I suppose it would be good to start off by saying that I was an au pair in my younger days when I took a gap year between school and university. This was an amazing year in my then short 18 year old life and I am still very close to the family I looked after. It can be a very rewarding experience and one I would highly recommend to most. I have loads to share on this topic but shall save that for another day.
Usually there are loads of hints and tips books or websites giving advice on how to hire an au pair and all the DO’s …well…here are some of the DON’Ts:
- It doesn’t matter the sense of urgency or how desperate you may be to find someone, if there is a hint of doubt about a potential person, never override your gut instinct.
- Don’t underestimate the language barrier. When hiring someone from a different country, think of the age your children are and whether they will be able to understand what their new carer is saying in a different accent. I recall during a skype interview my husband and I had with a potential au pair, we asked the lady whether she would get bored living in a small village location. Her response took us a little while to compute, which was ‘ No, I am not boring, I like to run and I currently look after 20 children’. We both looked at each other and decided that if we couldn’t communicate properly with her, how was our 2 year old going to cope.
- Do not think that you don’t have time to wait for reference checks to come back and that one reference check will do. In fact, I would also go so far as to say, don’t argue with the person giving you a reference if it doesn’t match one of the other references. I can guarantee that if there is a mismatch of references there is a good reason for this. Not all references are sincere and honest and I have come across some that are fake on further investigation…
- Think very carefully about recruiting someone privately on the internet to save on the agency fees. I placed an ad on the Gumtree and was inundated with a host of applicants (some of whom were not looking for an au pair job!). I had some Spanish twins offering two for the price of one…erm….no thanks! I also ended up having a scam artist offering me a job. I must admit the Gumtree were very good at acting upon the fraudulent email request I received. I guess the moral of the story is, don’t use your personal email address for these kinds of sites.
- Never downplay the importance of food preferences that your future au pair has. We made a HUGE mistake with one who said she was a fussy eater. She was honest enough to tell us in her interview she was a fussy eater, but she really meant it when she said it. We thought it couldn’t be that bad…..well the only vegetable she would eat were cooked carrots. The only food she would eat was MacDonald’s and pizza. That was it. Sadly, her aversion to anything green has taken just short of 2 years for us to rectify with our boys. They used to eat anything put in front of them prior to this, but they witnessed the body language, facial expressions and words of distain from her when they ate healthy food, which was enough to put them off anything green too.
- Finally, do not mistake your child’s reaction of complete disliking for ‘just getting used to their new au pair’. Yes, this can happen and often does, but children are also quite good at knowing whether they can trust someone or not. If your child, who is usually very friendly with adults or older children, just doesn’t gel with a potential candidate or really plays up during the trial week (yes I said week!), start to talk to him or her to find out more.
Hopefully this has been useful and sadly, we had 2 au pairs in our house over a 6 month period and well, I am now a full time mum.