Five Basic Principles to Land Your Dream Job

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.


Emily said...

Everything you wrote is so very true, OP! I'm glad you found the position you were looking for.

Unlike you, I always work with an agency, mainly because I get really frightened by a lot of what I see on CL. It's true that most agents are only interested in their commission and they'll push you to accept something that isn't right, but that doesn't bother me that much because I take the attitude of, "Push all you want, I'm not an idiot and I know what I need." And there are great agencies in the NY area where I've met people who really do try and keep the best interest of nanny & family in mind (A Choice Nanny & Urban Nurture, to name two).

caroline said...

A very well written post - you sound intelligent and caring -- good luck with your new position.

Not to nitpick (this just made me smile) -- but if you are being paid to commiserate with your experience -- you are being paid to empathize with or pity it. What I think you meant was commensurate with experience....

I have had luck with enannysource.com -- more focused than CL but you're still in control -- I am also not a fan of agencies.

FINALLY!!!! said...

Thank God Almighty somebody posted this!!!!!! It is all so true--- especially the part about the reference up front. After three years with an amazing family I am on the market again, and yesterday, I kindly told a lady (via email, still) that I needed to know more about the position, such as the hours; before I commited to forwarding on contact info. I felt guilty and somewhat bossy on one hand, but on the other slighly put off that she demanded references "as of yet." FIRST EMAIL! Nonetheless- everything you say is true. WE ARE PEOPLE-- and no matter how you slice it-- we need to pay our rents, bills, mortgages too. Yes, I am college educated. I just happen to love what I do for the time being! Anyhow, thank you dream nanny-- thank you! Good luck with your family!!!

Anonymous said...
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UmassSlytherin said...

Excellent post! I especially agree with your comments regarding giving out personal references and how you should only do it after you have met with the family. I too am amazed that parents expect this information before they even meet you.

v said...

I agree with mostly everything on this post.
Especially giving out personal info on the first email and inquiring about wages before an interview.
Great post!!

Good luck on your dream job!!


Denver Nanny said...

It's wonderful to see an intelligent post from a nanny! I've had to settle many times on positions that didn't truely fit--mainly because I just got tired of jumping through hoops for all these families that refused to tell me even the basics about the job. References go both ways...you wouldn't hire me knowing only where I live and how much I charge...

Manhattan Nanny said...

Excellent post, thank you!

When prospective employers ask for references before we interview, I say "out of respect for my employers time, I would prefer to wait until we have interviewed. I am sure as a mom yourself you can understand how busy she is with moving, a new job, children etc., but she will be happy to speak with you at length once we establish that there is mutual interest. In the mean time, I will e-mail a copy of her letter of reference, minus the contact information."

This helps make prospective employers aware that 1, when calling references, they are asking a favor of a busy stranger, and 2, mutual interest...there are two people making a decision. The nanny also needs information to determine whether or not this is the right job for her. I don't want people taking up my employer's time if I don't even want the job!

?????? said...

Your reputation is all you have. So what happens if after landing said dream job, you are fired or part ways and your boss maliciously slanders you?

What then?


Hell's Kitchen Nanny said...

All of you idiotic parents that demand references before an interview need to be bitch slapped. We cannot wear our references out. The last thing we want is a bored and sluggish refernece because a bunch of idiots we would never consider working for decided to jump ahead and check our references. Shitburgers, for sure.

dst said...

Is that a picture of the woman he had the affair with?

Maybe she was hotter 5 years ago?

fox in socks said...

In the past when I had part time babysitters, after it was established that there was mutual interest (at the end of a thorough, detailed and successful phone interview), I would like the candidate to provide references for me to contact by phone.

It would have been impossible for me at that point to do in-person interviews with more than a handful of people. I would only interview in person the top candidates -- those people that were desirable to me based on the phone interview and excellent references. I did not have the time to spend interviewing tons of people. It would have been a terrific waste of time for both me, and the candidates, if I were to interview everyone in person before talking to the references.

In general, calling the references weeded out so many people, tons of people actually, that it would have been a complete waste of time (on both ends) to have spent time meeting in person.

I understand that the OP and some other nannies are concerned about their employers receiving phone calls from people that are not serious about hiring. However, I know I would never have a problem taking the time for a phone conversation on behalf of someone who worked for me with whom I was very pleased. It's nice to be able to be a reference for them, to give something back to them.

Nanny B said...

I agree 100% with your post, parents, please don't wait until the nanny is interviewing in your house to agree on the basics of financial expenses. Benefits yes, pay no. Also, like this post said, remember to treat your nanny well, don't yell at her because she forgot to pick up milk when your children were sick and she was to busy cleaning up after them and taking care of them to run to the store. Please treat her like you would your wife/mother/sister and make sure she knows she is appreciated, and not weeks before she is leaving because you have spent years treating her like crap. By then its to late. If you value your children, and the love she gives them and the heart she puts into her job, then treat her well, becauase in the end it will come back to bite you in the rear.

No Longer Anonymous Regular said...

I also agree with your post. When I was looking for a nanny, I was most impressed with candidates who asked very specific questions about the job and relayed exactly what they wanted early on in the interview process. I would eliminate nannies from my consideration list who presented contact information for their former employers in initial e-mails and discussions--I would not want to hire someone who does not respect their former employers' time. I do disagree with you somewhat on the salary discussion point. If on a first contact I was asked salary before any other specifics of the job and benefits was discussed, I would not proceed. However, if asked during a telephone interview (which was an extensive 30 minute plus discussion that I would pre-schedule with the candidate), what was my salary, I would respond by saying if I extend an offer to you, the salary would be completely dependant on experience and fit which I can't determine until we meet with you in person and check your references, but I understand it is not worthwhile to proceed if we are not in the same ballpark -- what is the general range you are looking for? The candidates I proceeded with provided a response. Only one candidate came back with a number out my range (well north of $1000/week)--I thanked her for her time and for raising the question because I don't think we would be able to match that. A few came back with a number that was a bit high but within the realm of possibility, and I said we paid our past nanny $x, so that is a bit high, but not completely impossible, would you like to move ahead to an interview? And, there were even a few candidates I told were underpricing themselves. I do think it helps to have a feeling for a range, so a better question for a nanny to ask is how much did you pay your last nanny than what salary would you pay me early on in discussions when the potential employer knows very little about you.

jojo bear said...

Fox in Socks,
You are selfish and thinking only of yourself if trying to weed out a candidate by checking her refs first. You wouldn't be bothered by a bazillion reference calls? Get real. Never mind that some people who check references come off as rude and suspicious. I only work for mega millionaires. They don't have time to chit chat or shoot the breeze with some dumb ass who hasn't even seen my face yet.

Manhattan Nanny said...

The last time I was job hunting I received literally dozens of inquiries. Some asked for references without even providing the minimum information I needed to know if I was interested. No, I am not going to give out my references at that point. Nor would I pursue those jobs, because that is a big red flag!
When it comes to calling references, who's time should we consider saving, the former employer's, who has nothing to gain by spending time on the calls (in some cases up to 1/2 an hour on one call) or the prospective employer's who will benefit from the information?
If you are seeking a nanny, you should be prepared to invest a lot of time in the process.

UmassSlytherin said...

great post mn: I agree!

But to jojo: I do not think fox in sox is selfish at all: that is the way she chooses to operate her search and it works for her. She may be missing out on some good candidates but it is her choice to do it. And she is looking out for number one: her kids! What is wrong with that? selfish seems like the wrong word to me.

linda said...

Au Pairs in USA is actually paid 159 dollars/week if you go with Cultural Care (the most common one I think). Here in Europe; it's usually about 100/month.

Former LCC said...

With agency fees, the weekly cost of an au pair is approximately $300 in America. The stipend is only part of the cost of hiring an au pair.

fox in socks said...

Thanks, Umassslytherin.

References paint the clearest and truest picture of a candidate, much more than any (in-person or phone) interview could! It seemed inconsiderate to make a person spend so much time and effort travelling to my home without any real likelihood she will get the job, since there would be absolutely no idea what the references would have to say given that I hadn't spoken with them yet.

Jojo, actually, I have answered tons of reference phone calls for my cleaning lady at times when she needs to add more customers, and I really don't mind at all. I'm happy to help her! Moreover, your comments make you sound like a pompous hick. I guess I have more discriminating tastes in a sitter than some mega-millionaires. If your job is so great there is no need to feel so threatened by someone explaining why phoning references before interviewing candidates can be much better for employers.

Emily said...

Fox in Socks,

It's so nice that you don't mind fielding a lot of calls for your employees, that says a great deal about you as an employer. It does seem odd to me that, although you chose to do things differently than the OP, you can't understand why she chooses to only release her references at a certain point in the process out of respect for her former employer's time.

I do the same thing in my own job searches, and if I ended up interviewing you and you refused to move past the phone phase without speaking to my references then I wouldn't really feel bad about scratching you from my list. That kind of inflexibility when I'm asking you to join me in being considerate of someone else's time would be the first red flag, and when I see one so early in the process, it would be a sign that moving on is the best for both of us.

North Jersey Nanny said...

Caroline -

Sigh! Spell Check has failed me once again... although it does appear that many nannies here can commesurate with my experiences!

Fox in Sox -

Thank you for sharing your perspective - and sharing it so nicely!

And UMass 0

In my personal experience, however, most people who want to speak to my references first are... well, not as nice! I've received one word responses to e-mails (References?) or been told I cannot know ANY specifics of the position before I provide them.

I am just not personally comfortable sharing such personal information without an initial meeting of some sort - and my references agree. Although I don't like the way JoJo made her point, I have former employers who simply don't have the time to speak to everyone who is interested in hiring me. I guess if I was offered the perfect opportunity and the person wanted references prior to interview, I would consider it.

However, I'm confident in the quality of my references and know how highly the speak of me - I wouldn't waste my time driving to your home for an interview if I didn't have the confidence that my former employers will reinforce my positives and give you insight into my experiences, KWIM? For what it's worth, you sound like a lovely person - and a great employer!

And UMass - you always respond with such tact! Thank you!

fox in socks said...

To Emily, if you go back and read my first comment carefully, you will see that I stated that I CAN understand why some nannies would be concerned about their former employers receiving phone calls from people. Can, not can't.

Thank you, north jersey nanny.

texasnanny said...

i just looked at craigslist and saw an ad for a nanny. 50 hours a week. for 60$ no joke

Steven said...

Oh yes, I so agree. I can't overemphasize how much I agree!

It floors me, it absolutely floors me how many parents ask for references to be sent in response to an ad or respond to one of my ads asking for them right off the bat.

I refuse and will always refuse. Never mind that I will always see such requests or demands as a strike or two against the parent or parents.

My references are gold and parents, you must understand you won't see the references from the best nannies until after an interview. If you see them before, know, you don't have one of the best.

* And I say that with all humility of course.

CuriousDad said...

Ok, never had a nanny, though now looking into acquiring the services of one. But I am trying to do some investigative work first to see if it is a fit for me and my children. But as a manager and a person who has hire and fire responsibilities at my present place of employment. We never interview anyone without a resume (Job Qualifications), References and stating what the position entails and some basic idea of the benefits package offered and ballpark pay scale we are looking at towards the end of the interview. Why such a major discrepancy with hiring a nanny?