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Looking for a Nanny? You CAN Find Your Perfect Match

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One afternoon at one of my "Nanny Know-How" events in New York City, a young woman stood up and introduced herself to the group.

"Hi, my name is Karen," she began. "And I just wanted to say that I am the poster child for how not to go about finding a nanny...

"Our daughter is six months old, and we started looking for a nanny, which was our first choice for childcare, several months ago. We thought we had plenty of time before I had to go back to work, but now I'm actually starting back at work next week, and our daughter is going to daycare because we never found the right person. We went about our search in completely the wrong way; we didn't really know what we wanted, so we just started bringing people in and talking to them, thinking that we'd have an emotional connection with someone and that would mean everything else was right. We didn't understand how uncomfortable talking about money would be, so we met with a ton of nannies without really discussing salary, and then when we finally found someone we liked, she said wanted to be paid 'on the books.' We did all this research before figuring out that on-the-books wasn't financially possible for us--so after all that legwork, we couldn't agree on salary and the nanny took another job.

"Now our daughter is starting daycare and I have to do the nanny search all over again. I'm here because this time, I want to do it right."

I immediately understood Karen's experience, because it is typical of the way that most parents go about finding nannies: They feel their way through this most important process with only their gut instincts to guide them, which means they are essentially flying blind. Many, like Karen, approach the process backwards: they round up a random assortment of nannies referred to them by friends and friends-of-friends, interview the nannies first, decide which ones they like, and then try to figure out who can match their actual, logistical needs. Or they do what I call Nanny Speed-Dating: they pick a day, invite ten candidates to meet them at Starbucks, interview each one for an hour, and then hire the person they like best. I also know plenty of parents who don't even bother to interview multiple candidates--they just hire the cousin of their best friend's nanny, or a neighbor's former nanny, because they become overwhelmed and don't want to bother with an extensive search.

Unfortunately, all of these too-common approaches are rife with pitfalls. The problem with the interview-first approach, as Karen learned, is that it wastes a lot of time. Unless you figure out your exact needs and job criteria at the outset, you will spend a lot of energy meeting with candidates who ultimately, for one reason or another, aren't right for the job. No parent--especially an exhausted parent with a newborn--wants to spend any more time on their nanny search than is absolutely necessary. But if you try to rush things, as with Nanny Speed-Dating, you are not going to be able to gather sufficient information about each candidate to truly assess them and make the smartest, best choice. Even referrals are not a sure bet: As many parents will tell you, referrals may mean a lot--or they may mean nothing. Just because a nanny was wonderful for your friend does not automatically mean she will be wonderful for you. When it comes making a successful match, you need far more information than can be gleaned from a single interview, a single day of meeting nannies, or a single reference to know whether a nanny is right for you and your child.

Avoiding the wrong match is also critically important. There are many bad or even mediocre nannies out there who will meet you armed with years of experience and decent references. Mediocre nannies often fly under the radar, and the truth is that many parents don't actually know what their nannies are doing all day long while they're at work. There are many supposedly good nannies who commit what I call "Benign Neglect"--that is, they do the physical aspects of the job, such as feeding and dressing, but neglect the emotional ones, such as playing, interacting, and being affectionate with the child. And a lousy nanny can have an impact: activities like play stimulate brain cell activity and can actually increase your child's IQ, so if you have a nanny who is disengaged or refuses to play at the park because she's on her cell phone or too busy chatting with other nannies, your child will be missing an opportunity for cognitive growth. Similarly, if you have a caregiver who is the wrong personality match for you or your child, the resulting stress and tension in the home will affect your child's emotional development. Nanny searches are tricky, because you're not only trying to find the good nannies--you're also trying to identify and weed out the bad ones.

Fortunately, that's where I come in. Because I've worked with hundreds of parents through my nanny agency in New York and been on the front-lines for all of their nanny search ups and downs, I know what works and what doesn't when it comes to making a successful match. My process takes all of my first-hand experience and translates it into a sure-fire system that any parent can use to find and hire a great nanny. It starts with a detailed Family Needs Assessment, which draws on my background in psychology and child development to provide a 360-degree, in-depth look at your family and child, and helps you to identify your wants and your needs. We then translate those needs into an actual job description, and use five key points of interaction--Basic Screening, Reference Checks, Interviews, Background Checks, and Trials--to match that description to a strategically selected pool of candidates who have a high probability of being exactly what you want.

The Gold Standard Selection process breaks down into nine simple steps:

  1. Doing a Family Needs Assessment
  2. Deciding How and What to Pay
  3. Finding Candidates
  4. Basic Screening
  5. Reference Checks
  6. Interviews
  7. Background Checks
  8. Trials
  9. Making the offer

While many parents do these steps in some form already--for example, almost all parents do reference checks--the way we approach them is unique, as you will see in future posts. The sequencing of the steps is also very important; for example, we do reference checks before meeting candidates face-to-face, because I know from experience that when the check is done correctly, what you can learn from former employers far more telling than an interview.

I've had several of my nanny agency clients say to me, "Wow, your process is like a science!" And I take that as a compliment, because the whole point of my methodology is that, when done correctly, it yields a predictable result.