How to choose between two good candidates? Offer your opinion…

by cv harquail on April 24, 2009

When folks ask for advice about their au pair, don’t you just wish sometimes you could go back with them to the very beginning, back when they were deciding what kind of au pair to choose? And you could tell them just what you think they should do?

It could be just like in a horror movie, where you scream DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! and they actually DON’T open the door! Humanity saved!

Or, like a meet-cute romantic comedy, where you remind her that eventually they’ll get together and live happily ever after, and you squeal when he finally admits he can’t live without her.

Then again, it could be like one of those inscrutable French films, where you wonder if you’d understand what’s happening if only you spoke the language and knew what to do with the Mime.   boxolove.jpg

Jenny’s giving us the opportunity to offer some advice about her choice. Can we help?

I’m getting nearer too selecting an Au Pair. I have 3 top Au Pair choices. This is so difficult. When she is "the one" do you still have doubts? [That’s a very French question, no?] Each has one little thing I might change if I could and each seems so perfect in many other ways. I’m terrified and I’m not committing. I’m so afraid of making a bad choice.

I’ve gone through ALL of your best interview questions. I’ve asked them all. I feel like the agencies are trying to rush me into a decision, and I will not be rushed. But I know also that I have to pull the trigger at some point. Could some experienced moms give me some advice/comfort/etc? How do I know that I’m making the right choice? How do I know which one is the one? I like the one I’ve invested the most time into, but I don’t want to choose her unless I’m sure I wouldn’t like someone else better if I invested more time. But then again, time is so limited. I’m spinning here in case you haven’t noticed. Could someone stop me and give me some comforting words, please!

Thanks,  Jenny

A-Mom-ymous: There is no perfect. [Wiser words never spoken, mom!] What might help is for you to forget about your candidates for a moment. List out the top traits/skills that ARE important to you, and the top 3 negatives that you want to avoid at all costs. Then see if that helps you evaluate candidates again.

If that doesn’t float one to the top, I have another suggestion: I’ve never done this for an AP per se, but for similar choices facing our family when no clear winning option arises on its own, I have been known to sit my hub down in a chair with a glass of something, get out our big white board, and make a chart. You put the qualities/traits/skills or other factors that are important to you down one side. Then give each quality a relative weight (1-5 points). Then be brutally honest and evaluate each candidate for each criteria (again giving them 1-5 points for each quality you are evaluating). Then see if what the numbers tell you helps nudge your gut feeling at all.

Someone suggested Skype interviews; I’m going to do that for our next go-round. Seems like you can get a much better feel for a candidate that way, or at least more information about them that might help you. Good luck! And be happy that you have 3 good candidates.

And don’t let the agency push you too much! Our LCC is obsessed with candidates from a certain country, and it drives me crazy. Ignore them. You need to be comfortable with your decision. P.s. Also, I still feel uncomfortable until about their second week living with us when I can tell if it’s going to work. So maybe you need to re-calibrate your scale! : )

Dawn: Jenny, I feel your pain! The selection process can be such a stressful time — it really is a huge “leap of faith” to invite someone to become part of your family and care for your precious children, based solely on one or more phone conversations! If you are still trying to sort out which “criteria” are the most important to you (in terms of the ways each of your three candidates differ), feel free to post here and I’m sure that several of us will be happy to offer our opinions.

Ultimately, though, if you have 3 candidates who are about equal in your mind, maybe you just need to go with your “gut.” Is there one who stands out in your mind for some intangible reason that you really can’t point to, but you just “feel” it? Is there one that you would feel you “missed out on” if your agency called to tell you that another family had selected her? If so, then that’s the one I’d go with. If you don’t feel that way about any of them, then maybe NONE of them are the right one.

What arrival date are you hoping for? Do you still have time, or are you getting down to the wire? I think I was probably the source of a lot of stress for our agency’s placement manager during our last selection process, because I rejected several candidates who seemed truly terrific (for someone else’s family), but just didn’t seem like the right “fit” for us. But I’m glad I was as picky as I was because our current AP is the best one we’ve ever had — about as close to “perfect” as anyone could hope for!

Jenny: Dawn & A-Mom, Thank you for your feed back, and for simply understanding. It feels so good to not be alone and I have a feeling I will be a BIG fan of this site. I’m down to 2 candidates now. They both totally click with us, with the kids, we’ve done Skype and talked to them both on the phone several times. They have not asked “what’s in it for them”. Both are so warm and loving and both have extensive child care experience with kids my age. Both have excellent English and a teaching heart. Both of them know the extensive list of duties, laundry, cleaning, organizing, planning that I want them to do for the kids and they both think it sounds great. Both are happy to let the in laws use their room when they visit from across the country, even though they don’t have to.

Qualities that are different: “S” is 21 years old, “J” is 19 years old. S has never watched 3 children at once and I will be having a baby in Dec + I have 2 girls (2 & 4). J has watched 3 children but only for 4 hrs at a time. Both are very confident that they can do it, they both know it won’t be easy, but they both really want to do it. S has been working as an apprentice in a hotel for 3 years. Long, crappy hours, graveyard shift, etc. (my opinion not hers), J has been going to school full time for business. J seems more educated but S seems more hard working. Not to say that the other seems uneducated or lazy, at all. J has a boyfriend, S does not. J is the youngest of 2 kids-she has a sister 10 years older. S is the 3rd youngest (there is only a year each between the first 3) of 4 kids, with a brother 10 years younger, she’s had a lot of responsibility for his care from the beginning. J has wanted to be an Au Pair since she was 16, S found it on the internet a few years ago. S is open to extending, J is not really.

S has been driving 3 years to J’s 2 years. S has her own car, J does not. Both only drive a stick and will need to learn an automatic. What would I change about them? S would have had experience watching 3 kids so when she says she is up for the challenge, she knows what that challenge is. J would have more work experience, working for a boss more. Although J has watched three kids, I’m not sure 3-4 hrs here and there, make up for the lack of work experience. The interesting thing, many of the girls that I have contacted who have watched 3 kids aren’t really open to having a 3 month old, 2.5 year old, and 5 year old. These two both really want to.

I’m not posing any of these things specifically as a negative, because like I say, I love them both. They will both be great Au Pairs. I guess I’m leaning a bit toward S because 2 years older and a lot of hard work experience probably means that she can and is willing to learn to make up the difference of not watching 3 kids. She really wants to do it. But J has an energy about her that I really love too. I’ve spent enough time talking with both of these girls that I am a little attached to them both. I’ve reviewed about 100 applications and interviewed around 10 girls. I’m not in a time crunch, I need someone in August, but I’m worried to let either of these go because I’d like them both.

Anyway, maybe something I’ve said is a red flag or a positive or a negative to you that I don’t know about. I really really appreciate you letting me open up about this and to listen to input. I think the pros and cons list might be in order. It’s just that I don’t know if things are necessarily a pro and con when they both have the things that are important to us. Please please give some feed back! Thank you! Jenny

Anna: Jenny, everybody has different criteria. I can see your dilemma. For me, being 21 or over is a big plus, because we had a 19 year old au pair, and she couldn’t go out with a group of au pairs much, because in their regular gathering place (an irish pub/diner, a student hangout) alcohol was served and she couldn’t get in. So being underage for drinking could limit their social options a lot. I don’t think J has any advantage over S in watching 3 kids, because 3-4 hours very occasionally is really not much, so I would scratch that from my list of plusses and minuses.

The only minus (for me) that I see in S, is that she is not in college or wants to go that way (or maybe she does?). I like girls who have ambition in life and for them au pairing will open better job and career choices; I don’t want au pairing to be the highlight of their life. That’s why “open to extending” is really not a consideration for me, neither a plus nor a minus. But here I am talking about myself, you might have different priorities. However, with the information you gave, I would lean towards S. At this age 2 years is a big difference, she might really know better what she wants, and have more realistic expectations of a difficult job ahead. She also has more driving experience and your insurance might be cheaper. Also, not being the youngest kid is a plus. You say both have extensive experience, but helping raise siblings is a more intensive and everyday experience. Are they from the same country? Because for me, after certain good and bad experiences, some country preferences and “never agains” have formed.

Jenny:  Thank you Anna. They are both from Germany. S loves the hotel industry, she seems truly happy working and serving others. She said she might go to University when she comes home, however she isn’t sure. She has been in this apprentice program for 3 years, and has tests for it next week, so there is some schooling involved. At the same time she is active and independent, I just don’t get the feeling she is as ambitious as J. (Or as me for that matter.)

While college is VERY important to my husband and I, we aren’t really at the role model age as far as ambitions go with our girls. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve talked a lot about morally being a good role model, but I think if we continue to have an au pair as our girls get older, education will matter more than it does now. For a 2-4 year old, I’m thinking the hard worker and values that go with that might be more useful when jumping into 3 kids under 5. And I couldn’t agree more about a younger sibling. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your input, you mentioned a few things that I hadn’t thought of.

And yes, insurance is $300 less for the year. Not a make or break, but tips the scale a little as I go back and forth. What do you think about a boyfriend? Seems to be a bit of a no-no for some. She says he is supportive, and he has known that she wanted to do this since they met, but 19 and in love with a long distance relationship? I did that and my little heart couldn’t enjoy anything else! Thanks! I hope Germany isn’t on your never again!

Anna: Jenny, Common wisdom is that boyfriend at home is a minus, however I think it depends. I haven’t had German au pairs so I cannot say anything about it.

You are absolutely right that with very young children education is not as significant as being a hard worker. It matters more for me and my own comfort and communication with the au pair. I speak though from a very unfortunate experience (that influenced me in this matter) – we had a rematch with an au pair who just turned out to be… dumb, I don’t like to say it, but that’s what it was, there was no way I could get through to her on simple things, and I gave it my best effort of 3 months. She couldn’t do her job satisfactorily because of it, she could not do what I asked. She graduated high school, but afterwards we realized she did it a year later than she should’ve.. we suspect a mild learning disability. Of course if spoke to her during matching for so long as you did with your candidates, for sure it would’ve come through a bit, so I think it is totally not a concern for you, but it made me a little prejudiced, at least for the next year’s match, while the memory of that mistake is still fresh.

With your candidate S., I am sure that being in a hospitality field, she had to be very organized, efficient, and able to follow directions, and work quickly – these are the qualities that in my mind being in college somewhat guarantees. So I think you are pretty safe on that matter.

Jenny: Anna, I totally can understand where you are coming from! S is definitely smart and articulate, though not as ambitious as J as far as education. Thanks again for letting me bounce this off of you. I’m really going to love this site, I know it!

Dawn: Jenny, the good news is that it seems like you have two great candidates, so you probably can’t go wrong with either one! Like Anna, I think I’d probably lean more toward S, mainly because of the over-21 thing. Our APs have always been over 21, but I’ve seen how difficult it can be for their under-21 friends when they get “left behind” when the older girls go out to bars or clubs. Add to that the fact that J has a boyfriend, and you might have a recipe for some very serious homesickness — if she’s missing her boyfriend and often can’t go out with the other APs in your area, then she’s going to have a lot of “down time” just being lonely and bored.

One thing I’d suggest is to ask your LCC (or whatever your agency’s local rep is called) what kinds of things the APs in her group typically do for fun. In my area, the APs will sometimes go to the movies or the mall during the week, and Thursday night seems to be “AP night” at Starbucks, but on the weekends they almost always go out to bars or clubs, so an under-21 AP would be left out every weekend. If it turns out that there are more things for young people to do in your area than there are in mine (or if there are under-21 clubs?), then it wouldn’t be as much of an issue. (Also, you could ask the LCC what the proportion is in her group of over-21 APs to under-21 APs — if there are a ton of under-21 girls in the group, then being “left out” of the over-21 crowd isn’t so much of an issue.) Our first AP left us in the lurch after only 3 months because she never went out and just stayed home missing her boyfriend, until she became so homesick that she decided to go home. So I speak from experience when I say that your AP *needs* an active social life in order to be happy enough to get through the normal homesickness. She needs to “make a life” here in order to make it worthwhile to be away from the life she misses. Depending on what there is for young people to do in your area, that may be a lot more difficult for someone under 21.

(After our experience with our first AP, I would have said that an AP with a serious boyfriend is a definite no-no. However, our current AP — our best one yet — has a boyfriend, and it hasn’t turned out to be a problem at all. (I did ask about the boyfriend during the interview, but they happened to have broken up for a couple of months, and the interview happened to take place during that time.) Now I think that my advice would be to ask — as you have — whether the boyfriend is supportive of her APing, and also to ask her how she thinks she will manage the long-distance relationship. Our first AP’s boyfriend was very unsupportive — literally every time she’d talk to him, he’d tell her to come home, which certainly didn’t help ease her homesickness. Our current AP’s boyfriend is totally supportive and proud of our AP for going on this “adventure.” It also helps that now, as opposed to when we had our first AP, it’s so much easier to keep in touch via email, Skype, Facebook, etc., so the distance doesn’t seem so far.)

So Parents– that’s how far Dawn, Anna & A-Mom-ymous got with their advice. What else would you offer? Jenny, jump back in with comments here!


franzi April 24, 2009 at 6:22 am

i’m German and used to be an AP so my perspective is not that of a host mom. and first off, i tend to go with “s”. from my experience with german APs, my gut tells me, she would be better (not that j would be bad at all! you are lucky to be choosing between two very fitting APs)

have you asked “s” why she does not continue in her job? the apprenticeship thing is very common in germany and not at all a sign of less education. but her reason to do something different and not “keep working” would be of interest to me.

“j”’s red flag for me is her bf. yes, he can be very supportive but i have seen SO many relationships go down the drain during the AP year…this can turn out to be a real strain on her emotional state of mind (i don’t want to jinx it).

good luck on your decision!

Calif Mom April 24, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I deliberately read Jenny’s question and decided what I thought without reading feedback from all the others here, to offer a pure gut reaction. I would go with S. It’s not soooo much about age, because I have known a couple really mature 19 yo’s (not mine, but friends of APs) and really immature 23 yo’s (sadly, there were two of these we sent off our island). For me, it’s about her relative place in her family of origin’s pecking order. I have found that APs who are older sisters tend to be better at dealing with sibling issues than those who are onlies or are youngest sibs. (This is hard for me to say, b/c I’m a youngest from a big family myself!). My kids have a bigger age spread, which is quite tricky, but your family offers sheer quantity to deal with. I think that older sib experience will be helpful. And I also have a big preference for ‘working class’ girls. Maybe it’s my own origins showing, but hard work is hard, and you NEED someone who knows what they’re getting into and won’t shirk, may even be pleasant about it and teach the kids that attitude, too.

Good luck!

Rayann April 24, 2009 at 6:56 pm

I’ll give some of my “gut” reactions as well. I don’t think I’d go with an au pair that wasn’t 21 for the above mentioned reasons – most of the APs in our cluster are in their 20s, and they often go out to the bars/clubs together – they aren’t big partiers, but they do go out for a drink here and there. I think an under age AP might have trouble feeling left out of some of those activities. I think an AP with good work experience in the real world is important, too. Someone who has worked in the hotel industry successfully will be able to utilize those skills in helping to manage your household.

I don’t think I’d worry too much about “S” having not watched three kids at once – I’d be more concerned about an AP who has never watched kids for a full day. IMO, that’s one of the toughest parts – the long days, multiple days in a row.

Having read through your pluses and minuses, my instinct would be to go with “S”. But in the end, it needs to come down to what *you* feel – follow your gut on this one, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

As for not being positive about either of them, don’t worry about that. Up until the day our AP was in our home, I was worried sick and had plenty of doubts. It wasn’t anything particular about her, she and I had clicked immediately through email and phone, but I was still nervous as it was our first AP experience. She has been with us for 9 months, is extending for another year, and we couldn’t be more thrilled with her.

Dory April 27, 2009 at 8:59 pm

We have a German au pair. When she showed up, she didn’t come out of her room for the entire first day because she missed her boyfriend so much. (This was supposed to be a “training” day, so my husband and I were home from work.) When our LCC called her and told her she needed to be “bonding” with the children, the au pair told the LCC she was second guessing her decision to become an au pair. It was terrible. Eventually, the au pair came out of her room and, after a couple of rocky weeks, became pretty good at taking care of the kids (when she wants to be, depending on her mood). My advice — the boyfriend is a deal breaker.

TMK April 27, 2009 at 11:03 pm

I have to agree with the above comments, my gut says go with S. She’s older and a hard worker, which for very small kids is really important. Now that my oldest is in middle school I am finding that AP’s with an emphasis in education are more important (homework help and knows the importance of good grades). But with younger kids a strong worker with a great attitude and a loving heart is the ideal pick for me.
You probably would be ok with either, just redefine what it is you truly need the most and THEN look at the two girls to see who could deliver it the best. What is it you need, it’s different for everyone, and probably one girl is better at it than the other.
Best Wishes

Jenny April 30, 2009 at 1:52 am

Hi All –
I wanted to first thank you for your help! Seriously, mostly you just confirmed all the reasons to go with my “gut” and helped me think through all of the reasons to choose “s” over “j”. Reasons I already knew. I’m HAPPY to say that we finalized our match with “S” today!! We are very excited, and so is she. I’m still nervous, but like A-Mom that will probably be the case until she is with us for a few weeks and I see that it is all going to be okay. Until the next thing….

Thanks again, what a wonderful group of women you are!

Dawn April 30, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Congrats on finalizing, Jenny! When will “S” arrive? Definitely keep us posted! In the meantime, I’d recommend trying to keep in semi-regular contact with her via email or Skype or whatever. We did that before our current AP arrived, and it really made a difference in terms of our comfort level once she arrived — we already felt like we knew each other pretty well, so it was almost like a “reunion” rather than a first meeting when she arrived.

PA Mom April 30, 2009 at 7:59 pm

We have learned to the extent it helps other families that having an Au Pair with siblings of the same same as your children is quite helpful.

We have 2 girls and they can argue like no one but my college roommates all had sisters and it was much the same. I have found that Au Pair candidates who have a lot of sister or close cousin or roommate experience (like all girl boarding schools) bring a lot of tolerance, understanding and helpful hints to the house hold. Those girls without any knowledge of that age and experience struggle to understand the relationship and so don’t add value there. As the girls get older and they establish their relationship more this will be a less relevant quality – but for now, it’s one of the things I “look” for just like language skills and driving.

While I find over 21 easier for some things (car insurance, social things), I’ve had at least 2 au pairs who were under 21 while they were here and they have been “favorites”. The maturity and so on, is so dependent on the girl’s experience and her family’s approach that it can be hard to measure. I think that picking “S” seemed like the best choice for your situation. J will find a position quickly with another family – but it is hard to have to chose sometimes.

Rayann May 1, 2009 at 6:31 pm


I want to second what Dawn said about keeping in touch. AP and I emailed back and forth almost every day, and I think it really set the groundwork for a great relationship. It was really just unconsequential stuff “How was your day?” and telling her what we were all up to. I think it gave her a feel for what our life was like when I was telling her about the things we were doing as a family and reassuring her about how excited we were to meet her. It also reassured me because I got to know her as a person, and learned her likes and dislikes.

counselor May 2, 2009 at 1:12 am

I have been a counselor for over 14 years now.
And I have found that the more communication there is between host family and the au pair that they have selected before she arrives to the USA, the better relationship both have with each other. It is really good to ask lots of questions of her about anything really – family, school, jobs, friends, here upbringing, her town, what she is doing, vacations, religion, just anything. And offer lots of info about your family too. Encourage her to ask questions of you.
The more she knows about you the more comfortable she will feel once arriving to your family.
It is to her as if she knows everybody well already.
And it will ease her adjustment to you and your adjustment to her a great deal.
That is the advice I give to all of my host families and it is working very well for them.

Anon for this time June 22, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Hey there: this is prob off topic but since you’re a great community I wanted to ask if it’s normal for a family to take more than 4 weeks to interview an Au Pair. Thanks in advance for your time

Taking a Computer Lunch June 22, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Probably not typical, but it does happen. It always takes DH and I 4-5 weeks to interview all the candidates in which we are interested that express interest in caring for our daughter (in part because we’re limited to weekends and can rarely interview more than 2-3 candidates on any given weekend). And yes, around holidays and vacations, it can be difficult to line up a good time. You don’t say whether you’re an AP waiting to hear that a HF wants to match with you or a HF surprised at how long it takes. If your an AP, then I recommend contacting the family and expressing interest. I’m always pleased when candidates take initiative to contact me.

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