Interviewing: What questions should Au Pairs ask Families?

by cv harquail on August 18, 2010

Potential Au Pair Laura writes with a question about how to interview host families…. any ideas for her?

Hi, I’m from England and I am in the process of applying to be an au pair in the USA. I have not yet spoken to any host families, but will be soon. Any tips on what to ask?

I’m just quite nervous about getting it right, as it is the first time Ive done this.

What sort of things are host families looking for?

PA AP mom was first to reply, with this advice:

Julie on Flickr - Photo Sharing!_1254076862843.jpeg

As a former host mom, I recommend asking a lot of questions about where the family lives, what activities they enjoy doing a family and about the kids, their schools, activities, routines, etc.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you is BE HONEST when you speak to host families. If you don’t like driving in snowy conditions or on highways, just say so. It is much better to be upfront about it and find a host family that is right for you!!!

Taking a Computer Lunch offered some ideas:

As a HM, I definitely want to hear questions about the kids (although I must admit, HD likes to reveal all), but I also want to hear about what’s important to you.

One AP wanted help in finding piano lessons at a reasonable cost. Another AP made it clear that she was from a diverse community and was not interested in living in a place where she didn’t feel welcome (our community has no clear majority).

And darthastewart added:

You should ask questions about the family dynamics:

1. Kids’ personalities- how do they get along with each other?

2. What forms of discipline the parents use?

3. What they consider to be most challenging about their children?

4. What is the family’s typical day like??

5. What kind of hours would you be working.?

6. What are the HP’s looking for? Can they tell you? Would you be first ap, or one in a long line??

7. Typical activities? What does the family do in its leisure time?

Laura, as you prepare to interview host families, you should also be sure to check out these posts:

3 Questions an Au Pair should ask YOU to make a good match

Matching: What should a potential au pair tell you about herself?

What other advice do we have for au pairs who want to get the information they need to make a good match?

{ 18 comments }

EC August 18, 2010 at 9:38 am

Hey Laura,
I am in the process if interviewing with a family and looking like we are going to match if things continue to go well. One of the questions that I have found to be important is to ask what kind of a role the family would want you to play as an Au Pair. some families might just want you to entertain and be a playmate for the kids, but not do anything that would be seen as “raising” the children, while others might want you to be a partner in helping them to raise their children, with lots of space in between. If I were you I would figure out what sort of role you are hoping to play as an Au Pair and then ask families what they are looking for, that way you can figure out if they will be a good match for you.
It has already been said, but definitely ask about what the children like to do, favourite activities, personalities etc.
The last thing I would really recomend is to ask how much time the host family would hope you spend with them outside your work hours. If they are hoping for you to spend time with them as a family when you are not working and you are not, or vice versa, that could turn into a big issue. Again, work out what sort of a balance you would like to have, and ask families what they would be expecting/hoping for.
hope that is helpful

SotaGal August 18, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Well said EC :)

EC August 19, 2010 at 4:37 am

Checking up on me stacey? :)

SotaGal August 20, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Yup, better get used to it! ;)

California Moms August 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm

hi laura – just a few comments:

* i think the advice offered by the AP above is excellent. if the HF has hosted an AP before, ask about the style of the previous AP(s) relative to how much time they spend w the family in their off-time, whether they travel w the family, etc. how the HF has dealt w APs in the past will tell you a lot.

* you may want to clarify computer access up front. we’re getting ready to host our 3rd AP. AP #1 used the computer for about 1 hr each day and was fine w sharing the one in our family’s living room – at the time, the only one w an internet connection. we explained this to AP #2, but she is on the computer for 4-7 hours per day. we were fine w sharing (her use tended to occur when we didn’t need it), but within a few months she was asking for a connection in her room for additional privacy. this didn’t fit into our budget or plans and we said no. so consider your internet habits and see if you can fit into the family’s hardware and habits accordingly.

* i’ve heard from my agency that some APs don’t want to share a bathroom. this has worked for my 2 APs, but perhaps not for everyone. ask about this upfront if this is an issue for you.

Au Pair in CO August 19, 2010 at 12:29 am

The one question I wish I had asked, is any version of “How much liberty will you give me in scheduling and choosing activities/homework for the kids?”. I have a Bachelor degree as a kindergarten teacher, and over 3 years of full time work experience with kids, yet my host mom doesn’t trust me to decide anything on my own. I expected to be treated as an adult with valid opinions, and be able to have some input on how to do things, but I could just as well have been their 16 year old babysitter.

JBLV August 19, 2010 at 3:00 am

What a shame. It would be very nice to have that expertise in the home, and to be able to talk with someone about child development. My child is still quite young, but I hope when he gets older he has caregivers that experienced.

HRHM August 19, 2010 at 4:25 am

I think in addition to the above, to really solidify what your schedule will be. Some APs come expecting to be able to travel on weekends, only to find that they are working every weekend except the required one per month (your 1.5 days off need not be on the weekend and this can stink if all your friends have weekends off and your days off are mid-week) Or they expect to have evenings free, only to find that they work 3pm (after school lets out) until 1am either because the parents have shift work or need help in the evening.

Also, ask what kind of classes the previous AP took. What we found here is that despite their being 3 different universities, there was very little REAL classes our AP would be able to take. Some APs don’t mind just doing the weekend “travel classes” but our current AP really wanted something like literature or geography and ended up just taking TOEFL prep and ESL (she doesn’t really need either).

Au Pair in CO August 19, 2010 at 10:50 am

When asking about the schedule, I think it’s also important to ask how much the family expects the schedule to change during the year. My schedule has gone from 9-6 every day, to 9-10 and 12:30-8:30 every day, and that makes such a huge difference, as I’m no longer able to take the cheap ESL-classes, but have to find more expensive weekend classes instead (which the host family won’t pay extra for).

MommyMia August 21, 2010 at 12:56 am

Good point. Sometimes the family can’t anticipate the schedule changes at the time they are hiring, however. One of our main requirements in our au pairs is flexibility, because we can’t deal with someone who feels locked in to the sample schedule that we must provide when applying to an agency or whom insists on a 9-5 workday because “all the other au pairs have this.” I agree, that two hours off between 10am & noon is not conducive to taking classes, (there aren’t even any cheap ESL classes avaiable in our area at that time) and I as a host parent would work with you to help you complete the educational component as easily and inexpensively as possible, as I feel that’s one of my responsibilities. Have you spoken with your HF and LCC/LAR to see if any other options might exist?

Stephanie Felzenberg August 19, 2010 at 6:02 am

Are there any behavioral or developmental problems I should know about?

What are the living accommodations for live-in position?

What are the house rules and restrictions?

Will there be a curfew?

Will I have a separate phone line?

How will I pay for phone calls?

Will I have access to a computer for emailing?

Do you have a pet and will I be expected to care for the pet on top of my child care duties?

Do the parents work inside or outside of the house?

Does the family use video cameras to monitor the au pair and/or children?

Have you had a nanny or au pair before? If so, who was your best caregiver and why?

Why did the previous au pair or nanny leave the job?

What would you have changed about your relationship with the former au pair or nanny?

What type of relationship would you like the nanny to develop with the children?

What is the most important characteristic an au pair should posses to work well with your children?

How would you describe yourselves as parents and as individuals?

How would you describe your children?

Do the children have a dietary restrictions or health concerns that I should be aware of?

How do you discipline your children? What forms of punishment do you use?

How and when will we discuss discipline and issues that may come up with your children each week?

Will I be expected to drive?

Will there be a petty cash allowance available?

What activities are the children already involved in?

Will I be allowed to schedule the children’s activities during the day?

Will you travel? Will I be expected to accompany you?

Are you expecting any major life changes in the near future such as a newborn, change of job, or move into a new house?

Do you have other household help? May I speak to them?

What is your back-up plan if I am sick?

Would you allow me to speak with the previous au pair or nanny, a neighbor, or a relative for a reference about your family?

Deb Schwarz August 19, 2010 at 11:34 am

In addition to the questions that you see here… here are two that I think are very important:

1) What values do you think are most important for your children to learn? (and then tell them a little bit about what your parents taught you – their “mantras” as you grew up) – this shows some thinking beyond the box – and can also tell you about the family and if you are in sync on this very important area.

2) What do you think your former au pairs (or nannies) have enjoyed most/least about living with your family? Then – be sure to go on and ask to talk to at least one of their former au pairs/nannies. It never ceases to amazing me that host families check references, but au pairs rarely do. I always actively encourage au pairs that I’m interviewing to talk to our former au pairs – because they understand our family’s pluses and minuses better than anyone. If we all want it to be a good fit – then information is key.

Oh – and be sure to ask about the children – this is the #1 reason why they don’t hire an au pair. e.g. “All they wanted to know about is if there was a curfew, if they access to a car….and they never once asked me about my kids!”. (if I had a dime for every time I heard this complaint!). Host families love to talk about their kids – and if you don’t ask about them – then they assume that you aren’t interested in them which is a BIG turnoff.

Good luck!

Chatelaine Mom August 19, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Be sure to really read the materials in the host family application and what they send you. For me at least, it is a turn-off when prospective au pairs just repeatedly reiterate questions I had spent hours trying to answer in our profile and via email. (Different agencies and families will provide varying materials, of course–and this may be more for the 2nd interview).

The above posted questions are excellent. AP’s often had nothing to ask in our interviews, but it was great when they did, we got much more sense of personality, style, and enthusiasm level. When trying to come up with questions, the specific is often more striking and manageable than the general. “What would you like me to do with the kids?” is vague, broad, rather hard to answer succinctly or comprehensively, and does not give a sense of what you as an AP have to offer; formulating something more specific either from their clues and/or from your own background can lead to a more interesting conversation, e.g. “Do your kids like to sing? –should I bring my guitar?” or “I see from your picture that your daughter is holding a pink bunny, is that special to her?” or “On the internet I saw that your city has X, can you tell me about that?”

charley August 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm

hey im charley im also just about to start talking to families !!! if you wish to tlk it would be much appriciated!

Playmuckel August 28, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Ok my 5 cents to it:
I was totally blindsided by the new experience of having a match and the hostmom sounded great. Family interests were the same and yes they had an au pair which was on vacation during matching process. Right here I should have stopped and required to talk to the old one which happened 2 months later after everything was set in stone. Ok what she told me wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible either. I asked the usual questions like how does a day look like and I got an answer like yes he is so little so the day isn’t really planned and so on. Was I concerned? NO After I got there and met the old au pair and finally got my work scheduled told I was shocked. My hostmom never filled out the really schedule application she just wrote 9 hours every day. I had to get up at 4.30 every morning so she could see i was there when she was leaving the house. I also was never told that both hostparents are gone by 4.30 am and wouldnt return home till 6.30pm. I have to say ask stuff like that in every detail and if they are not willing to answer let go off them

Indi Au Pair to be May 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Hello, I know I’m late to the party but wanted to add a few things, I’ve compelled a list of questions to ask to the HF I’m being matched with. I made it available at CCAP’S Mexico facebook in the discussions part, topic: questions to ask!, some of them are already mentioned here but some aren’t. Overall great advise has been shared here. Also, it still surprises me to hear of girls not asking about the kids, but honestly those girls are caving their own graves! The other “hot topic” to ask about other than the kids and family life would ne the educational component, as it’s in my top 3 of appealing reasons to be an Au Pair. If you have available the name of your potential LCC I recommend to visit her blog and check the available colleges and classes! One can never be too prepared.
Thanks for all the imput!

Megan July 5, 2011 at 5:37 am

i was an Au pair 2 years ago the first family i was with was the best family great hours, laid back they were perfect there were no strict specific rules …but in the end i changed host family’s because the host mum was under a lot of pressure at work and would snap at me, so i i got placed with another host family on there application they sounded great the interview was great but when you live with them different story and i wished i had asked more specific questions because i was up at 5.00 -5.30am and would work till 8.00pm or longer and this was for 5 days a week, on top of that the children were not allowed to watch TV they were EXTREMELY hyper active no matter activity i did with them they would get bored and run CRAZY and ignore any of my rules and anytime i had a day off i was so exhausted i didn’t go out it was a miserable time so Au pairs ask potential host family’s for routines what hours you’ll be working and defiantly ask about the children what is most challenging about them, what are they like,what activities to they participate in etc

hbs July 23, 2011 at 2:40 am

this is very useful! thank you everyone for the inputs. I’m now applying to an HF who was first really interested in me, but lately the e-mail atmosphere seems so different. I’m afraid that they changed their mind to take me as their AP, afraid to lose them, because I really am interested with this HF indeed. but since this is my very first experience to apply for an AP program, I got really confused with what I should talk about to them more. I do really have a huge interest to their children, but in interview I rarely asked about the children! I just realized that after I read through my previous mails with them. then I googled about what best topic I could share or ask to the family, and I found this really helpful and I really hope they won’t turn me off.
an AP’s concern to the children is the very most important first thing that the HF look for.
wish me luck :)

Comments on this entry are closed.