How to interview nannies

You’ve sifted through a bundle of CVs and shortlisted the nannies you’d like to meet.  Perhaps you’ve probably run interviews for your day job, and feel confident about interviews in that context.  But given it’s such an important decision who you’re going to entrust your kids and home to, here are some extra pointers.

We’ve focused on logistical suggestions, criteria, and asking questions so you hear more than just what the nanny thinks you want to hear.  You might also find it worthwhile to cast an eye over our previous blog: a nanny’s perspective on interviews.

If you're finding a nanny for a nanny share you can register for free with Koru Kids. We'll help you find a great family to share your nanny with.

Some logistical suggestions

You’re likely pressed for time. Perhaps you’re figuring out timings for returning to work, or finding alternative childcare having been left in the lurch.  If your shortlist is more like a longlist, you could use short calls to sense check your ranking of candidates and help you prioritise just two to interview.  If you’ve more than two great prospects after phone screening, you can always keep them warm in case you don’t find just the right fit during your first interviews.

Arrange a 45 – 60 min interview with each candidate.  Ask them to bring copies of their paperwork.  Experienced nannies will have a folder prepared, but those just starting out might benefit from some guidance about what you’re expecting to see.  At a minimum, you should ask to see evidence of their right to work in the UK, their most recent DBS (criminal background) check, any relevant qualifications to childcare (more details below, and see our blog Interpreting qualifications on a nanny's CV).

It’s worth outlining the interview format to the nanny at the start of the interview.  One tried and tested approach is to tell the candidate about your family and children, and what you consider the roles involves, before moving on to their experience and answers to questions.  Give the candidate plenty of opportunities to ask you questions—they’re interviewing you, too.

It’s important to see how the nanny interacts with the children, but if possible avoid having them around for the whole conversation (perhaps introduce them at the end). If you can, it’s great to invite the nanny for a second informal meeting or trial with the children.

In closing the interview,  let the candidate know what the next steps will be, and when they can expect to hear back from you.  Once they’ve left and before you rush onto the next thing, take five minutes to complete the criteria grid (more on that below) and jot down any other impressions you have of them. This reduces the risk of candidates all blurring together in your memory.

Criteria, a.k.a knowing what you’re looking for

Parents we speak to are often a bit coy when we ask they what the deciding factor was when choosing their nanny.  It seems they want to be able to describe a robust systematic approach to choosing a nanny but in actual fact their instinct kicked in and the decision came down to ‘a gut feel’.  To make sure you’re using both your heart and your head, it’s worth thinking beforehand about what you’re looking for.

Jotting this down ahead of time -- even preparing a grid so that you can give each candidate a score against each aspect (out of 5, accompanied by a few notes) -- will also give you something to refer back to when you’re deliberating. 

Below is a rundown of dimensions that various parents have shared with us. Of course, each family is different so think of this as inspiration rather than instruction.

Feel

  • Go with your instincts for this score.  You’ll get a sense of how kind, caring, gentle, engaged or playful you feel the nanny is, especially on interacting with the children

Basic requirements

Check all the basics are in place. Your list might include:

  • Y/N   Right to work in the UK. By law, nannies must have a passport and/or visa to demonstrate they can work in the UK
  • Y/N   Criminal background check, called a DBS
  • Y/N   Paediatric First Aid Certificate (valid for 3 years)
  • Y/N   Driving Licence if required
  • Y/N   Ofsted registration, if you’re planning to use childcare vouchers or taxfree childcare scheme
  • Y/N   English proficiency (spoken and written)

References

  • All nannies should be able to show you written references. It’s a good idea to check these verbally so that you can triangulate with their CV and interview answers, although you’ll generally only be able to do this after you’ve made the nanny an offer or are very close to doing so.

Qualifications

Years of experience

  • Experience is important. Consider it in terms of: relevant age range(s) (Newborn/ Toddler/ School age); level of responsibility (sole or shared care); and, if relevant, specialist needs like multiples or disabilities

Safety  

  • This is best assessed in the interview, using scenario questions (see below). You’re looking for a nanny who can assess risks and equip a child to navigate dangers

Understanding of, and ability to apply, Development Stages theory

  • It’s important for a nanny to be able to anticipate development stages, and support a child reaching milestones with appropriate activities

Views on discipline and handling difficult behaviour

  • You’ll have a preferred approach to boundaries, rewards, recognition and sanctions.  So it’s worth understanding the nanny’s default mode and repertoire to see if they’ll be able to help you achieve consistency

Level of initiative

  • You’re not always going to be on hand with an answer.  So get an understanding of how the nanny thinks. How will they get familiar with what’s on offer in your local area? How will they plan a nutritionally balanced menu, or an interesting project?

Communication effectiveness

  • Think about what you’d want in terms of daily updates, and whether this nanny would give you that. Also try to judge how receptive the nanny will be to feedback and direction.  What about when you’re in a hurry and talking quickly on the phone?

How to ask great interview questions

The most important skill in interviewing is to choose questions that will allow you to hear more than just what the nanny thinks you want to hear.

Think about three types of questions: fact finding questions; open questions, and scenario questions. 

Fact finding, or clarifying, questions are really to help you get your bearings.  Don’t worry about them being closed questions (i.e. generating yes/no answers).  You can use these while the nanny runs through their CV, to give you a fuller sense of the contexts of their work with previous families.  Examples:

     So you were with this family for 2 years…  what age were the children when you started?

     What were the hours you did for this family?

     What were your responsibilities relating to both the children and around the house?

You can also use this opportunity to get a better grip of what on earth their qualifications mean   

     How long was that course, and was it full time?

     What content did it cover?

     Was it all theory, or were there some practical or placement components?

The open question portion of the interview should be far less leading.  The intention here is to get the candidate to speak about specific examples from their past experience. Interviewees could feel awkward talking about seemingly mundane details, so it’s worth reassuring them that this is what you’re interested in hearing.  This is where you find out how they really behave, rather than talking in generalities or telling you what they think you want to hear. 

For each of the dimensions listed above, it’s worth prepping some questions.  A few examples are included below, but more can be found in these two blog posts: Interview Tips (specifically) for a Nanny Share and Nanny Interview Tips.

You’ve had some experience with toddlers.  Our youngest is 18 months, so we’re anticipating the terrible twos...  Could you talk me through the worst tantrum you’ve had to manage with a child you were looking after?

 In your last role you looked after two children who were 2 years apart.  What did a typical afternoon of activities look like, having picked the oldest one up from a morning at nursery?

 Can you tell me about a time when you were running late in the morning? What happened?

 Could you describe a time when you felt there was a breakdown in communication between you and the parents of a family?

The final type of questions are scenario based.  These are to try and understand how resourceful the candidate is, and how good they are at thinking on their feet.  Some can be thought experiments. (Imagine we were new to this area. How would you go about researching what baby and child activities are going on nearby?), while others can be situations that you set-up.  Tried and tested examples include asking them to do a quick risk assessment of the room you’re in, or take them to your fridge and store cupboard and ask them to suggest three meals that they could prepare from what you’ve got to hand.

Making a decision about childcare is always difficult.  But hopefully these interview tips have helped you along. If you're thinking about a nanny share you can find out more here