Matching: Share one great interview question

by cv harquail on February 6, 2009

Okay Moms, I give in. I will take a deep breath, and open the floodgates, because it’s time to address the topic that every host parent cares about: "How can we get the best match possible?"

We have to take this one slowly, maybe even over a couple of months. There’s just too much to cover, and too many other pressing topics, for us to expect to get out all our advice and tips on matching right away.

Let’s start with some of the basics. How about we each share …

One Great Question when interviewing potential au pairs

matching cards

Some tips:

* Really go off the board with this one– think of something that never seems to make it onto the agencies’ "suggested questions list".

* Look at the questions already shared, so that we can avoid duplication and nudge ourselves to be creative.

* Link the question to something that you value in an au pair or au pair relationship– tell us why you think this question is important.

Ready? Go….


Deb Schwarz February 6, 2009 at 12:21 pm


Great question! After having 14 au pairs, I have my “go to” list of questions. I thinkt there are three areas that host families should concentrate on during the screening process: competency, character, and chemistry. Competency is fairly easy to get at by looking at the au pair’s experience and references, Chemistry is more difficult (I’m starting to think about using Skype video to help on that front), so I think that the one question that I like to share with is related to character. I see that as my kids get older (they are 8 to 10 years old now), our au pair becomes more or a role model, so I look very carefully at what the au pair’s family life is like (e.g. what the parents do for a living? – I always love it when they are teachers, as I think some of that gets transfered to the au pair by osmosis) – and here’s my “killer question” about character: “What values did you parents teach you as being most important in life?” I love hearing things like: “being generous”, “work hard no matter what”, “you can do anything”, “family comes first” etc.) In hindsight, our most current au pair told me that “being physically fit” was what her mom taught her as most important – which I thought was great at the time (I wanted someone sporty) but guess what? She works out 8 to 10 hours a day (whenever the kids aren’t in school) and I suspect that she has an eating disorder! I should have paid attention to that answer (along with the fact that she was sick for a year with an “immune problem”). My other “killer question” is “what three adjectives would your friends use to describe you?”. (can you tell I was a market researchers for 20 years? – I love questions!). I am in matching right now for our next au pair and I interviewed a candidate just the other day who told me that she only works in the afternoons right now (after school program) and that “suits her just fine”…….I could hear the big BONG go off in my head and I didn’t even get to my killer questions, despite the fact that her application looked amazing (25 year old bubbly Australia with a teaching degree). I’d be interested to hear other host mom’s “killer” questions…..! I think that the au pair program gets a bad rap sometimes because host families don’t take the time to properly screen candidates to see if they are a good character or competency fit for their families….so this is a very important topic!

cvh February 6, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Wow Deb- I love the “Competency, Character, Chemistry” categories– sets things up nicely so that you consider the package and not just one or two criteria. I’ve found that over the years I’ve believed less and less in our ability to screen beforehand and relied more on training & socialization…but that doesn’t mean screening and matching carefully are less important. And it’s much better to screen out candidates with characteristics that concern you than it is to ‘train these out’ once she arrives… thanks for your comment!

Dawn February 6, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Two of my most important questions are “lessons learned” from our bad experience with our first AP, who ended up going home after only 3 months. Neither is particularly original or creative, but I guess that’s the advantage of being among the first to answer — my questions haven’t been mentioned yet, LOL!

First I ask “do you have a boyfriend?” My preferred answer to this question is “no,” but a “yes” doesn’t automatically disqualify the AP — it just leads to follow-up questions like, “how long have you been together?” “How does he feel about your decision to become an AP?” and “How do you think you’ll handle being away from him for a year?” Our first AP had a very serious boyfriend at home, who was completely UNsupportive of her decision to be an AP. So she had very serious homesickness/separation issues, and every time she talked to him, his answer was “why don’t you just come home and move in with me?” NOT helpful!

The second question is about driving, because one of our AP’s duties is to drive our kids to their various afterschool activities and camps in the summer. There are a couple of driving questions (length of time, how often?) on the AP application, but I (now) always ask, “what kind of roads do you typically drive on? Do you have experience and are you comfortable driving in heavy traffic?” Again, this is a lesson learned from the first (failed) AP who had had her license for about 2 years, but we discovered that her only experience was on very small roads with NO other cars in sight. (Her town didn’t even have any traffic lights.) We live in a suburb — not in a huge or busy city — but she was completely freaked out by the idea of driving with other cars on the road, using turn signals, stopping at lights, merging into traffic, etc. My husband gave her almost daily driving lessons, but in 3 months we never got to the point where we would have felt comfortable with her driving with the kids in the car.

MK February 6, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I’ve also heard people ask “do you have siblings?” If an au pair was an only child, she might have difficulty relating in a big family. Also my AP comes from a divorced family, where she hasn’t seen her father in years. Ironically she never approaches my husband if she has an issue with him. She comes to me, the host mom and asks me to address it with him. I have sons, my au pair has sisters, basically a home of just women. Our AP has definitely adapted but as my boys grow older and more masculine I want an AP who has had at least one brother.

Marguerite February 6, 2009 at 7:38 pm

A good question to ask is ” How did you hear about the program and who suggested that you become an aupair ?”
An older sister who had a wonderful year in the USA as an aupair is going to give realistic balanced view. A ” sales rep ” from a travel agency who came to your school and said something like ” don’t know what to do with yourself next year ? ” is not necessarily the best source.
A boyfriend who is in military service at home for a year and said
” Listen, why do you think about becoming an aupair while I am away ”
is not a bad reference at all.
Everyone knows to ask about boyfriends. How about relatives here in the US ? All prospective host parents should ask about relatives stateside.
You can also ask ” do you have a favorite part of the United States ?
This is non- threatening enough to elicit an occasional answer like ” I have always wanted to live in Atlanta , Gerogia or Marin County California.
That is a red flag. Then you can ask, “Oh, do you have friends or relatives there ? Have you ever visited there? What are your favorite things to do there ?
From the point of view of the agencies, returning home at year end is a major part of these programs. People are supposed to take the skills and experiences they have acquired and share them at home. The goal is increased understanding of other cultures and spreading good will .
Ask her if she has been communicating with people in the US via chat rooms or blogs. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it will give you some clues as to her point of view and the input/advise she is receiving. If she arrives with a full social network unrelated to your program, that might be a problem. On the other hand, it might mean less homesickness.

Dawn February 6, 2009 at 7:57 pm

MK, that’s a really good point about siblings. Our current au pair doesn’t have any siblings, and it often upsets her when my two older boys fight — nothing major, just the normal sibling stuff. (But obviously, she doesn’t realize it’s “normal.”) Our current AP’s time is almost up, and our new AP has two older brothers, so I am hopeful that she will “get” the sibling dynamic more and have an easier time dealing with our kids when those kinds of issues come up.

Anna February 6, 2009 at 9:31 pm

With experience, things that I used to take for granted I now don’t, and the question arises of how to screen for them. Even though I agree that many things can be trained, some can’t. Like an au pair that after half a year with us and 6 months of me asking her to greet the children with a smile in the morning, or acknowledge them during the transition time with love, finally tells me “I cannot change who I am”.

So I’ve realized that I absolutely require the following:
– a happy person
– an extravert
– a self-confident person (not easily “wounded”)

How do you screen for that? Of course there are things that can help – photos, asking to describe yourself, how friends would describe them. But how do you screen for optimism, confidence, and happiness?

Should be working January 20, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I just turned down an excellent candidate, over whom I stewed for a week, because I couldn’t talk myself into feeling ‘just right’ about her. I think extrovert is precisely the word I was missing for what I am looking for. She was excellent but just not ‘out there’ enough for me to feel like she would fit with us (we are loud, interrupting, extroverts).

Rayann February 7, 2009 at 2:49 am

A couple questions that are specific to our household, but I think are important: How do you feel about the fact our family is atheist? We didn’t need an au pair that subscribed to our beliefs (of lack thereof), but we also didn’t want someone that was going to be talking about God or religious beliefs in front of our kids. They get plenty of that from the outside. We needed someone that respected that about our family.

Along a similar line, we ask: How do you feel about the fact we drink wine, at home, in front of our kids? We’ve found that some people think it’s evil that we drink in front of our kids. I grew up in a wine household, and it’s part of our lives – a hobby and passion of sorts. We host a wine group at our house, we take wine vacations, etc…. And because alcohol and drinking can be a sensitive topic for some people, we feel it important to ask that question.

cvh February 7, 2009 at 4:26 am

Rayann, the story I could tell you about religious differences…someday I’ll write it, and you all can gasp in horror. Here’s the title “Host Mom Told She Is Going to Hell, by well-meaning Au Pair who wanted to ‘save’ her”.
Yes, really.
The ‘wine drinking’ question is one I wouldn’t have thought of!

Angie February 7, 2009 at 6:44 am

Some of our important questions have to do with driving, family life and time. We have 4 children (preschooler, toddler & infant twins), so it is very important for us to have a safe driver to help transport the two older children back and forth to preschool & to play activities AND for the au pair to be able to drive herself to places. We ask how long she’s been driving, how often she drives, big car/small car, city/highway driving, is she comfortable driving an automatic or a manual? We’ve learned that just because you passed the driver’s test in your home country and you felt you were a good driver there doesn’t mean you are actually a good driver or are going to be able to pass it here!
We also ask if she has siblings and whether they are older or younger. We have found that having an au pair who is an only child or is the youngest child is sometimes not the most mature. If the au pair has younger siblings, she may be able to better relate to the things small children do and practice more patience (i.e. argue over the same toys constantly, push each other’s buttons for no reason, whine for no apparent reason, etc.).
We also ask if the au pair is a morning person and able to start her day early(without a wake up call and with a smile preferably). If she tells us that her mother or her grandmother would wake her up for school or work and she never uses an alarm clock, this is a red flag for us. Our children are early birds, so our day usually begins around 5:30am-6am and they are full speed ahead until naptime!

d February 7, 2009 at 7:20 am

Here are the things most important to us that we feel lay the groundwork for the major things covered.

1. Do you have a housekeeper? Do you have duties at home? Please explain what your duties are. Our experience is these girls with a regular house cleaner…don’t know how to take care of their own messes let alone childrens. A girl with responsiblities at home & helping take care of her family in the family unit is a good fit for an American Family

2. Like the previous comment said…are you a morning person? Girls that like to sleep in a lot at home……won’t do well in a early morning family. They awake grumpy & sometimes late. Or annoyed when awakened on weekends by kids playing which happens all the time in homes with small children.

3. Driving questions. Do you drive often, how often? Do you own your own car? How long have you driven? Do you have experience driving in a big city or on snowy roads? Have you had an accident before? Driving is the absolute key to having a good year in the USA. Keeps your kids safe & gives the girls freedom. If they can’t drive, can cause potential conflicts. Driving experience has to be 1-2 years for us minimum and a lot of driving at that.

4. Have you had a job before? Tell us about your job & what you did. What where the challenges? What did you like. Someone that has never had a job before & supported by their parents the entire time…. has a hard time adapting to a full time job caring for kids in the USA. Its possible these girls can sometimes recieve more pocket money at home than they do in stipend. This evaluates work ethic & ability to take on such a big task.

5. How do you like to keep your room at home? Perfect & tidy or it’s OK to be messy since it’s your private space. This helps determine their respect for the home in general. Keeping their room messy like a bomb hit within their own home … not something fun to deal with as a host family. But also too..if they can’t keep their own private space decent… can they keep the house tidy or toys picked up?

6. If the baby is crying & hurt, the 3 & 4 year old are fighting & the doorbell rings. How would you handle that situation. Ask lots of real world questions. This determines how much true experience they have. Like “what would you do if you were driving & the boys are fighting or takes off a seat belt” How would you handle those difficult situations when the 4 year old is throwing a tantrum?

7. Explain your relationship about your family. What have they taught you that is most important in life? Family is a big thing in terms of character. How would others describe you? How would your teachers describe you?

8. Ask about their party life. :)

9. Ask if they are OK driving long distances to travel? Often times these girls are surprised by how far we travel to see family and don’t like to be in the car that long.

I have 50 more of these questions. :) LOL I love questions! You can never ask enough!!!! I also thought of having our au pair come up with 10 of her own….to get her angle of view. :)

Chris February 7, 2009 at 8:25 am

Once we get past the basic screening questions (experience with at least 4 children, driving experience, where we live and local information, etc), one of our best questions involves a specific scenario. It needs to come after our basic information exchange, and it is a very detailed specific example of a real (or potentially real) situation. It is important that this comes in a second round of questions because it needs to be set up. In the first few exchanges we describe a typical day in our lives and some of the activities and things that are important to the children – for example, 2 of our children are competitive swimmers and they have swimming practice 4 times/week. We ask the question: “how would you handle this situation” and then describe absolute chaos where EACH of the children need something very specific and very different all at the same time – I know you can picture the perfect event now – all of the children needing different solutions, all needing them NOW… Just pick your best memory of chaos. (note, this is easy for us with 4 children; 3rd grade, 1st grade, and preschool twins).
Take that situation and pair it with “to stay on schedule it needs to be resolved now” for example its 5 minutes until you need to leave the house for an event (hence the setup, it helps if this is a regular or important event, like swimming practice for us…). What we are are looking for here is the ability to recognize what is really important, ability to prioritize, and ability to make instant and on the fly decisions – are they prone to panic or are they prone to manage a situation. This question is best asked real time (not by email) through skype or telephone so you can get a real time response. For us on this question there are no right answers, but there are plenty of wrong answers. One of the best answers so far has been “it depends” followed up with knowing each of the kids personalities directly would help her know where to start first. (Note, if your children happen to help you along with this one, it can be especially helpful if you are asking this question by phone or skype and something like this really happens in the background…, not that this has happened to us or anything…)

Another favorite set of questions includes: what is your biggest strength/weakness, what is your biggest concern or fear about becoming an au pair, and do you work better with specific detailed instructions and rules or with general guidelines and principles. This last one helps us with the introduction period after arrival with setting expectations and general rules and guidelines.

Ann February 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

“Why do you want to come to the USA and what are your plans when you go back to your home country?” If she has a serious structured goal and personality I think it’s a better experience for everyone and a great role model for the kids. Let’s face it, the au pair job can be a lot of hard work for little money. And to some older au pairs it can feel like a wasted year when their home country peers have a year more career / resume experience under their belt. So they need non-monetary rewards that will give meaning and motivation to their US experience – and that the host family can help them find. Both of my au pairs have been older (over 22) young women, recent college (bachelor’s degree) graduates from their home country. The first had a degree in teaching English – we found a way for her to volunteer as a literacy tutor at the local library in her spare time. And she took a master’s level literature class at a local university. The second one has a geography degree and is planning to enter a master’s program when she gets home. We found an urban planning course for her and a chance to give an academic speech to a local organization about the geographic culture of her home district that will help her with the master’s program requirements. It’s also easier to explain the transition to our child, saying “Well, Au Pair X wanted to be your au pair for one year, but now it’s time for her to return home to become a teacher because that is what she studied at university.”

sunnyvah February 7, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I would also ask since when she wants to be an au pair/what are her reasons for it, sth that tells you that she really thought about it and also thought about the down-sides.
I personally don´t think it´s bad if someone decides very shortly and because she maybe doens´t know what to do after school to become an au pair, but I think it should be thought- through (can I say it like this?).
I met au pairs who decided very shortly and they did a good job. I did it, because I wanted to be abroad for a while and I wasn´t sure what to study.
BUT I think you should really know what it means to be an au pair and preferable get some additional information besides the agency stuff.

E2 February 8, 2009 at 10:12 am

Do you have a maid at home?
We never thought to ask this question until our last au pair from Brazil (who lasted a month and a half). Unfortunately, we found that the work ethic and expectations of someone who has never really had to work and has had someone picking up after her for 21 years did not fit with our expectations of an au pair.

Bruna February 9, 2009 at 6:19 am

As an ex-au pair, from Brazil, I thought I could give you some highlights on the maid question. Having a maid doesn’t always mean that the person doesn’t know how to pick up after herself. I’ve always always had a maid at home, I had NEVER done my own laundry until I set my foot in the US. My parents always told me and my sisters that we should read a book, study or practice something instead of doing housework. It’s just a matter of having something more important to do. Of course I would help my mom on weekends and I made my bed everyday. I went to the US knowing I was going to have to handle my mess + children’s mess. And I did it. I really don’t think it is a matter of having a maid or not. Lazyness (sp?) is much more related to character. Tip: ask the au pair about her parents, her siblings, try to understand her family’s dynamics.
And then, I think it is very important to ask her about her future goals. I saw my year in the US as a gap year. I had already done 2 years of engineering in one of the best universities in Brazil (I was 20). I was a little tired from studying like crazy for SATs and then tons of college exams and all that and wanted to take a break. I had my degree to get, responsibilities to get back to. I also wanted to learn french, which I did by studying engineering in Paris for a year one year after I came back to Brazil from my au pair year.
Make sure your au pair has a goal in life. That she sees her studies as a really important thing. Make sure (or at least try to) that she’s not doing it to stay in the US forever. I had friends who signed up for this program because they didn’t have anything to do in their home countries, no perspective of a great future.
Well, that was it.

Anna February 9, 2009 at 6:11 pm

I agree with Bruna about a maid. Our first wonderful au pair had a maid at home too (most middle class families in Brazil do), but she had a great attitude, and she was older and already working in Brazil, so she knew what hard work is and was willing to learn.
I am now realizing that to me it is important than an au pair has college education or in the middle of one, and has goals in life – Brazil is a county of great inequality, so families where parents are college educated and kids go to college are almost guaranteed to have hired help.

Calif mom February 9, 2009 at 9:34 pm

6. above in d’s post is really critical. Describe a ‘worst case scenario’ for au pairs (or parents) and ask open ended question about how they would respond. Using Skype for the next interview is a GREAT idea.

We also suss out sibling relationships and basic domestic skills. All she has to do is kids’ laundry, her own laundry, and tidying. Frankly, immaculate floors and labeled kitchen shelves are not something you will find in my house, so we need to be sure that we screen out princesses who can’t deal with a little clutter that comes with kids and a 2-income home. I’m not a compulsive housekeeper. Also relevant is that we have an old home that isn’t as fancy as her friends’ will probably be. We offer other perks, like great food and a nice car, and kids who will tutor her language skills on a just-in-time basis.

Au pairs reading this article and comments, please don’t think that asking about a maid at home — or any of these other questions — necessarily means that you are automatically disqualified. It just means that we have to ask more questions to make sure that a candidate is not a spoiled princess and has the maturity to handle an au pair year and the skills to be able to join our family and succeed.

I am sure that the young women who are on this website are unlikely to fall into that category, because they are clearly engaged in this experience to a degree that no princess would ever bother getting!

It’s important to listen for hints that an au pair candidate has been ill for a length of time — one person above mentioned ‘immune disorder’, I encountered (an ultimate re-match) who had lived with grandmother in the mountains as a child because she was often sick. It’s not a deal-killer, but should be a yellow flag. Here’s the distinction: it is not an illness itself that might prevent someone from being a fine au pair, it is their reaction to that illness, and how they may have come to think of themselves as victims of it, that can color their ability to have a successful, enjoyable au pair year. I know many diabetics and asthma sufferers who fall into the ‘chronic health problem’ category, but have fire in the belly to not let these issues defeat them. They would be great au pairs! It’s the fire that a host family needs, not another dependent or someone with a victim mentality.d

I also ask “what do you think the hardest part about your au pair year will be?”

Tex February 9, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Feel free to edit – I realize this may be too long, but I am fresh from a drawn out interviewing marathon. After pulling my hair out for weeks, I finally got in a groove and figured things out. Here’s where I landed on this one after much inefficient bumping along.

– FAMILY ORIENTED. I stopped pursuing any application with zero photos of the girl’s immediate family. These young girls are putting together snapshots of what they consider the best/most appealing parts of their lives and I wanted a girl who felt that way about her family.

– HER QUESTIONS TO ME. I encouraged her to ask me questions and soon realized that what she asked me was often times more important than how she answered my questions. Her first questions should be about your children. If her questions didn’t demonstrate that she was truly interested in my children, I moved on. I was surprised that some girls immediately wanted to know if they would have a car, a cell phone, TV in their room, etc. – but never asked about the kids.

– REFERENCES. Who are they and how long have they known her? I chose candidates whose references had known her a long time and included at least one teacher or school principle type person – and family or friends didn’t count. Girls who use their teachers as references instead of family friends are usually pretty good girls. I called every single reference and sat and listened to them answer open ended questions like “tell me what kind of girl she is.”

– SKYPE. I wouldn’t consider matching with anyone that had not skyped (with webcam) twice with me and at least once with the rest of the family. It’s the next best thing to meeting at Starbucks for a chat. The girl we matched with went to a family friend’s house to Skype since her family didn’t have a webcam.

-WANTS TO TAKE CARE OF MY AGE CHILDREN. This is one I never thought of until I read the blogs of other au pairs. I was surprised by how many au pairs are simply not partial to children of a certain age, but accept positions with host families whose children are in that age range. This is a question I asked every reference: “what age children do you think Susi would be best suited for and why?” I also asked the girls that question.

– SPEAKING TO THE CHILDREN. I learned so much after I started putting the candidate on the phone with my kids. This became my test you have to pass before you graduate to the Skype call. If your kids are even close to old enough I think this is a must. I stood nearby so I could tell how things were going. A couple of candidates that I thought were going to be “the one,” bombed on this test. If you hear awkward silences, and then “where’s your mom” like I did with one girl – re-evaluate. The girl we matched with kept asking my children questions. She never ran out of things to ask them. And she asked them in a bubbly excited way. Everything from what did you do today to tell me about your cat, to do you like chocolate?

Jeana February 10, 2009 at 4:08 am

I love hearing suggestions about interview questions! “How much sleep do you need to feel rested?” I want to make sure that I have an idea about this so I can communicate a curfew. I’ve had aupairs I need this with, and aupairs I don’t. I start with a curfew. “How do you plan to spend your time when you’re not working?” This was an issue with two aupairs of ours who were removed from the program. I can’t handle party aupairs; it doesn’t work with our family. I’m raising two young girls, and really value a good role model. “Do you know anyone in the US?” Again, something I learned through an unfortunate experience. One aupair arrived Thursday evening, and was off for the first weekend, with friends from her home country. It was downhill from there.

Jennifer February 10, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Some areas we have found useful to delve into

1. Get a good sense of the family the AP grew up in. Get a sense of the relationship with parents and siblings. How was the AP nurtured and disciplined? Patriarchal, matriarchal or egalitarian household? Best and worst memory of family life… How the AP was reared is how she will treat your child(ren).

2. Child questions- ask before the AP knows about your family – what is the AP’s favorite age and why. What kind of role would AP serve for the child(ren)- playmate, teacher, parent, etc… and how who she do that?

3. Get a sense of the AP’s ability to adapt and build community in a foreign land. Ask particularly about HOW the AP makes friends. ( Our current AP stated she “makes friends easily”, but had the misguided belief that all she had to do was get dressed up and walk down the street shaking her booty. Not very effective in suburbia.)

4. Get a sense of hobbies, interests and ability to be a self starter. Would this AP be able to create a meaningful life for herself?

5. Transportation. Can the AP handle driving? For our family , the AP does no driving with our child, but needs to be able to get around on her time off. We’re OK if she won’t drive, but she better be a public transit maven or make friends with cars quickly. We are not a taxi service.

6. Look at the picture collage. If there are club pictures with scantily clad friends, we say -NEXT. Even if she says “I’ve grown out of that”, then why is she using it for the collage?

7. Asking about boyfriends and smoking is essential but often useless. In two cases, we had APs lie about both issues. Agencies at times coach AP candidates to lie about boyfriends, smoking and substance use. Always ask, and any hesitation should count as a yes.

8. If you have pets, screen carefully. We had a candidate say that she “respected” dogs and “didn’t mind” them , but later confessed she found them frightening and dirty. Not a good match.

9 . Get a sense of preconceived notions about day to day life as an AP. If the AP doesn’t have a realistic sense of what lies ahead, she needs to know. We email an outline of the daily routine and expectations so there is no misunderstanding that being part of the host family is actual work as well as fun.

The list continues….

Calif mom February 10, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Well, Jeez! No wonder we’ve gotten stuck with a couple bad matches! You all are brilliant. Next go ’round is going to be much more thorough on my part, less relying on my instincts.

You still never know — our very fave AP (whom we got thru rematch) confessed to me after she was headed back home (after extending with us) that for her phone interview that got her her first family, she had her dad listening on the line. Her English was so bad (and it was bad when she got here — we basically used sign language at first) that her Dad wrote down answers for her to say in English. She would definitely not get past the screening outlined above, which kind of makes me sad, because she was an awesome au pair for us. (and yes, a party girl, but our kids were so little then so it washed over them and she was able to both party and be extremely responsible. I think that’s a rare combo.) I agree that once the kids are in first or second grade you need to be more careful about role modeling; I also think that role modeling is one of the GREAT aspects of the au pair program, as opposed to hiring live-out nannies (at least in our metro area).

It’s very important to make sure the AP has actual experience with groups of kids your kids’ ages at the age they will be. Some people can’t handle elementary kids at all — especially if you have a wide gap between kids it can be very difficult diplomacy. For us, patience of Job is a requirement! : )

Edina Stone February 20, 2009 at 10:58 pm

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Maya February 21, 2009 at 4:02 am

For my next AP, I will want to get an idea of how she multitasks and how she would handle tasks such as prepping lunch, laundry, cleaning after herself and kids, feeding kids, doing homework, while getting kids to their after school activities. To get these things done you need to have time management skills and be able to multitask.

Something, my current AP is lacking. She does one thing at a time and as such she complains that she does not have to do everything we ask her to do and therefore kids have unwashed laundry, their towels/sheets are not changed, and my kitchen is a disaster zone with things left out, not cleaned up, counters and table covered in food, and pots that have been cooked in are left out for days all over the kitchen (we found out that after we left her alone in the house for 4 days).

Dawn February 23, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Yikes, Maya. I know you recently rematched — I’m so sorry that you’re already having problems with the new AP. Asking interview questions about multitasking sounds like a good idea for the future, but I wonder if maybe you could help resolve the current problem by writing up a more detailed schedule of when/how you expect the AP to get things done? Ideally, she should be able to manage her time/duties herself, but since she seems to be lacking that skill, maybe a bit more guidance would help you avoid another rematch? Hopefully, since she’s already complaining that she “doesn’t have enough time” to do everything, she might see additional guidance as helpful and not micromanaging.

(I’m picturing something like:

“8:00am, give the kids their breakfast. While they eat, please be sure to wipe down the kitchen counters and put away all the food that you took out. When they finish, help them rinse their dishes and put them in the dishwasher.”

“The kids are allowed to watch television for 30 minutes per day. While they are watching television, this is a good time to start a load of laundry and straighten the playroom.”

etc. (Obviously, I don’t know the ages of your kids or what your rules/schedule are, but it sounds like maybe you need to be very specific about where the “windows” in the day are when she can take care of some of her household duties.)

Good luck! (Is she working out well otherwise? How is she with the kids? I hope you’re not heading for another rematch — fingers are crossed for you.)

Maya February 23, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Dawn, I already do the detailed daily schedule. It helps some, but obviously not completely. Don’t get me wrong, I like my current AP. She is a nice girl and she is hard working and does what we want her to do, not what is easier for her, like my old AP.

I think what I am not used to with her and was different with my old AP is that my old AP did not eat, ever. So when kids ate, she did other things. This AP eats when kids eat. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not imply that my AP should not eat. This is just how it is, so she cannot do things while kids eat, and she usually eats longer then kids so when they are dont with their breakfast or dinner she is still at the table. By the time she is done, it is time for the next thing, and she doesn’t have time to clean up. We are working on it.

This weekend, the new household law was laid. After the mess that she created last weekend, my husband and I spend the whole Saturday cleaning the house and I told AP that I know that I have not been the best example in terms of neatness, but we all need to change and we all need to pitch in, and therefore, starting this week, all memebers of the household, including her, will be doing better job of cleaning after themselves.

We’ll see how it goes.

D February 27, 2009 at 10:09 pm

I came up with another question. Seeking a way to inquire about their willingness & adaptability. In other words…”can they do as the romans do” and “be fine with it”.

The household values of your host family may be very different than your own. How do you feel about that? How would you comply or adapt to those differences?

Franzi March 5, 2009 at 2:36 am

i like the questions you came up with! they would have been great for my interview.

however, i think the point that Calif mom raised about language is important. if you want a candidate to describe herself with 3 adjectives it will be very difficult, i think, to come up with the right words.
the interview situation is very exciting and stressful and because it’s in English, many non-natives might draw a blank and only come up with “happy, nice, funny” etc. that’s not helpful in your search for a competent au pair.

a question i would raise is, how important it is that the family provides “luxury items” such as car to personal use, tv in au pair room, cell provided by host family etc.

unfortunately, i have come to believe that many wannabe au pairs are keen on these items where the most important reason should be taking care of kids in a foreign environment.
i think it is important to point out that the au pair program is about childcare and not about having some easy access to living in the states for a year or two.


JenBug March 25, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Thanks for all the questions!! I’d like you to know how helpful it really is. Some of you said, “obviously, everyone knows to ask about…” and they weren’t things on my list (like boyfriends and road conditions). So thank you. And any of you that have a long list that you are dying to share with a newby… I’d be grateful.

Jillian April 3, 2009 at 4:17 am

I’m really late to this conversation, I just found this website, but here’s my two cents:
The 2 topics I learned to ask about are:
*Religion – we are a religious family with dietary constrictions. The au pair needs to respect our beliefs and our kitchen and not try to convert anyone.
*Activity level willingness – my kids want someone who will jump in puddles, get in the swimming pool, and chase them in the park. Our first au pair would take the kids outside but want to sit down and watch rather than be involved in the play.

Thanks ladies!

Maya April 19, 2009 at 8:31 am

I have a question about matching with an extension Au Pair.

What would you concentrate on when looking at extension candidate? What questions specific for an extension AP would you ask?

Please help.

Franzi April 19, 2009 at 2:56 pm

@ maya, an extension au pair should certainly be asked about her year, her experience with the kids, their demands, the family, her travels, why she wants to extend, why she would want to move to your town, why she doesn’t start an education back home (valid question for western APs at least), what she plans to do after her second year.

i would ask those questions in several ways to find out if you’d end up with a “marry anyone to stay” AP or with someone who really enjoys APing and is extending because it will help her in life (eg education back home, language skills).

also, the way she talks about her current host family will clue you in on how she will be talking about you. how does she handle conflicts with the host parents? how is her level of communication?

does she have a blog? what about family and friends coming for a visit? how do they feel about her staying for another year? how does she handle homesickness?
i would be careful to signals that she has no attachment to home and sees the AP year as an opportunity to “run away”. but that goes for regular APs as well, not only those in extension.

sunnyvah April 19, 2009 at 3:08 pm

I would also ask her what she “learned” from her first year? What does she want to do different? Even when you had a great family and a good relationship- there are always things you would do different (same for HP, isn´ t it?) I know my first experience definitely helped me to choose my second family.

Dawn April 20, 2009 at 5:24 pm

We’ve never been in the position of interviewing extension APs, but I’m wondering if you’d be allowed to also talk to the AP’s current Host Family? That seems like it would be a great “resource” if it’s permitted.

One thing I would want to know, both from the AP herself and the HF if you can talk to them, is why she’s not extending with them. I guess the “ideal” answer would be that the family adored the AP and would have loved her to stay, and the AP loved the family and considered extending with them, but wanted to experience another part of the U.S. If the AP chose not to extend because of “issues” with the host family, you should probably consider whether your family is different enough that she won’t have those same “issues” with you. Similarly, if the HF chose not to extend because of issues with the AP, you’ll need to think about whether you’d be bothered by the same things that bothered them. (But perhaps, the same things that bothered them would make her the ideal AP for your family! For example, an AP who really embraces the “part of the family” aspect of the AP experience might be perfect for some families, but that could be a problem for a family that prefers more alone-time without the AP.)

Good luck — the perfect AP for you is out there, I just know it. (After a series of good-not-great APs, we finally have our *perfect* AP, so it gives me a whole new perspective on how great things can be if you find the right match! I won’t “settle” for good-not-great again!)

Maya April 20, 2009 at 5:32 pm

Thank you Franzi, Sannyhav, and Dawn.

I am calling my agency today to see if I can talk to the matching coordinator to discuss these things.

One way or another, I want to start getting new applications within days and I would prefer to see both new and extending AP’s.

Mom of 2 Girls April 20, 2009 at 10:15 pm

Ditto all the above, and definitely ask to see both types of apps. Sometimes a new AP will stand out, and could even be a better choice than a “burned-out” extension AP with no ambition who isn’t eager to return to her home country for whatever reason. We had an interesting experience a few months ago where our former AP wanted to extend, said she’d like to stay with us, but we were ready for someone new for various reasons. I carefully worded my referral, was honest but not enthusiastically praising for any particular area, as she was just “average.” I hoped that the prospective families would call me to discuss her, but the new family who selected her didn’t; only the two counselors spoke. Our current AP was most eager to speak with the former one, yet we were hesitant because we didn’t trust that she would be truthful and might sway the new one negatively because our older daughter really disliked her (again too many reasons to go into here). Luckily, she seems to have said good things about us, but we fear she also may have told her many things to try to get away with or take shortcuts with, although we had already started compiling our handbook, writing down many rules that we wanted to be sure were understood from the beginning. I think it’s best to tell new candidates that if they’re in your final 2 or 3 that they may contact your current AP (may not apply in your case, however, Maya!) and if possible, “coach” her to be honest, but not get into specific rules or ways of doing things; tell them that the Host Parents will explain and go over all that with them. General overview of the daily routine, how much driving, what there is to do on time off, etc. are all good topics to go into.

Calif Mom April 21, 2009 at 2:18 am

My advice would vary depending on whether you are a new host family or not. I think it might be hard for a new-to-hosting family to be matched with an experienced AP. A lot of first-time host family learning can be softened when your AP is also new to APing, if that makes sense!

APM April 21, 2009 at 5:02 am

For comments about extension APs, go straight to:

Nicole February 10, 2010 at 1:50 am

We are considering getting our first au pair. We are pretty sure this is the route we want to go and this blog has been incredibly helpful. I haven’t seen any mention of political viewpoints and was wondering if people ask about this when interviewing a candidate. My husband and I are socially and fiscally conservative, and many of the au pairs we are looking at come from pretty liberal societies. I think a healthy debate about political viewpoints is wonderful, but I would like to know if the person we select can see our viewpoints and not think we are out in left field (or right field in our case). I also wouldn’t want to have them feel uncomfortable in a house like ours where politics is discussed daily. Any thoughts are appreciated!

CV February 10, 2010 at 6:33 am

HI Nicole-
Politics are one of the topics coming up this week– so hold on! more soon,

Anonymous February 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

You discuss politics daily? If I wasn’t such a total socialist, you’d be my perfect family :D

Anna February 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

I would not require similar political views, but I would go the route of full disclosure and tell her exactly what your views are, and how much time every day you spend talking about politics. In fact, put it in writing in your family essay and send it to her. If she is not comfortable with that, she should tell you.
We are a kosher jewish household, we have particular rules about food, kitchen etc. We don’t require our au pairs to be of a certain faith or the strength of attachment to their religion… We tell them in great detail what our life is like, and we end up getting girls who can live with that comfortably. Most of them have been catholic Brazilians, one spiritist Brazilian – they are not too religious, but spiritual (i.e. understanding), open minded, respectful and they like Jews in Brazil.
But we do some pre-selection based on our knowledge and assumptions, so I for example would not even call a candidate who mentions in her application that she is an active evangelical christian..
So in your case, if a girl mentions on her application that she is a politically active liberal, I would probably not call her in the first place though.

AnonHM February 10, 2010 at 1:31 pm

In my experience reading hundreds of applications over three years and interviewing dozens of candidates, I find that none ever mentions politics, and only about half of those who state a religion talk about practicing it. My husband loves to discuss politics (me not so much) and is always eager to engage new AuPairs in an exchange or comparison of politics in our countries, but finds that for the most part, most are blissfully ignorant of the world. So the “cultural exchange” component is often overrated, in our opinion.

Sara Duke February 10, 2010 at 2:31 pm

In my nine years in hosting an au pair, not one has expressed more than a passing interest in American politics, and few read have read news section of the newspaper (all have mastered the movie and TV listings fairly quickly). If we point out an article about their country to them, they will usually read it and have an opinion on it. We live near Washington DC and only one AP has ever gone to an inauguration. Most of the women with whom we have shared our house were just beginning to formulate their own political opinions, and were a mixture of conservative and liberal, depending on the issue.

You have to decide whether or not having an AP interested in politics is important to you. If she fails to engage in your daily discussions, will you feel put out? If she expresses outright boredom, will you feel insulted?

I disagree with the other poster about putting it in your letter. I don’t know about your agency, but APIA au pairs do not see the HF letter until after the match. APIA uses the letter to screen for APs that have characteristics that the family desires. I do not recall ever seeing a discussion of politics in AP application letters.

Better to save your political interests for an introductory email or your telephone interview. You’ll need to decide how important it is, in order to put the proper emphasis on it. You mention that you want the AP to be receptive to your ideas. Are you willing to have your children be receptive to her ideas? It’s part of the exchange.

zanon February 10, 2010 at 5:42 pm

I just found this posting and wanted to share a technique I use to gain some insight on an AP’s character, personality, goals, and motivation. After talking with a potential AP several times on the phone and sharing information about my family, one of the last questions I ask is to have the AP describe what they foresee a typical day would be like as an au pair with my family. I give a detailed example of what a typical day is like for one of my kids starting from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night.

For example, Timmy wakes up at 5 am and comes into mom and dad’s room. Mom hugs Timmy and makes him breakfast. Mom leaves for work and au pair is on duty. Mom comes back from work. Mom gets update from au pair about the days events. Au pair is off duty. Dad and Timmy play together. Timmy goes to sleep.

I also give an example of what a typical day is like for me or my spouse. I ask this question via email so the AP can respond with a lot of detail. I like this question because it forces the AP to consider and think about what they think their experience will be like in the US and what they want their experience to be like in the US.

The AP’s response tells me many things. How would they like to fit into my family? Are they writing that they want to have dinner with us or are they planning to go out all the time? How do they foresee themselves interacting with the kids? Are they writing about watching the kids or participating with the kids in activities? What kinds of activities they foresee themselves doing with the kids? Are these activities worthwhile for my kids? What does the AP like to do for fun? Are they writing about listening to music in their room at night or going out to meet friends? Is the AP a morning or evening person? Are they writing that they wake up at 4 am and get many activities done before coming on duty or are writing about staying up late at night.

This question also allows me to adjusts expectations with the AP before they arrive and serves as a basis for further conversation. For example, if they write that they plan on walking to the coffee shop to meet friends, I need to set them straight since I live in a suburban area with nothing within walking distance of my home.

If I later match with the AP, I can look back to this question and see if the AP put into practice what the AP envisioned. If there’s a disconnect then it’s time to have a conversation with the AP to see what’s wrong or with one of my APs, go into rematch because what they wrote greatly diverged from what was occurring in a typical day.

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