Interviewing Au Pairs: How do you screen for Maturity?

by cv harquail on March 17, 2014

On finding an Au Pair who can handle a bunch of kids, a complex household, or both,  TexasHM says:

You have got to have someone that is bulletproof.  Patient, mature, sharp judgment, a jack of all trades and that’s very hard to find — period.

There are things you can teach and things you can’t.  … I don’t screen for ‘experience’ anymore. I screen for unteachable personality traits – maturity, judgment, empathy, patience, kindness, etc.

137192303_3a8f7cbc0fHire For Attitude, Train For Skill

If you think this sounds cliched, you might prefer:

  • Attitude over aptitude. 
  • Character before credentials. 
  • Hire people for “who they are” first; “what they know” second. 

This is all great advice– but how, exactly, do you identify the attitude (especially the maturity) of a potential au pair?

ShouldBeWorking would lovesome specific tips:

Wait, how do you exactly screen for those qualities, TexasHM? How do you judge maturity, for instance??

Adds WarmStateMama:

I’d like to know how you screen for this too. We don’t pay too much attention to an applicant’s experience since we can’t tell how much was invented for the AP application.

Parents, what questions or criteria have you used to assess a candidate’s maturity, or her/his larger sense of perspective?

See also:

5 Key Strategies For Building A Strong Relationship With Your Au Pair
5 Ways to Assess an Au Pair’s Driving Skill

Image: Perspective, AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by huntz


TexasHM March 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

We ask open ended questions and discuss scenarios I would think point at maturity (and the other traits we are looking for) – who cooks and cleans at home? Asking how others would describe her (if she answers immediately without pausing to think throw it out), I also tend to send pre-close questions/topics and it helps me see their reasoning. Things like asking:
– if they plan to bring emergency money with them,
– where they plan to travel and why (answers other than NY and CA impress me),
– telling them the APs tend to perk-compare and seeing how she responds to that,
– telling them all the negatives about us and seeing if that scares her off,
– sending our 27 page handbook and asking them what questions they have (speed at which they read it and questions they ask tell me a lot – our current AP read it – – twice before we had time to even discuss it!),
– talking about homesickness and coping with living in a foreign country,
– asking how she came to know of the AP program and what her priorities are (friend said it looked like a cool way to travel for cheap vs sister was an AP and told her the good bad and ugly),
– what she hopes to accomplish, why she wants to AP in the US vs anywhere else, I could go on all day.

We are trying to get a feel for how she thinks, how she handles situations, how she communicates and what her expectations are. Our mature APs had thought through these things, done their homework, sought out previous APs to get the real scoop, asked great questions, were always on time and prepared for Skype interviews, etc.

The ones we dodged a bullet on at the last minute and our immature AP tended to have few questions or only the superficial canned questions the agency gives them (if one more AP asks me first thing if we have a special diet I am going to puke, can they at least shake up the order of the questions on the form?!). A couple had all the right answers to generic interview questions (why do you want to be an AP? how do your parents feel about the program?) but when we pressed further they glossed over details or avoided opportunities to dig deeper. For example, I usually offer up our LCs contact info, the two great APs jumped at the chance to reach out, the others either asked me “why?” or took the info and never reached out. If I was going to live halfway around the world with a family and was given the opportunity to talk to the LC you bet I would jump at that chance! Anyway, obviously I can go all day on this but that gives you an idea!

Seattle Mom March 17, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Thanks for this list- I’m going to save it to my “AP interview questions” document and keep it in mind next summer when I’m interviewing again. I do think that some candidates don’t possess the English language skills to be able to discuss these things well, but maybe they should still be able to give me an idea.

I do think I’ll have better results if I stop making excuses for AP candidates… “she seems really nice but her English is not good enough to really answer my questions.”

German Au-Pair March 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

But what if your description is already so detailed you don’t have any questions? My HP’s letter was so detailed about their life-style, take on raising children and disciplining, community, schedule, car usage, vacations time, family life and so an that I really had no questions.
The only question I really had was the one about where my room was located because I didn’t want to live in a window-free basement room.

Host Mom in the City March 18, 2014 at 2:54 pm

I think this happens to us because we have a very detailed letter. I personally prefer that the au pair just say she doesn’t have any questions – or even better, point out something that she really connected with in my letter or ask a question that expands on something in my letter. The only thing that drives me crazy is when someone asks me a bunch of questions I already answered in the letter. Just tells me they haven’t really read it.

Seattle Mom March 18, 2014 at 3:23 pm

It is nice to respond to something in the letter that resonates with you, if you have no questions. For example, if you agree with their take on raising children you could tell them, and explain why. Or if they say they are an active family and you are also very active you could say you like that, etc. Anything to show that you are paying attention. I think questions to clarify information are good too. If you are going to ask about the room it would be best to balance it with something related to the job of childcare, so as not to seem like you’re just looking for a family with the best AP room.

Obviously you’re already an AP… so this is to all potential APs.

German Au-Pair March 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm

That just came up naturally for me but I think it’s good for others to read as I know that many struggle to find appropriate questions when they have a detailed letter.

My HP asked me about the problems I have encountered in my work with children (and asked for specific situations that suited their needs. Homework was a big thing with my HK so they asked me about what kind of trouble I had had and how I’d solved the problem). That was a good one to show you are confident in admitting that sometimes there are problems and that sometimes you can’t solve them completely but that you also have some ideas on how to try.

As for the room, Seattle Mom, I really just asked straight away. Not my first question, obviously, but I just asked because being without a window for a year would have been a deal-breaker for me.

C March 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Oh wow yes the LCC contact info is a great one – because it shows initiative and diligence and follow-through. Will definitely do that.

AnotherSeattleHostMom March 17, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I am finding that “mature” is less important for our family than “flexible”. Our current AP is very mature for her age…almost TOO mature. Very organized, confident, driven, takes her “job” seriously…. but she cannot cope with situations that require flexibility which happen regularly in child care. I wish I knew how to screen for flexibility. I know she’d SAY she was flexible and she doesn’t mind changing her schedule around our needs or that kind of thing…but if the swimming lesson is cancelled it’s “What are we going to do NOW on Wednesday afternoon???” and hand wringing and almost anger. It’s really quite irritating!

Should be working March 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Great point! So how do you interview for “flexible”??

AnotherSeattleHostMom March 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm

I don’t know…wish I did! This is a new realization for me. I do think flexibility is somewhat tied to maturity…but not in this case obviously. I don’t think it lends itself well to scenario questions, I can’t imagine someone saying “If a class got cancelled I’d be pouty and angry about it”. Anyone else have any suggestions on weeding out inflexibility in attitude?

Seattle Mom March 17, 2014 at 6:12 pm

You could try scheduling your skype interviews and then changing the times at the last minute and see how she reacts.. lol…

AnotherSeattleHostMom March 17, 2014 at 6:28 pm

haha. where’s the “like” button?? :)

Should be working March 17, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I actually think that those little glitches that can happen in interviewing are a great opportunity (although I don’t manufacture them). The skype connection dies, a parent knocks on her door, I forget to attach a photo and then ask her how she liked it, etc. I pay close attention to those now. Last round I didn’t pay enough attention to how a candidate got defensive around some probing of mine and I should have realized that this was someone with quick-trigger defensiveness. People show you how they are, I have to train myself to pay attention to more than what they say.

hOstCDmom March 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Pondering this point, it makes me wonder if one shouldn’t manufacture such “glitches” as an interviewing technique…

I also look closely at how a prospective AP handles a change in her schedule/inability to speak when we had agreed – I completely understand that something can come up (although interviewing for her AP position should be a top priority for any prospective AP, in my view) BUT if she has to work, or has a school obligation that creates a conflict I can understand….but then, does she text/email me ASAP; apologize in a straightforward manner, and propose an alternative? does she give me notice? does she explain briefly and directly? or does she flake on me/miss the call/only let me know after the fact…..the former is how I want my AP to act when things don’t go according to plan…the latter makes me CRAZY..!!!

Returning HM March 17, 2014 at 9:56 pm

This is so funny – I actually do “allow” these things to happen! It helps that I usually take three weeks – ridiculous, I know – with interviewing before matching, and in that time, schedules change, a skype call gets messed up, someone interrupts me while talking, my work schedule changes, etc. It’s not that I manufacture these events, but I don’t do anything to stop them. And then I watch very carefully how the candidate I’m interviewing reacts….what upsets him, what he rolls with, what he can make jokes about, etc.

We just finished matching with a rematch AP last week, after our beloved AP tore his ACL and had to go home, and during the five days we interviewed the rematch candidate we ended up picking, we had quite a number of things that went wrong: Neither child would agree to talk to said candidate at the time we had planned, because they didn’t want to think about a new AP coming; my daughter threw a fit upon saying hello when she realized that we were talking to a candidate who would come THAT WEEKEND rather than in six months, the way it usually happens when we interview; I got stuck at work late and so missed a scheduled call; and then we were still deciding the night before our candidate had to match or get his flight booked home, so kept him waiting really until the last minute (not stringing him along – we were genuinely trying to decide). Through each of these issues, the AP we ended up picking was calm, totally understanding, and flexible. He was able to put himself in the children’s shoes about not wanting a new AP. He understood that I had been home a lot with our hurt AP so needed to stay late when I needed to stay late. And he sympathized with our daughter’s confusion about why this matching process was different than others. By the time we were done with these unexpected situations and watched his reactions, we really felt he would be a good au pair for us. He’s only been here a week and a half, but so far, he seems very flexible, easy-going, and able to see things from others’ perspectives, just as we hoped.

German Au-Pair March 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I really feely like jumping in here and ask you to also put yourself in the AP’s shoes. Especially when she is really early in her matching process and hasn’t talked to many families or if she’s really close to her deadline, it can be really hard. All those glitches that you mentioned happen and are fine but one thing that is really really hard for an au pair in matching process is when HP don’t make it to a skype or phone appointment and don’t tell about it. If you run late and won’t make it, at least shoot her an email so she knows she doesn’t have to wait by the computer all anxious. I know so many au pairs who were confused because they were stood up or the HF just didn’t respond to emails for a couple of days. Re-scheduling if needed is one thing but being stood up without notice is really stressful in this already frightening matching process.

Returning HM March 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm

German Au-Pair, I don’t know if you were responding to me, but OF COURSE I let candidates know (if I can) if I am going to be late or can’t make it to a scheduled call. But things do come up…and how candidates respond when you tell them you have to reschedule tells a lot about how flexible they will be once here, when….yes…things come up. We are HUGELY flexible with our au pairs – but we expect the same level of flexibility in return. An AP who gets upset or flustered by a delay in a skype call or a bad connection or the fact that I hit a lot of traffic coming home (and was in the car so wasn’t able to email that I was going to be late) isn’t going to be a good match for us, so it’s good to know this right up front.

Seattle Mom March 18, 2014 at 3:30 pm

So I guess along the same lines something like this happened.. I was interviewing an AP who I was *IN LOVE* with. She shares my families values about conservation & not being materialistic and all of that, she is intelligent, she is thoughtful… Then I skyped with her and my kids were acting like little monkeys and she seemed really taken aback by them. Then they said they were going outside to climb a tree and she looked like she was going to have an embolism (they are quite young children, but they really are great climbers). So I realized that just because I liked the way this girl lives her life does not mean that we agree on childcare… and if not for my unruly children I don’t think I would have sussed that information out in an interview. She just didn’t seem to have a “go with the flow” calm sort of mentality. I’m sure she would be a great AP for others but she would drive us crazy.

Sometimes I do wonder if I let a good one go, but I’m trying to listen to my gut and my gut tells me I did the right thing.

Momma Gadget March 18, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Seattle Mom- Skype always seems to bring out “the silly” in my youngest, who likes to pop in and out of the camera, make faces at his own image, or click on the annoying special effects buttons that changes your face into a cat. My eldest is just “Too Cool” to talk to anyone for more than 1 minute, even when he is watching his muscles flex in his own image. We’ve only had one candidate who was able to reach through skype and capture both their attention. Unfortunately his visa application was rejected.

German Au-Pair March 18, 2014 at 4:55 pm

Not you specifically, Returning HM. I just wanted to remind people that while this may seem like a good technique, there’s another person sitting there who is incredibly nervous. So while unforseen events are a good thing, seeing how she deals with being stood up might not be the nicest way of screening.

Also, if you have children who are more reserved, offering the children a question or a story they can tell is a really appreciated help. My kids usually respond with very short sentences -yes or no if possible- so it was really hard for me. I did manage to get some sort of communication going but it was really hard and I was so glad when my HM chimed in and encouraged my children to offer more information or remind them that I did not already know what was going on in their life.

C March 18, 2014 at 2:24 pm

You know, the interview diligence is actually a great point. Our current (not rock star) AP flaked on Skyping with us (post match) and didnt apologize. It was a bad sign.

Returning HM March 18, 2014 at 6:04 pm

“Also, if you have children who are more reserved, offering the children a question or a story they can tell is a really appreciated help. My kids usually respond with very short sentences -yes or no if possible- so it was really hard for me. I did manage to get some sort of communication going but it was really hard and I was so glad when my HM chimed in and encouraged my children to offer more information or remind them that I did not already know what was going on in their life.”

Although this strategy definitely helps AP candidates during matching, I actually learned not to do this. The one difficult (it worked out, but it was a lot of work) match we had in several years was one where I did this. I felt the children were old enough to participate in the interviews, but when the candidate I liked was struggling to get them to talk, I fed them things to say – encouraged topics, prompted, etc. I chalked the AP’s inability to connect with them up to her nervousness and their reticence to talk to a new AP. Only after we had matched, and AP still had trouble coming up with anything to ask them in our very occasional (as in, two or three times in the five months between matching and arrival) skype calls, did I realize that this might continue to be an issue . And it was. AP had a lot of trouble connecting with the children at all, and also had trouble coming up with things to say at dinner and in other social settings. It was very, very challenging, and while we got through it and AP turned out to be good, it was SO much work, and I vowed I would never do this kind of spoon-feeding again. I now know that my children are very happy to chat with prospective APs (the rematch one we just matched with excepted, and that was because the beloved former AP was still here), and a good candidate for us will have lots of good questions to ask the children and get them talking. The one we ended up matching with for August had my daughter talking about different genres of literature she likes to read (perfect for who she is), whereas with my son, they compared the kinds of foods he likes to the kinds the AP likes…so AP clearly knew how to talk at both of the children’s levels.

What someone said earlier is so important: we as HMs have to learn not make excuses for candidates during matching (especially those we want to like!). It took me a long time (and several mistakes) to learn this, but now that we “help” candidates less in the interviewing process, we have ended up with ones who are better fits for our family…and that works out better for everyone.

didis March 18, 2014 at 1:10 am

I would say that it is connected to being proactive as well as flexible. Au pair should be capable making last minute decision about kids that will be safe, beneficial and approved by hosts.
I believe it is important ( if that’s what you look for and like in au pair) that she is not easily stressed or frightened by new situations and places in order for her to take charge of situation and handling it responsibly.
You can ask her questions about possible situations that may occur and how would she handle them?
What if kid refuses to put clothes on, how would she handle it?
What if she gets lost on her way home/somewhere?
how would she react if she wrecks a car while kids in it/or alone?
her eating habits…
I believe there is many au pairs who came here not knowing and realizing how demanding and stressful life as au pair can be.

NNTexasHM March 18, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Forgive me but the attitude you describe doesn’t sound even remotely mature
It actually sounds rigid. I would seriously consider how you can tolerate it. Think about what happens when it’s something serious where you can’t easily fix it. As for how you screen for flexibility, I think you have a great basis.
Describe the scenarios you’ve described to anyone you are screening:
‘Tell me what you would do if Wednesday afternoon swim practice is cancelled and you find yourself with an free afternoon with my 4 year old?’ Or ‘what do you do if I am stuck in traffic and cannot be home at 5:00 as I originally anticipated?’

TexasHM March 17, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Flexibility is a trait we screen for as well. I think they are completely separate traits. You can be immature and flexible and that still wouldn’t work for us (we had it). If anything I would say inflexibility is probably more often associated with immaturity. Most mature APs I would think would brush off the changes and adapt but every AP and HF is different so these are just our traits and methods that have been working really well for us.

TexasHM March 17, 2014 at 2:23 pm

We also look for empathy, kindness, and patience.

Should be working March 17, 2014 at 2:26 pm

For patience and kindness I look for volunteer work of some kind. Empathy is a mixed bag–it can also mean “very sensitive and emotional”. I have realized that maturity trumps empathy for us, I want someone that can stay cool and not get overwhelmed by feelings.

But again–how exactly do you look for these traits? Is it a specific question you ask or is it just an impression??

hOstCDmom March 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Some of the my maturity proxies:

I look for real work experience – a job where you had to show up on time, clock in, work on someone else’s schedule, and probably do things that you didn’t want to/didn’t agree with, but nonetheless you had to suck it up and deal.

This is culture specific, but I look for candidates that had to get into state universities in some of the countries I choose from, rather than private ones where one can buy their admission.

I like candidates whose mothers have worked/have careers, as I find that often implies that a candidate had to be more mature/independent through their childhood and teen years. (and I find that sets a good baseline for *my* work and career — last thing I need is an AP who thinks I should spend more time cooking, cleaning and being a housewife!

I also look for personality traits or views that run counter to the majority in a given context, since by personality, life path and presently as non-religious academic reason homeschoolers we have a somewhat counter culture approach to life ourselves –e.g. an atheist in a predominantly Catholic LatAm country; or an AP that holds views that s/he had to form on her/his own and really think about.

For example, we had one AP from a LatAm country ask us about our views on other races, interracial marriage, etc. because she noted that we don’t live in an especially diverse town, if we would mind if she had a friend/boyfriend that was of a different race as a guest in our home, what we taught our kids about race; (we told her we strive to be race blind, love diversity and miss it terribly in our current town!) she asked what our views were on homosexuality and stated that while she wasn’t herself gay, she believed that there were inherent human rights issues related to rights of homosexual people, including support for gay marriage, and that while her home country didn’t support those views she herself held them and she wanted to ensure that she would be living with an American family that was like minded. (we are, so we loved that she both shared our views and that she was willing to go out on a line and ask us what could be a very awkward q with some host families.) She also asked about religious practices and whether she would need to actively support or teach any beliefs to our kids, noting that she was agnostic and would not feel comfortable imparting religious teachings, but that she would never undermine any beliefs/practices we had we are barely nominally Christmas and Easter religious so this was a non issue) Suffice to say, we matched with her — she was awesome, and very mature, but still fun, warm and engaging and she stayed for 2 years!

WarmStateMomma March 17, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Great information in this whole thread! I’m looking forward to more posts here.

My family has views in common with yours, hOstCDmom, and it’s interesting to see what worked for your family.

Dorsi March 17, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Funny thing about the LatAms and Atheism: one AP told me that she put “atheist” on her app and was told she had to change it to Catholic for two reasons: 1. No one would want an Atheist. 2. The kind of American people that would take an atheist are terrible, immoral people who we be abusive. It is funny — we would like an AP that is atheist. And we don’t think we are terrible people. I do think her writing “atheist” on her application communicated the fact that she was fiercly independent and somewhat contrarian. (Or would have, had it been allowed to remain).

Should be working March 18, 2014 at 11:38 am

Dorsi, was it the Lat.Amer. branch that told her to change it or the USA agency center (not sure I know the difference nor how it works)?

Although I’m not religious, I am wary of self-declared “atheists” in matching exactly because it does suggest “contrarian”, which in our experience meant “unwilling to change her mind about things she thinks are right” and also “unwilling to go with the flow”. In other words, contrarian/fiercely decided is the opposite of flexible. I also wouldn’t for our family choose someone who attends church weekly and is very involved in her congregation, btw.

Dorsi March 18, 2014 at 11:22 pm

She said it was the LatAm office. For us, we need flexible and are very clear about that during the matching process. You Will Work Evenings. Every Week. You Will Work Weekends. We have actually never had a problem with that. I like the “atheist” label because it means, to me, that they have not crafted the entire application just to please me and they are trying in some small way to express who they are. I am very wary of finding someone who will agree to anything to get to the US. Because they might not actually Work Weekends All The Time, then. For the record, the atheist AP was easy to work with and went with the flow. The fierce independence showed up in her politics and spare time (she spent a good deal of time with Americans who didn’t speak her language and weren’t APs — the first AP that I could say that about).

Anna March 17, 2014 at 10:35 pm

I got burned on the counter proxy – I matched with a Thai au pair who changed her career path radically. She finished an engineering degree to please her father who wanted her to study it, worked in the field for a year, and decided it is not for her. Her new career dream was international flight attendant. I was impressed that she showed such independence, knowledge of herself, and bravery and decisiveness especially in the context of the culture.

Well, it turned out this was a symptom of a tendency of not honor commitments, flake out of people, and consider self interest beyond all else . This same au pair left our family to get married after two months here, a week before my due date with my fourth child. I repeatedly asked her to delay her “rematch” until at least I have the baby and will be home on leave not scrambling for childcare – she decided that it is best she leaves before, and she did. The LCC also thought she convinced her to stay – only to have her change her mind back to her original plan the day after she promised the LCC to stay …

Momma Gadget March 18, 2014 at 10:54 am

We had a similar experience…We matched with an AP who tried university, but found it too hard…then she tried Nursing school for a couple of years, but that wasn’t for her either. She was working in an educational institute for autistic children which led us to believe she’d be able to handle our 2 ADD boys… Uhhh not so much. When ever there was an issue with a child at the institute she could call a whole staff to take care of it. On her own she was easily flustered. She came from a wealthy family who coddled her and were always willing to pick up the pieces when she gave up… which turned out to be often.
Of course hind sight is 20/20.We were blinded by the fact that she came from my husbands family’s heritage and were really stoked about the cultural possibilities. We also realized we mistook being well spoken ( her english was perfect) for being mature. She was extremely homesick form day one, and would cry on Skype to her parents every morning before she started her day. She couldn’t handle the boys -they hated her and walked all over her. We went into rematch one month in. She did manage to make it through the year taking care of one school age girl. She extended with the family and then a month into her extension decided, that she really just wanted to go home.
I used to be ok with APs who seemed to be looking for direction in life, and who were trying to find themselves. We did have a good AP who was searching for direction, but she was hardworking & great with my kids.Unfortunately for her, 3 years later she is still unsettled. Between her replacement AP (above) and our current AP, we are done with the life coaching. No more “Lost” APs.
I think on a subconscious level, I felt these type of candidates would be more likely to extend and giving us the holy grail of an AP that stayed with us for 2 full years. Now that we are a bit more seasoned, I realize that great APs are great APs and leave lasting impressions on all of us whether they are with us for 6 months or 2 years. When we go back to the program, we will definitely be looking for more focused, goal oriented candidates, even if that means they are only here for a gap year.

Seattle Mom March 18, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Momma Gadget I did that same thing- mistook being well-spoken for being mature. That happened with my 19 year old rematch who seemed wise beyond her years in interviews. Then it turned out she was just over confident, hard-headed, and completely immature and antisocial.

TexasHM March 17, 2014 at 6:14 pm

It’s asking lots of open ended and probing questions and reading between the lines. If they have questions for us I always ask why they ask – get a lot of insight there. Aka – if they ask about a special diet is it because they are a picky eater? What’s their definition of picky? Or because it was the first question on the canned form of questions to ask HPs. If they don’t have questions then why don’t they have questions?

Charlotte March 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm

As an Au Pair to be, I found the matching process hard. (Just because of some technicalities with my agencies.)
I have 2 qualifications and gained the majority of experience through that as well as babysitting on a regular basis. I am very mature for my age and do a lot more than most people I know my age. I do all the cooking and cleaning in my home and have also held down two jobs in the past year while preparing for my Au Pair experience.
I find that the agency I am with do not give you appropriate questions to ask host families. By that I mean they are usually all answered in the HF letter or (from experience) the HF answer all the questions before you have even had the chance to ask one.
I am creative and was able to ask questions to suit me and that were also unique but some girls might struggle with questions. I did in the first skype interview and afterwards I found it really awkward. That’s when I decided I needed to up my game.
I definitely agree that screening for ‘mature’ Au Pairs could be hard, especially when there isn’t much help on our end either.
I agree with TexasHM in that asking open ended questions seems to be one of the few ways to work it out, that way the AP can’t just answer yes/no.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 17, 2014 at 8:30 pm

In my experience, maturity doesn’t always come with age – one of our best APs turned 19 a few weeks before she arrived – although our one of our least mature APs turned 19 a few weeks after she arrived.

Because I only interview special needs willing APs with actual special needs experience (and tend to discount those candidates whom I suspect have done a short stint to say they have done it), I only look at candidates with real work experience. For those whose experience is gained through practicums, I look hard at what the referee writes.

I ask a series of questions, none of which are yes/no (because I also want to know that the candidate has proficient English – it need not be perfect – I want to see that she tries to communicate).

Now that I have said this, I have been fooled. One candidate who looked like she had taken initiative, bamboozled me and was way in over her head on day 1. Over the years I have shifted my questions, especially as my own needs changed. For example the typically developing teen cannot possibly make the same demands on my AP as my special needs child. We have raised him to be independent (and after AP #8 arrived without ever having done a load of laundry or cooked anything more sophisticated than pasta) – we have been slowly working on his independent living skills so that by the time he’s in high school has has the basics down.

That being said, AP #9 has been fantastic.

Always Hopeful HM March 17, 2014 at 10:50 pm

I screen for attitude and fit. Outside of my limited deal breakers (responsible, strong driver, no smoking anywhere ever, etc). I am most interested in finding someone that I can trust and will want to have in my home nearly every day for at least the next 365. I don’t screen for maturity, per se. I find maturity difficult to measure, especially because maturity in one context may not necessarily mean it will be present in another. The questions I ask are fairly generic–ones I’ve pulled from here, agency sites, friends suggestions, and the only book I could really find on hosting: Oh My Au Pair. What’s important to me is how they answer, openness, confidence, body language, level of discomfort, etc. Both of my au pairs seemed to have a certain quiet confidence, without any trace of arrogance. Each came across in interviews as having a strong sense of who they were and what they wanted/ were willing to do/ capable of doing.

While I didn’t stop the skype interview at this question, current au pair had me hooked when I asked what chore he performed at home that he liked he least. He looked at me quizzacally and said simply: “I don’t have a least favorite. I’m a young adult guy living at home. It’s not a problem to share in the responsibilities.” Best. Answer. Ever. Granted, chores are not his strong suit. He’s a person who may forget and leave drinking glasses on the counter, but he also is the guy who scrambled to throw on warm clothes and rushed outside to help when he heard me outside starting to shovel snow.

For the future, characteristics I’d like to screen for would be independence, initiative, creativity, ability to make friends easily and family dynamics. I’ve been pretty lucky on those points– not hitting 100% but doing well enough, but I think if I screened for them specifically I could land in nirvana.

Momma Gadget March 18, 2014 at 11:11 am

“He’s a person who may forget and leave drinking glasses on the counter, but he also is the guy who scrambled to throw on warm clothes and rushed outside to help when he heard me outside starting to shovel snow.”

I can so relate to this! Our AP, who makes me crazy sometimes with a thousand little mistakes/oversights, is the first to pitch in when it is really needed. Which is why we bumbled through the year without going into rematch.

Should be working March 18, 2014 at 11:48 am

I tend to think of certain traits as package deals and this makes me wonder if that assumption is right. Independence and initiative, as AHHM listed, are great qualities…but they also are in my experience less compatible with “going with the flow”, accepting direction/suggestion, and following a given structure.

It’s true that our AP with the most initiative did great projects with kids, motivated them, came up with activities, got them to take great day trips, etc. But she was also stubborn and bossy (the one who refused to change sheets more than every 2 weeks). I think since then that I associate the stubborn/bossy side with her unfortunate inability to get along well with my then-9-yr-old daughter, who is more sensitive, needed cuddling, lots of attention, and girly play. Ever since then I take flexibility, going-with-flow, and taking-direction (which I see as a sort of package deal) over independence/initiative (which I see as a sort of package deal with stubbornness).

I wonder how much these “package deals” are unique to my experience, maybe someone else would say, “Oh in my experience independence correlated with taking direction…” or something like that.

WarmStateMomma March 18, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Hmmm. This “package” idea is interesting. It could be a whole post on its own. I’d like to have a few packages for a prospective AP to self-identify with, in lieu of the “pick 4 traits you think a host family is looking for in an AP” exercise. If an AP can’t easily pick her package, there could be an informative conversation about why she thinks she doesn’t fit one package.

Should be working March 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I realized the “package deal” issue when i studied in depth the DiSC personality test that CCAP gives AP candidates (CCAP provides only very truncated, positively-spun reports, I paid $40 to do the whole test myself and get a 15-page report explaining it all, including the other 15 personality types).

For instance, high “S” (steadiness) means high patience, group loyalty, tolerance for repetitive tasks. A great set of qualities for an AP. It also, however, corresponds to low ambition (perhaps not in every case, but in general, as per the test). So our great AP who had worked as a volunteer with Down-Syndrome adults was totally patient and steady and fine with hours of melty beads with kids. But she wasn’t an initiative-ambition-go-getter type, and didn’t push the kids to do cool outings or take the initiative for inventing ideas and events. Fair enough, for us the steadiness matters more than the initiative/ambition.

For us the trickier one is “high I”, which means strong verbal persuasiveness, enthusiasm, friendliness, emotionally-motivated, wanting to be accepted in the group. A good quality, I always thought. But our high-I AP was also high-maintenance–when her social group fell apart she was devastated; she took our kids’ moods too personally; and she needed a lot of attention–rather needy. Low-I corresponds to analytical thinking, logic, sometimes aloofness. Sounds not good for an AP–except we love our low-I AP because she doesn’t take anything personally, she is pleasant and cheerful but not emotional and not needy.

Anyway, the package-deal model helps me to see that sometimes the downsides of a particular AP are the flipside of her upsides–patient but unambitious; great leader but stubborn; not overly emotional but not overly attached to us.

Momma Gadget March 18, 2014 at 1:32 pm

“Package Deal” – Brilliant!

anon March 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I’m not using my usual moniker for this because I’m so embarrassed to admit I don’t know how to “read” the DISC personality test on CC. I mean, I obviously have no problem reading the narrative of the different characteristics they see in APs and comparing them….but I don’t see how, on what they give us, you can see who is “high” in which category? Is it the number of bullet points listed in each category? I tried googling and also viewed the youtube video that CC put out, but it doesn’t answer how you can see if a candidate is “high” in a particular area (S as opposed to D, etc). Thanks for helping!

Should be working March 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Anon, this is why I paid to take the test online and studied the 15-page explanation of the traits. That info is not on CCAP’s truncated report, I’m giving you the “long version”. But based on the 15-page explanation you can easily figure out which profile the truncated report is referring to (watch for the keywords that identify each profile on the long version, like “inspirational”, “persuasive”, “methodical”, “ability to do repetitive tasks with patience”.

No complaints about CCAP giving such a short report, but I wanted to understand it thoroughly because their version spins the traits to their most positive (“enjoys a challenge” is one way to say “bossy, dominating”).

WarmStateMomma March 18, 2014 at 2:14 pm

Thanks, SBW. I’m going to give this package deal concept more thought and have a more thoughtful approach to AP selection next time around.

I’ve reviewed dozens of AP applications from three developing Asian countries and haven’t found any that described themselves as anything other than patient and fond of children. They’ve basically described a Labrador retriever and not the individual AP. The only useful written info is the year the AP bought her driver’s license and her current occupation.

WestMom March 18, 2014 at 10:33 am

I think that by screening for our requirements, we should end up with a mature candidate.

We only consider candidates 21yrs + with professional experience with children (beyond babysitting), or with a degree in an education-related field. We screen for candidates that have a career goal. We prefer candidates who have been away from home, mostly middle class, with strong family ties.

And yes, all 5 were mature. But one ended up being uninvolved (which I think stemmed from the wrong motivation for being here), and another lacked good judgment. Both were terrific interviewees and we felt very positive upon matching. These were not our best year years, but we made the best of it. While maturity is important, it is not enough to make a good decision… (and one flaw alone is usually not enough to throw the baby with the bath water either…).

NNTexasHM March 18, 2014 at 6:08 pm

I would say that TexasHostMom (who I know quite well) has a few ways of uncovering desirable Au Pair qualities, such as maturity and flexibility:
1. She asks open ended questions or case questions to see how the Au Pair responds in challenging situations or can speak openly and honestly. Absolutely no “yes / no” questions. This is my mistake – I tend to take people at face value but I have learned these are easily misunderstood or colored by perspective. Or in the case of one gal when asked about driving, blatant lies.
2. She asks the same question in different ways to make sure she gets consistent answers. Again, had I applied this logic to an Au Pair who lied about driving ability (How far do you drive every day? What are the roads like where you drive? Is it your car – oh? Did you pay for it? How long did it take to get your license? Was it hard to get your license? Do you ever drive children around? What do you find hard about driving in your country and what do you think will be hard about driving in the US?) I would have side stepped a major issue as her story about “driving daily” started to fall apart from the moment she arrived.
3. I don’t think she is looking for “right” answers, it’s more of an attitude, willingness to answer (there are quite a few Au Pairs who aren’t up for this!) and thoughtfulness of the response. Believe me, her interview process is fairly long – a lot of gals drop out.
4. She starts out with a few email exchanges – that way, language isn’t as much of a barrier. If the prospective Au Pair can run the questions through google translate she will usually understand what is being asked. The Skype conversation doesn’t happen until there are a few email exchanges to set the stage.

Hope this helps!

TexasHM March 19, 2014 at 8:32 am

That was great I should have you “translate” for me all the time! Lol

JenNC March 18, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Here is an easy thing for me, my first aupair was mature, smart older, a banker, math tutor, liked her a lot we clicked….. She worked a 9-5 job Monday through Friday before becoming an aupair…. What this ended up meaning was, not very flexible…. This was a job to her, and she quickly expected to be off as soon as the time was up, didn’t really want to work any weekends or evenings even though it’s part of the requirement and discussed….. My current aupair is a pediatric dentist, she is used to working shift work, nights, 12 hours, weekends, holidays, in essence being an aupair is a holiday…. She is VERY flexible and willing to help anytime, if we are running late it is no big deal…… So I think it is important to consider what the aupairs day to day life is like…. If you need someone flexible in the evenings on weekends then You need someone who already is used to that in their current life…… If your aupair only needs to work mom through Friday then you can get away with a girl who works those kind of hrs at her home base….. If not it can spell trouble. Jen

exaupair March 20, 2014 at 10:14 am

In my au pair application I said I was flexible to a certain level, which many families interpreted as not flexible at all….
In Europe there are very few agencies, there is no 45hrs a week schedule, you can openly say that you don’t wish to work weekends and look only for families that don’t need you to cover weekends or nights, so it is so much easier to make it a real adventure in a foreign country instead of a regular sitter job and a bit of traveling here and there when you happen to have Saturday and Sunday off.

back to the original question, I am not a HM but if I had to screen for maturity I would start asking questions about random life situations and emergencies. The other thing would be their life before and the au pair year. A mature, responsible young person can commit to their job, makes solid future plans, knows where they want to be in few years time etc.

Host Mom in the City March 20, 2014 at 10:48 am

I think this issue is really challenging and I see it from both the au pair’s point of view and the host family’s point of view. The au pair program is sold to families as flexible childcare. Seriously, the flexibility of the schedule is by far the #1 reason we have an au pair over doing just before/aftercare or a part-time sitter (even though both would be cheaper and much less time-intensive, plus not having to house someone) and I would venture to guess that most of the host families I know would count the flexibility of the schedule among their very top reasons for having an au pair. So if you have a candidate who says they aren’t willing to be flexible or aren’t willing to work any evenings and weekends period, then that eliminates the main reason the family is looking for an au pair right there. If I could seriously only have an au pair working 7am to 5pm weekdays and no other times, it would not make sense to me, or I think most other families, to spend all the extra money and time to have an au pair.

Now on the flip side, we are a host family that actually doesn’t have our au pair work weekends – maybe once or twice a year, we’ll ask her to work a Saturday night when we have a big event, but always planned well in advance. I do this on purpose, because I want my au pair to get what she wants out of the year too.

I completely understand that au pairs come to the US to make friends and travel and have fun, and weekends are prime time to do that. Most of the miserable au pairs I know are miserable because they have to work every weekend and beg for vacation time and the family really maximizes the flexibility and uses all the 45 hours even when they don’t really need childcare, but just because they can. Recipe for a miserable au pair.

So I think there’s a balance there to be had, but also a serious conflict between what families want out of the program and what au pairs want. I’m torn, but even though we are a family that actually doesn’t have weekend hours, if an au pair said right in her application that one of her the main things she was looking for in a family is never having to work weekends, I think I’d either pass or if she was really a great candidate, want to explore pretty deeply what she meant by that.

It almost tells me that the candidate is not going to be willing to go beyond exactly what I ask of her and will always see her work time as a necessary, but hugely boring and inconvenient task taking away from what she is really here to do, which may be entirely true, but not what a parent wants to feel about the person spending a lot of time with their kids.

I would suggest that au pairs, rather than actually putting this in their application, ask potential host families what their regular hours would be, more or less. Au pairs can then screen out schedules that aren’t what they’re looking for by simply not matching with the family. Another reason I don’t like the CC model of matching one au pair with one family – I want my au pairs to have spoken with many families and to really choose me.

Should be working March 20, 2014 at 11:38 am

Our extension AP is an interesting case in this regard. She made it clear she didn’t want weekends, I made it clear that she would be asked to work about half-days on the weekend 1-2 times per month, plus a very rare weekend evening. She accepted. She is always pleasant, responsible and cheerful AND she goes above and beyond her duties during the week–offers to pick up OUR visitors (not hers) at the airport, grocery shopping without being asked, cleanup projects that I didn’t assign, offering overtime when something goes awry and the plans get complicated. But then she does sort of worm most of her weekends free. I have decided I don’t resent it. She gets most of what she wanted, and I get most of what I wanted, plus a very dedicated AP during the week.

Host Mom in the City March 20, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Sounds terrific. I’m glad to hear this. I still think though that if I was going through the thousand candidates that are available to be selected out of country and someone put right there in her letter that she would not work weekends period, I’d probably pass on the application (even though we don’t even ask for weekend hours ourselves!).

Should be working March 20, 2014 at 3:21 pm

She made it clear only in interviewing, and she was local, so had friends in the area–and we could meet her, so I felt better about the match. She was second year but had been put in rematch by the (very difficult-sounding) second-year family. So I guess technically she was a rematch AP.

DowntownMom March 20, 2014 at 4:53 pm

I very much agree. Our APs never work weekends, but I would be concerned about such an AP having very set expectations as well when it comes to other issues.

DowntownMom March 20, 2014 at 4:55 pm

My comment was in reference to HMiTC.

exaupair March 20, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Host Mom in the City@ you said a very important thing – it’s all about balance! As long as both HF and AP honor the contract and understand that in real life things unexpected things do happen it’s all good and they will have a successful time together :-)
In my application I specifically said that I require weekends off ( and weekend in my book is Friday night to Monday morning ). That said, I was free to do it because there is no 45 hrs per week and 1 weekend off rule in Europe – it’s all down to the initial agreement between the parents and AP.
The first family that replied didn’t need weekend childcare at all, but they required me to be home for two hrs Sunday morning, which in reality meant that whenever I decided to spend Saturday night outside of the house I would have to rush to catch a train or book a taxi to be back home 8 am sharp. This does not stand for a weekend off at all, so as lovely as they were we both decided we needed something else.

Probably in the US families don’t abuse all that flexibility thing too often because the agency is kind of a safety net, but in Europe some people think that for very little pocket money and free access to the fridge they hire someone to be on call 24/7. It’s really very sad because some girls are very young, don’t know how to put their foot down and as a result end up biased against something that can be an amazing experience.

As for the “healthy” flexibility – unless the AP paid a lot for concert tickets, booked a weekend trip and will not get a refund, has a doctor appointment and the like, evening and weekend plans are not set in stone! If the parent has something unexpected that came up just there and then and needs your help/ cover on a Sat. evening for an hour/ look after kids a little bit longer and it happens every few months, then it’s not a big deal.
To all the future APs: next time it can be the other way round and you might need some flexibility on the HPs side!

Host Mom in the City March 20, 2014 at 3:09 pm

Totally agree, although I think you’d be surprised by how many US families take advantage of the flexibility and take it to mean “on call 24/7 as long as I don’t use more than 45 hours a week.” I will clarify that by flexibility I mean two things – one, is that I can create a standard schedule that works for me. So for our family, we need care for about two hours in the morning and then about five hours in the afternoon, with a three hour split in between. If my family needed only care in the evenings, I could have that be my set schedule. Or if my family needed help driving the kids to all their activities on Saturdays, that could be part of the regular schedule (of course, with one weekend off per month). So there’s the flexibility in setting the schedule overall and week to week.

There’s also flexibility, by which I mean, ability to cover even though you’re not scheduled. So if an emergency meeting comes up, you could ask if your au pair wouldn’t mind staying for an extra two hours that same night.

So two types of flexibility – and I think in my original post, I was talking about the former (being able to create your own schedule). We plan our schedule months in advance, and try very rarely to change it. We also make sure our au pair knows that she can always say no if we ask for a last-minute change, as I like to make sure I’m respecting her time and plans as well. But I am always very appreciative when she is able to cover a snow or sick day last-minute, particularly as that is really the main highlight of the program that you don’t get with other types of childcare.

You’re right too that this definitely goes both ways, so au pairs should make sure that they’re giving the type of flexibility they’d like to receive. All three of our au pairs have had concerts or things come up and have asked to leave a few hours early or to take an extra day off here or there, and we always try our best to accommodate these changes. I would caution that any au pairs that don’t want to be flexible then don’t turn around and expect your host parents to be flexible or give you extra time off – it does go both ways for sure, and ideally, both sides recognize and appreciate the ways in which the other side goes above and beyond. I’ve been fortunate to have this with all three of my au pairs, and probably to a large extent because I make it a point to be very flexible and considerate with their time right from the beginning.

Thanks for weighing in, exaupair!

exaupair March 20, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I thought in the US APs are far more protected than anywhere else :-)
I used to live in a quite remote area and only knew one fellow AP, who unfortunately ended up kicked out of the house one day. The HP were totally unsuitable for the program and still, the following week my HM spotted another Au Pair arriving to stay with them. My host mother tried to report them on the website they were advertising their profile on (same site as my host family), with no result.

Momma Gadget March 20, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Great Point about 2 types of Flexibility!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

Because we have school-aged children, our AP typically works less than 30 hours a week, with a healthy (6 1/2 hours) off in the middle of the day. Although we could have her work 5 hours every weekend, we rarely do. (We do try to honor the spirit of the program but not booking her for more than 5 hours at the weekend, because even though she rarely works more than 5 hours a weekday, it’s a split schedule and therefore not a true half day.)

We do state out front that we need flexibility. The Camel is sufficiently cognitively and physically disabled that she cannot be left alone in the house at all, so I tell my APs up front that they need to be flexible and willing to cancel their plans and care for her on snow days, sick days, etc. I’m sure all my APs would prefer to be with their friends every evening and weekend, but they have the good grace not to show it. In return, when they want an afternoon or evening off, I do my best to be equally flexible.

Should be working March 21, 2014 at 12:13 pm

The “two kinds of flexibility” is SO helpful, HMitC!! (And again, the agencies should be singing this from the rooftops!)

The flexibility to have a different schedule each week is more important to us, with healthy, relatively predictable school-aged children. I send with the handbook 3 different weeks’ “schedule scenarios”, one for a normal school week, one with more weekend/evening childcare than usual (although I don’t say it is unusual), and one for a week when kids are off school.

Invariably the APs start to dread the weeks off school, once they see how strenous it is. And one of those weeks falls invariably in late August, soon after they arrive. I start to feel “guilty” about having them work those school-vacation weeks. And I think back to the profiles that say “With me your children will never be bored!”

The last-minute flexibility is so important when a kid is sick, or a meeting goes late. But what about when the AP did have plans for that night, how do you decide when it’s fair or not fair to cancel? What if she bought tickets for a concert with friends? Or she has a friend’s birthday party? How do you decide when she has to suck it up and when instead you have to figure out an alternative?

exaupair March 21, 2014 at 1:51 pm

My decision would be based on how could I make up for the last minute schedule changes.
1. If she had a date I would tell her to invite the boyfriend over.
2. If she paid for something in advance and can’t get a refund I would offer to pay her back.
3. If she booked something so expensive I’m not able to pay for it, then obviously I wouldn’t ask her to cancel. Same with doctor appointments/ her school and the like.
That said, I would make sure she knows that 1)she has the right to say no, and 2) if possible I would always think about backup childcare first, but if not possible, next time she needs a bit more flexibility on my side I would try and make things work well for her.

Momma Gadget March 21, 2014 at 2:26 pm

For us it depends on when and how serious the emergency is. Also Now that my kids are older they can stay by themselves for a while.
In general we tell the APs from the very beginning, that if one of the kids is sick, they will need to reschedule any morning/afternoon plans. One of we HPs will leave work early to relieve the AP earlier in the evening. If the kids have a snow day, I don’t want the AP driving, so plans are cancelled anyway.
In a real emergency situation, as when my eldest had a ski accident and was back-boarded to the hospital via ambulance, the AP cancelled plans with friends to stay home with my youngest until HD got back. If she had not volunteered to do this of her own accord,even if she had non refundable concert tickets, I would have been very hurt and offended. If she cancelled some thing like this to help us out, we would have reimbursed her, and bought great seats to some other event for both her and a friend as a thanks.

There have been rare occasions that we forgot about an evening appointment, or had a last minute work emergency . First we ask the AP if s/he has any plans, and if not , then we ask for coverage. If the AP does have plans we start searching for other options. If we absolutely cannot find coverage, we bring it up to the AP to see if we can find a compromise-or one of we HP cancels what we had planned.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm

The unexpected is how I live my life – like when AP #3 realized that a piece of metal had worked its way out of the Camel’s spine – and even though she had already worked 10 hours that day, in one of the rare occasions I have openly broken the rules, I begged her to stay and put child #2 to bed (I had an incompetent relative visiting) while I took the Camel to the ER. Without batting an eye, she packed the bag for the Camel and I while I ran about gathering the necessary paperwork, called DH and warned a surgeon we were coming to the hospital. When an AP is that flexible and generous, we buy favorite foods, in the old days we bought expensive phone cards, and gave extra days off. There are just times when the last thing you need is for your AP to complain about her needs – because the bottom has dropped out of your old world.

So there are times when the world shifts and you need an AP to rise to the occasion. There are also times that the world shifts – like the end of the school year for those of us who only have school-aged children – and you need your AP to accept the change. For the former, there is no warning, it just is. For the latter, whether it be the end of the school year or a surgery or hospitalization booked in advance – I advise sitting the AP down in a quiet moment, and explaining the change. I usually start in April for the end of the school year (because all those last-minute sight-seeing day trips the AP has been planning for herself have to be done before mid-June). For the planned hospitalization of a child or HP, I start as soon as I am aware. We had a planned hospitalization for the Camel, and the AP at the time, who spent 80% of her timing caring for her, assumed she would be off and hanging with friends. By sitting down quietly, and explaining how our family worked during the hospitalization, she was able to see her key role (without working more hours but also without working less) in the Camel’s recovery.

A shift in schedule is sometimes a cruel trick that mother nature plays (like endless snow days), but you can help your AP prepare for the changes that you know in advance (don’t assume she’s thinking about them, because she’s not).

Momma Gadget March 20, 2014 at 3:09 pm

“She gets most of what she wanted, and I get most of what I wanted” – Isn’t this the symbiotic relationship that is suppose exist between HF & AP?

Isn’t ‘Flexibility” subjective? Our APs rarely work anywhere close to a full 45 and mostly have weekends off. But when we have a rare event to go to, and we give 2-3 weeks notice,we expect that the AP work a weekend evening without eye rolling. On the occasion there is an accident or weather related traffic delay, we expect that our AP will understand and not be in tiff should we arrive home 30 min late. Or if one of the kids is home sick, we expect the AP will rearrange any plans they had to hang with friends at Starbucks that morning. In turn, If the AP is taking a special weekend with friends and needs to leave early on Friday, and come back early on Monday, we arrange alternate pick up and drop off. If we get home early we let the AP off early too. It is give and take.
We do not interpret “flexibility” as an AP being at our beck and call 24/7, though some HF obviously do. Nor should an AP expect that we can rearrange our schedules at the drop of a hat for his/her social life.
I would be really put off by a candidate that declared they will not work on weekends, even though we very rarely require this. ( maybe twice a year).

Host Mom in the City March 20, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I think I agree with you, except that I would say that we “request” the types of flexibility you describe, rather than “expect” it. And I would not tolerate eye rolling for a second, but I would completely understand if I asked for a last-minute request and our au pair said “I am so sorry, but I have plans at X o’clock – can we work something out so I can at least leave around then?” and we could talk about it like the adults we both are. I think the issue comes in (and I agree with the au pairs in this case) when host parents expect their au pairs to completely rearrange their schedules at any moment whenever the host parents announce they are needed. I don’t think that’s fair, unless it’s a true emergency and it happens only rarely (and then I think host parents should go ahead and be prepared to do the same for their au pair).

Momma Gadget March 20, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Yes.. perhaps “expect” was too strong a word!

Should be working March 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Maybe “flexibility” is actually more about the lack of eye-rolling and resentment! Just occurred to me. Because yeah, you CAN require the AP to pick up the slack when the swim lesson is cancelled and she can’t say you can’t. BUT the resentment and eye-rolling are the problem.

Our last AP was lovely in many ways but harbored grudges and tended toward resentment. How do you screen against that?

exaupair March 20, 2014 at 4:07 pm

How would I screen against eye-rolling? I think you can’t screen it fully, but I would be very upfront with what can be expected with my family. If I asked ” Imagine the swimming class the kids were supposed to be dropped to is cancelled, would that be a big problem for you?” would get a quick response “not at all” from most candidates obviously :-) it’s the real life that verifies it all.
I might go the infamous route of deliberately not showing up for skype chat with potential AP. I would call her with an apology saying that I won’t make it this evening and adding “you know, doing the job I do you can’t really avoid it, it happens more often than I would want to, I hope you’re ok with that” – and observe her reaction!
It’s not perfect, I know, AND makes me a liar, maybe someone has any better ideas….

TexasHM March 21, 2014 at 12:22 am

I would not do this to a candidate. I think you would lose an AP that is smart, self assured and responsible by doing this to them. I think the eye rolling goes back to immaturity. What do teens do when they don’t get their way or have to wait? Resent it or eye roll or tiff, it’s all immaturity to me.

exaupair March 20, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Personally I would not be put off by a candidate, who doesn’t work weekends – I consider weekends as my time with my own family anyway, to the point where I actually drop out of any last minute, sometimes very lucrative projects, that need to be done on weekend because of the Monday morning deadline, only to spend some quality family time.

I believe my personal attitude is the reason I probably wouldn’t consider an au pair as a childcare option. I would be somehow concerned about the time that potential lovely girl/boy would have with me. Because regardless on what impact the program puts on being a part of the family thing, and some amazing people sign up with really high hopes, it takes a certain kind of person to start treating a stranger as a family member.
When I say childcare I mean a nanny, and when I need flexibility I pay for it accordingly.

If i decided to go with the au pair program, I would be grateful and generous in return for some flexibility but I would not expect it….because when I pay for lets say 7 hrs/day of work I assume I will get no more and no less than that.
Maybe the thing is, that during the time I was an AP I was not expected to go above and beyond too. I think it was a fair trade because I had a wonderful time with the children, who I really really liked (again, not loved, they weren’t my children after all). We had some fun times, some sad times whenever one of them had their own little problems, I didn’t really thought I could learn so much from an 8 year old, but I was never expected to go extra mile. The parents got their money’s worth of childcare and I got my previously mentioned weekends off.

anon this time March 22, 2014 at 1:22 am

A little bit of a mantra of mine; there is an au pair for every family, and a family for every au pair.

I for one love my kids with every little bit of myself —even if I would not dream to be their mom at all. They are the most amazing kiddos in the world and years from now when they are old and have had lots of other APs, I’ll still see them as the little munchkins I cared for when they were still tiny little things.
Point in case was, what worked in your case certainly will not for others, while at the same time it could be the perfect arrangement for another family.

I’m very close to my hostfamily, and actually do not mind going the extra mile —they so do it as well, & every time I’ve needed anything from them, they’ve been there. They are family, so doing weekends if needed, or nights, it’s not a big deal -in my case.

Also, just as a side-note, even as a toddler I learned a whole lot from the kid I watched. Talk about having a 4yo correcting your pronunciation when way back when you met her she could barely speak in 3word sentences. I believe if you are open to it, you can learn a lot from children. We all need a little bit of that carefree spirit of them if you ask me, but anywho, just my two cents :)

Host Mom in the City March 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Here’s a thought I just had – I’m not screening for maturity, necessarily, but for integrity. My good au pairs wanted to be helpful and spent their energy thinking about how to do a good job. I didn’t mind when they made a mistake, because they always obviously felt badly about it and took steps to make sure the mistake didn’t get repeated. My bad au pair, in contrast, wanted to wiggle out if anything that didn’t involve her social life, and spent her energy trying to get away with doing things in a lazy way. She flipped to defensive mode when she made a mistake, which drove me crazy. Not so much the mistakes, but the unwillingness to take responsibility.

Maybe maturity comes hand in hand with integrity, but maturity implies age, or at least, life experience. I can take someone young if they truly want to go a good job. No matter how old or experienced an au pair is, if she don’t have integrity, it’s not going to go well.

Thoughts on this difference?

Should be working March 23, 2014 at 3:38 pm

A good point. I think “integrity” is a better word for that element that means that this is someone trying to do their best, and are the kind of person who does try to do her/his best. On the other hand, our last AP tried really hard and did want to do a good job, but she also took things too personally (like when my teenager spoke rudely to her) and was too emotional about some things (lots of ups and downs around her friendships). She was trying to do her best but was in some ways just limited. She was herself very much a teenager, a teenager with integrity and maybe the moodiness and ups and downs are where I would say maturity was lacking. Or maybe to make it less judgmental, a cool head.

TexasHM March 23, 2014 at 5:07 pm

So integrity by definition is honesty and strong moral character, but that’s not really what you reference in your examples. Those point toward resiliancy and maturity. Your example about defensiveness and unwillingness to take responsibility screams immature to me but maybe I’m the only one! :) we definitely don’t only screen for maturity and it’s not at all tied to age – our most mature was our youngest Ap (barely 22) and least was our AP that almost aged out before she came.
I do think life experience plays into it for sure. Current AP is a nurse and has treated drunk guys in the ER missing limbs so my youngest not wanting to finish her lunch doesn’t even register on her stressometer. :)

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