So you’ve decided that you are going to use an au pair for childcare, but the task now of finding the right match seems a little overwhelming.
There are so many candidates to choose from, so it is incredibly important to ask the right questions to find a great au pair who will be the perfect fit for your family.
Remember, the process is probably just as overwhelming for the au pairs as it is for you. You are trying to find someone you can trust to take good care of your children for the next year. And for the au pairs – most of them have never been thousands of miles away from home. They want to feel safe with the family they choose to live with.
When you find a potential au pair, be sure to ask them the following 8 questions via email or phone/Skype interview to help find the right match.
1. Driving Experience
If your au pair’s duties are going to include driving your children to and from activities, you will want to delve deeper into their driving experience than what is contained in their basic application. Also consider taking a closer look at driving history if there aren’t great public transportation options in your neighborhood and your au pair will be using your car in her free time.
The big questions you will want answers to are 1) How long have you been driving, and 2) How much driving do you do per week?. You may find someone who has had her license for 3 years (which sounds great), but she only makes a 10 minute drive once per week.
One specific question we always ask is what types of vehicles do they have experience with? If you have a large vehicle such as an SUV, it will be good to know if your au pair has ever driven a car that large before. If not, she’ll probably need a little extra driving practice when she gets here before you are both comfortable with her using your car.
Also consider your climate vs the weather your au pair has experience driving in. I live in Indiana – our winters can be absolutely terrible. We have had 2 au pairs from Brazil – suffice to say, it was quite the adjustment to driving in the snow/ice.
2. How Family Feels
It’s a huge endeavor for a young adult to commit to living thousands of miles away from home for a year. They are going to get homesick. It’s not a question of if, but when it will happen. When it does, your au pair is much more likely to work her way through it if her family is supportive of her trip and can be encouraging to her.
If someone very close to her, like mom, didn’t want her to do it in the first place and begs her to come home, your au pair is more likely to make the choice to go back home when things get tough.
We also ask about boyfriends/girlfriends. Yeah, it’s kind of an awkward thing to ask about, but a serious relationship can make it really hard for your au pair to stick it out. Long-distance relationships are notoriously difficult to maintain, and you just might want to avoid that potential complication.
3. Experience Living Away from Home
I’ve seen an au pair who had been in the United States for less than 2 weeks develop anxiety attacks so severe that she had to return home. Coming here can be a huge culture shock, but au pairs who already have some experience living away from home will have a little bit better idea of what they are getting into.
Look for and ask about experiences such as living abroad for a short time (even if just a couple weeks for school credit), or moving more than just a short drive away from mom & dad. The more experience they have, the better you will feel that they can adapt to your home.
Young adults who have experience living on their own are also usually more independent and responsible. This can save you some headaches down the line and keep you from feeling like you suddenly have a teenager to look after.
4. Favorite Age of Kids to Work with
In one round of interviews, we had an au pair candidate that we really liked who was very well qualified for taking care of twin infants. Well, we ended up talking her out of a match with us. On purpose.
Why would we do that?
As we interviewed her, she talked about how she loved being active with kids and coming up with activities to do with them, especially outdoors. The more back and forth we had, the more my husband and I thought she would probably be happier with kids who were at least 2 or 3 years old. With twin infants, she was going to be stuck inside and not super active for most of the time.
We brought this up to her because we honestly wanted our au pair to be happy with our family, and not feel trapped with the babies. I think she was surprised at first when we suggested she might not be happy with our babies, but ended up agreeing after giving some thought to it.
Many au pair candidates have a wide range of childcare experiences. Be sure to ask each one what their favorite age to work with is, and why. It can go a long way towards helping you find the right match.
5. The Ideal Host Family – Au Pair Relationship
It’s really important to find out up front what type of relationship your au pair is looking for with your family. Some candidates really want to be part of a family, and be included in all the holidays and family activities. Others are more interested in making new friends and experiencing American life with others their own age. Some want a balance between the two.
You need to get a feeling for an au pair’s expectations and desires to make sure they align with your own preferences. A mismatch could cause tension if you are expecting her to spend more time at home, or a difficult adjustment if she is expecting more support.
6. Ability to Discuss Issues as They Arise
This is a question we usually saved for the second interview with a candidate. By that point we’ve determined that we seem to have good chemistry with her, so this is a fair question to ask. Obviously she won’t know for sure until the situation actually occurs, but hopefully she can be honest with herself about how she feels at that moment.
Your au pair should be able to talk to you if they are having issues, either with the children or with you. If your children are misbehaving and she’s unsure how to handle it, not asking for help may lead to her becoming overwhelmed. If someone in the household has unknowingly offended her, her relationship with the family may be affected if it is not addressed. Misunderstandings due to cultural differences can certainly happen, and they can often be resolved quickly with a conversation.
7. Methods of Discipline
If she has worked with children before, she has likely had to deal with misbehavior at some point. Don’t be afraid to ask how she typically responds to these situations.
If she’s worked with children a great deal, you might even ask how her methods have changed over time. This not only lets you discuss what kind of discipline you are comfortable with in your home, but might offer extra insight into her experience.
8. Activities/Experiences Desired
Try to ask several questions about what kind of activities the au pair enjoys and wants to be involved in, as well as what places she wants to visit while she is with you.
If you live in the city but she loves things like hiking and spending time on the beach in her free time, then she might not be happy if those types of activities are not nearby.
If every single place she names that she wants to visit is on the opposite side of the country from you, she might be disappointed during her year with you. Unless you give her extra time off and a larger weekly stipend, she probably won’t have the money or time to experience the things she was hoping to see.
Do your best to take these types of things into account. Remember, your au pair is not coming here just to take care of your children and do nothing else. If the experience isn’t what she was expecting or hoping for, you don’t want to be faced with rematching partway through the year.
Keep Both Parties’ Happiness in Mind During Interviews
The one thing we kept reiterating to every au pair we spoke with, was that we want our au pair to be happy.
You are putting this person in charge of the welfare of your children. Why would you want someone who was unhappy with their situation or their relationship with you to be taking care of your kids?
This is why it is so important to ask the right questions, to help you find a great match. Be encouraging, also, of the au pairs to feel free to ask you any questions as well.
What problems are you running into with sorting through and interviewing au pairs? Are there any questions you are wondering if you should bring up? Feel free to ask me in the comments!
Also be sure to check out these 13 things you need to do to prepare for your au pair’s arrival.