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

by cv harquail on October 23, 2009

Coordinating with the previous posts about questions an Au Pair should ask a potential host family, what would you like an au pair to tell you about herself?


There are perhaps 4,387 categories of things that an au pair could tell you about, so challenge yourself to offer maybe the top 2 or 3…

This is prompted by an email from a soon-to-be Au Pair:

Hi Au Pair mom!

I am 18 and from an English-speaking country. I will soon be entering the matching process with (agency). I have been reading reviews and blogs and trying to get my head around everything, I am really nervous now, but still excited about picking a family. In my application I made a few requests: Non Smokers, Limited Indoor Pets, etc. My preferred locations were NY or California.

I was wondering if you had any tips for me when speaking to families. I want to really be part of the family, (eat meals together, help with the cooking, walk the dog etc) and would never be one of those au pairs that comes home late or gets drunk (even though I am legal here, I dislike clubbing/drinking etc). All in all, apart from a few things like not eating fried food or lamb, and wanting a good nights sleep occasionally, I would be a pretty easy to manage au pair.

Are these things I am supposed to mention to the family? What types of things should I ask them? Is it okay to mention that I would like to spend my 2 week vacation traveling with my family who will come visit me? Is it okay to mention that at one point my Nanna would like to come see me? (I am her only grand daughter). Obviously I wouldn’t expect her to stay with us or anything.

I am unsure of what to look for in a family to have a successful year, so I would love to know what to concentrate on. Thanks for your help, you have a really great blog and the comments are so inspiring.   Thanks!

Related post: R.T.F.M. Making sure your Au Pair Reads the Family Manual


Emma October 23, 2009 at 2:27 am

I stressed about the same things when waiting to interview with a family. And I thought the first interview was soo awkward- discussing living for a year with this family I’d only emailed with briefly? So strange! Everything you want in a family that was not mentioned in the application should be brought up. The kids, the kids, the kids. If they are old enough to speak and you have a common language ask to speak to them; you will be spending most of the next year of your life with the kids, you want to make sure you are a good fit for them. Also ask: what kind of relationship the family expects from you (family member, roommate, employee, place in between,) how they take their dinners (family meals, everyone fends for themselves,) what a typical work day would look like, what their town/city is like. That’s really huge to making sure you will have a good year with a family that is right for you.

In addition, everything you wanted to write in an application or that you worry about should be brought up. No matter how rounded we try to look in our applications, often they come up very flat and one-dimensional. In my application I noticed that I came across as very Betty Crocker ish. Which I am (I cook, I knit, I dress conservatively,) but I also am politically active, tattooed, and tend to be rather outspoken and/or always-think-I’m-right about issues I am passionate about. So I made sure my HF was aware of these things before matching both to avoid major personality conflicts and to ensure they really knew who was coming to live with them.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with mentioning how you intend to spend your two week vacation. It is your business either way, but I’m sure they’d like to know. And it is a good idea to mention that your Nanna would like to visit, though you can wait until closer to matching to bring that up; it doesn’t need to be one of the first conversations. Both of these things show you as very family-oriented and your HF would probably like to see that.

When I applied I had no idea what I was looking for in a HF, just that I wanted one I could fit into (though I didn’t know what that really meant either.) The best thing you can do is to get on skype or the phone or whatever and talk talk talk to the HF. Ask every question that comes to mind and always pay attention to your gut instincts. When the right family comes along, you’ll know.

aussie mum October 23, 2009 at 7:35 am

I think it is vital to inform your potential host family of any medical issues that may affect your role as an Au Pair. So I now request applicants to supply a Medical Certificate to reassure me that she is fit and healthy for the position. My last AP said she would supply me with one on her arrival in Australia. A couple of days after her arrival, she still hadn’t given me her certificate, so I asked her for it. She said it was upstairs in her room and she would get it for me later. For weeks, she evaded the topic and kept giving me different excuses as to where it was…it was lost, her mother had it back in Finland, the doctor was really busy and didnt have time to write it, her mother was too busy working so she couldn’t chase it up…and it went on and on. I knew she was trying to hide something and this made me even more uneasy. In the end, after 5 weeks here, she said she had it on email but her mother instructed her to just show me the letter on her laptop as opposed to giving me a hard copy. I demanded that she email it to me. She argued with about it…she really didnt want to show me. Finally she relented and emailed it to me. I was angry but not surprised that the letter was not genuine but forged instead. I fired the AP that very day. She may have had some medical condition either physically or psychologically that could have put the safety of my daughter at risk. Also then there is the issue of if they are on medications, you need to educate them on ensuring that they dont leave their medications anywhere that your child could access. My daughter would often run into the AP’s room….what if she had left drugs about and my daughter ingested them……a high price to pay for not insisting on a Med Cert before they start.

Anonymous October 23, 2009 at 8:26 am

As a HM, I think the most important thing is to be BRUTALLY honest about yourself, both you your potential HF and yourself! There is a match for virtually everyone, and your goal should be to find that match…even if it takes a few tries. If you are Muslim or Wicca or whatever, be honest – many of us love to expose our kids to different beliefs and really if a family wouldn’t want you because of your religion, you don’t want to be with them. If you are messy and your Mom has always cleaned up after you, don’t portray yourself as a clean freak- there are plenty of HFs who have maid-service and won’t care that you are not tidy. If your driving experience is limited, say so – there are plenty of HFs who don’t need a driver or live in more sedate areas where you can improve your minimal driving skills. If you have never taken care of a true baby (bottles, diapers etc…this “two-year old as an infant is ridiculous, but that’s for another day) say so – you don’t want them to realize this after you’re already in their home, they’ll be mad (I know I was). I know that a lot of girls are coached by their friends, recruiters, etc to embellish (lie) on their application, but you’re not doing anyone a favor, particularly yourself. Many people think, Oh I just want to get to the US and then if it doesn’t work out, I’ll rematch. But if you lied, your HF will be pretty unhappy and may not say very nice things about you to the new HFs looking to take you. This makes it hard to get a rematch in the required 2 weeks and can lead to you going home unexpectedly.

PA aupair mom October 23, 2009 at 9:01 am

The most important tip I can offer is….BE HONEST!!!

If you don’t like dogs and a potential family has a dog, say so.

Don’t tell a family what you think they want to hear, it will only make it worse when they find out the truth.

Tell me all the things you enjoy doing and want to do with my kids. Tell me where you would like to travel and specific places/things you want to see. tell me about your driving skills. Tell me about your family.

If you think it’s important, you should tell it to a potential family.

Anonymous October 23, 2009 at 9:10 am

Well obviously childcare experience and needs will be the primary discussion topic during your interviews, there are some other things to consider….

Having a candid discussion about the type of relationship you want with your family is important. In our cluster, there tend to be two types of relationships – a member of the family, and a employer/employee. I’ve seen both work well, but I’ve also seen matches fail for both reasons because the parties weren’t clear up front about their expectations. Our current AP made it very clear she wanted to be part of the family, and we were thrilled with that. She spends time with us evenings and weekends, vacations with us, goes grocery shopping with us, goes to school events with us, etc…. She has her own life as well, but she spends a lot of time doing family things with us. We wouldn’t have wanted anything different.

On the other hand, one of her friends is in a strictly employer/employee relationship – which is what both parties were looking for. That AP watches the kids during the day, gets off duty at 6pm, and doesn’t spend another minute with the family. That is how the family prefers it as well. Their AP is only an employee that happens to live in their home. Both relationships can work well or can fail miserably – the key is to knowing ahead of time and matching accordingly.

Other things to communicate that could be important might be your religious views. Even though your application may say you are “somewhat religious” or something along those lines, that can mean different things to different people.

I can also give my personal input on things that came up in interviews that made us reject candidates. When we selected our current AP, we interviewed about 14 candidates. We had one ask us: “How much does your family travel and where do you go? I want to travel while I’m there, so I’m looking to match with a family that travels a lot to nice places.” Another asked: “Will I have my own car? I have a boyfriend that live in a city about an hour away, so I plan on spending my weekends there, and I’ll need my own car to get back and forth.” And yet another: “Will I have to share a bathroom with the kids? I’ve never had to share a bathroom, and I don’t think I could do that.” Finally: We had one that when we asked if she would like to schedule a second interview, she said she didn’t schedule any second interviews until she had seen a picture of the family, and since she hadn’t seen a picture of us yet, she couldn’t commit to a second interview.

At least those APs were honest, and maybe some families wouldn’t have rejected candidates for those questions…but I did.

Darthastewart October 23, 2009 at 9:56 am

I think you should be honest about yourself- how neat you are, how well you swim, how well you cook, and how well you drive. Why lie? It’s not going to do you any favors, and your host family will find out… And may or may not break the match.

I also think that unless you have very strong reasons for preferring a part of the country, specifying California or NY only may not be in your best interest. There are many beautiful parts of the country that aren’t in Ca or NY. Cost of living tends to be much, much lower in those other parts. (and you can still travel to Ca or NY to see those, if you like). Also, here in NC anyways the entire cost of the education requirements are easily covered (and then some!) by the education stipend. That is simply not so in NY, or many other places. (Think thousands of dollars more to cover the stipend)

I think that au-pairs should be careful about making demands of the HF up front- driving the car an hour out of town each weekend for instance. But they should ask about things like cell phones, phone usage, car usage, etc. I think that they should get a very good feel for what chores are required.

I wish you well with your hunting.

My 2 cents October 23, 2009 at 10:36 am

Ditto everything everyone said above.

But particular ditto on Darthastewart’s comment. I would NOT specify a location on your application that the family sees. Keep that between you and the agency that is looking to place you if that is criterion for you.

Why? Sends a definite message that you are too good for any place else and that you like to party. I know plenty of NYC families that are VERY concerned, and rightfully, that APs only want them so they can get into NYC and party and see famous people. And sadly that has proven true on many occasions. Maybe that’s not your intention. I can certainly appreciate that these locations have a whole lot more to offer and that they do have cultural and other lifetime opportunities that just don’t exist in spades all over the place in the USA !! But the fact remains, so do loads of other places, so saying you want a fast paced area or one with with lots of sunshine, but only want these specific locales, won’t be very credible.

OTOH, if you really are coming here to get a tan, see movie stars, or party all night, then please, by all means, tell us that!

PA aupair mom October 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

I agree with 2cents about specifing a location. You can potentially limit some awesome families with which you may be a great fit, just because they don’t live in a specific location.

We live in rural PA and our last au pair had the opportunity to travel by train to NYC 6 times. She liked being close to NYC but far enough away that things weren’t so expensive.

Just a thought.

FL Mom October 23, 2009 at 11:49 am

I would also add that 95% of New York and California aren’t what you would think they are. Look at a map. California is enormous, and there are a lot of areas that aren’t near LA and SF. Ditto for NY. NYC is only a tiny fraction of the state. I wonder how many AP’s have been shocked upon their arrival to Buffalo, for instance?

PacificNW_Mom October 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I’ll have to disagree on not specifying a location. If you only want to go to New York or California, I don’t want you to waste my time! I’ve had plenty of interviews with au pairs only to find out at the end of an hour of talking that they are not interested in our state…because it is not NYC or CA. Put it in your profile, please!
BTW, we’ve found that au pairs that are more interested in the family than the location are better matches. A lot of au pairs that just look for location end up with not-so-great matches, because they don’t focus enough on the family part of the matching.

A October 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Wow, the previous posters had some great advice! Here’s my general advice: think of this as a job application, which it is. You want them to know about your interests, your qualifications, and what you want to get out of the job. They want to know what you expect to gain from your employment. You need to know what a normal day in the life as their au pair will be like. Keep specific demands, like vacation, for the second contact/interview.
Also, over the course of your conversations, try to get a sense of the family’s diet. There’s no typical American diet–it varies greatly by region and the family’s ethnic origin–so it’s worth asking about. You don’t want to get there and find out that “no fried foods” means that there’s nothing in the house for you to eat!

And, I hate to jump on the “specifying a region” pile, but “New York or California only, please” sets off my Princess Alarm Bells. That’s where most of the American media is located, but there is so much more to America. In fact, specifying that region might even set off the Princess Alarm Bells for a potentially perfect match in NY or California. And–as you might not realize–such as request is vaguely insulting to many people in the rest of the country (including myself, who grew up in the fascinating city of Houston and now lives in one of the hippest places on the planet, Austin).

NewAPMom October 23, 2009 at 1:39 pm

I’ll jump on that wagon. I actually do live in California, near SF, and I tend to steer clear of candidates who say they want to live in NY or CA because, like someone said above, it makes me wonder what their motive is. So yeah, that preference isn’t necessarily something I’d advertise. I might come back with more advice later…

Anonymous October 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Just as some families might be offended by an applicant who only wants to go to NYC or California, I am put off by an applicant who only is interested in my family because we live close to an interesting metropolitan area. So, please do tell us if you are interested in a specific part of the county. My agency might be upset by this, but I really want to hear the truth.

StephinBoston October 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Agree with everyone on location. I understand that your idea of American and what’s cool is often CA and NYC but that really isn’t “reality”. there are a LOT of other great places to live in the USA. We live in the suburbs of Boston, our au pairs can travel to NYC with a $10 bus ride on weekends, so they can experience it. I think you need to figure out why you want these locations, a lot of families will be turned off by the location request.

Another CA Mom October 23, 2009 at 4:16 pm

Ditto to everything!

Eliza October 23, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Hey, I am the original poster and matched with a family who are NOT in New York, I spoke to some in New York but they didn’t seem right for me. I agree that in the end location isn’t as vital, and I was fairly open.
I think it’s very much about expectations, but au pairs know that it isn’t going to be like the glossy brochures. I am very excited about my location and my family- just finishing 0ff first year of uni, then leaving in January.
Thanks everyone

Eliza October 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm

In addition, the host mom I picked and I had a lovely phone chat, much less like an interview. From my application she new all about my experience etc, so we spoke very much on a ‘getting to know you’ basis, which I feel worked well. We’ve both specified eating habits, I was told the routine and about the kids, put in touch with the current au pair, and sent the website for the local college.

NewAPMom October 23, 2009 at 6:03 pm

I’m so glad you found a host family you like, and were open to changes in location!

Eliza October 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Thanks, me too :)

OBMom October 23, 2009 at 7:53 pm

I agree with all of the above comments as well. Describe your experience with kids (particulary any age matched) and highlight anything creative that you came up with. It shows your sense of initiative and passion about children.

I also think that anything controversial needs to be discussed up front: piercings/tattoos (I’m fine with them, but my friends don’t agree), religion, and food requirements (we currently have a vegetarian AP and I was worried, but it’s working out just fine).

You also need to be honest about how comfortable you would be with being part of the family vs. being treated like an employee. There is a huge difference and the family may expect more of you as a family member than as an employee. You need to be introspective and discuss with the family. Use your relationship with your own family as a guide. Describe your relationship with your mom and dad and how much independence you’ve had. If you depend a lot on them for support, you may need more of a family environment, whereas if you’ve lived on your own for a few years, it may be difficult to “go back” to the more supervised environment.

One question to the group … someone here mentioned that they interviewed 14 candidates before selecting their recent AP. How many candidates to most people interview? So far I’ve selected one of the first presented to me on each occasion (I guess that’s why the last match was such a disaster and resulted in rematch).

PA au pair mom October 23, 2009 at 11:07 pm

Last time I selected the second candidate presented. This time I was much more choosy and looked at 19 candidates’ applications and did 4 phone interviews before selecting an au pair. I must say that I made a MUCH better choice this time.

NewAP Mom October 24, 2009 at 11:56 am

Last time we hired the first girl we interviewed. This time I looked through about 50 applications, sent about 10 emails, and interviewed 4 or five girls. We also talked to the girl we interviewed for three hours before making a decision. Although our new au pair hasn’t started yet it seems like we’ve made a much better choice this time, too. I think either way you can get lucky, but if you’re a little choosier (and follow the selection advice on this site) I think you can swing the pendulum of luck in your direction.

PB Mom October 24, 2009 at 11:29 pm

I think it all depends on what the pool of applicants looks like.
We just finished matching for our 12th au pair. For this time around, I looked through about 15 applications, called 6 for the first phone interview, called 3 for the second interview then called 2 for the 3rd interview where the kids spoke with the potential au pair. Our next au pair is coming from France in November.

The fewest I’ve looked at was 2 applications. I called them both several times and had the kids talk to both. We picked the one from Germany and that was the best au pair we’ve ever had!

aussiegirlaupair October 24, 2009 at 8:04 pm

I had my interview with the agency yesterday very exicited although its still awhile away July next year! I will be a repeat aupair with the program. I did make the request for not NY and RI as that is where I spend my first year(the family moved between the two). I would like to see a different part of the country but would be open to those places again if the Family were the perfect match.

former au pair October 25, 2009 at 1:08 pm

i am a former au pair and my whole reason for becoming an au pair was because i wanted to live in a specific city. i did join an agency and asked them to look for matches in that specific city but i was also looking on my own at webpages like greataupair, etc. when i finally found a family in that city that was interested in me, i said yes right away after speaking to the hostmom one time on the phone and emailing with her for only a week. 2 weeks later i was on an airplane and it ended up being the best 2 years of my life. i am not saying it was all because i got to live in my preferred city (i DID get along perfectly with the family and especially my hostmom) however, i do think it mattered a LOT because i was so excited just to be there and everyday turned out to be an adventure. dont know if it would be as successful if i had been placed somewhere else (even though i now tell my former host family that i would move to them no MATTER where they would live). i am also coming back next year to work for them.

Another Aussie Au Pair October 25, 2009 at 4:17 pm

(First post – I’ve been lurking around here for weeks!)

I also specified a preferred city and did my searching on websites to pre match with a family and met a great one in the city I wanted – I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing either, but I do understand how it may be better not to specify if you are just being matched by the agency and you are open to other locations. Just saying!

Dorsi October 25, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I think the problem is when people say “California or New York” it is clear they have a very shallow view of America. California and New York have very little in common. If you like big urban centers with great public transit, four seasons, then you would like New York, Boston, Chicago, etc. If you like warm weather, laid back lifestyle, and a culture heavily focused on cars, then you might like Southern California, Texas or the Southwest. People who say that they want CA or NY mean “I know very little about America except stereotypes about famous places.”

Another Aussie Au Pair October 25, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I suppose they don’t have much in common except glamorous/exciting stereotypes. Good point!

I didn’t actually choose either, I specified another city altogether for different reasons. I don’t see anything wrong with having a preference as long as you know why you want to go there, but if you don’t or you’re open to other locations then maybe it would be better not to specify.

aussiegirlaupair October 26, 2009 at 3:53 am

When I was a aupair as i said before I was in a small town in RI.( I didn’t make any requests.) where i spent the majority of my time. I loved the fact that I knew nothing about the town or even RI I had a fabulous time and loved the town that I lived there. I loved going to a place where I had no expectations and when i got there and the family had a weekend apartment in NYC it was a bonus. I figured I had 2 weeks holiday and a month at the end where I did get to go to California

Mom23 October 26, 2009 at 9:39 am

As others have said being brutally honest about what you want is important. I think that one of the major reasons that things did not work out with our previous au pair was that we had fundamentally different perspectives on how one should live life.

We live in a diverse major urban center in a historic neighborhood. We also believe in minimizing our carbon footprint. We have one car because we believe in public transporation where possible (we live within walking distance of Amtrak, and two subway lines, plus buses). We don’t like the kids to watch much T.V. so we don’t have cable. I also tend to be frugal, buying store brands, etc.

Our au pair was very materialistic. She wanted name brands, to see celebrities and to live in a big modern house. None of this is necessarily bad, but if we had known this we never would have matched with her. It is just not our style. We just realized much of this after she left.

This time we have done better and have a caregiver who shares many of our fundamental values.

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