How Should an Au Pair Decide Which Family to Match With?

by cv harquail on October 13, 2016

PopularAuPair candidate faces an embarrassment of riches.

Lots and lots of  families are contacting her via the website where she’s posted her application.  She’s got many to choose from as she accepts or declines invitations for interviews.  But she’s not 100% sure of the criteria she should use.

6384342591_b9ef6295c4_mShe explains:

I’m a 20 year old American girl looking to au pair in Europe. I seem to be very popular in the applications (over 80 in 2 weeks!) and I’m getting a little overwhelmed. I’ve started to exclude any families that seem to pressure me too much (always with a very polite denial!) as I am generally a person who finds it difficult to say no.

Several of these families I’m emailing with seem really lovely.

I have about 10 families that I’m currently in the active phase of talking to. I think I can narrow it down to 5 that I wish to seriously continue getting to know. But I worry that I’m being misleading! It’s like dating many people at once!

How do you recommend that an au pair decide among several good options?
Should I feel okay just “going with my gut”?

But at the end of the day, I think I might have found the family that feels ‘right’.

They weren’t the first family I was messaging with — I’d already interacted with several families before connecting with them. They actually contacted me — I remember passing over their profile initially because it was structured in such a way that made it sound like they needed a housekeeper to help while they had a new baby. But I went ahead and skyped them, got a better feel for the situation, and it just feels perfect.

I spoke in English with the mother (who I adored!), held a brief German conversation with a very sweet and devoted father, and even got to see and answer some questions for the children ( 4 and 2). (I also got a more detailed schedule from the mom, and it sounds more like the au pair experience I’m seeking, I believe the initial outline was a language problem).

Do I take the plunge? Is my gut correct?


I want to encourage this au pair to go with the family that feels comfortable to her — with one caveat.

Discuss the contract clearly, and dig into the details to make sure you both agree on the same terms.

In too many of the emails we receive from au pairs outside the USA, the problem is that the international host family has ‘gone back on’ details of the contract– particularly related to housekeeping and hours.    I think this PopularAuPair should be very careful to discuss the contract– maybe even tell the family that the AuPairMom blog advised her to do so.

And with regard to your ‘gut’ reaction, I don’t really know another way to choose among several options that all look equally good on paper.

Other thoughts?


Image: Shuffle, by Lauren Rushing on Flickr


DMMom October 13, 2016 at 11:20 am

Here is how I compare Au Pairs and it really helps me think about my decision. I think the same analysis will work for a host family.
1. list all the qualities that you are looking for and weight them
2. “score” each family on how they meet the quality
3. analyize if the score matches your “gut” if it does great, if it doesn’t are those qualities correct? figure out why.

family A family B family C
location 10% 9 3 6
schedule 40% 2 8 6
child age 30% 4 8 7
personality 20% 9 3 6
SCORE 100% 4.7 6.5 6.3

So here family B came out the highest, but they had really high scores on the most important qualities and low scores on the others. Family C is close and has mid scores in all areas. Family A might be inticing because of the high scores of dream location and a great connection, but the real job migh be far from desired… You can still pick any of the 3, it just allows you a little more honesty with yourself about why you are coming to the decision, what is most important and what you will be giving up.

Good luck!

PopularAuPair October 13, 2016 at 1:37 pm

OP here! Is it wrong to weigh personality, schedule, and child age (and number of children) all equally? I don’t want to get there an have a family I fit with less than ideally. Right now my theoretical split is 10/30/30/30. I’ve never au paired before though, so I’m afraid my priorities might be screwed up. But I do know from experience working since I was 15 that a good boss makes all the difference in how you feel about a job.

I’m also contacting the host family that I clicked with’s old au pair to get more of a feeling.

DMMom October 14, 2016 at 11:20 am

You can weight the qualtiies (and yours may be different than mine) any way that feels appropriate to you. If depends on what your goals are for the year and what you need to be happy.

One person might weight location higher as they want to spend all of their free time away from the family, it is their dream location to live in, and they are hoping to stay there long term. Another person might weigh personality higher because they want to be part of a family and learn another way of life. We all have different needs, dreams and goals at different points in our life. It becomes very interesting writing them out and you may see something that you didn’t realize before.

Other things that may be of consideration could be: living conditions, number of children, benefits, etc.

Here is another excercise: 1. brainstorm your goals for you au pair experience and list them, 2. rank them in order of importance, 3. Think of 3 specific things that would help you in reaching each goal. Do these match the qualities you listed? Are they weighted the same?

Much of this is “validating” your gut feel and looking at what may be different on paper then from how you feel and why. I would definately not match with someone that I didn’t have a good feeling about, but you can have good feelings about more than one family. It’s OK and a good thing to have choices.

Dina Pradel October 13, 2016 at 11:46 am

Good advice from DMMom. I like her method and think it would help you be clear-eyed in making a decision.

I think how much you rely on gut depends on your personality…whether you’re a planner or more spontaneous. I know a lot of host parents spend a lot of time getting questions answered upfront, sharing detailed handbooks, developing criteria, etc, and that totally works for them. My husband and I are both more seat-of-the-pants type people, and so we go almost entirely on gut when picking an au pair. We Skype 2-3 times before matching, and our decision really comes down to one thing: Can we envision sharing a house with this person and enjoying their company for a year? Of course we look at other things to make sure the AP is mature and likely to deal with homesickness well — have they held a serious non-childcare job? Are their parents supportive of the au pair year? — but we have older kids, the job is not rocket science, and for us, it really comes down to fit. If you’re excited about this family and can easily picture living with them, that’s a great sign! But definitely do your homework on the contract details, as CV suggests, since rematching doesn’t seem as easy in Europe without agency support.

Frankfurt AP Boy October 13, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Is this the first absolute offer you’ve had? It seems a little like you’re jumping the gun to me. Two weeks is no time at all. It is okay to keep considering other families. What I usually do is give them a date I will decide by and, generally, the host families will wait for my decision. Give them a week for example so you can talk to other families. Make sure you’re not making a mistake. I know the feeling that when a family is saying how much they want you and how great you are, it is very easy to romanticise the situation that they are offering. I think though that if you Skype with other families you may feel similarly about them.

You didn’t mention anything in your email that make this family seem great – make sure you have that clear. With the excitement of looking for a host family and moving to another country, I don’t think raw emotion and ‘gut feeling’ is enough to go on. For one thing, host parents often have fairly high powered jobs in which they have to be skilled at negotiating and winning people over. I think it is always a bad idea to make such a big decision on a gut feeling from a first impression but I think it is particularly risky with this type of person. Maybe I am wrong on that but it is my impression.

My criteria are, in this order:

1) Attitude to having an au pair. Will they welcome you as a family member or an employee? Do they have realistic expectations of what an au pair is (I personally don’t like the whole “big brother” idea, for example. No one really wants an extra child no matter how cool it seems)? Why do they want an au pair? Ultimately, I try and figure out if I am going to be treated well.

2) Age of the children – 2 and 4 would be ideal for me but everyone has their preference. That age group can be extremely demanding and, if it is their first au pair, maybe difficult to adjust to someone new in the house. I personally rule out families with children over the age of 9 or 10 just because I have zero experience with them – but each to their own. Generally, the younger the kids the more hard work being an au pair will be – worth it if you like particularly like working with young kids though.

3) Schedule and conditions. How is the total number of hours compared to other families? Is it a split shift? In Germany, the pay is usually 65 euros a week. However due to it being quite a low pay for a relatively wealthy country, most host families supplement that by paying for a monthly transport pass and contributed to language classes (paying half in my case). You should also ask about holiday and compared to that other families.

4) Location. I personally always prefer to be in a city. As you received so many applicants in such a short period of time, I assume you were looking all over Europe. I wonder: why Germany? I have specific reasons for wanting to be in Germany, and it is a great place to live long term (plenty of jobs, good working conditions, politically liberal (the European definition) good and free universities, good social care system) but as a year as an au pair – why? haha. I don’t mean to sound to negative about Germany but it is not the most beautiful or exciting place in Europe.

Things that score negative points for host families are: do the parents work from home (especially with younger kids, this can mean that they have a much harder time adapting to a new au pair and it is more difficult to maintain authority); is there any cleaning involved; have the family not had an au pair before (easier if they have); can I communicate with the children easily (i.e. do we share a language or are they so young that this isn’t so important); if the au pair room doesn´t have a desk to study or a double bed; children not told about getting an au pair or not asked about their opinion on it.

As for what CV mentioned about contract.. I think it is important the clarify the schedule and what you are given in remuneration but I have never had a contract. I am not sure every host family see getting an au pair as a contractual agreement… I don’t know if it is a good idea to ask for that or not. It seems slightly inappropriate some how.

SA_Au Pair October 14, 2016 at 3:22 am

I think you’ve raised some great points. Personally when I wasn’t using an agency I gave myself a lot of time to get to know a couple of families really well (a couple of months). Since I wasn’t using an agency I wanted to make sure that the family was the right one for me and talking to them over a longer period of time allowed me to “observe” the families so to speak (how well do we communicate, do they answer my questions or are they vague when it comes to certain things, do they ask me more questions about me or my family etc?). Although there’s no manual on how to choose the right family, I do think that there are a lot of things to consider; will you have any problems with the language barrier (how well can you communicate with the children? How easy is it to navigate around the town/community they live in? I matched with a French family and I could communicate with the 3 year old because my French was at around that level but I had to carry a dictionary so I can read the signs around town).

To some families/au pairs location isn’t important, but as a POC – Indian- I have to take location into serious consideration. I have to make sure that I’m not going to be labeled a terrorist or get stopped by the police who then assume that I stole the car when I’m driving the host family’s car. Perhaps this isn’t something the OP has to worry about but I think it’s important to make sure that the family doesn’t live in a place that would compromise your safety or make your life outside of the home difficult/uncomfortable.

I think it’s very important to have a contract, I wouldn’t want to just take someone’s word for it. Families can say one thing but do something else, or maybe they forget that you agreed on this and not that. I asked for a contract, I had to show that I had a contract with the family while applying for my visa and I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask for one.

Not-so Au Pair anymore October 23, 2016 at 4:06 pm

I agree with you. And to think in Germany, most families (if not some) don’t follow what is written in the contract – as compared to other European countries. There are also no LCC’s to run to. That does require massive consideration, in which Frankfurt AP boy already pointed out.

Should be working October 14, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Our former AP matched in extension with a family that seemed nice and wonderful. Turned out they weren’t–parents were unfriendly and didn’t stick to the rules. So I wouldn’t use your gut instinct as a dealbreaker. I agree that you need to suss out precisely what the expectations are, ask about previous APs’ experiences, and if possible talk to a few of those previous APs. If you felt at the outset that this family wanted more of a housekeeper–maybe you were right. Ask in detail.

AP in Australia October 15, 2016 at 8:37 pm

Hey PopularAuPair. I had a similar problem while looking for my first host family in Australia (I am from Europe) and pretty much got flooded with skype requests and messages within a very short time frame (over 20 during the first 12 hours of my initial post). I politely declined offers from any family that didn’t meet my personal criteria of what I was looking for (I for example stated openly that I do not feel comfortable with kids under the age of 4 and told that to host families who had kids under that age) and that took out a few.
I had narrowed it down to about 5 families I was really interested in getting to know better and had arranged a couple of skype interviews with four of them. I already had a gut feeling though that made me believe that I already knew which family I would end up deciding on and we continued to talk until we skyped a couple of days later. When we skyped – they were the first family I skyped with – it instantly felt right and after a second skype date (still a day before I had scheduled the one with another family) we all agreed to stop our search. I emailed the other families and let them know that I had already found a host family but wish them all the best, etc. and that I’d be interested in following up with them in case they were looking for their next au pair when I was looking for a new host family.

So yes, I did go with my gut feeling. I knew that I wouldn’t be in a big city or anything and that I didn’t have as many hours as I was expecting, but the host parents and I instantly got along as I did with the kids too. It almost felt too good to be true, which did make me feel a little weird about it at certain times before I got here, but as it turns out I couldn’t have found a more perfect family for my first au pair experience :)

If I were you I’d rely on your gut feeling but also make sure that if the location is for example something completely different to what you had imagined, you are sure that you’ll be able to deal with it. Just also keep in mind that even if you live in the country side in especially Germany it is easy to get to a bigger city and vice versa ! :)

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