When Jess Bernstein, a public relations professional and mother of 10-month-old Ella, began her search for a nanny, she thought the process would be relatively simple and straightforward. But, as is often the case when making such a personal decision, the search ended up being far more complicated.
“I interviewed ten [nannies] and the most stressful part was meeting people I would never leave my child with,” she says. “One woman told me she had a cold, but would I mind if she held the baby? Another walked straight into my apartment toward the couch and didn’t take off her shoes or wash her hands. Experienced nannies know that is Caretaker 101 when it comes to infants.”
Finding the right person is rarely easy, but with preparation, you’re more likely to find someone who is right for your family. So we’ve outlined a four-step plan to get you on the path to meeting the best nanny for your needs.
1. Assess Your Family’s Needs
Before starting your search, you need to know exactly what your family requires in terms of logistics and arrangements. What’s your schedule like? Maybe you need a nanny to arrive bright and early every morning or someone who’s available on Saturdays only. Do your kids have special needs? If your child has allergies, for example, you’ll need a nanny who’s experienced with using an EpiPen; if your child has Asperger’s syndrome, you’ll want a nanny who’s patient and encourages social interaction.
“The first step a parent should take is understanding their overall needs,” says Douglas Kozinn, president of Absolute Best Care Nanny Agency. “This clarity will greatly enhance your interviewing process.”
Beyond your familial and logistical needs, you should start honing in on the personal qualities in a nanny that are important to you. Do you want a younger person with a lot of energy—or an older person with a lot of experience? Do you want someone who is a parent themselves? And, if so, does it matter whether the nanny is still raising her own children and may have days where she has childcare issues herself? Some parents like nannies who are proactive and independently minded; others prefer someone who they can comfortably micromanage and who follows strict orders.
Another question to ask yourself is whether you want a nanny or an au pair. For space and privacy reasons, in the city, it’s more common for parents who can afford it to hire full-time nannies than live-in au pairs, though some parents have such demanding work schedules that a live-in is pretty much essential. There’s also the issue of citizenship. The nanny market is full of workers who are U.S. citizens or have green cards, and also many who are here illegally, so you’ll want to make sure you check a person’s status.
Lindsay Bell, president of Lucky Lil’ Darlings, recommends using a nanny with citizenship, because they are easier to background check and tend to be more flexible with hours than an au pair or a nanny with a green card. “In my experience, I have found that nannies are generally more experienced,” she adds. “However, au pairs are generally more cost-effective and [often] bring a multicultural education for your children to the table.”
While you should consider all of these factors at the start of the process, your opinions may evolve depending upon whom you meet. But the bottom line is that you shouldn’t settle for anyone who doesn’t seem like a loving and responsible person.
2. Start The Search For Your Nanny
There are numerous private placement agencies that specialize in matching you with a nanny based on your specific needs. (See sidebar below for agency listings.) The other option is to do the search yourself, which typically involves a mix of checking listings on various websites and asking friends and their nannies for recommendations. Most agencies promise the benefit of serious background checks. A trusted friend’s recommendation is also worth a lot, although you might find that your friend’s needs are different from your own, so a nanny who is so well-suited to another family might not be the right fit for yours. And, of course, you should still do your own interviewing and reference checks.
Greg Solometo of Nannies of New York makes the case for both search methods. “If a family finds a nanny through word of mouth, just make sure you get a good understanding of their background,” he says. “[Alternatively], using an agency relieves some of the pressure off of the family.”
Bell of Lucky Lil’ Darlings believes that placement services can be especially reassuring if you’re a first-time mom. “Childcare services have done this thousands of times and will help guide you along the way,” she says. “Having a guide throughout the process alleviates stress, too, as you’ll always have someone to turn to with questions.”
3. Screen Potential Candidates
Whether you get a nanny reference from a service or find one through your own research, it’s a good idea to do some screening yourself. The first step in this process is to check the potential employee’s work history. You’ll want specific start and end dates, family names, addresses, and duties—the equivalent of a resume. Kozinn from Absolute Best Care Nanny Agency says to be cautious of “mysterious gaps” in work history, as they may be an indication that the candidate isn’t very reliable or isn’t telling you something important.
Most parents won’t have the energy or resources to check education records, driving records, criminal history, citizenship, and health. If those details are important to you, it’ll probably be more realistic to use a search agency or ask the candidate for the information.
You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to meet all potential candidates in person or first screen them over the phone. A phone conversation can save you a lot of time and stress, helping you to eliminate candidates who you wouldn’t seriously consider. And while the most important references you ultimately can get are from other families who have worked with the candidate previously, Bell suggests making those calls after the interview, so you won’t be influenced by someone else’s opinion before having the chance to form your own first.
4. Interview Your Top Choices
Once you have your search narrowed down to ten or fewer candidates, you’ll want to conduct in-person interviews. It’s a good idea to have your children in the room with you to see how the potential nanny interacts with them. Sometimes you’ll know within two minutes that someone isn’t the right fit for your family, but be courteous and proceed with the interview for at least ten minutes.
Throughout the interview, paying attention to small details, like body language, is key. But you also need to listen attentively to the answers. And remember, the more specific your questions, the more revealing her answers will be, so be prepared—see our 20 suggested questions below. You’ll also want to add questions that are specific to each candidate. For example, if a nanny has experience working with twins, ask her about it!
You’ll probably know when a nanny is the right fit. “She was warm, smiled a lot, and was just a lovely person,” says Bernstein of the nanny she eventually hired. “And it didn’t take long for my daughter to warm up to her.”
If you’re a parent who’s returning to work, it’s a good idea to have the nanny start a couple of weeks before you go back to the office, to make a slow and steady transition. This way, your nanny will be able to ask questions, you’ll become more comfortable with her watching your child, and, most importantly, your child will become increasingly comfortable with her.
In order to make sure that the person you’ve hired is working out as intended, some people like to use nanny cams. Another reliable way of checking up on her is to ask a friend to keep an eye out for your child and nanny at the park to observe how they’re doing.
As with any big decision, it’s important to start the search early. This way, you won’t feel stressed or like you’re running out of time. Trust your instincts and don’t settle for a not-right nanny just because you’re feeling frustrated or rushed.
“We live in New York City. There are many, many nannies,” says Bernstein. “Even though it’s a long process and it might take a little while and it can be frustrating, finding that right person is worth it.”
To read a sidebar on 20 Questions You Should Ask A Potential Nanny In An Interview, click here.
And for a list of NYC Childcare Services, click here.