As I discussed in my prior post, I have created a 9 step process that helps parents find their ideal nanny. In addition to guiding you through the basic phases of your search, each step is also designed to help you do two things: First, to be extremely targeted in your search efforts, so that you don't waste time on nannies who don't fit the bill, and can quickly zero in on the candidates with the most potential; and second, to screen for possible problems--everything from commuting issues to personality conflicts--so that when you do finally make someone an offer and she accepts, you feel fantastic about your final choice.
Step 1. Doing a Family Needs Assessment
I always tell my nanny agency clients that before you can look outward to find a great nanny, you have to look inward--because a successful nanny search is more about who you are as a parent than it is about the child. In my experience, the biggest and most common mistake that parents make is not taking the time to figure out what they need. I'm not just talking about the basics, like the hours and days you need coverage, but about taking a very frank look at specific situation and drilling down on the details and nuances, both positive and negative, of your particular nanny position--details that your nanny must be able to handle if she is going to succeed. Step 1 uses my Family Needs Assessment form (FNA) to help you identify what you want and need, in both a practical and an emotional sense. This form grew out of my work as a therapist and is based on the traditional bio-psycho-social assessment that therapists give to patients. It helps you dig deep and take a close look at your family, pinpoint the "Musts" as well as the deal-breakers for your job, and come up with a picture of what your ideal nanny looks like. It also helps you to draw lessons from your past nanny experiences--good and bad--to figure out how you may want to do things differently going forward.
Your completed FNA is the single most important tool that you will have throughout your search. It is the blueprint that you will refer back to again and again, and use to complete every other step in the process, so you really want to spend some time, discuss the questions with your spouse, and put serious thought into your answers. By the time you finish your FNA, you should have a much clearer sense of what your job is and who you are as a family, and have a vision for who you want to hire.
Step 2: Deciding How and What to Pay
Now that you know what kind of nanny you're looking for, the next step is to figure out your target salary. Like it or not, what you can and cannot afford will be a huge determining factor in terms of who you hire, and too many parents, don't think about the money or start doing the math until they are in the middle of the process. But I always tell my clients that before you even look at a nanny, you need to know what you can pay--because there's no point in reaching out and talking to nannies that you can't afford to hire. Step 2 is all about looking at your budget and coming up with your ideal salary range, based on what you need according to your FNA. This is where you calculate your weekly costs, as well as the cost of benefits such as bonuses and other perks, and run and re-run the numbers until they work for you. . You want to have a clear financial strategy so that when a candidate says she needs $18 an hour, and you know your maximum hourly rate is $15, you can say, "Thank you, but we just can't meet that number," and move on.
Step 3: Finding Candidates
One of the most frequently asked questions I get from my nyc nanny agency clients is, "Where do I find a nanny?" Many parents sign with nanny agencies in NYC and pay huge fees just to have access to their candidate pool. But the good news is that there are countless, much less expensive channels that you can use to find candidates who meet your specific needs. With websites like Craigslist, Sittercity, and Mommybytes, it's incredibly easy to put out the word about your job and browse postings for candidates who might be interesting to you.
Step 3 is about reaching out and rounding up as many qualified applicants as possible. You do this by using your FNA to create a highly specific ad for your job and posting it online, as well as by networking with friends, colleagues, and other nannies to generate leads. The key to starting a successful nanny search lies in making contact with as many nannies as possible. I often joke with my clients that finding a nanny is a lot like dating: The more nannies you meet, the greater the chance that you will find "The One."
Step 4: Basic Screening
Once you've made contact with a good number of nannies--I recommend at least twenty--it's time to begin the screening process. This is a quick phone conversation or email exchange with each candidate to reconfirm that they meet your requirements. Because even if they responded to your ad, and even if your ad was extremely detailed, nannies aren't always the best at written communication--so some of them will respond to ads whether they're qualified or not. This simple step ensures that you won't spend a morning meeting someone who, it turns out, can't actually work 7 to 7 or doesn't have a driver's license.
This step begins the process of narrowing down your list of candidates. You develop a personalized list of screening questions based on your FNA, assess your conversations using my Screening Follow-Up worksheet, look for inconsistencies and red flags, and decide who goes on to the next round. Some of the candidates won't make the cut because they don't actually fit the job parameters, and some will vanish when you press them for more detailed information. That's okay. The point of Basic Screening is to avoid going further with anyone who isn't a true contender.
Step 5: Reference Checks
Reference Checks are one of the most crucial steps in the Nanny Whisperer Process because they are, in my opinion, the single best way to get an honest, unfiltered picture of how a nanny will fare in your particular job. Most parents make the mistake of doing what I call a generic reference check, where they try to find out everything they can about how the nanny performed in her last position. But in my process, we do what I call the Gold Targeted Check to find out how she would fare in yours. You're looking for confirmation that not only is the candidate a good nanny, but that she is likely to do well in your specific job.In this step, you use your FNA to come up with a list of pointed, highly-specific questions that ask each reference to think about and project what their former nanny would be like in your household. Instead of asking, "Did you and Josie have a good relationship?" you ask scenario-based questions such as, "I work from home and our apartment is fairly small. How do you think Josie would handle being in the same space with her boss all day long?" Then, even if Josie and her last employer got along very well, the employer may say, "Wow, I don't really know. I was out of the house twelve hours a day and she had a lot of autonomy. I'm not sure how she would do with someone looking over her shoulder."
After checking your applicants' references, you assess what you've learned and refine your list of candidates even more.
Step 6: Interviews
The beauty of the Nanny Whisperer Process is that because you've already done your screening and your reference checks, the people you meet face-to-face are the ones who have a very good chance of being right for your job. The interview is your opportunity to sit down with a candidate face-to-face, assess the basics--Is she dressed neatly? Did she show up on time?-- and pose the same kind of pointed, scenario-specific questions based on your FNA that you used when doing in your reference checks. This is also your chance to get some more personal details about the candidate, such as legal status and family situation. Your goal is to find out how well the nanny's personal circumstances and experience match your personal circumstances and needs. After each interview, you use my Interview Wrap-Up Worksheet to recap what you've learned and identify what you liked and didn't like. That said, if there's one thing I've learned from doing this process for many years, it's that interviews in the nanny world often mean absolutely nothing. This is because, in general, nannies are not great interviewers. They're nervous, they're not comfortable in a setting that's more typical of the professional world, and there are a whole host of issues--language issues, cultural issues--that can make interviews a very poor indicator of who they are. This is why I try hard to impress upon my clients that while interviews are important, they don't mean everything--and in some cases, they may mean nothing. My Interview Wrap-Up Worksheet is specifically designed to help you decipher what matters and what doesn't after an interview, but if people are pressed for time, I tell them to skip the interviews altogether and go straight to Steps 7 and 8, Background Checks and Trials.
Step 7: Background Checks
When you hire a nanny, background checks are essential because you want to have as much information as possible about the person who will be coming into your home to care for your child. Most parents skip this step because they don't know how to go about it and they assume that, as individuals, they don't have the means of running a criminal background or legal status check. Or, they erroneously believe that their nanny agency has run these checks (unless they specifically state otherwise, most agencies do not).
I always recommend that my nanny agency clients do a criminal check, a financial records or credit check, a driver's license check, and a legal status check. And, if appropriate, an education check. All of these checks are easy to accomplish and can either be done on your own via the internet, or, when it comes to financial records, by enlisting the help of your accountant. This step shows you how to run these checks and how to interpret the results. You want to do everything in your power to figure out: Is this person honest? Is she stable? Is there anything whatsoever in her background to suggest that she might put my family or child at risk?
Step 8: Trials
In the Nanny Whisperer process, trials are absolutely mandatory. In fact, I won't work with families who don't want to do trials or say that they don't have the time. Many parents think they can learn everything they need to know about a nanny is just a few hours--but for you to get a truly clear picture of your candidates, you need to see how they are "in action," how they act under pressure, how they respond to direction, and how the two of you work together as a team.
This step brings your top candidates into your home, preferably for two full-day trials. I feel strongly that full-day trials have more value, because while everyone can give their best for a couple of hours, not everyone can be "on" for a full day. You want to make sure that the trials reflect the reality of your job and a day in the life of your family as much as possible, so that you have ample time to assess the match, and both you and the nanny can come away with a clear sense of whether or not the arrangement is going to work.
After the trials, you assess the pros and cons for each candidate using my Trial Wrap-Up worksheet, and decide which ones will make the biggest difference for your family. By the end of this step, you should be able to settle on your final choice. And because you've already done your reference and background checks, you can move forward immediately to make an offer.
Step 9: Making the Offer
Once you've settled on the nanny you want to hire, it's time to come up with a proper offer. And in my experience, the single best way to avoid problems is to structure your offer as a Nanny/Family Work Agreement. Many parents feel uncomfortable talking about sensitive deal points like salary, or being firm in a negotiation, so the easiest way to keep the conversation professional rather than personal is to put it all down on paper. While the agreement is not a legally binding contract and can be changed or ended at any time, it sets clear guidelines and expectations from the get-go so that everyone is on the same page.
In this final step, you prepare a Nanny/Family Work Agreement that incorporates all the details of your job from you FNA, along with any other rules or specifications that the nanny has asked for, or that came up during the trial. Then you make the offer. There will inevitably be some back-and-forth, but if you follow my negotiation tips and scripts, you will end up with an agreement that makes everyone happy. The best part is, with everything spelled out clearly on the page, your nanny has a roadmap to follow when she starts.