more and more, I see ads offering sub-minimum wage salaries with demands such as COLLEGE EDUCATED A MUST and YOU BETTER BE CLEAN CAUSE I WILL RUN YOUR BACKGROUND (no, I’m not joking. Look for yourself.) I appreciate honesty as much as anyone else but those ads will not attract a high quality caregiver. Be as specific, and honest, as possible. The most important thing I look for in an ad is the tone. $700 A WEEK CA$$$$H I NEED SOMEONE NOW YOU BETTER COOK CLEAN AND DRIVE CAUSE THAT’S WHAT I NEED AND YOU WEAR A UNIFORM AND VACATION AFTER ONE YEAR LIVE IN GO HOME ON WEEKENDS WE NEED T HE ROOM $700 A WEEK CA$$$$$$H would not draw my attention, at all. As a parent, I would never consider a candidate whose ad was incoherent, disrespectful, and riddled with misspellings. Why would I respond to a prospective employers’ ad that shares those qualities? However, a well written ad detailing responsibilities, location, and general salary range would.
Honesty is the best policy: Although I posted one ad on Craig’s List during my search, I prefer to contact families myself. Once I read an ad, I get a general idea of whether or not I would be a good fit for their requirements and can decide whether or not to continue. Once I’ve made e-mail contact with a family, I really like to have a long (and involved) phone conversation to discuss my qualifications and what the job entails. Understandably, some parents hesitate to discuss salary during these phone calls. “Money isn’t the most important thing” and all that, but – the fact is – if I am going to drive to your house and devote a few hours of my time to learning more about your position, I am going to need to know if we are on the same page. Commiserate with experience is a term I am so sick of – it has no meaning in the relatively unregulated nanny market. I have responded to ads with that phrase in it several times and have received responses that varied from minimum wage (in ca$$$$h) to $52,000.00/year on the books (benefits negotiable). PLEASE be prepared to discuss a salary range before meeting me in person. I once drove 30 minutes to a job interview that was held on a magnificent estate. I spent 4 hours of my time touring the grounds, meeting the children, and speaking with the former nanny. When it was time for the salary talk, the mother calmly told me, “Starting salary for our nannies is $7/hourly with no overtime. Vacation means you travel with us and you receive Christmas off paid.” If we had this discussion over the phone, I would have been able to tell her I was not the right person for the job. You are welcome to offer whatever salary and benefits are right for your family – but please be upfront about them.
Privacy is important to me: I would never give a stranger my employers’ phone number. What kind of judgment would that show? That’s why I’m so surprised how many people expect references in the first e-mail or prior to meeting. My former employers’ are busy, professional people who are kind enough to speak to serious, prospective employers about my job performance and skills. I provide home phone numbers and addresses so potential employers can verify identities and I am willing to give personal references as well. If you are uncomfortable with me meeting your children before verifying my address, I have one word for you: Starbucks. If I gave my references to everyone who I spoke to about a potential job, I would be wasting unbelievable amounts of time and providing sensitive information to glorified strangers. It isn’t going to happen; please understand.
Your kids are not that cute: In the current economy, a lot of people are feeling the squeeze. However, I am not a volunteer. Single parents, low income families, etc – there are resources for child care and excellent daycares that offer wonderful, loving care at affordable rates. Au pairs average $300/ish a week (or so I’ve heard) and that’s live in help. When I posted my (sole) ad offering my services, almost half of the responses began “I cannot afford to pay much, but… My kids are REALLY cute and well behaved”. As someone who was raised by a single parent, I can respect you for wanting excellent childcare for your child. As someone who supports my family, I cannot accept a position that pays $3 an hour. However, there are some free to inexpensive ways to attract a quality caregiver when you cannot keep up with the Joneses. I know an amazing nanny who left her position when she became pregnant because she was working crazy hours. She now makes half of what she took home before ($10/hourly, pre-tax) and has never been happier – because her current employers allow her to bring her son! I accepted my current position, partially because it offers a four day work week. Be creative in your thinking – do you have a cell phone plan that you could ad a nanny to? A family Y membership? Do you get summer Fridays or a lot of vacation days? Treat your nanny like you would like to be treated – and then treat her a little bit better. Yes, you still need to pay a living wage, but perks mean a lot to a caregiver. A family that keeps its word and respects its nanny keeps help a lot longer then people who are financially generous and personally… difficult.
Once you’ve made your choice, let’s start working – together! This site is a testimony to the fact that there are extraordinary caregivers – and terrifyingly neglectful ones as well. I am empathetic to a working parent’s (or SAHP with assistance) dilemma – I am sure it is hard to begin building a bond of trust with your new caregiver. But, guess what? It is hard for us too! That’s why I strongly prefer taking a position where there is some sort of transition period. In my current job, I worked with the nanny for my first week and the mother for my second. I got to watch, first hand, how they both approached the daily routine and began to slowly integrate myself into the lives on my charges. I also was able to ask questions, field constructive criticism, and get a feel for what the position would be like. The mother – and former nanny – also got to see me in my element, interacting with her children and helping with the household. You never know until you ask – and the same goes for your nanny. If Jimmy wakes up everyday from his nap, screamingly hungry or you never, ever let the children drink juice – even though your fridge is filled with it, I need to know these things! When starting a new nanny position, not only do you have to deal with strong personalities and getting to know a new set of rules, you are faced with the subtleties and difficulties of working in a private home – and it isn’t easy! The more I know about you and your wishes and your routine, the better I can implement them!
These five basic principles helped me to land my dream job. I’d love to hear from other nannies on how they approach the interview process and hope that my experience can be of use to someone, someday!
*If you are a nanny or nanny employer and would like to share your personal experience or advice, please do. You choose whether to reveal your name or write anonymously. Contact Jane for more information.