Useful questions to ask when meeting a nanny

As someone who has employed a number of nannies over the last eight years, I must’ve set up my fair share of interviews (hundreds?!) with prospective employees. Some proffer the same old answers time and again: ‘What do you like doing with children?’ Answer: ‘I like going to the park, kicking a football, arts and crafts, whatever the children want to do really’, whereas others have given answers – and asked questions – that have really resonated with me and really made me think. Here are ten of the most useful questions I’d recommend that you ask as a parent (that prompt the most informative response):

The first – and one of the most important questions – should be this:

1. Why are you interested in this job?

Ask this at the beginning – so that you know what it is about working with your family that particularly interests them – and ask this at the end, so that you can see how the conversations that you have had have informed and evolved their interest.

2. What is your best memory of your last family?

This will give you real insight into how passionate the person is about what they do, and while it won’t answer the nuts-and-bolts logistical questions that you have, you should get a strong sense of who they are and what they care about.

3. If you only taught our children one life skill or life lesson, what would it be?

This is a good way to discover what their priorities are, and whether they are a good match for your own. Some answers might focus on specifics, whether it’s to teach your child their native language or instil a love of music, whereas others might be much more philosophical – to teach your children to be kind, or to encourage good manners. There are so many ways to respond that it might not be a question of whether they prove to be a ‘match’, but it might prompt further discussion around what matters to you in terms of raising your children.

4. Have you ever worked with a family whose approach to discipline didn’t mirror your own? And, if so, how did you manage that?

It’s not a problem if there are minor indiscrepancies in terms of your respective approaches – in many ways, it can be a positive thing, because a new person may be able to introduce you to ideas you hadn’t yet considered or tried (one nanny we employed very gently suggested that when I came home stressed from work, I could be very shouty with the children – I vowed from that moment to make a concerted effort not to yell at them, and it has worked wonders… surprise, surprise, they no longer yell back!). It also means they can tell you, straight up, if there are certain practices that they are not okay with. Most nannies will be happy to accommodate your parenting style, but it is important that you share core values because you’ll feel constantly conflicted if you’re not on the same page.

5. What are your interests? What do you like to do in your spare time?

It’s so important to get a sense of the whole person when interviewing a nanny as they are going to be a huge influence on your children. I remember an interview with a particular nanny that was going swimmingly well until I asked this question. Her answer? ‘I am really interested in make-up. I like shopping, clothes, usual things.’ My heart sank. We’re a really active family and love being out of the house, going to the theatre, playing games, trying new things… A nanny who didn’t share our enthusiasm for a busy and active lifestyle simply wasn’t going to work for us.

6. Ask how, not what. How would you approach homework, meal times, bath times etc if a child doesn’t like it?

Ask open-ended questions, rather than questions that can be answered in either one word or yes/no. A good nanny will have lots of tips and tricks to help sort challenging moments. Ask them about techniques they’ve used in the past, ask them what has worked and what hasn’t and you’ll get a real sense of both how they manage situations and what their plate-spinning skills are like.

7. What qualities do you think are important in a nanny?

Perhaps come up with a list – in advance – of the qualities that you think are important, and see how well your lists tally? A good prospective nanny won’t have to think about this one, they will have a strong sense of what it takes to be a positive influence and should be bursting with ideas. Ideally, they will give you examples of how various qualities that they have have benefited the family that they have been working for. And if they haven’t worked as a nanny before, they’ll be able to give you examples of how they have transferable skills that have relevance for the role.

8. Can you give me some examples of unexpected issues that have come up in previous jobs and how you have worked things out?

Again, you’re looking for tangible examples of the person’s experience and skills when caring for children. Issues could surround an unexpected visit to hospital, or perhaps they’ve been hit/kicked by a child? Equally, they may be able to share experiences that have occurred in a non-nannying role, but that have equal relevance. It’s not so much the example per se that’s relevant here (although it could be enlightening), but the way that the prospectie nanny has dealt with it – as a parent, it’s reasonable to expect that a nanny will be an on-the-ground problem-solver and you need to be able to trust that they have the maturity and confidence required to manage tricky situations as they arise.

9. What do you think previous employers or your friends would say about you?

This is another way of finding out about a nanny’s skills, but in a way that means they don’t feel awkward about boasting their skills and flagging what they’re good at. It can also be very revealing, in terms of a nanny’s maturity and self-awareness: Does their self-reference reflect the references you’ve read from previous employers and/or friends?

10. What additional household responsibilities are you comfortable taking on as a nanny? For example: meal prep, laundry, cleaning, setting up appointments, pet care, etc.

Don’t shy away from asking difficult questions – if you don’t ask, you have no recourse to feeling frustrated/disappointed later when/if you feel your nanny isn’t pulling their weight. We’ve interviewed some nannies who’ve said, ‘I don’t mind doing x and y, but I’m not prepared to do z’, while another has said that while she didn’t ‘mind’ that we had a dog, but she wouldn’t want to feel responsible for it. For us, our dog is part of the family and most of the nannies we’ve had have loved her company – we don’t really want someone sharing our home who merely ‘tolerates’ our beloved pet. Another nanny announced that she didn’t ‘do’ ironing. Again, a deal-breaker for us (those kids’ bed-sheets aren’t going to iron themselves!), but we’ve also had nannies who’ve appeared to enjoy the house-keeping and/or pet-caring aspects of the job more than they’ve enjoyed caring for the children!

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