Unfortunately, it's not likely Mary Poppins, Supernanny Jo Frost, or even Nanny McPhee is going to show up at your door the morning you're ready to return to work from maternity leave. The search for a nanny can be daunting and the thought of leaving your newborn or toddler with a virtual stranger can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. WebMD now makes hiring a nanny easier with tried-and-true tips from those in-the-know.
While many reputable agencies are willing to do the work for you, you can also recruit, interview and hire potential nannies on your own, starting with:
Seek referrals when hiring nannies. "Ask everyone you have ever met and tell everybody you know that you are looking for a nanny," suggests Barbara Marcus, a founder of Parents in a Pinch, a child care placement agency in Boston. "The best way to find someone is through word of mouth," agrees Guy Maddalone, CEO of GTM Household Employment, an upstate New York-based consulting group for household employers and the author of How to Hire a Nanny.
Know what/who you are looking for. Before you even start the interview process, develop a written description of your nanny position, Maddalone says. "Is it child care? The house and cleanliness? Tutoring or education-focused?" From there, develop a list of skills you would like your nanny to have. "Think about what attributes would prove they can do the things that the position requires," Maddalone says.
Solicit resumes from candidates.Remember that "many fabulous nannies don't have professional resumes, but a resume is important to see how long they stayed at their previous position(s)," Marcus says. That said, "make sure the candidate has child care experience, as you don't want her learning on your child."
Interview all nanny candidates you consider hiring. No ifs, ands, or buts, "every nanny should be interviewed face to face," Marcus says. "Some people, especially professional women, run an interview like they would in the corporate world, which is a mistake because nannies are a different breed," she explains. "People should go through an extensive process because it's really worth it," she says. "Do not go on face-value impressions."
Here are some tips:
Don't ask a potential nanny about her life goals for the next five years. "This is not a question that will tell you anything about her," she says.
Instead, devise scenarios to see how she would handle things that may come up on the job. Ask the nanny candidate what she would do if she made lunch for your 3-year-old and he or she refused to eat it, or what he would do if your child refuses to share with another child at the park.
You also want to get at what their child-care style is, she says. "You want someone who will listen to you," she says. "Some nannies are very professional and have a way of doing things and you need to psych that out," she says. For example, "if you are an active family that loves to get outdoors and -- no matter what the weather -- you want your baby in the park, you need to make sure the nanny is on the same page."
Tip: Give your nanny candidate a trial run: Find an excuse to leave the candidate alone with your child for three or four minutes and see what they do.
Check references when hiring nannies. Just do it, experts stress." You want verifiable, objective references" Marcus says. Remember that "being a mother is great, except it's not objective or verifiable." Call all written references.
When checking references, "bring up all the things that percolated during the interview," Maddalone says. For example, ask a nanny's past employer how the nanny juggled stress and multiple priorities. "You really want to get the reference to open up and be focused around your requirements."
Run background checks when hiring nannies. While many agencies run fairly extensive background checks, parents can do this as well, experts say. "Check Social Security numbers and verify their educational references," Marcus says. Some people may feel it's important to get a credit report since nannies will be in the home unsupervised. It's also important to run a background check to make sure a nanny candidate doesn't have a criminal history. Some companies, including Marcus', can do all this for you.
Maddalone suggests conducting a drug test on potential nannies. "Go to a drug store and buy a self-testing kit," he says. Also check the sexual offender child registry. The state of California makes all of this relatively simple for parents with www.trustline.org, a database of nannies and babysitters that have cleared criminal background checks.
Making an Offer
Set a salary. Expect to pay a full-time nanny at least $500 to $600 a week, depending on where you live, says Maddalone. Live-in nannies may make slightly less since they get free room and board. Factor transportation costs, health care, use of a car, and other terms into the salary as you see fit.
"When communicating, you want to negotiate in gross versus take-home pay," Maddalone advises. Also go over sick days, vacation days, and explain the schedule you expect your nanny to keep from the get-go so there are no gray areas.
Tip: "You want to always pay a little more than market rate, so you don't risk someone recruiting the person away," says Maddalone.
Once you have found your Mary Poppins, start out firm with a clear list of her responsibilities and your expectations and make sure to set boundaries. Take it from someone who knows, it's almost impossible to go back and do this once the new nanny has started. So do it now and everyone will be happy.
Published February 2007.