Reading the Tea Leaves to Find Your Perfect Au Pair

by cv harquail on March 26, 2015

I am driving myself crazy with thinking through this matching process, but this current fabulous AP kind of messes with all my algorithms and criteria. Maybe it’s just a one-time thing to get someone like this. … Maybe we are all just reading tea leaves and astrological forecasts. 

I wish I knew that were the case, then I would give up thinking I could actually choose an au pair who will be precisely as I wish.
~Host Mom ShouldBeWorking

Reading the tea leaves.

1030734_f520They should teach this in ‘prospective host parent school.  We all do it, in some way or another.

The phrase “reading the tea leaves” –  first proffered by ShouldBeWorking–  is just about perfect for  describing how host parents puzzle over Au Pair applications, looking for patterns, signs, anything, that might clue us towards the au pair candidate that’s just right for our family.

Multitasking Host Mom emailed to follow up on SKNY‘s request that HRHM divulge what she uses to find the ‘perfect for her’ Au Pair.  She wonders — what are we each looking for, that sets a certain candidate apart from the others?

Is it work experience, education, hobbies, personality traits, etc.?  What is it (beyond the concrete basics of age, driving, smoking, and home country), that we are each looking for?  Since we all have different childcare needs, we won’t all be looking for the same thing… but it would be interesting to know:

What are the top two or three things you look for when you read the tea leaves?


SKNY March 26, 2015 at 9:16 am

I would love to hear more about it.
I would have never picked my awesome favorite au pair. She was all I did not want: she was a lawyer (nothing against lawyers but in my country – and au pair’s country – they tend to be very confrontational and kind of know it all), had questionable experiences (babysat someone’s kids and her nephews), no real work experience, no driving experience… I passed multiple profiles like hers. But then our au pair was denied entry in the USA, and we matched with a “perfect” extension au pair who would not be able to come for another almost 3 months. So we took this girl as a temporary fill in.
The au pair I thought would be our perfect, was ok. But that au pair who filled in for us ended up being the best ever. She returned to us during her second year (when our au pair left to get married and she was in rematch again) and came over again as a tourist to help us when I was ready to deliver last baby.
I have tried going back and re-constructing her profile and did not work. I confess I even made her take the DISC. Maybe we are all reading tea leaves…

SKNY March 26, 2015 at 9:27 am

Now as far as what is a perfect au pair for me: I want someone who genuinely love kids. I want the au pair who will sit on the floor and play with the kids. who will talk talk talk with them (in Portuguese, of course). Doesn’t need to be sophisticated play. Does not need to be varied. It can be: “lets all go in your room and make beds”. I don’t care if she let the kids do the beds and the beds look all dissembled (I actually rather), or if she lets the kids help doing the dishes and the floor is all messy. It is fine with me. As long as it is not a full disaster and there are some clean clothes in the closet I am fine.
She also doesn’t need to go to every thing we do (although she is welcomed to)… Just hanging out with us for 5 or 10 min at the end of her time, or sitting at dinner table and trying to interact with us in a conversation… Thats it…
If she can do those things, keep kids safe (you know… the basic give hands before crossing the street, stay off her iphone during work hours, and not lie about stupid things, I will even teach her how to drive…
Is it too much expectation out of an au pair???

Voyadelante March 27, 2015 at 1:34 pm

SKNY I couldn’t have worded it better! As a host mom, I sometimes think my expectations are too ridiculously simple, yet they seem to be the most difficult feats of accomplishment for our au pairs to date. The “on-the-smartphone-during-work-hours” thing drives my husband and I crazy! We might as well ask the high-school grad down the street who is working nights at the gas station to come “care” for our kiddos during the day!
I for one am curious about how the program is portrayed to prospective au pairs – what’s the catch? the lure? how honest is the agency being about American family expectations, lifestyles, and values?

A/BHostmom March 30, 2015 at 3:54 pm

+1 Totally agree. We’ve matched with AP2 who won’t be coming until summer, but she is very different from AP1. Much more outgoing, bubbling, positive, high energy, and has a vested interest in children. Our gut instinct was that she will be amazing,so I hope I am right! AP1 I think we settled for in some ways, felt like we had to match as soon as we started looking (even though we had 4 months). This time around we actually looked way earlier with the idea that we would only match if we found someone we loved. This girl was engaging with my son on Skype, is planning a career with children, etc. I really hope she works out! Can’t tell you how much the phone thing drives me nuts! It’s glued to AP1’s hand. Don’t get me started…

inNOVA April 11, 2015 at 11:29 am

I lived in Germany as a teenager, so I can speak to an extent on how 17-19 Germans viewed the au pair program. I don’t mean at all to try and discount any au pairs with other motivations, but this is honestly what I was told by a handful of girls considering the program (one went and had a good, albeit somewhat challenging year; one applied but either never found a family or her family objected ultimately to her going). My acquaintances viewed the au pair program first and foremost as their “ticket” to America. It is much less expensive than high school exchange programs, and overall a feasible package with regards to things like the visa process. I think the whole situation has less to do with agency portrayal (although they certainly don’t do an ideal job) than it does with a very basic motivator: wanting to see the world.

NoVA Twin Mom March 26, 2015 at 11:03 am

I’m in the midst of searching for our next au pair for an August arrival (so I keep reminding myself we have time, that I don’t need to “compromise” until about 8 weeks out, which would be sometime in June, which is far in the future… :):)) but I keep thinking of you, SKNY. Because you’ve been trying to recruit from your “home” area and having difficulty, and the two au pairs we’ve sent into rematch have been from my “home” area.

The au pair we had from the country my grandparents emigrated from lasted two months. The au pair we had from the country I studied abroad in and speak the language of lasted three and a half days.

The au pairs we’ve had the most success with (all from the same country) have been from a country my husband has a tangential relationship with, but not nearly as close a relationship I had/have with the two countries whose au pairs didn’t work out.

Should we be consciously looking for au pairs that are from areas of the world *just* outside our comfort zones rather than trying to preserve a connection with our ancestors?

Yet I know there are other people on this board that recruit specifically from countries their families have a relationship with to preserve a language. I’m also realistic enough to know that we had two “outlier” au pairs, as the “three and a half day” au pair in particular is from one of the “au pair powerhouse” countries that generally has very successful au pairs.

The things we think about in the throes of matching…

NoVA Twin Mom March 26, 2015 at 11:04 am

To clarify, we weren’t consciously looking to preserve a connection with my ancestors, but thought it would be a cool side benefit of the au pair program.

I have other criteria I generally look for, and I’ll post about that later. I just wanted to post my musings first :)

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 12:50 pm

We’ve given up on even TRYING to be country-specific. Our great au pairs have all been from countries (well, except one) that we’d probably have tried to avoid. So now we don’t seriously screen based on country. I always give a close look to the applications from the country with which I have a family and language connection (there aren’t usually many au pairs from that country, so it’s pretty easy to scan the few applications), and HD actively doesn’t want APs from the country with which he has a language connection because of the cultural issues he knows he doesn’t want to deal with. And truth be told, I don’t REALLY want APs from the country with which I have family/language connection because of cultural issues I don’t want to deal with either! :-)

Dorsi March 26, 2015 at 2:44 pm

Our worst AP (that we didn’t rematch) was from a country that I have a strong connection with and speak the language. I think I made all kinds of (inaccurate) assumptions about her because of my knowledge of the country. I did not apply rigorous screening. I excused weak performance on emailed questions/Skype, because I felt I knew a lot more about her than I actually did. We have stayed away from that country since the experience — I don’t think that I am good at screening candidates from there.

Mimi March 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

This is a really easy thing to do and something I did with AP#5. I also took her application at face value which I learned about the hard way.

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I have decided that I need to listen to my gut above all else. But sometimes I’m not sure what my gut is saying, and sometimes I get nervous and wonder if my gut made a mistake, and it turns out that my gut was right (or wrong, sometimes).

The basics: driver, non-smoker, experience in our kids’ age range, experience working full-time (could be just for the summer). And we do have certain countries that we prefer and certain countries that we avoid for various reasons, but nothing is really completely off the table as far as nationality or home country. We just have certain biases.

More intangible qualities we look for: common sense, intelligence, healthy lifestyle, interesting interests, at least a little active (we require the kids to be walked to & from school, so it adds up to about 7 miles of walking per day for our au pair), easy going personality, friendly. They have to have credible motivations for wanting to be an au pair- there are many reasons that work for us, but we have to believe them and not think they are kidding themselves. They have to be ok with getting a little dirty- no clean freaks or girls who are going to dress in designer clothes and full make up for work every day. It just doesn’t work with our kids or our lifestyle.

We need someone who is going to take good care of our kids but who we will also feel comfortable having in our home. I have decided against au pairs who seemed great with kids but I knew would not get along with my husband, or who might be too demanding for us to deal with. I have turned down au pairs who I personally LOVED but when I saw them interact with my children I could see that there was no spark, or they seemed forced and didn’t really know how to talk to them. And I know that probably in a few cases I may have made a hasty judgment based on a quick interaction- but what else do I have?

And how do I screen for all of that? I go on gut. I do the initial screening of applications, and I may talk to people first alone, but I really rely on my husband because he has a good eye for some things that I don’t see. He has rejected people who I thought were great, and in hindsight I realized that he made the right decision. It helps that he’s a community college instructor- he works with people in the au pair age range every day, and the experience makes him very skeptical of most 20-something-year olds. Whereas I want to love them all.

My husband made one mistake… he was the one who really wanted our last au pair, because he knew her sister (she was previously an au pair in our city and she was friends with a previous au pair of ours). He thought her sister was great so she must be too. I didn’t get a bad feeling exactly, but I felt like we didn’t get enough of a sense of her personality to make a decision. And she was a mediocre au pair…. although I have to say the kids loved her so it wasn’t terrible. She took good care of them. There were just a lot of other problems, stemming from a basic lack of intelligence. Ever since that mistake I know that I have to listen to my own gut and not accept someone just because DH thinks they will be great, especially if he’s not basing it on anything substantial.

As everyone here knows it can be so hard to hold out for the right person. I feel like I get pressure from my agency to match quickly, and after weeks of looking through so-so applications and finding that the few people I like either don’t respond, aren’t interested in us, or end up being not-quite-right after talking on skype, I am really close to settling. But I forge ahead, and know that it’s actually easiest to find someone at the last minute because most au pairs are looking to leave ASAP. So keep on going, no matter how depressing. I may have to take a week or two off from looking at the websites. I have to stop myself from taking it personally when someone tells me that she can’t wait 2 months, and then I see her profile and she’s still available two months later.

Our current AP fell short on some of my usual criteria, but since she was a volunteer in Africa for 2 years I let some of my usual things go. I was a Peace Corps volunteer so that gave me an idea of some of her strengths- I knew she could handle ambiguity, that she would be resourceful, homesickness would not be a major issue and that she already knows how to live in a different culture. Plus she was clearly very smart and motivated, and she was nice and knew how to interact with the kids over skype. She didn’t really have the kind of childcare experience that I was looking for, and I couldn’t get a sense of her interests & activities even though I tried. It turns out she is more bookish than the usual au pair, and she doesn’t like to go out at night and she doesn’t drink. But she is finding friends and making her way, and I really like her. She’s very steady. She plays well with the kids.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Hmm, because of the issues we have with our current au pair in rematch (described below), I am going to add “somewhat active life style / healthy lifestyle” to our list. We also require walking home from school (school is about a 1/2 mile walk away, up a hill; has only been a real problem for the current AP- I mean, everyone in our neighborhood does it because we all walk our kids up to the school every day!), walking to public transportation to bring our kids around town, etc.

This does raise another problematic issue of weight-discrimination. Our current AP is somewhat overweight, has very poor eating habits (I don’t think we could have sussed out just how poor over Skype interviews), and this seems to have affected her ability to do the job, since she identified all of the walking (including the hill up to school) as one of her main issues (as I write below – she blames it on unrelated medical conditions, but I’m not so sure given we have family with the same medical conditions who don’t have issues walking a lot, and don’t have issues walking up that very same hill). I feel badly – but I think in the future I would be wary of an overweight AP, given the amount of walking we require. (Though we actually DID try to suss out the “walking willingness” in our interviews with current AP, and she told us that in her town she walks everywhere and didn’t have a car – that she walked from home to work, to shops, to public transportation etc. She must have lived literally right next door to her work. She also told us that she was surprised after she got here that we really DID walk everyone since she had heard Americans don’t walk anywhere. That may generally true, but we were pretty clear that we live in a city where relying on public transportation and walking is quite common.)

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 4:09 pm

We actually don’t consider severely overweight au pairs, partly because of the walking issue. But we have other reasons too- sometimes we might drive somewhere with the au pair + 2 kids, and she needs to be able to fit in the back seat crammed between two car seats. Our eating area in our kitchen is a bit of a tight squeeze, and it helps to not be too big to have to navigate that. Plus our au pair room is upstairs directly above our room and the kids’ room- lighter people tend to make less noise on the floor above us (although our current au pair is a heavy trodder- and she’s little). These are all minor issues (aside from the walking issue) but they add up to a lot of inconvenience.

Plus we also expect our au pairs to rely mainly on public transportation when they are off-duty, and that involves a lot of walking up & down hills.

My mom is severely overweight and we have to deal with all of the above when she is with us, which is partly how we know we don’t want that in an au pair. Her main form of exercise is walking, but when she was our temporary childcare she was clearly having difficulty with the amount of walking it takes to get the kids to & from school, even with us helping with some of the pick-ups. We’re not looking for model-skinny, it is not about aesthetics. I have a few extra pounds myself,

I always feel bad saying it, but it is part of my criteria. I eventually broke down and told my CCAP placement manager, because she kept sending me people who just wouldn’t fit in the back seat of our car.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 6:28 pm

We are exactly the same in the physical needs we have for our au pairs, and we also have a set of grandparents who sometimes offer to “help” with childcare and they really can’t because of the weight situation. Perhaps then I should feel okay about discriminating in the future. :-( It is a very physical job, and there’s no getting around it.

We also had the car issue, though luckily the APs we had when we only had two kids were pretty small! Now that we have three kids, we can’t ever fit our AP in the car, and have to rent a larger one if we go on a family vacation together. Our last AP was HUGE, but tall huge, not overweight. But tall-huge also translates to wider just out of proportional reality. She definitely could not have fit between two car seats, but then I would have done it instead (I always switched off with our APs, because even for small folk, it’s not fun squishing between two car seats). Tangent – the point is, she was physically fit and didn’t have trouble with walking, up hills or otherwise.

Dorsi March 27, 2015 at 3:13 pm

I have had APs surprise me by their height — nothing in the application prepared me for one that was below 5 feet. Also, one came much heavier than her pictures (maybe 75lbs) and was shockingly tall. She was lazy, but I don’t think it was a physical fitness issue, just a motivational one.

Old China Hand March 28, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Gap has ap candidates list height and weight.

Should be working March 28, 2015 at 8:56 pm

CCAP used to have height and weight, included in a real doctor’s report that we saw as PDF. Now it’s instead the AP’s self report, an anodyne list of body parts to check yes or no as to whether there were any problems with them. No list of common chronic conditions to check off, like ASTHMA.

Peachtree Mom March 27, 2015 at 12:31 pm

I did not worry about the overweight issue if they told me they were active and able to keep up with a small, energetic child. We were upfront and honest about swimming ability and the absolute requirement, nonnegotiable requirment to swim with our young daughter…or get into the pool to watch her or walk around within arms distance while she splashed around. We did not count on that the overweight aupair refused to put on a swimsuit and go to the pool because she embarrassed about her appearance. Obviously ended in rematch.

Host Mom X March 27, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Yup, with our current AP she told us she was active, walked everywhere, etc. She had toddler nieces and nephews and a best friend with a toddler same age as ours. She said she liked swimming and would be happy to do swimming lessons with the toddler. Luckily we are rematching before we got up to testing whether she would have been comfortable in a swimsuit.

This just gets me so much because I was so happy to be open-minded and NOT pay any attention to the weight issue, and now I know I will screen for this in the future even though it goes against my grain.

Should be working March 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm

I think (hope) that I have developed screening and criteria for ruling out TERRIBLE APs. Knock on wood. Afraid to even type that. Boogedy-boogedy, chanting spells that I’m not jinxing myself.

What I now don’t know is whether the “tea leaves” can help me distinguish someone who will be an ok AP from someone who will be a great one. I thought during matching that our current AP would be so great. Turns out she’s fine, but not rockstar. I would have liked more bubbly, playful and proactive. BUT I selected her in part on the basis of contrast bias–our previous AP had been very bubbly but too needy (high I!!). I wanted less neediness and got it (low I). But less needy also turned out to be less animated and playful, a bit more rigid, but still reliable, steady and organized.

I’m starting to think that contrast bias is even bigger than I thought in selection. When I look back at our career of APs (5), I see a real up-and-down as to their balance of strengths and qualities. #1 was energetic and playful, but bossy and stubborn. I think contrast bias made me look for more compliance and #2 was compliant, a bit lazy, great with kids, patient, a little dull. I think out of contrast bias from that I went for more bubbly, and got more needy. After needy/bubbly I went for steady/self-sufficient and got it–and that AP was fine but a bit aloof and non-involved.

My top two things are great photos/video, self-description, and I have to add of course DISC.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Can you elaborate more on the photos/video as selection criteria? I mean, I’m pretty sure I can now suss out the BAD applications based on photos/video (e.g. way too contrived; follows the script; wearing same shirt in all photos with children – meaning random children she posed with at a public park on one day, etc.). But I basically discount the photos/video as reliable indicators of anything at all….

As a test we looked back at the videos of our great APs after our years with them, and they had TERRIBLE videos. Not the bad kind of videos I describe above, but nothing about their videos and photos gave much indication of the great young women these APs turned out to be.

Should be working March 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Yeah, most of the videos are terrible. I might stop looking at those altogether. But we had one great video that yielded an excellent AP.

Photos have to look cheerful, genuine, normal, varied, not model-auditions, just the face and stance have to look . . . right. I want to see family, friends, and work with kids, in appropriate proportions.

Maybe I’m missing out on a lot of good candidates, but I eliminate at least 30% of candidates by their “cover” photo, and another 30% by looking at the rest of their photos.

WarmStateMomma March 26, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I saw one cover photo of young woman whose judgment or English was terrible. Her shirt said “2 sexy 4 u.” Agreed. Pass.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 2:28 pm

I certainly will admit to judging books by their covers when it comes to APs, and I probably do discount a number just because I don’t like the looks of their photos, for whatever reason at all – just gut reaction. So maybe it IS one of my prime selection criteria….? But I guess I didn’t count it because I was thinking of the substantive ways in which I judge candidates whose applications I’ve actually read and who I’ve maybe emailed or skyped with, while I think my 1-2 second decision to “pass” on a candidate based on their photo is really just a way to help me winnow down hundreds of candidates to a more manage-able subset. Also, the truth is, if a photo-pass candidate then comes up again in one of the filter searches, I’ll still probably open up the application and take a look…..

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 4:12 pm

I use photos in the same way.

I would add one thing- the photos they choose to use in their application shows their judgment. These are photos that they think are good enough to show future employers. If I don’t agree that they are good, then I don’t like this person’s judgment.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 29, 2015 at 9:22 am

Two of my 3 APs had videos, and I was first interested in each of those 2 because of their videos. They were very different from each other, and neither was over the top. What I liked about each was that it gave me a glimpse of the AP’s personality, which bore out as true once they were here. I have found fewer and fewer videos as I continue searching, which I think is unfortunate.

Old China Hand March 26, 2015 at 3:02 pm

I pretty much discount the pictures because they are all from the same city in China and coached by the same people. So they are all identical – mandatory pictures of playing with kids at the orphanage, swimming (even though they can’t swim), driving, cooking noodles – and all on cheesy paper with lots of stickers. Ah China.

WarmStateMomma March 26, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Our current AP’s photos didn’t have ANY silly stickers or cartoons. Not one. It looked like an adult’s application. My husband got to the description of her academic research interests and declared her The One.

Old China Hand March 26, 2015 at 3:37 pm

That is amazing. But then, the agency rejected her. Which goes back to my original hypothesis that the agency coaching is resulting in the stickers.

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 4:13 pm

The stickers drive me crazy! Maybe that is why I never like any of the applicants from China.

WarmStateMomma March 26, 2015 at 4:24 pm

LOL. Her application materials were definitely dumbed down once the agency posted them. She looked much like the other Chinese candidates after they reworked her application. There was no mention of the crazy impressive Chinese and American competitions she entered where her applied math team had to solve real-world health or environmental issues using math modeling and research, and then write up analyses of their results.

Our last AP used to volunteer with marginalized destitute veterans who fought for the nationalist army. The agency didn’t want that info on the application either.

Should be working March 26, 2015 at 4:32 pm

WSM, why o why did they not want that info on the application??

Old China Hand March 26, 2015 at 6:55 pm

Probably because it doesn’t fit the very narrow model of what they think a successful file looks like. Our first ap is considered to have been the best the orphanage ever had and she matched fairly quickly (for china). So apparently the teachers at the agency had everyone model their letters on hers. I think she matched quickly and was popular because she played a sport in college (very unusual) and a letter from a friend said she once biked home 18 hours from college. So the agency missed the point of what we find attractive. My guess is that the volunteering with the kmt vets is kind of hush hush since only 50 years ago you could be killed or exiled to Tibet for that. Math competition probably just didn’t fit in their vision of childcare or what we care about.

WarmStateMomma March 30, 2015 at 10:26 am

OCH is right. Both APs told me that the agencies thought the info would make them less desirable. CCAP even told my AP not to include her marathon photos (endurance! commitment!) but to keep adding more posed photos of her with kids (instead of the kids participating in activities she set up for them) because that’s what would appeal to a host family.

CCAP tells also Chinese candidates not to mention their college major unless they majored in English. I guess they think it’s ok for an English major to want to learn English but not a math major, or that American families will think a candidate with an English degree speaks English better (despite Skype evidence to the contrary)? Maybe they think American families have no use for an AP who can tutor their kids? The CCAP office my AP went to has 3 former APs working there (under the supervision of an older lady), so you’d think the 3 former APs would be able to give more helpful/accurate advice.

Should be working March 30, 2015 at 4:09 pm

So WHY do Chinese agencies think this way?? Is it what CHINESE families would want to see or not see in an au pair? Would Chinese HPs think marathon-running is unappealing, do they like stickers?

old au pair mom March 31, 2015 at 4:20 pm

+ 1 to the pictures. What the AP choses to provide and how she is dressed and interacting with others is so telling. I have seen some pictures that you would surely not share with your grandmother. A good AP for me has the intelligence to weed out party pics and concentrate on those that show her/him interacting in a positive manner.

Peachtree Mom April 1, 2015 at 10:09 am

True, there was one candidate who we really liked, BUT when I viewed her video it showed the child the child she was taking care of watching a lot of television. A good part of the video was her watching television with the child. I want more than someone parking my kid in front of a television. Maybe we should have skyped and ask her about it….but I moved on.

Peachtree Mom April 1, 2015 at 10:11 am

and while on the subject of skyping….another candidate had her cell phone ring twice when we were skyping and she answered it. I can see the phone ringing once….who doesn’t forget to turn their phone off during mass? But twice?? We moved on from that one also.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 1, 2015 at 10:40 am

My least favorite interviewee was so concerned about her English that she had a friend in the room translating for her. Pass!

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 12:45 pm

We tend to look for: (1) real, full-time work experience for an extended period of time (i.e. more than a month or two in the summer at the ice cream stand), since we still have a non-school-age child and need 45 hours per week of constant, unrelenting care; (2) current experience being enmeshed in situations involving a whole bunch of young children (since we have three under the age of 7) – this could be much younger siblings who they’ve helped care for, big extended family with lots of nieces and nephews and godchildren, etc. who they spend a lot of time with; we just want to know that they have been exposed to the kind of mayhem that comes with being around a small horde of young children; (3) lived away from family for at least some period of time; (4) older than 21; (5) an undefinable “gumption” – can-do attitude, mixed with a sense of adventure, “throw it all at me,” yet also decisive, organized, etc.

We thought we had finally figured it all out, and learned to read somewhat between the lines of the usual repetitive nonsense on all the applications, ask the right questions (with great help from you all on this site!), etc. But, sigh, apparently we are still as terrible as ever at picking candidates. Our last au pair was great, but has so far been our only au pair picked from abroad that has worked out. (Our best AP ever was after our first rematch, and she stayed two years; after that we had another rematch and got a great AP who was an extension; after that we had our first and so far only successful AP from abroad.) We have just gone into rematch with our most recent au pair, and on paper and over Skype she had ALL of the above-listed qualities. But she got here and was depressed/homesick/in culture shock for almost the whole first month. Then she couldn’t stop complaining about how difficult the job was, overwhelmed whenever she had all three kids, stressed out by spending all day with the toddler, couldn’t handle walking up the hill to the kids’ school, always complaining about not having fun when she went out because the other APs picked bad activities, no initiative to plan any fun or activities herself, though, to suggest to the AP friends. Luckily the rematch was mutual – turned out it wasn’t JUST a propensity toward complaining (which she has), but she actually was just totally stressed out and overwhelmed by the job. Hard to blame her – I don’t think she saw it coming either, and three kids including a toddler is a job I can barely do myself without wanting to throw myself out a window! (Though, she does have a medical condition that she now claims is the largest part of the issue, but she was very clear with us before matching that she DIDN’T have any physical or other limitations because of the medical issue and that with her medication she has never had a problem; now I’m not so sure – is she now blaming the medical condition because she thinks that makes her sound less culpable, or was she in fact obfuscating about the medical condition during the interview process?).

We did quickly find a new rematch au pair that we are crossing fingers about (she hasn’t arrived yet), but it’s our first rematch au pair who we haven’t met in-person first. With our prior rematches, which I’ve written about here before, we immediately met with 4-5 candidates in person – such a great way to choose an au pair. This new one is also great on paper and we clicked on Skype, and she has had 6 months with her current family (also 3 kids, similar ages), and they seem to genuinely love her and are sad to lose her (car insurance issue). Wish us luck!

But I am also thinking that in the case of our current au pair, the “tea leaves” might not have prevented us choosing this au pair even if we had met her in person; she still made a really good impression when she first got to us, and she still is good with the kids, they love her, have bonded, etc. It’s just that if this had gone on any longer, she likely would not have been able to keep putting on a good face for the kids given her extreme discomfort with the job. (And yet she’s been a nurse for several years! Full time! 12 hour shifts and everything! WHILE going to school at night! You see? Our on-paper criteria failed us!)

So – I am back to thinking we simply have no tea-leaves-reading ability whatsoever. We have friends on their third au pair (they haven’t had APs as long as we have) who haven’t yet made a mistake, and we’re thinking of taking the mom up on her offer to choose our next AP for us! Then again, they have the typical “cushy” au pair job (2 school age kids, unrestricted au pair car, suite in the basement, etc. AND they are genuinely lovely people) – so, for instance, it’s possible our current AP might have done just fine with a family like theirs.

SKNY March 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Brings me the question on whether rematch au pairs are better because they already experienced the worst. Our awesome au pair was good when she was with us the first time, but when she returned (after her rematch with an abusive family) she was truly awesome!!! My husband thinks the difference came after she realized that although our location was not ideal, and there was not much to do in our area, we were very nice as a family. She left as a good au pair, and returned as an amazing family member/au pair

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

I do agree on that. As long as the AP is in re-match because the other family was abusive, or because of something that happened through no fault of her own, like, e.g., a car insurance issue based on an accident that wasn’t her fault. For instance, our current AP is having a hard time in rematch because even though I do think she might work just fine for a family with a cushier job, the other families don’t like to hear that she thinks three kids are “too much” or that she doesn’t want to care for a toddler, even if the families only have one or two kids and no toddlers. And those families may be right – could be our current AP will be a complainer wherever she goes.

Seattle Mom March 26, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Yes, I have two kids and no toddler (youngest is 4) and I would have a problem with a rematch au pair who couldn’t handle your situation. I guess I would consider her, but it would require a lot of honest talking about why she thinks my family would be easier for her.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 6:31 pm

Our 5 year old is still prone to tantrums and that was a lot for our current AP to handle too, so she probably should have said no one under 7! I think she might have trouble with a 4 year old if the 4 year old were feisty.

Should be working March 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm

The au pairs we have taken out of rematch were also grateful, not shirkers about the work, and overall pretty good. But weeding through all the terrible stories is awful.

It’s true that rematch is so different. All the photos, letters and everything else in the application basically would be unimportant to me if a previous family and/or believable LCC said a candidate was really great. Our rematch AP was called “lovely” by the LCC who housed her, and who said she would take her herself if she didn’t have an AP, although the family thought she was awful (and then left the program, and the AP later told us they were hitting the kids.)

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 2:33 pm

Yup. I guess to add to the discussion about “tea leaves” and applications – in rematch we barely look at what they have in their application materials other than to get basic info about their family and hometown so we can have a conversation. At that point, it’s all about their actual experience as an AP: what the AP has to say, what the host family has to say, and what the LCCs have to say.

We would never have clicked “interview” on our best AP ever had we seen just her application in the regular matching process. We met her in person in rematch, talked to her psycho former host family, and loved her.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Ugh, I am reading over what I’ve written above and further up, and I hear you all saying, “overweight and a medical condition? And you need a walker? Red flag, red flag!” But we were trying not to be ruled by discriminatory attitudes! Because everything else seemed so great. And we actually thought we were lucky to get her because we assumed other families were passing her up because of those things, without getting to know her first.

Anon for this March 26, 2015 at 2:39 pm

I have actually gravitated to the less pretty APs because I think they are unfairly passed over. My first, from a country known for solid APs, spent a long time trying to find a family despite infant qualification, good driving experience, good work experience. Her english was weak, but I think her looks didn’t help.

4th time lucky?! March 26, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I feel it’s ok to discriminate when looking for an AP – against whatever you feel doesn’t appeal to you or your family! It might not be politically correct and isn’t acceptable in ‘proper’ job interviews but the AP-HF relationship is a special one and your employer, who isn’t allowed to discriminate against you because of your gender, weight, skin colour, religion, looks, doesn’t have to live with you and look at you every day.

Not even talking about the job requirements but just the basic of inviting someone to live in your house, to stay with you for a year, means the chemistry has to be right. You have to look at them probably every day for a year; you should feel happy to do so, happy to talk to them, spend time with them (and they should fit between the two car seats..). No need to feel bad about it! We had one AP I didn’t like the smell off [it was her personal scent and wasn’t a hygiene / BO issue, so nothing that could be addressed or changed] and it made the entire relationship very strained and difficult and probably resulted in me not warming to her even though she did a good job overall. Never quite figured out how to preempt that problem during a skype interview… (“send me a worn t-shirt” is probably unacceptable :-))

Fortunately, beauty (and preferences) lie in the eye of the beholder, so we are back to ‘a lid for every pot’.

Old China Hand March 26, 2015 at 1:26 pm

We are on month 3 with AP2, who I love. AP1 I loved too, but by the end of her 6 month extension, I felt like she wasn’t a great match for a toddler. She was too concerned that he wouldn’t like her if she set boundaries (blue/white on the personality profile, I think). But maybe I was just getting myself mentally ready to move on.

Both APs were trained at the same foreign-run orphanage in China. Basically this awesome program gets girls who want to be APs tons of experience by living at a small group home (foster-care style, 6-8 kids/home) and working nights and weekends with the handicapped orphans. Since we don’t need a driver (yet… that may change when the toddler starts pre-school, but not in a “need” way, more in a “it would be nice” way) and want someone from China, this works out well for us. As a bonus, there is a foreigner who runs the orphanage and she is quite candid on the phone about the pros and cons of each of the girls working there. As a first pass, I figure that anyone who has worked there for any period of time is capable of caring for my two children (currently infant and toddler).

So, I look for girls who:
1) Previous AP and foreigner at the orphanage think are mature/responsible.
2) Say their roommates would describe their dorm space in college (8 girls to a room) as neat and tidy
3) Value honesty

Our current AP is yellow/white and that would mean partier from other places, but she doesn’t drink and is pretty mellow. She is very tidy though and I love that. She is also much more responsible than AP1, which I think may come from being more organized with her stuff.

Who knows how this will keep working. Certainly my mom thinks it is reasonable to try to have AP2 learn to drive (or rather, learn to drive in the US) this summer so she can do pre-school drop off/pick ups in the fall. I had planned to send the toddler to a pre-school just two doors down from my building (~1/2 mile from home) so driving wouldn’t be required, but that school is closing. Boo. Now pre-school will be 1.7 miles away. We can make it work without a driver, but at the cost of some of my work time. So, thinking of letting her start driving in the summer.

WarmStateMomma March 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm

AP#3 just arrived last week, so my sample size is still small. Here’s what I’ve learned works for us:

1 – Academic background/work history should be demanding and require attention to detail and organization. Don’t assume that a person needs a warm/fuzzy background to be gentle, patient and loving with kids. My APs have been wonderfully sweet with the kids even though their backgrounds and AP experiences varied greatly. The people who become lawyers, go into STEM careers, etc. can love kids, too! My college town always had smart, friendly people working all the minimum wage jobs because there were so many students who needed the work. Even Walmart had capable staff! I like the APs who are going to become the kind of professionals I could never afford or convince to watch my kids. As it’s worked out with our 3 APs, these are also the people with the best driving skills.

AP#1 was a high school English teacher, did not have to plan lessons or work more than a few hours per day. She lived in a teacher dorm and had never had to care for herself. She was more of a babysitter than anything else, which was ok when my toddler was a small baby. She wanted to work at a daycare in the US and that might have been a good fit for her personality. She couldn’t do anything for herself without someone telling her what and how to do it. She couldn’t drive and never learned. She was pretty lonely and didn’t have a great year.

AP#2 was a high-performing sales executive for a manufacturer, negotiating sales contracts with major US and European companies (e.g. Walgreens). Although she wasn’t too organized, she was assertive, outgoing, mature and more independent than the teacher. She cheerfully implemented my concrete plans for my toddler’s activities, but wasn’t proactive enough to apply the bigger ideas to every day care. She eventually became a passable driver. She made friends easily, was a great roommate and had a great year.

AP#3 has a degree in applied math from a good university and knows a lot about coding and statistical modeling. She was turned down by at least one AP agency for lack of child care experience (she didn’t want to falsify it) but worked for free for a few months in a day care and was accepted once she had a pre-match with my family lined up. She has a fantastic ability to grasp the abstract concepts behind my care plan for the toddler as well as great attention to precision and detail. She enjoys the challenge of applying the abstract concepts in different ways and keeps coming up with playful new ideas. She started an online group of Chinese APs coming to the US this year and has made plans already for a play date next week, so I think she will have a good year from a social perspective. She is also disciplined and a self-starter. She should be able to pass the driving test with a few weeks of practice.

2 – Question your assumptions if you don’t know the culture well. I incorrectly assumed that teachers in China had responsibilities similar to teachers here. I also incorrectly assumed that living in a dorm (student or teacher) was comparable to “living away from home” in the sense that it would be here. I also incorrectly assumed holding a drivers license or owning a car meant that one could park at Target or had driven more than 30 mph. Whenever possible, have your current AP or someone from the candidate’s own culture review the application. Even better, our much-loved AP#2 recruited and found AP#3 for us.

I don’t pay much attention to the experience on the applications because it’s mostly falsified. I scan the responses to standard questions and the “about me” letter to HFs for red flags, but they usually all say the same things. The videos are all the same so I don’t bother with those unless something about the candidate speaks to me. I look at the photos to try to get a sense of the personality and weed out any duckfaces. Skype is just a painful formality to meet the interview requirements and see if anyone appears to be crazy (no one yet). I prefer lousy English so my toddler feels like it’s more necessary to use Chinese, but the candidates who meet my big-picture needs tend to speak better English than the others. I haven’t limited the search by age, but the candidates from China are typically 22-26. I haven’t heard of Chinese kids taking a gap year.

Old China Hand March 26, 2015 at 3:06 pm

In China you can’t go back to college if you take time off. So not in school means dropped out or won’t be going (there at least), and thus didn’t have the study motivation/skills to study for and take the 3-day grueling college entrance exam.

OpinionatedHM April 1, 2015 at 8:52 am

Duckfaces! Our one rematch and our most frustrating AP to date both had duck face selfies everywhere. They both presented as self confident but it became clear after arrival they were deeply insecure and self conscious. I never made the connection! This is going on my list.

Dorsi March 26, 2015 at 2:46 pm

My immediate sorting of applications is as follows:

-full-day work experience (though I have bent this twice, without regrets for full-time students who go straight to another job for 4-6 hours).
-bulk of experience not with family child care (I think family child care is the least demanding — you try to keep the kids alive because you are the provider who is cheapest/most available)

We have had very good matches with ambitious young women who share specific goals in their application letters – not necessarily goals that pertain to childcare.

DCMomof3 March 26, 2015 at 3:21 pm

Maybe I’ve just been lucky as I would say that most of my au pairs have been amazing, but one thing that I’ve really been screening for in the past few years especially is effort. I look at the cover letter on the application – is it long and detailed? If so, I am interested. When we start emailing, does she ask me interesting questions and write thoughtful responses? If so, I am more interested. Does she just send me a quick response asking when we can skype without regard for punctuation or capitalization? If so, not interested. I’m not going to be your buddy, I am going to be your boss. I look for compassion – volunteering with disabled kids or something more than just the typical internship at a kindergarten. I look at her “likes” on facebook to see if she likes substantive movies, books, politics, etc. In interviewing, I talk a lot about all of the physical activity that the job will entail, talk about the housework, talk about grocery shopping, and basically everything else that will go along with the job. I ask hypotheticals – what if the kids won’t stop fighting in the car, what if the boys are beating each other up in the kitchen, what if you are driving my kids somewhere and you get lost. In each case, there may not be a right answer, but there can be a thoughtful, proactive answer. I like it when her family members accidentally interrupt the skype session – does she smile and laugh with them? If she can get through all of that, then she has to interview with a few of my au pairs. Then I grill them – did she ask good questions or did she ask about perks? In all cases, I do not mention perks at all when interviewing – instead, I stress that I expect everybody in my house, including kids and AP to be grateful for what they have and to be interested in helping others. I let the AP be pleasantly surprised when she gets here with our set-up, but I certainly do not want somebody picking my family based on the set-up. So far, this has all worked well, but it does mean that I spend a ton of time reviewing profiles, emailing and interviewing multiple candidates.

hostmominco March 31, 2015 at 12:17 pm

I agree-some of the best Skype moments are when the au pair candidate interacts with her own family! We had several interviews this past go-round and one candidate asked only about perks (car and time off) while the other asked great questions about the kids and family-not once about car, perks, room or anything. She will be pleasantly surprised when she gets here (I hope) next month but the weeks have passed and her cold has not cleared up in a month+, I am starting to worry about her health! Is it time for Vitamin B shots? (just kidding!)

SKNY March 31, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Because we live in the end of the world (no exaggeration I am afraid) we always highlight perks from first second.
Now your post made me wonder if I would “hide” perks if we lived in a good location.
How do families work on this?? When do you share your perks

WarmStateMomma March 31, 2015 at 6:19 pm

I don’t discuss a lot of the perks until they arrive, but most Chinese APs will match with anyone. I definitely share a worst-case scenario with the candidates so that any surprises are happy ones. I’m not in a destination location but I am in the suburbs of a very large city with a large Chinese immigrant population. I tell them about the great Chinatown here so they know not to bring food from home (they can find it here). Yet they always pack the exact same noodles we have in the pantry….

Multitasking Host Mom March 31, 2015 at 9:04 pm

While we live in a fairly large city with a lot of fun and interesting things to do, most APs have never heard of it, so location is not a selling point for us when matching. Still I do tend to lean towards the “dare to match” side of things. I will give the AP two worst case senarios with every good thing I mention. I just want to make sure that even though spending a year with our family can be a lot of fun, the AP will still be up to handling a situation when it is all crazy and falling apart.

ILHostMom March 26, 2015 at 3:25 pm

With every Au Pair we learn something new, but here are the tea leaves I look for:
1) Gushes adoration for children
2) Genuinely wants to be a part of the family and has taken the time to envision their life with us. Are they asking generic questions or are they asking really specific questions about our family? If they ask questions about the benefits before asking about the rules, our personalities, our interests, etc, she gets cut
3) Attitude. Even now we have an Au Pair who isn’t good at taking initiative, started off a bit lazy, not organized, etc., but she has a great attitude. If she didn’t have such a good attitude, I’m sure she’d be getting defensive, complaining, etc. She wants to learn and improve, so instead of rematching with her we have been patient because she has been improving with time.
4) Flexible – they need to be able to tell me in their own words what we are asking for when we say flexible. This means different things to different people.

Emerald City HM March 26, 2015 at 4:05 pm

I feel like I have no idea what I look for. Our new requirement is that they have experience at a daycare or similar, at least until both girls are in school and we don’t need an au pair to work the full 45 hours. Our last match we didn’t keep with our normal standard of “not just occasional babysitting” and at least over 2000 hours and well that didn’t really work out for us.

We hope we found the right match with our incoming au pair. We are looking for someone who will take them out and play with them instead of just supervising. My husband and I both crawl around in tunnels with the girls, we expect that someone nearly half our age would do that as well.

Our incoming bro pair is so far the only au pair that mentioned thinking about being a parent himself in his future.

Emerald City HM March 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm

I think I saw a post come through on email that might have gotten lost in the mixup that might have been a follow up question about finding a playful au pair. My answer to that is I’m only hoping right now and that I’ll be sure to update.

In his application, his role at the daycare was activity director and we made sure to ask questions about that. We tried to look for someone who was “sporty” but not involved in a bunch of organized sports. I also threw out any candidates that wanted to live “someplace warm”. While it’s not cold in Seattle and the temperature is quite moderate, the willingness to go out in the cold has to be there. It’s still a lot of guessing. But I do also look for pictures where they are doing something with children and not just posing for the camera.

Didi March 26, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Here is an Au Pair’s input :)

In my two years as an au pair, I have been extremely active in participating in all activities, exploring and seeing everything this country has to offer with other au pairs.
I also saw many, many friends au pairs who were not good childcare providers. They were great girls and amazing friends, but when it came to their job, they were not into it at all and all that mattered to them was to be done with their 45h, so they can go have fun.

I guess, what I am trying to share here is to make sure that person you are screening is not just searching for an American Dream, adventure, fun, parties and shopping. That she had more than her mandatory 200 hours of work with kids and that she is aware how doesn’t matter how much you love kids, there are days when it’s hard. and it’s ok that it’s hard, it is ok that sometimes you feel crabby, as long as you do your best and make sure kids are safe and taken care of properly. I feel that so many of my friends were feeling tricked into “how hard it is” and “how little they are paid”
Look for a person that has lived on her own at least little bit and doesn’t eat every meal out (or that someone else prepares it for her), because she wont be able to afford that lifestyle here and it will make her resent you and au pair program.
Look for a person who is willing to compromise and ask her questions that will make her think little before giving you generic answer.

It all depends on what you need out of au pair, but I believe, based on my and my friends experiences, that girls who are had some experience “fighting” for things and not having it handed to them, will be more willing to accommodate you as host parent and find a happy middle for everyone.

My hosts and I were great match because I don’t need to be micromanaged or told what to do. I am capable of raising their kids like my own and making sure they get all the benefits from this experience. I was also aware that I am part of the family and I helped whenever I could.
But some other family would not like that probably, because I needed my freedom to make my own decisions (with their approval, of course), to plan my own day with kids, food, activities and I also needed their full trust when it came to my free time (usage of car, respecting their privacy and quiet time, etc).
So I guess, it should matter what you need and what your gut is telling you, what kind of energy you are picking up more than how amazing she is on paper.

Because all agencies have rules and they demand you what to write basically. My English was never too bad, but my letter to host family was returned to me several times to fix grammar and to “sell me better” which can make some au pairs applications not as genuine.

Host Mom X March 26, 2015 at 6:35 pm

You sound like a great au pair, Didi! Your last point reminds me of another criteria we use when evaluating the applications. We actually are more drawn to the essays that are full of grammatical errors and funny language mistakes, because that shows us that the au pair wrote it herself, with less help (maybe just google translate, which makes funny mistakes), and from the heart. If we see an application from a candidate from a country where typically young people do not grow up studying English from a young age, and the essay is in perfect English – we are suspicious.

Twin Mama March 26, 2015 at 7:00 pm

I think all of this is such great advice and agree with so much of it! We are only on AP#1 but have had an excellent experience.

As a professional communicator who has spoken to many others with fantastic and not so great au pair situations I believe that advance communication is at the core of a successful match. Establishing and communicating expectations can make a world of difference IMO.

Obviously, there are certain skills and qualifications a family desires or wants to exclude and that must be the foundation. But, unfortunately for many I think that is where things end. I would rather not match with 10 girls after communicating all of my expectations and sharing a very realistic picture of what life will be like (the good, bad and ugly!) than not communicate those expectations up front and wind up with a situation where either the AP or host family is unhappy or disillusioned.

Prior to matching, I searched these boards and many others and found so much great advice to help me define what I did and didn’t want. Then, I created a rather lengthy 10 page “handbook” that is basically a job description along with house rules and expectations/etc. DH thought it was overkill but it has proved to be such a great asset and a resource I can update and use again and again as we match with new AP’s. On day 1, we made our AP breakfast and then sat down to review in-person the expectations and have a frank discussion of exactly what we were looking for and expecting of her.

After a multitude of interviews, once we got to a point with an AP we really felt was a good match, we ignored presser from the Agency (and the fear someone else would swipe her) and waited to officially match until she had a chance to thoroughly review the document and decide if she could meet what we were looking for. I asked her to take at least the weekend to really review and decide if she was up to task of what we were looking for.

Because so many families are looking for different things, it is a lot less about the AP skills and host family expectations and so much more about communicating those in advance so that everyone is happy. Nothing is fail proof but this system has worked well for us and we are very happy with our AP and planning to extend for a second year.

TexasHM March 27, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Twin Mama it sounds like you were able to avoid a very common first time HF mistake – getting attached/bringing emotion into the interview process. We were very thorough preparing for the program but when it came down to two candidates we actually opted for the weaker candidate largely because (deep breath) she wasn’t about to turn 27 and if she didn’t match within a week or two she would lose her dream of ever becoming an AP (her English was weak and she had been in the system a long time so I honestly believed we were her only shot). I literally passed up another candidate that was a strong driver, swim instructor and had better English! What was I thinking?!?!? Now we learned a lot from the process and she will forever be a part of our family and we love her but boy that first year as we struggled and struggled I regularly kicked myself as I watched the other AP flourish via FB in a situation harder than ours (yes, I was punishing myself).

So advice to new host families = do yourself a favor and don’t make a decision until you have gotten to a point where you feel like you have had final conversations with at least 2-3 candidates. I have watched MANY first time host families fall in love with the first profile and override their own criteria and get too emotionally attached. I still struggle with this every interview round and have to pull in my ex-APs and husband and follow my process to a T so I won’t get sucked too much into their stories and dreams (and it still happened to me at a weak point last year). If you too struggle with this get a HM friend or your extended family or someone with hiring experience to help you vet some profiles (or if you have a strong experienced LC – jackpot – have them help!).

Should be working March 27, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Following CV’s link in the post, I came across my own glowing descriptions of my then-new AP, and also found a couple of other posts over a few years where I gushed about my then-new APs. But now I would not describe most of those APs in glowing terms. I would say they were “fine” or “we liked them but…”. I was, in fact, surprised when I saw my own gushy posts and figured out which APs they were referring to.

Not sure what to make of this. Is it a pattern for us that we don’t hold the APs to high standards over time and so by the end we aren’t as positive? Is it that they start off so excited and helpful and then slack off over time (combined with our own slack off in standards)? Is it that any AP would over time not seem as great as when s/he arrives? Is it the “contrast effect” I described above in another response to this post, that when the new one comes she is especially delightful because I have (not fully consciously) selected for the qualities that I felt were missing in the last AP, and we are all so happy to have those qualities–until we realize what OTHER qualities might be missing?

How could I screen for “stays as good as she was at the start”? Is that a screenable quality?

Mimi March 27, 2015 at 1:35 pm

I think the newness of the situation definitely skews the rating. It’s the honeymoon effect. I’d guess that candidates with higher S might be more consistent throughout, but that’s just a hypothesis. I think you’re right in that a big factor in how APs do over the course of a year relies on how we as HMs, maintain our routines or environments for them.

NJ Mama March 27, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Funny about the newness factor. For months and months I didn’t want to say anything about my current AP b/c I thought I would jinx myself. After my string of bad luck that ended with my AP morphing into Bridezilla and moving out four months early — while the family was at a funeral no less! — I was frankly terrified to be continuing in this program.

Now we have less than four months left with our current Au Pair. And I absolutely cannot believe how well it’s worked out. She is a true rockstar. Just so solid across the board. The funny thing is that while I followed a lot of the criteria that many people have cited — varied and lots of childcare experience, experienced driver, held jobs, etc — plus spending WEEKS interviewing, weeding other candidates out, telling her all kinds of horror stories about our family and ending with the dare to match — in the end it was still a bit of a leap of faith. Here’s why:

First, although my current AP is 23, she had never lived away from home before. After experiencing a severely depressed and homesick AP (who had spent some time from home but not much), this would typically be a red flag. The other thing is something that was written about in thread I think a few months ago, and that has to do with religion. My current au pair is very religious. We are not. I initially reached out to her because there were lots of things about her profile that I liked–especially the fact that she had some limited experience with caring for/being in charge with challenging kids. I have a child who has anxiety, is strong willed and can be challenging. And when were in rematch after rematch, each of the APs would cite my daughter “hurting their feelings” as the reason for the rematch (despite all of the interviewing I did). So I am very sensitive to this and I look for APs who have had some sort of challenging childcare situation. I saw something to that effect in her application and wrote to ask her about it. I liked what I heard.

But hey — I’m a lapsed Catholic. I make my kids go to church somewhat regularly more out of a sense of duty and for cultural reasons. My husband is not religious at all. So of course I asked her right away if she would be bothered living with a family who was not all that religious. I told her we would be respectful – but I was honest. She that what she was looking for was a family who would try to give her time off to go to church on Sundays and to a weeknight youth group. She also said that in her area, there weren’t a ton of people in her town that were of the same religion, so she was in a way used to that. [I also spoke with her at length about if she was really ready to be away from her family for a year. And she convinced me that she was.]

The thing is, I spent way way more time talking to her about my kids and our situation than the religion. After we matched, I was nervous that would be our undoing. I know that she didn’t drink. Would she find it offensive when I had a glass of wine? Or — more likely — what would happen the first time one of the kids shouted, “Jesus Christ!” Or me — or more likely my hubby — slipped and cursed?

I am happy to say that none of this has been an issue. When she arrived, we knew her church was a priority for her. So we found the nearest one and made sure she knew how to drive there when going over all the important places to drive to. We also do our best to give her the time off she needed. She hasn’t missed on Sunday and only the occasional Tuesday night. She really appreciates it, and has gone the extra mile for us. It’s been a huge give and take.

The other thing is that by spending all that time “daring to match,” I of course blew things out of proportion. BUT.. she also knew how important it was that she bond with my older child. In the months leading up to her arrival, they would email each other. And after she arrived, she really went out of her way to engage my daughter. The bond she has with my kids is stronger than anything I’ve seen. If she is away for the weekend they miss her. They really do. They love her.

OK – I know I’m babbling but one last thing to point out. After that big discussion with the Disc profile, I had her take it. And at first I thought it was awesome — she was high S and C. Steady and Calm – that is definitely her. But she didn’t like it b/c she thought it made her look like a pushover — she hardly had any D. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t know that ahead of time, b/c I may have seen that as one too many cons — never lived alone, very religious when we’re not, and may not have the ability to stand firm with my kids. That hasn’t been the case at all. But interesting to think about.

I think though one of the big reasons it’s worked out so well is that I also communicated with her a lot more than I did with any of the previous au pairs before they arrived. Some of that was me – but a lot was her. She is very social and she would often just write a quick note telling me how her day was, and I’d reply and do the same. So when she arrived I felt like I knew her. But also, she is just so flexible and appreciative. She appreciates us and we truly appreciate her. And she is just so caring. I’m not really sure how you screen for that. A lot is luck I think.

Now what does this all mean for the next one? Well my husband wanted to limit our search to only religious girls — I said that is not the thing to do! (We made that mistake already, after having back-to-back wonderful 19 yo Germans. We thought all 19 yo Germans were amazing au pairs. I know it’s overly simplistic but hey, it happens!) This time I spent A LOT of time reading A LOT of profiles. I think subconciously I was being a lot more picky. I did stick with the main themes – experienced driver, experience with older kids, something that showed maturity, something that indicated she had dealt with challenging kids and/or challenging interests. And also we added very good English skills, because one thing that helped right away with my oldest daughter is that she didn’t get frustrated or worried that the au pair didn’t understand things. I think/hope/pray (yes pray!) that I found a good one. We’re excited. But… time will tell!

So good luck to all in reading the tea leaves. I don’t know if anything about what I wrote helps anyone. BUT… the big thing is we have this terrific blog, which gives us all a place to turn to :)

Seattle Mom March 27, 2015 at 6:36 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this story! I think it will help me- it helps me see what it is I really am looking for, and how to get it. Sometimes the same information about two different people mean different things- in one case it’s a red flag, in another case it’s distracting unimportant details. You need the context to understand which one it is. I am also leery of very religious girls, but I can see how it could work out. If nothing else, your story will help me to be more open minded about certain details as long as I listen to my intuition and communicate well and really get to know people.

It’s hard though.. because some of the au pairs are harder to get to know. My current one is an example. She is self-conscious about her English ability so she did not share a lot of her personality in matching. She is also somewhat reserved, which is natural for a woman from Japan. It was helpful that my husband has lived in Japan for years so he understood all of that, and if I worried that she didn’t say much he could tell me that was how it would be with most young Japanese women. The things she did say were enough for me though. And while it’s too early to tell if I will talk about her as a super rock star in years to come I do know that she is a very good AP.

Emerald City HM March 27, 2015 at 6:48 pm

Our Japanese au pair was like that too. The unsure of her own English ended up being a bigger problem for us because she just didn’t talk to the girls, like at all. Eventually, it started working out, but it took at least 3 months to start going in that direction.

I still haven’t cracked the code of how to help a Japanese woman learn without being direct. She really wanted to improver her English and we wanted to help, but the direct feedback we would give her wasn’t the way she learned. We realized with the way my husband and I are ourselves, we just are not a good host family for Japanese au pairs, even though she was amazing with our kids (once she was able to connect with them).

Host Mom X March 30, 2015 at 9:40 am

Which agency are you both with that still has Japanese au pairs? Our Japanese au pair was from APC, but they no longer work with the Japanese agencies (they couldn’t tell me why) and we’re with APIA now, and they don’t have any Japanese au pairs either (and apparently never have)?

Our Japanese au pair was our best au pair ever, though since she came to us out of rematch and after having been in our area of the U.S. for a few months, she was already confident enough in her English to communicate well with us (we had a Japanese friend over when she came to interview, to try to make her feel comfortable if she wanted an interpreter for more complicated questions, but she didn’t need it). And she is definitely an example of someone we would have passed over in the regular matching process.

WarmStateMomma March 30, 2015 at 10:16 am

I hosted a high school foreign exchange student from Japan. That kid was the most outgoing, social kid I’ve met in years. He made a million mistakes in English and a million friends. The Japanese girls I met through the exchange program were not all shy, so I think it’s possible to find another outgoing Japanese AP if you can find a program.

Seattle Mom March 30, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Host Mom X – I am with Interexchange and they still have Japanese au pairs, though not many!

Seattle Mom March 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Plus I would say that our AP is fairly outgoing, she was just reserved with us before she got to know us. Au pairs I have interviewed from other places seemed more forthcoming. Hmm.. our Thai au pair was quite reserved with us when we skyped with her, and then she came to us and was *anything* but reserved (and a wonderful person).

Emerald City HM March 30, 2015 at 2:42 pm

Ours was through APC, but that was 2 years ago when we matched with her.

Our (now previous) APC AD mentioned they would no longer be accepting males into the program if APC didn’t actually have a recruiter in that country, so maybe they are shifting away from contract recruiters entirely? Their front page (without login) still indicates they do have Japanese au pairs in the system, but only like 5, it might also be that they are unable to recruit enough to make it worth their while.

Host Mom X March 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm

Hmm, it was about a year and a half ago when we were still with APC and looking for Japanese au pairs, and by then APC said they had no more and couldn’t say when they’d begin recruiting from Japan again.

To clarify: our Japanese AP was also super-outgoing, a “mom” to the other APs in our cluster, the party organizer, etc. But had we not met her in person during rematch, I’m not sure that would have come through over Skype or on the phone, especially before she had been in America for awhile. She wrote us a note when she got engaged recently that she is thankful to our family for teaching her how to say “I love you” and express emotions to another person so that you can grow a relationship – something that had not been as natural to her coming from a more emotionally reserved culture. That meant a lot to us.

TexasHM March 30, 2015 at 6:37 pm

That is quite possibly the sweetest thing I have ever heard of an AP saying to a HF! What a compliment!!!

Host Mom X March 31, 2015 at 9:43 am

And now I am tearing up thinking about her and how much she means to our family and what a great AP she was, as we are getting through our last week of rematch with our current au pair and crossing our fingers for the new one to arrive on Monday! Let’s hope our streak of great rematch APs continues! Nervous!

Mimi March 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

I’m not really a “tea leaves” person because I’m so process oriented. I leave the gut feelings to HD, but my evaluation of prospective APs boils down to how I feel they will integrate into our family and if I think they are someone I can work with for our needs and theirs. I hire, train, and work with college-age students and I frequently have to remind co-workers that we don’t hire our student staff for the skills they have, but for the potential we can develop in them. I look for the same with my APs.

We look for European (Austria first) APs from a large(r) family, ideally with 3 or more children with both parents working outside the home. They should be drivers and swimmers, but not vegetarians or have food allergies. We also choose APs who are younger (18-20), since they are more malleable and don’t usually have strong opinions about child rearing. Music interests (playing an instrument at some point) and sports activities are a plus. I like other work experience (waitressing, secretarial, retail) and community involvement. I use the DiSC profile to find high S and C candidates. I don’t pay much attention to photos, references, or childcare experience and only glance at their intro letter. HD usually focuses on these.

PacNWHostMom March 27, 2015 at 2:47 pm

We’ve had great luck so far with our AP’s and are interviewing for our third.
I’ve narrowed it down to two I really like, but they are polar opposites! They also have very similar DISC profiles, which we just started paying more attention to. HD really liked to review those, and will tell me flat out if we need to pass or not.

In the past, we’ve had the opportunity to match very quicky and with the other take our time. Both times I followed my gut. I looked at the pics and videos, I read their profiles, and talked with them over Skype. At the end of the day, it was all about how I felt about them, and less about what was in their profile or what they said. Certainly, I would have ditched them if there were any red flags along the way.

I have a few key factors that are a “must”: driver (on the same side of the road we do), swimmer, and some sort of fun hobby she can share with my kids. I also like to see how well they communicate with us when trying to set up the interview. Do they initiate contact? Are they respectful of our schedules and willing to compromise? We are a very outgoing, silly family and we don’t take ourselves seriously, at all. So having a sense of humor is also really important to me.

All that said, I’m curious if anyone has any “go to” questions they love to ask during the interview process? What are your “zingers” that you use to really test their responses?
I find the standard questions so boring, and the girls are typically well-coached on how to answer. I rarely ever ask any of those and pretty much go on gut, on how they can have a conversation with us, how they react when my kids come racing in the room and try to show off over Skype, to the kids fighting in the background, dog barking, tech issues etc.. How do they handle themselves in awkward or stressful situations is what I like to see. Sometimes I intentionally schedule Skype dates when I know it’s going ot be crazy, because I can see how they handle it and also if they’re still really interested!
That said, I’d love to know some of your favorite questions or methods for “reading the tea leaves”.

TexasHM March 27, 2015 at 2:52 pm

This is fascinating. If you don’t mind me asking Mimi why Austria? And if you don’t find an Austrian what other countries do you expand to and why? And you look for under 21 APs, is 18-20 more likely to be the age for an Austrian AP and would the 21+ candidates be more rigid? I really liked a couple Austrians last round but I don’t know much about Austria and the timing didn’t align but I would be very curious to hear why you target a particular country or countries.

Mimi March 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm

My family is Austrian/German and we’ve spent time living there. Austrians tend to have a similar lifestyle and household structure as the Germans. HD and I call them ‘Germans with personality’ because they tend to be more laid back and less ambitious. Our household structure, holiday traditions, and parenting techniques are familiar to them and wouldn’t be hard for them to adapt to. The idea of being an AP is a very common concept in both cultures and that fosters a better pattern of expectations for the program, IMO.

We then look at Germany, Poland, Czech, and Switzerland because they are culturally familiar to us and we can help them manage their expectations better because of that familiarity. I feel that if our home culture is not so alien and different, then it is easier for them to adjust to the bigger-picture culture outside our home and have a more successful year than if they have major adjustments everywhere. We will consider other areas as well and have had APs from the Ukraine, Italy, and Colombia. I live in an area with high immigration rates from Eastern European countries and these local communities have offered a local area of refuge (of sorts) for APs. (Two of them met their spouses this way.)

AP#5 was Italian and too dramallama for us. Most of the Italian APs have a DiSC profile that is too aggressive but not compliant enough for my structured household. My BIL (native of northern Italy) shared with us that idea of being an AP is not common in Italy and that he thought we would have trouble getting ours to do household chores because young women are not accustomed to sharing in household chores. (He was right.)

We almost chose an AP from France for AP #6, but her language skills were too weak for my poor French. We went with Colombia since my ugrad degree is in Latin American cultures, I speak Spanish, and all 3 kids take it in school. Unfortunately, she was antisocial/introverted, had family/personal problems, and it turned out to be a bad match. I’ve noticed since last fall that 80% of the rematch IQ APs are Colombian, and I’ve heard anecdotal information that they don’t typically finish their year. I think the recruiting there sells a different version of AP life that contributes to this.

IMO, 18-20 in other countries isn’t the same as 18-20 in the US. There are different freedoms afforded to young adults at an earlier age and on average 18-20 is more like 20-24 here. Both of our rematch APs were older (22 and 23). They had very established ideas about how a household should run and what it meant to be independent (although neither has any experience doing either). They were not very open to suggestions or criticism, and took any feedback along those lines as being treated as less than an adult. What I’ve seen in our cluster, read in transition documents, and heard from other older APs echoes this.

(*Please note that my observations are all generalizations based on my experiences. YMMV.)

TexasHM March 27, 2015 at 5:36 pm

Very interesting thank you for being willing to share and be so candid. An aside, I have talked to several matching coordinators at different agencies and was also given insight that Colombia is a high rematch country but both agencies said it was almost always due to poor driving ability.
I agree that 18-20 in the other countries is not 18-20 here but I have heard repeatedly from matching coordinators that it varies A LOT. When I read your description above I had to wonder how old your Colombian AP was and if some of those issues were due to immaturity/lack of exposure/life experience. In my experience, South Americans (Brazilians are who I have the most experience with) trended the other way. So an 18-20 year old American would be a much older (24-26 yr old) Brazilian equivalent but I also saw as you said, an 18-20 year old American seems to be more in line with a 16-18 year old German for example.

Not to put you on the spot again but if you wouldn’t mind sharing (keeping in mind we had a burnout Polish AP) how you managed/adjusted expectations with those other country (Germany, Poland, Czech, Switzerland) candidates would be super insightful and perhaps clue me and others into if those cultures are a good fit for our family dynamics or if we just had a fluke bad experience (with our burnout).

Mimi March 28, 2015 at 1:10 pm

I just typed a lengthy response to this ^^ but don’t see it…?

TexasHM March 28, 2015 at 7:26 pm


Mimi March 28, 2015 at 7:36 pm

ok, trying this again…

Our Colombian AP was 23 and had just finished college. She had lived away from home but close enough to visit frequently. She was more independent than I expected (practicing a different religion from her family which is uncommon in Latin America). Our real problem stemmed from the fact that her parents were recently separated and divorcing and her mother did not support her being an AP and actively encouraged her to quit the program at every turn (despite the fact that the AP had borrowed money for the program that she still had not repaid). Had we known this, we never would have matched with her, especially because of the role of family in Colombian culture.

I tend to take some information at face value on most applications (e.g. housework/chores experience) but will ask more clarifying questions of any other candidates from Italy or South America because both our rematch APs from there were not honest on their applications about their home routines and one (Colombia) had been directly encouraged to exaggerate.

Many of my questions are more ‘job interview’ than ‘childcare experience.’ I look for indicators of work ethic and potential for problem solving, as well as the ability to learn from experience. When we interview prospective APs, I ask about their family dynamics (in a conversational way) and try to assess how that would mesh with our family. We talk about typical family meals, family outings, division of labor, discipline growing up, holiday traditions, etc. I also share this information about our household and how we specifically look to include the AP in our family dynamic.

Being an AP is a familiar concept in Germany, Poland, Czech, and Switzerland. If you ask a prospective AP from these countries what it means to them to be an AP, you should hear about childcare, family, culture, experience, and improving language skills. If you hear travel and adventure, those should be red flags IMO.

The experience with your Polish AP might have been a fluke, or there might have been cultural indicators there. It’s hard to say. (I can’t remember if I’ve read about it in another topic?) I’ve heard that Poland is a fairly homogenous and socially conservative nation. It’s common in Poland for girls to help out around the house but not do much cooking. Think mother’s helpers but not necessarily self-starters. Curfews are common and most families have pretty strict parental roles.

Most Poles I know (born in Poland but emigrated here) have this love/hate relationship with their heritage (proud of their history but disappointed that they have no Nobel prize winners) and are very concerned about personal status/integrity and can take criticism very personally if they feel it affects their status/integrity. They want to be friendly and accepted but this could be more a trait of immigrants.

I’m not sure if that helps or answers your question. (My first response was probably more focused and less distracted by NCAA basketball action. :) )

Brooklyn_HP April 1, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Our AP is from Poland and we positively adore her! Although she does take criticism a bit personally so all feedback must be delivered gently. And she can’t cook (but I don’t care about that) so I think some of what Mimi mentioned is spot on…

exaupair April 2, 2015 at 9:55 am

Bit OT, but you didn’t do your homework apparently :-) Poland has several Nobel Prize winners.

Mimi April 2, 2015 at 10:37 am

I’m aware of that. :) I would point out that Chopin, Marie Curie, Sabin and many other cultural and science pioneers were all Polish. (They invented Q-tips!) It was more about the perception of Poles as not being known and celebrated for this along with hearing frequent and aggressive use of an ethnic slur to describe people of Polish descent.

TexasHM April 2, 2015 at 11:33 am

I asked because after our burnout I couldn’t bring myself to consider any applications from Poland and I don’t like the idea of excluding candidates from an entire country due to one disasterous experience. In a very quick summary we had major issues with awareness (safety, geospatial, social, you name it). She was already suffering from culture shock the day she arrived which threw me for a loop because I am used to APs having the excited honeymoon period but she looked pretty miserable the entire 3 weeks she was with us and we took a trip during that time and she loved our kids!

Here are the things I am still struggling with – she was convinced that she had the skills to do this (or could develop them) and that was far from true in this instance. All the things I spelled out for her and she agreed and seemed confident in went out the window on arrival. I sat down with her several times alone and told her it was ok to be overwhelmed and ok to rematch, we would house and support her search for another family. Then after 8 safety incidents and 2 car accidents in 4 days we had to finally call rematch and she was relieved! Said she was in over her head and loved us but it was too much for her. Unfortunately with those type and number of issues the agency wasn’t going to give her the opportunity to rematch and once she found out she would have to pay for a plane ticket home she became desperate and threw us under the bus so she wouldn’t have to chip in for the car accidents.

So I guess what we saw was general Debbie Downer, dishonest when it served her purpose (she tried to get our nanny to take her shopping for shoes at the same time she was crying to me about not having any money to pay for the car accidents) and no awareness. I had been warned about APs from Baltic countries but I didn’t want to buy into stereotypes and she hid her true self (major duckfaces on FB hidden from us, only wore dresses and heels and needed makeup to walk to the mailbox) despite us clearly explaining our needs and best traits for our household (sporty, up to walk out the door with 5 min notice for an adventure, casual, flexible). Her profile experience was exaggerated/borderline untrue in several areas and usually we catch that when reviewing in interviewing but she said it was all true until arrival and then we got a lot of “well, I did go to college “away” but technically I lived at my parents house and drove in everyday” and “well, I didn’t actually own a car but my parents let me use theirs whenever I wanted” and “well, we do have big, similar highways in Poland but the ones I drove on were one lane in each direction and not 70 mph speed limit” and “most of my experience with kids was tutoring and the parents were home”. Also keep in mind we were with Interexchange at the time and they use recruiters so I have no doubt that influenced all this and I would be more comfortable reconsidering Polish APs now that we are with CCAP and they have direct offices and aren’t incentivized to ship over as many as possible regardless of outcome.

She let my kids do literally whatever they wanted (even if dangerous) and couldn’t get two turns to the dance studio in our smaller suburb even after weeks of practice with 3 different people helping.

Good characteristics we saw – determination (maybe too much) as she was determined to just suck it up and be miserable to be able to say she finished her year, she was a great cook, gave 100% effort (just didn’t have the skillset), bonded with the kids right away and she was religious (part of why the pathological lying was so frustrating).

So I guess what I am ultimately wondering is – is honesty a value in Poland? Do most Polish APs have worse culture shock than other more westernized countries? What are the positive qualities of Polish APs generally and what would help us find a “great” Polish AP vs a “good” one if we could stomach trying an AP from there again?

Mimi April 2, 2015 at 2:49 pm

I don’t think that Polish APs get proportionally any more homesick than any other culture where the concept of being an AP is familiar. I think they do value honesty, but I think that family and personal considerations would come before honesty in some cases that HP deal with. I think this is also true of many other cultures and of many young adults for a variety of reasons.

The Poles I know are very hospitable, resourceful, and ambitious. The APs from Poland I have interviewed have been motivated to travel and improve their language. If I remember correctly, you have a thorough screening process and probably have good questions for screening for qualities you value. Maybe adding some (more?) situational questions might help with some of the issues you had here. For these questions, I ask them “in-person” because I like to see if they can think on their feet and to gauge their reaction to some questions.

Sometimes you might learn the most from offhand comments like the time HD had a broken foot from tripping down the stairs and was telling a prospective match about it. She replied that she was very clumsy and always falling but not usually breaking things. (!) Some of what you describe is what I call “princess” behavior that isn’t always easy to screen for but we also ask conversational questions aimed at assessing their daily routine for grooming as neither HD nor I take ‘Hollywood showers’ or take more than 30 minutes to get ready for an excursion (including showering).

As a rule, I always look for a working class family (which mirrors my own) because I think that similar values (many based on economic factors) really helps with culture shock. If a potential AP I’m interviewing doesn’t have any other working experience, I ask questions to try to determine why that is and what other experiences/personal qualities might give me a clue to their ability to take being an AP seriously as a real job that is about hard work. I also ask questions about their perception of the US and family life here or what kind of American shows they watch. (They’re not going to have an accurate idea of life in rural New England if they have only watched Baywatch/CSI/Jersey Shore…)

I think it’s hard to say if your Polish AP was a fluke or if there is a family value/ culture clash that makes Polish APs not a good fit for you. I would encourage you to keep looking at them, especially if you think CCAP might do a better job screening candidates in this region. I don’t have experience with another agency, but I also had trouble with candidate honesty where both my rematch APs were concerned and I think that there are often situations where no amount of screening can expose willful dishonesty before the fact and where APs have a skewed idea of what being an AP entails.

TexasHM April 2, 2015 at 5:22 pm

Thanks Mimi yes that is my dilemma. We asked situational questions but if they fudge a little or a lot it can be very hard even if they have the best intentions. I agree, she was a youngest and much younger than her siblings so I worried about maturity/princess behavior but she was very confident during matching and had the right answers to everything (and honestly I was interview fatigued so I wasn’t pressing as hard as I normally would or I still might have caught this – she was the only one that made it through my rounds in 5-6 weeks when I normally have several all the way through in 2 weeks so I had never dealt with – or thought about – interview fatigue and didn’t realize I was settling).

And of course, as knee jerk our incoming AP had to answer all kinds of awesome new bizarro questions like “do you wear jeans?” “do you require makeup to go to the mailbox? the grocery store?” “did you actually live away at college or did you live at home and drive there?” and “what is the craziest thing you ever ate” (polish AP – likely something polish as she didn’t want to try anything new and complained about the food to everyone that would listen except us of course – new AP said a tadpole!” :) After we matched I explained everything that happened in detail and incoming AP totally understood but did admit she was wondering what I was thinking when I was asking all that!

Taking a Computer Lunch April 3, 2015 at 6:51 am

Hindsight is always 20/20. When things aren’t perfect, we go over the interview responses, and the answer is always there, we just didn’t see it as a major issue at the time.

I do my best to disarm APs at the start of the interview, stating outright that there are no right or wrong answers, I just want them to be as honest about themselves as possible, so that I can weed out the lovely young women who, when asked what their housework chores are, respond, “I don’t have any chores. My mother does all the housework. Of course, I do help when she asks,” because that’s a red flag that I’ll be coaching all year long.

We, too, are up front, so the fastidious AP who needs everything in it’s place and the house spelling like deodorizing spray may select another family with whom to match.

We’ve had enough issues with driving that it’s now a 10-question section of our interview (including trying to assess map-reading skills, the largest city in which they’ve driven, and the frequency).

But, if you’re frustrated by the behavior of an AP, re-read the responses to your interview questions, because frequently the answer was there. The issue is how to motivate him or her to do what you think is appropriate (or how to surrender the things that are not that important – like the AP who sleeps for the 6 hours during the day between shifts and doesn’t take advantage of being in the U.S.).

TexasHM April 3, 2015 at 10:38 am

TACL great points as always! I’m curious though – how do you assess map reading skills? Our first and burnout APs couldn’t read a map to save their lives but I’m not sure how to screen it either. I asked the incoming au pair how she generally gets to places when she goes to a new city or area and when she said she tries to study a map beforehand I almost cried with elation! The first AP out of 5 rounds of interviewing and hundreds of candidates to ever mention the magic word – MAP!

You are so right. After it all fell apart I went back and reread all of her interview question responses and while there were no wrong answers per se there was also nothing that really wowed or excited me. It was pretty much mediocre responses across-the-board. So much so that when I got to the end of rereading it all I wondered how she made it all the way through our process in the first place and even told my husband that if it had been any other interview round I probably would not have progressed her because there just wasn’t anything jumping out that said yes! Pick her! Her responses were just good enough to pass and honestly I have eliminated candidates for less. Oh well very hard and expensive lesson learned! I do have to say though we considered leaving the program entirely after this. If our other ex au pairs had not reached out and pushed and begged us to give it another chance I don’t think we would be doing this again anytime soon. As it stands new AP arrives in a few weeks – fingers crossed!!

NZ HM March 28, 2015 at 3:13 am

Mimi, do you ever feel at any point (during search/ matching or when AP is with you) that the familiarity with similar lifestyle, household structure, parenting techniques as in AP home country work against rather than for you? Thinking that yes, it makes it easier for them to adapt (and I would personally appreciate that) but they might also feel they are missing out on the true all Americal experience?

Mimi March 28, 2015 at 11:58 am

It’s familiar enough but not the same. We are still typical Americans in many respects. What is familiar is food, holiday traditions, discipline, and household structure (division of labor and routine). They still get exposure to other HF homes and families outside that part of their cultural frame of reference.

Dorsi March 28, 2015 at 11:37 am

Just to share my experience — we have had 3 APs from Colombia and all have completed their years and been great APs for us. Of course, they are all unique, but they did have some commonalities. I like that they all have had some college experience (2/3 had never lived away from home). All were terrible drivers, but teachable. Our LCC told us that she has never had a Colombian enter the US as a competent driver, but has had many who were quickly able to learn. All three were ambitious and had big life plans that the Ap year was part of. They also had taken considerable financial risk coming here, and were committed to the program. The reason they worked for us (and might not work well for others) is that they were very much still in the place where they wanted to be parented. They easily accept any restrictions we placed on them. They are incredibly warm with our kids, but not good with boundaries/discipline. We feel like the most important quality we look for from the AP is warmth and love, and that parents can be the disciplinarians (all have enforced the rules we felt most important, but not so much about discipline on the fly).

I know of a few Colombians in rematch — the stories I know center on poor driving, and bad US families (I feel like the South Americans are more likely to accept any family situation because of their lower rates at initial matching)/

Mimi March 28, 2015 at 7:43 pm

I think that our was really just a bad experience for other reasons. She was great with the baby but her mom was the real third adult in our home. Driving wasn’t really an issue for us and she was very motivated to improve her English.

futbolmom March 30, 2015 at 1:27 pm

I find the issue of matching to cultural background really interesting. My husband’s family is Latino and because we wanted the kids to improve their spanish our first two au pairs were from south america. Because of a matching time crunch, our most recent au pair is German. All were/are great au pairs but with their own strengths and weaknesses. It was much easier however, to have “reset” conversations with the South Americans. Without really realizing it, we were all on a common same page regarding certain values of family, community, and behavior. We are having much more of a “culture shock” with the German, who although earnest, sweet and hardworking, does not have the easy-breezy openness of the others. In particular our “challenging child” is chaffing under the au pair’s rule-following culture, while the au pair has hurt feelings when the challenging child won’t engage with him. I am trying to look at it as a learning opportunity for both cultures but if we were matching for next year (kids aging out finally) would be back to south american au pairs in a flash.

Mimi March 30, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Totally get this. I find it easier to have this kind of convo with my similar-culture APs because they are used to the direct and frank communication style I grew up with. It’s interesting to me that although we are definitely Americans (my paternal grandparents were born here), like futbolmom says the cultural norms of family, community, and behavior still stick with us. I wonder if it might also be regional in the US; east coast vs west or north/south?

Should be working March 30, 2015 at 6:02 pm

I grew up way east and then lived way west. West was more foreign to me in communication style than some European countries.

MGHostMom March 30, 2015 at 8:25 pm

Really interesting. Our first au pair fit your description to a tee — Austrian, 18, etc. She went home before two months were up because she was mega homesick (and completely taken off guard that she could BE homesick) and she wasn’t willing to press on because her nascent support network (all young Austrians) were also returning home or rematching. We heard of literally a half-dozen 18-20 year old Austrians in our area returning home within the first two months.

A fluke? Or not unusual? How do you help your young au pairs through the homesickness?

Taking a Computer Lunch March 31, 2015 at 7:04 am

It’s not just young APs who suffer from homesickness – older ones – even those who have worked outside their countries & lived away from their parents suffer from it, too. I discuss it openly – and at different times of the year. I usually tell my APs about the first day I went to buy a pair of jeans in a foreign country and broke down because the sizes were not American and I didn’t know how to begin to find something that fit.

I also talk about the importance of accepting invitations to coffee/go on a walk/going to the movies with APs who reach out – or creating their own network. My most successful APs didn’t wait for other people to call them when they were homesick, they reached out to other APs and invited them over.

Christmas is another particularly hard time – and so I am preemptive, and spend a few minutes discussing how hard it will be, and how they should feel free to carve out time to Skype with family, bake familiar cookies, or do something that reminds them of home with the kids.

For a couple of APs, who arrived late in the Fall, I chatted after the holidays about the need to reach out and find people with whom they enjoyed exercising and spending free time during the winter doldrums. I do advise them that their year will be a lot more fun if they don’t spend it in their bedroom.

Some APs will insist that they are not homesick, but it manifests itself in many ways: exhaustion, excessive sleeping, negativity, inability to try new foods or activities. If I see that an AP is not attempting to build a life for herself in my community, then I reach out to the LCC to check in. I’m fortunate to have a great LCC with lots of practical experience.

Host Mom X March 31, 2015 at 9:55 am

Our current rematch AP had major homesickness issues, and she is 24, and had lived by herself for several years (though not too far from her parents and siblings, who she saw often). She exhibited all of the symptoms you mention above, TACL, though some of them – complaining, refusal to try different foods, etc., seemed like they might just be part of her nature after awhile (she’s Western European, so our food isn’t all THAT different; she’s just a “white foods” kind of gal, like our children!).

We tried all of the sorts of encouragement you describe as well, and her homesickness does seem to have dissipated somewhat (after almost two months), especially since she was keen on trying to rematch rather than just going home. (Though she had a lot on the line – she gave up her apartment for the year, so she would have to live with her parents for the rest of the year and commute to work – and it sounds like she’d get a good bit of the “I told you so” from her mom!)

Though our LCC said that she doesn’t consider it normal for the intense homesickness to last as long as it seemed to in our current AP – at least a month, accompanied by a lot of weepiness. Then again, the combo of homesickness with the job just not being right for her sort of bled into each other and it’s now hard for us to pinpoint when it stopped being the one and become entirely the other.

Nina March 27, 2015 at 3:40 pm

I always look for AP over 21 with good English, social, experienced with boys is a must since we have 2 boys. I feel that the AP that come from larger families work better for us,maybe of all the energy in the house… Pictures are also important to me: Pictures with multiple kids, kids have to seem happy, in a moment. All of our AP who had pictures with kids smiling or laughing were great. Check facebook page and definitely check all the references the are available. I ask a lot of questions : I ask them to rate the AP in different areas, love for kids, social, ability to set limits, maturity, etc.. Then I ask the reference to describe the person’s strength and then weakness. I would say something we all have weaknesses, want to understand AP weaknesses. If the reference said no to being contacted, I try to find out why by asking the Ap and I also had a situation where I asked if instead of calling I could email them. I just discovered the meaning of DISC and I am sure I’ll use that in the future. Also important is to see how they speak to kids on skype.

Nina March 27, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Oh, and have over minimum of 1,000 hours of experience with kids.

TexasHM March 27, 2015 at 4:29 pm

We look for over 21 (or turning shortly after arrival), strong driving experience, strong swimmer (we have a pool and Gparents at the beach), flexible, mature, full time work experience (not necessarily childcare), lived away from home, empathetic, have specific well thought out goals for their time in the AP program and low maintenance personality (no 1 advance notice to leave the house because they have to wear makeup and cute clothes on a drive thru ice cream run at 9pm). Things we really like – volunteer experience, musical or other talents or special skills (ER nurse) and optimism.
Something thats trended amongst our successful au pairs that I am not sure if it should be criteria but is interesting – all ours have been oldest children with significantly younger siblings (7+ years younger) and brunette :) (next is blond).

NJ Mama March 27, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Being oldest children is also something I look for. My two great Germans were the oldest — helps with that “big sister thing.” although again, my current AP was the youngest of 5. She had a ton of nieces and nephews, and I could tell she spent a lot of time with them, but again it went past type. YOU NEVER KNOW!!!

Mimi March 28, 2015 at 7:45 pm

I love oldest children. Oldest of a bigger family is even +++ in my book, but you’re right that the bigger family dynamics can really make a difference.

old au pair mom March 31, 2015 at 9:32 pm

+1 on all of Texas HM’s choices. We love older, sweeter, kinder, more loving. Any AP will work in our house (and we have done this for 15+ years) as long as they have caring hearts and are willing to share our kiddos with us.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 27, 2015 at 8:34 pm

By now you all now my strategy. The second paragraph in my dare-to-match-with-us (not a term I coined, but one I love) email uses the words work and job, and also states that we are not the right family for everyone and it’s okay to say no. And then we describe our family.

I figure any AP who gets past the bells, flags and whistles is interested. Over the years, I’ve figured out that sometimes it’s for the wrong reasons. AP #8 liked us because we lived near her favorite garage band and pushed us to match with her. She was unprepared to do the job, actually said “I didn’t come here to be a housemaid,” and plowed our subcompact AP car into the side of a Hummer. And yet, DH asked to keep her because he couldn’t bare the 6-week out-of-country rematch. Nevertheless, after enduring the year with her, he said “Never again,” so when AP #10, who promised us that even though she quit a degree in nutrition, knew all about it (within two weeks of living in our house, she convinced DH to buy her: 4 flats of sodas, store-bought cookies, french fries, and did not eat fresh fruits or vegetables), cared for The Camel just like a nurse’s assistant on ward, and was rude to child #2, we said goodbye. Whew!

I don’t expect my APs to be perfect. I know they’re going to text their friends. I do expect that they will do the things I ask of them – including taking The Camel for a walk nearly every day (and my neighbors will let me know how the AP is doing!). It’s a physical job – lifting, walking, and physically handling a teenager (albeit a tiny one) as if she were a toddler. I know they don’t come to the US to take care of children – they could have done that at home – it’s the adventure.

AP #11 is living with us. Each AP has been different, but yes, there were types. Each had strengths and weaknesses, but honestly, the only two who were really “wrong” were the two “vegetarians” who were both “white food eaters,” who were so immature that they chafed at the job.

I look for APs who have worked extensively with children – and experience with any type of child with special needs (not necessarily like mine) is mandatory. Anyone who says they have remained connected to kids with whom they had worked during a practicum, gets bonus points.

Look, the Camel does most of the screening for me. DH and I rarely match with our first choice, and yet, most years, we match with the AP who was just right for us. Does it require compromise on our part? You bet! But unless the AP pushes back on every little thing, we can survive. No one is perfect, but we need to host some willing to do the job – and care about it.

Peachtree Mom March 27, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Gosh TaCL, how did you get past that comment from AP#8 and live out the year with her? ….and then totaling your car? It seems from your posts you are on an incredibly even keel but that scenario seemed so rude and nasty. I don’t think I could have gotten past such rudeness…esp for a year. Sorry, I am not trying to change the subject of the thread.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 27, 2015 at 10:47 pm

She didn’t actually total the car, APs 2-7 drove it as if they had paid for it themselves and its Blue Book was high enough that insurance paid for it to be rebuilt. The AP paid the $500 deductible and suffered a new 10 PM curfew on the car (and we never relented on it). She was definitely our 2nd worst AP (we rematched with the worst one).

I’m not always even-keeled. In hindsight, we should have rematched with AP #8 before her birthday (which was the night she had the accident) – she required constant job coaching right up until the end of her year. We happily said goodbye a week early (without pay). I think she would have spent her “travel month” in our basement playroom, until I told her no guests. I typically say very little about my APs, but my poor colleagues were treated to X stories the entire year she lived with us. Lesson I learned, if you find yourself complaining about your AP to anyone who will listen – rematch!

Nevertheless, I strongly believe that everyone deserves to be treated like a human being – and that includes The Camel, who has no real voice in any of this. I believe in being fair – and generous when I am able (and that doesn’t mean buying things – that means saying yes to attending a concert, to having a particular weekend off, even when it’s not quite perfect for me). In return, I demand the same generosity of spirit – and that requires understanding that when I say “No,” I’m not doing it to be mean, but because I’m simply don’t have the flexibility.

Finally, communication requires listening just as much as talking – and the times DH and I goofed in matching, all the clues were there – we just didn’t listen.

Host Mom X March 30, 2015 at 9:58 am

That is so true about the complaining about your AP to anyone and everyone being a strong rematch signal. HD and I knew rematch was necessarily this time around when we realized we were spending ALL of our limited alone time together talking about AP issues, and our poor friends had to suffer through the same thing. As you can all see, my increased presence on this blog also coincides with a rematch period! So much venting needed!

Multitasking Host Mom March 27, 2015 at 11:13 pm

Every year I tell our placement manager what I want in an AP, and every year they pick AP profiles that are not at all what I am looking for. So now I am one of those people who want to look at a lot of applications (probably about 30 or so each time) and do quick scans to see which ones I want to weed out and which need a more through reading.

My must haves are:
-Special need willing (I have a son with anxiety issues and while he actually is doing quite well right now, I will still look for someone with this designation.) This type of AP often shows patience, which is my number one needed personality criteria in an AP.
-Has had some type of long term job. I don’t really care what kind of field it is in, or if it is a paid job or an unpaid internship. And it can be (and most often is) a part time/few days a week job since most of my APs are also in school. The reason I look for this is I want someone who has had to show up and be held accountable for a full day. This criteria come about after my first AP who was straight out of high school and had never worked was totally overwhelmed by the job of being an AP.
-I want them to have some kind of goal in life. For example, becoming an AP will help them in their future career goals, etc. I am trying to avoid someone who is just signing up to be an AP because they do not have anything better to do, and will not be as vested in completing their year.
-I do look for some one that on the personality test is what my agency designates as first color blue and second color yellow. This isn’t a deal breaker, but is a big consideration. I know I don’t want someone who is very dominant (red). Showing initiative and giving suggestions are great, but I don’t want an AP who will completely take over and not do what I ask for when caring for my kids.
-Their child care experience can’t be only babysitting for family friends or relatives. I want an AP who had someone who was not related to them trust them to watch their children.
-They have to value education since helping with homework is becoming more and more important as my kids get older. I prefer someone with some college, although for the right AP doing their gap year before they start college, a rigorous high school course is also okay.

After I narrow down the applications with this criteria, I dig deeper into the applications with a complete read. This is where I really feel like I am reading the tea leaves. At that point it is just a feeling I get that this APs experience and personality will be the right fit for our family. We do a few emails back and forth and the Skype interviews, and hopefully we match with a great AP. Although, every year I feel racked with nerves that I missed something. I am always second guessing myself until the new AP gets to our home. Luckily, the last few times I read the tea leaves right, and we have had awesome APs.

NJ Mama March 30, 2015 at 11:09 am

Multitasking HM – Interesting. I feel that what finally pulled me out of my rematch period was looking for APs who were either special-needs willing or who had some experience with special needs or challenging children. My oldest also has anxiety and when we were in that awful zone all the rematch APs said the same thing — she hurts my feelings. She was 8/9 at the time and the APs were 20-24. It was a really difficult time because my daughter would be nervous that the AP wasn’t doing the job “right” (is she going to get me to school on time? Does she know how to drive to the gymnastics studio?) And she would get really stressed and act out. And the AP didn’t understand and would think she was second-guessing her and giving her a hard time for nothing. And it would end up in a big fight. I suppose the one good thing that came of it is that it ultimately got me to have my kid evaluated and once I understood the anxiety (her initial docs thought she was ADHD, even though that didn’t fit either) we all — meaning my entire family plus childcare provider — had an easier time managing things.

My current AP really didn’t have much special needs experience. But through her church, she had overseen several youth trips for girls around 10-12 years old. And on two separate occasions she had autistic kids in her group. So – not a ton of special needs experience by any means. But she told me how she first spoke with the parents to see what the kids needed and understood that they needed to be reminded each day what the schedule was and that it was important to be on time, etc. She also told me how she reacted when one of the kids got really upset — she basically remained calm and just kept telling the child everything would be OK until it passed. She wasn’t rattled.

I realized as my kids get older that having someone who isn’t easily rattled and who can make sure things run on time is probably one of the most important qualities I can look for. I think that also speaks to maturity. I have two girls. Girls can be a lot of drama (even though one is a tomboy!). What I don’t want is for my AP to fight with them or nitpick. The Disc profile is proving to be of some help. But trying to tease out how a candidate dealt with a challenging time is at the top of my list. It’s in my first email that I send — what was the most difficult or challenging time you’ve ever had with a child, and how did you deal with it? I look for good examples and thoughtful answers that show how the candidate learned. And then I use examples from our day-to-day lives of what worked and what didn’t.

Of course, again, nothing is full proof. One of the best answers to that question came from the AP I had who was so homesick and depressed she left after 2 months. BUT … you have to start somewhere!

Peachtree Mom March 28, 2015 at 8:45 am

That is huge Multi Tasking HM….vested in finishing their year and willing to work through the bumps or even landmines in the road. Our 2nd AP stayed 4 weeks and returned to Europe as soon as pool season started, she was super depressed, overslept all the time. On her way out she told us that the aupair gig was her mother’s idea to get her out of the house and it was actually her mother who replied back to all our emails. After going through the time and money investment which is huge with vacation days to orient and driving school etc we wanted her to at least try….nope on her way home. My daughter asked if the rematch was her fault.

Her replacement totaled our SUV 3 mos after arriving…her fault, claims still pending 18 mos later. She was from a wealthy family and easily could have returned home because things were super awkward around here for a bit and the replacement SUV had a curfew. She stuck it out and when we all got our footing back, it was a GREAT rest of the year even though she did not like the midnight car curfew. Many tears at the airport.

Our present aupair had a bit of a breakdown the night before she left for vacation about missing her family/how she needs her family and some other things I could not even understand b/c she was crying. She is now touring for the next two weeks with her family around country….will she go home with them…I have no idea. Her clothes are still in her closet…good sign I guess. I stress working through issues, resilience and communication but do not know how to screen for it.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 28, 2015 at 9:58 am

This is so hard, because with each au pair I learn that something I thought was important to me really isn’t, or isn’t as important as something else I may have thought I didn’t really care about. Sometimes it’s because things seem one way in the abstract, but in real life they shake out differently. Or, i think something SHOULD be important, becausw most people value it, even if I don’t. And, as my son ages, my job evolves, my backup care shifts–just life move forward– what I need from an au pair changes. So much of it is a leap of faith.

With that said, I’m searching now, trying not to panic, and focusing on the skills and personality I think I need. Skills/ background: good driver, pretty good English, sporty, close family relationship. Personality: resourceful, confident, honest, playful, attentive, kind, restless, organized (but not overly so), relaxed, assertive. I have absolutely no idea how to screen for these personality attributes, some of which contradict each other. I have found that the profiles that I’m most drawn to have DISCs that scare me. I can’t tell if it’s low D or high C that troubles me more, but the combination would make me want to pull my hair out (I think–who knows?). Of the attributes I listed, resourcefulness ranks very high (I’m sure partly because of contrast effect). Any ideas for how to screen for that one?

Mimi March 28, 2015 at 10:28 am

I ask questions for this like “tell me about a time where a situation didn’t go as you had expected. How did you handle it?” It tell me about adaptability, resourcefulness, and the ability to reflect and learn from experience.

TexasHM March 28, 2015 at 10:44 am

AlwaysHopeful what is your definition of resourcefulness?

And I have to second that one of the hardest things about interviewing is that your desires/needs are a constantly moving target. When our first AP took almost 3 months to get her license we were frustrated but my job had some flexibility and my youngest two were 2 and under and content to play in the house and yard all day and didn’t know the difference. Most of the frustration from lack of driving ability fell on the AP in that she couldn’t go out in her free time. She also spoke next to no English (my HM friends still crack up that we spent days using an iPad and google translate to train her). These two things now would be absolute deal breakers and we would have been forced to rematch right away. Now that the kids are older and need homework help and a driver for their after school activities an AP’s English proficiency and driving ability are most critical!

The flip side of that is what the APs desire in a match. When we first started with 3 under 5, new host family and car curfew we couldn’t get Europeans to hardly respond to decline us! Plus there were far fewer IQ candidates from that region so our first two APs were South American (Brazilians). When we were thrown into an unexpected rematch and got our French ER nurse she admitted that she might not have matched with us during her initial interview round because she preferred older children. Being in rematch she had to reevaluate her priorities and decided that the kids ages were less important than a good personality fit and finding a family that would follow the rules. I noticed this last matching round (January) we had substantially more interest from Europeans and I can only attribute it to two things – exclusive matching (found this makes APs much more openminded) and age/experience (they liked that in August all of my kids will be in school and that we have hosted for 5 years).

We found with our match that didn’t work out that the person that arrived was very different from who we thought we interviewed. In hindsight, I had some red flags (after matching but before arrival) and my gut was warning me (to the point where I told the LC I was worried right before she arrived) but I felt obligated to the AP because we had matched and she had waited a couple extra months to match our timeline. Never again! Please everyone don’t knee jerk but think about your behavior leading up to your excellent matches. In my case it was me talking about the incoming AP to friends and family (and strangers!), being excited, imagining her in different future scenarios even before she arrives, wanting to stay in touch/chat between matching and arrival and counting the days until she arrives. In hindsight, I did very little of this with our AP that didn’t work out. Not that I didn’t want it to work out or that I wasn’t glad she was coming, but I had a hard time imagining her in future scenarios, talked to her less as time went on and some of our friends didn’t even know when she arrived (vs the planet knowing our next AP arrives May 1st!). :)
Moral of my story? As you are reading the tea leaves and matching, if you start to get worried or see red flags or notice you aren’t acting the same way you have on previous good matches take a long look at the situation and get to the bottom of it. In our case I think I felt like I didn’t really know her as well as our other incoming APs and that was obviously absolutely true! I think this is an extension of trusting your gut during the matching process – trust your gut before arrival. Much better to put that AP back in the pool and find THE lid for your pot than to try to force it and worst case – have a disasterous rematch like we did. Now on the flipside, I have had HM friends start to get nervous before arrival, we chat about what’s really bothering them and they have gone back to the AP to discuss it and so far, every time it was something easily remedied (HM was unsure of driving ability, AP responded with what they had been doing everyday to prepare and aced the online course) and the HM felt worlds better afterwards so if you have ANY concerns, even after you have matched, communicate them! If you don’t get the answers you are looking for then it’s not to late to make another choice but if you do get the right answers then it will save your sanity and cement your choice.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 29, 2015 at 9:14 am

For me, resourcefulness just means being able to think on one’s feet. As an example, a prior au pair discovered that my son’s toilet was clogged and sent me a text to ask where the plunger was. It wasn’t where I suggested, so I told him to just keep my son out of the bathroom and i would take care of it when I got home. I was just grateful that he let me know, instead of just seeing it and thinking “not my issue.” By the time I got home, AP had unclogged the toilet, using some method he found on the Internet (using an empty coke bottle, I think). To me, that was resourceful, proactive, above and beyond. In contrast, my current AP, my son and our dog went to visit my parents one afternoon. AP had met my parents many times before, and had been to their home. When we got out of the car, the dog began sniffing, so I told AP that I would let him sniff around for a bit before going in, but please head on to the door. AP asked “if your parents open the door, what shall I do?” My son and I responded in unison “go inside!” Seems like a silly example, but it was indicative of AP’s constant inability to change from the prescribed course because of his fear of making the wrong choice. I need someone who can go off script when necessary.

By the way, thanks for the earlier tip on “duck face” photos. I reviewed one profile that seemed really interesting– he candidate seemed to be dynamic, really personable, self-critical (in a good way) and dedicated. Then, I looked at her FB page… duck faces galore! Funny, they never bothered me before, especially one or two, but something about these reflected a certain selfl-centeredness that set off some alarms. That, and i noticed that she began a new relationship in February. It’s amazing what you can learn even from a protected page in FB!

TexasHM March 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Got it. I think I would tend to do this like most other traits I am screening for and use situational/behavorial interviewing. I would say “you are home and realize the toilet is clogged – what would you do?” and maybe a few other random examples and see if you get a feel for how they think on their feet.
Something I thought about yesterday that I just realized I do after matching (before arrival) that I wasn’t super aware of (and what started giving me doubts about the AP that ended up not working out) was I tend to start asking them to make plans and decisions and usually when I have a good match it continues to cement the choice for me. For example, we were going on a trip for Thanksgiving with the burnout AP and every time I brought up the trip she got stressed. In hindsight, it was clear she wasn’t comfortable having to make her own decisions, having to try new things and leaving her comfort zone, all things that were red flags and were brutal to deal with after arrival.

Contrast to incoming AP – we are planning a trip for later this year and not only is she excited when I bring it up but she asks questions, wants to be involved in the planning and has made decisions at several points in the process without pause. She studies the information, tells me her reasoning, sometimes asks my opinion or asks if that is the decision I would make or if she is missing something in her reasoning and then makes the call and moves on.

With previous APs the decisions are things like when to take the online driving course – closer to departure so you retain more info? Earlier because you will have plans the last week? Are you going to want data service on the AP cell phone? If so, what kind of plan? Asking them if they want to go along on a weekend trip or holiday trip we are planning during their term, all kinds of opportunities to start giving them some rope and seeing what they do with it.

And as far as the duck faces – lol – yes it’s less about the face and more about what it says about them. Our incoming AP and I have had the duckface conversation so now she and her younger sisters have taken to taking duckface selfies in weird places and sending them to me – its hilarious! Big difference between that though and the full caked on makeup serious sexy duckfaces that were on our burnouts FB page where we couldn’t see them! Wish she had done us all a favor and just been upfront about who she was! She also said she was up for anything and casual but couldn’t leave the house without significant makeup, did not own jeans (dresses and heels only) and complained everyday that her straightener from home didn’t work here (despite me telling her it wouldn’t work here before she came) and often taking multiple showers per day (no, she didn’t work out and it was winter) and then complaining her hair was really dry.

Host Mom X March 30, 2015 at 10:13 am

Every single one of our past APs has had names too common to allow us to successfully find them on facebook before arrival. (After arrival we have more clues to help search.) But this is reminding me that I should probably try to stalk our rematch now just a bit (she has an uncommon last name), even though I guess it’s too late now – she’s arriving in a week!

Dorsi March 30, 2015 at 12:40 pm

You can always search by email address. Also, high school name limits the pool as well. I find that a google search with appropriate key words finds the Facebook page.

Dorsi March 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm

Also, I was pleased to see my last two matches had locked down Facebook pages. Maybe they had terrible things there, but they were smart enough to keep them private. I am in the camp of not friending APs, but usually do once they have left us.

TexasHM March 30, 2015 at 12:27 pm

I usually ask them to connect to me as part of the interview process (I’m easy to find on FB due to formal and maiden names included) so they can see pics of the kids, connect to our previous APs (easier to find them through me) and get a feel for the kids of things we do and what’s important to us. If they wanted to unfriend after matching that’s fine I don’t care but I do want as much info about them as possible during interviewing and fortunately or unfortunately FB is often a great indicator of what is important to them, what they do in their free time and who is important to them.

TexasHM March 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm

And it’s never too late! ????

oranje_mama March 30, 2015 at 4:00 pm

I’ve had 3 awesome APs and one dud. With the dud, we suspended some of our usual screening criteria (due to serious illness, did not have the time/energy to expend on the search). So, I’m feeling pretty good about our screening criteria.

We typically interview only a small handful of APs in the “off” season, and wrap the whole process up quickly. We have neighbors who spend at least 2X as much time on matching, interviewing probably 3X the number of girls that we do – and they’ve had several duds, rematches, and have now left the program. So, sometimes more is less.

WIth that intro, here are our criteria that have worked:

1. Gut reaction. Go with your gut. I had doubts about our dud AP, and I ignored them.

2. Age is not that important. Our oldest AP was a dud. Our youngest – 18 and straight out of school – was awesome. We have not found the whole drinking age thing to be a problem at all.

3. If you need a solid driver, pick a German. Hope I’m not jinxing myself, but no accidents, infractions, etc. of any kind in 4+ years.

4. Video can be very useful. What I’m looking for: -effort (how much does she care about doing this? how motivated is she?), -smiles/fun/energy (a gut reaction of whether this is someone I want to be around), -activity level/weight (harder to disguise in a video than photo – like some PPs, I do look for active, sporty girls who are going to serve as positive role models from a body image perspective).

5. Goals/ambition. They do not need to want to go to university or to have picked out precisely what they want to do next. But they need to have some interests and ambitions. A good answer to what they think they’re going to get out of being an AP for a year.

6. Confidence. AP does not need to be a huge extrovert. Quiet and reserved is OK. But AP needs to exude some self-confidence. Our dud AP turned out to be very insecure – this led to all kinds of problems in her day-to-day supervision of our kids and was at problem the cause of her food/weight issues.

TexasHM March 30, 2015 at 6:48 pm

oranje_mama I would have never thought about confidence – you just gave me an “ah ha” moment. Out of our 4 APs, only one would I have considered confident and she was a rockstar. The most insecure was our burnout, and then level of confidence actually directly corresponds to the performance of each during their AP year with us. I am really going to have to think more about this, I think you have highlighted a critical trait. The great thing about confidence too is it doesn’t have anything to do with being introverted or extroverted. I also think it impacts so many aspects of the AP program – taking the leap to come over, committing to making the relationship work vs panicking and rematching or going home, putting oneself out there socially during the year, maximizing opportunities (vs being too insecure to try), travelling during the AP year (most confident AP also had more travel than any other AP even though she was our shortest term) and managing children (as they pickup the stress/insecurity or confidence that the adult exudes). What a great quality to screen for – thanks for sharing!

Viviane March 31, 2015 at 3:58 pm

I’m trying so hard to have a match. I see all the time girls on facebook groups telling how much them lie to have I match . I know that my problem is my english, but I really do love spending time with kids but everytime that I have a interview them can’t see.

I don’t know can I want do, I’m feeling so bad about it. I really have experience with kids and I love to take care of them, but things doesn’t work to me. I don’t know what the hf are looking for.

Seattle Mom April 1, 2015 at 12:20 pm

The fact that you are being given interviews is good- it means that your application is probably good. You just need to be more comfortable speaking English in an interview so that your personality comes through. Could you practice skyping with a friend in English, just to get some experience? Have them ask you questions that a family would ask you. Pretend that it is a real host mom or dad, and act just like it’s a real interview.

Also go into every interview thinking that your goal is not to impress the family, but to show them who you really are, and to learn enough about them so that you can decide if they would be a good host family for you. Don’t just ask about the living conditions- think about what kind of relationship you want with your family, and what questions you can ask to find out if it would be possible with this family. Think of the questions ahead of time- it’s hard to come up with them on the spot in your native language, and especially in a foreign language.

WarmStateMomma April 1, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Viviane – Every host family is looking for something different. Be honest about who you are and what you can offer. You won’t have a good experience as an au pair if your host family expects something or someone different from what you offer and who you are.

I am happy with au pairs who don’t speak English well because they are going to speak the most Chinese with my kids. I expect the Skype interview to be terrible. Your future host family may be a family that is looking for an au pair who speaks her native language with the kids.

IntellectualMom April 14, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Hello! I have been driving myself crazy with au pair candidates. I have 3 young children and they are very bright and musical and I’d like an au pair who is smart, but also fun; artistic but reliable; interesting, but well-grounded; loving, but not too needy and fragile; dynamic and sporty but not obsessively so. Wouldn’t we all?! Anyway, we have had a few au pairs before from Germany and they’ve been great – although maybe a bit bland and passive (both were 19 and very respectful; current au pair is great with the 2 little ones and a bit challenged by our oldest son who can be a handful because he challenges their authority). DH works overseas so he is often away and I really need to be able to count on the au pair and also enjoy their company as we have dinners together with the kids. We’re in a university town with lots of students. Can anyone help me out with the dilemma of whether to go for another 18-19 year old German girl – I currently am considering someone who has been an older sibling, and is doing a gap year – OR would you suggest we try a new model and go with someone a bit older? I have a candidate who is 22, has worked in a bank for 2 years, seems lovely and dependable (but I suspect maybe more conservative because of her banking career)? I’m also considering a third candidate who is from the south of France and 22 with a psych degree — we would love to have French spoken at home but her Facebook photos suggest she might be a partier an I’ve heard in general that French au pairs can be less reliable. Basically, my questions is whether or not to try something new (a slightly older au pair who can drink and go out, who might be more independent, who’s had more life experience, but who might then be less invested in the job) or to stay with the existing model of an 19 year old. Any thoughts from your experience?

NewAPMom April 17, 2015 at 9:08 pm

Well, we’ve only had 1 AP so not a ton of experience, but I’d try something new if I were you. We thought we wanted someone who didn’t party, go out too much, etc. But what I found is the girl we picked while very nice, is also a bit bland and boring, not independent, etc. It drives me nuts that she sits in her room instead of going out and exploring. So when we were looking for our next AP we decided we wanted someone who had some independence, wanted to go out, party, see the world, but work hard too. I’d rather have someone who is work hard party hard, than just work hard. (Actually our girl is not even work hard, just does what she needs to do but not over the top.) I have friends who’ve had the APs that are older, more independent, go out, and were stellar APs as well. I’m hoping to find the same type!

NJmama April 17, 2015 at 10:02 pm

This is so hard. Some of my best, most fun and mature APs, have been 19 and German. But not always!!!

I will say I think it’s good to branch out. My first au pair was 23 and a partier, and then I had two amazing 19 yr old German girls back to back. So then we stuck with that profile but we landed one that was overwhelmed and asked for rematch – and that was the start of a string of bad matches.

At some point you go with your gut. I personally love big sisters – although my current AP is one of our best and she was the youngest of 5. My point – if you try to typecast you’ll go nuts.

Also in the beginning I always went with sporty au pairs because my kids were sporty. But I really don’t look at that so much anymore. Kids change. As my 11 year old told me – she said before she was tomboy jock, and now she’s more tomboy musician/geek. And that all happened in the course of a year. Also if you met our current au pair you would never describe her as sporty. She is the best dressed member of our family – always so proper. And yet she is the only one who ever threw a football with my oldest daughter.

Maybe get your au pair candidates to talk more about what kids of things they like to do with kids, how they engage kids who are or can be standoffish, whether the au pair really wants to be part of the family – and describe in your words what that means to you and ask the au pair what that means to her. Good luck!

IntellectualMom April 20, 2015 at 10:21 pm

Thank you! It’s so true that people change – and au pairs, too, develop a lot during the year. Would you take someone who had worked in a bank for the past few years but who loves children, has little cousins, and has always dreamed of being an au pair???? I’m considering a German who has that kind of experience, who’s in her early 20’s and has a lovely calm and sunny personality…against the more traditional gap year sporty energetic 19 year olds. It’s so hard to know in advance! Do any of you have questions you can suggest that successfully gage humor and outgoingness in potential au pairs? It’s very important to me that an au pair be smart and well educated as well. How can I tell that? Should I just be up front and say that’s important to me and let them self-identify? Thanks so much for your input and advice:)

TexasHM April 20, 2015 at 11:27 pm

I usually get a sense of their sense of humor (or lack thereof) during the Skype interviews. They are also usually super nervous so if you get a confident/outgoing candidate I think you would definitely notice via Skype. We don’t use childcare experience as a screening factor (our rockstar ER nurse AP from France had to really scrape to meet the minimum childcare hours requirement and only had one sister and small adult extended family and was fantastic with my kids but she genuinely liked kids which is the more important factor we screen for).

We have only done 21+ so I am probably biased and can’t speak to gap year 19 vs early 20 work experience but if I had to pick I would choose the latter myself. I have considered bending that rule to see if we could get a German AP but I talked to an AWESOME candidate last round that was 22 I think so they are out there.

It also VERY much depends on your family and what’s important to you and what stage you’re in. For example sporty high energy 19 might be advantageous for a family with active boys and 22 calm might be better for a child with anxiety so there is no “better” candidate there’s just better fit for you.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 21, 2015 at 6:58 am

To gauge activity level and personality, we ask questions like “How do you make friends?” Now, for high school students who have always lived in the same village, that’s a hard question, but for young women who have had adventures, it’s an easier thing to gauge. If she only has one or two close friends, then she’s probably an introvert. She might feel extremely close to your family and happily participate in family activities, including a board game night, but you won’t know how close she has become to you because she won’t be the type to express it.

We ask questions about how they spend their day. If the candidate is still in school, then their lives are rather scripted. We also ask “What did you do last Saturday?” to get a sense of their activity level. If they spent their day in bed, then that’s the type of candidate we’re going to get – she’ll do her job fine, but she won’t push herself. If she’s the type that always surrounds herself with friends, then you’ve got a party girl – it may not be a bad thing – but she’ll probably be the type that is ready to go out at 11:00 pm when you come home from a date night.

I highly recommend writing down candidates answers when you Skype or call them. When you are having issues months later, you’ll see the answer there, even if you hadn’t noticed it at the time.

Host Mom X April 21, 2015 at 5:51 pm

I wouldn’t think you should let the AP’s current job give you ANY pre-conceived notions about their personality, actually. Young people do all kinds of jobs when they are first starting out – didn’t we all? And that doesn’t necessarily reflect our personality, our hopes and dreams, what we eventually want to do, etc. Sometimes it is also just circumstances and education. Our best AP ever (who I’d say actually fits your description of a dream AP pretty much to a T!) worked as some kind of administrative something or other in some boring-sounding something or other company in her home country. It was just a job; she had just finished community college, the company was in her home town, and it was a way to make money while she decided which direction she wanted her life and career to go in (which included applying to the AP program). After two years being an AP with us, in a big vibrant American city where she made efforts to fully experience everything our city had to offer (she was a work hard, party hard, explore and experience type), and also traveled as much as she could – an experience which she says helped dramatically expand her horizons and vision of what life could be – she’s currently living in an entirely different country with her husband (who she met after returning home – he was a foreign student in her country), learning yet another new language, working on opening her own business, etc.

Our last terrific AP (before our most recent, which was a rematch) was also a boring-sounding administrative something or other in an electric company in her home country, who dreamed of being an AP in the US. She wasn’t quite as curious and exploratory as the 2-year AP I just described, but she was lots of fun, great sense of humor, and loved to party (in a responsible way!). She had all kind of fun tattoos and piercings – which could be discreetly hidden under her conservative electric company office clothing. Point being – conservative-sounding job doesn’t always equal conservative person.

And our current AP (who just came to us out of rematch, cross-fingers, knock on wood, seems great so far) was ALSO some sort of boring administrative something or other at a shipping company before becoming an AP (which she had wanted to do since age 18) – but she has all kinds of eclectic interests, good sense of humor, etc. (she’s probably our most intellectually and culturally sophisticated AP so far).

We’ve never tried the gap-year 19 year olds, so I can’t offer that comparison. We prefer the over-21s who have had some life experiences, and can go out drinking without a fake ID! (We’ve now had three re-matches, and in re-match maybe I’d look at an under-21 – though we haven’t had to yet.)

IntellectualMom April 20, 2015 at 10:16 pm

That’s funny – I definitely identify. I had the same thoughts on our current au pair for the first 3 or 4 months but she has definitely blossomed while here. 19 and German as well. Bland, nice, responsible, and rather boring at first and stayed in her comfort zone (read: her room). We had a few heart to heart talks and there were some tears but she gradually pushed herself to explore and has really gained in independence, confidence, and personality. It was lovely to see! In the future, I’m not sure I’d like to do so much handholding but it’s nice to see an au pair have such a good impact on someone and to be part of that growth! I agree that I’d rather have outgoing and responsible in the future if possible.

IntellectualMom April 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

Thank you Computer Lunch and Host Mom x for sharing those insights! “Boring” banker girl has also coached gymnastics, dances in a group, loves to spend time with children, and seems to cook beautifully so I guess she’s probably a go. She’s also very motivated. It’s strange to me that she was tracked into banking directly from high school at 16, but then that was because the bank really liked her and took her on as an intern early. I sense being in the States COULD really open her horizons. My husband is yet to interview her himself so that will be a deciding factor. Our current top gap year candidate works in a winery, has hundreds of friends on Facebook and is very close to her family, and at 19 I think she actually for all her outgoingness might have difficulty being underage in the states and away from her town… Anyhow, I love the question about how they make friends. Thanks. And my oldest has some anxiety so truly calm might be nice, even if the younger ones would love soccer energy. One further question – for those moms who have musical children who practice an instrument, has it been vital to you to find au pairs with a musical background themselves, or have you had success in motivating your kids even with au pairs who aren’t musical. My son’s talented but you really need to prod him and be on top of the situation to make sure he practices as given half a chance he’d rather just lounge with an iPad… Many, many thanks!

HRHM April 22, 2015 at 11:43 am

My DDs take piano and only one of our APs was musical at all and she did play piano. It was really nice having an AP who could actually help with practice and who modeled how fun it is to play competantly, but current AP who has no music background still does a great job reminding DDs to get to the piano to practice daily. So nice, but not necessary.

AlwaysHopeful HM April 14, 2015 at 6:56 pm

This is pretty off topic, but what is the general view on agency-hopping? I have been with 3 agencies in as many au pairs (2 rematches), and i’m considering another change. The first switch was because my agency didn’t have male au pairs, and i wanted to give that a try for AP2. I opened my search to include another agency when searching for AP3 in order to broaden the search, and also because I was pretty dissatisfied with agency 2. I was happy to find an au pair with agency 3 because i like the agency so much more (although the AP is my worst of the 3). So now I’m with agency 3, and in rematch, becoming desperate as the coverage period draws rapidly to a close. Even though I swore I’d never go back to agency 2, I’m considering it because I’m just not finding anyone that I like that likes us too with our current agency. Just thinking that makes my head spin because, really, there is a night and day difference in the level of support for APS and HFS between the 2 agencies. I hate to go back to the dark side, but I NEED AN AU PAIR! Is it completely crazy to think about switching back? I’ve also considered trying agency 1 again , since we don’t HAVE to have a male– it’s just a preference. How do agencies view all the hopping? How about au pairs? Any advice for the desperate, crazy lady??

Returning HM April 14, 2015 at 9:08 pm

We have been with three agencies in our nine years of hosting. When we hosted females, I regularly signed up with two agencies and went through matching with both, ultimately going with the agency of the AP whom we picked. Last year when we were in rematch, although we were with CCAP, I contacted our APIA LCC to find out if they had any APs who suited our needs in their rematch pool. If they had, I would have frozen CCAP, gone with APIA for that AP, and then gone back to CCAP and used up our remaining credit next year.

I think it’s pretty standard to agency-hop, especially during rematch, and wouldn’t worry about anyone having a negative perception of you as a result. Good luck finding a great AP!

WarmStateMomma April 14, 2015 at 10:36 pm

I’m with agency 3 and AP#3 and no one has batted an eyelash. You may want to let your candidates talk to your best former AP.

SKNY April 14, 2015 at 8:45 pm

I know a family who changes agency every year. They say this way they save about 1000 in fees each year with switch discount

Should be working April 15, 2015 at 12:35 am

Isn’t the switch discount the same as the repeat-family discount? I thought it all comes out the same.

SKNY April 15, 2015 at 10:27 am

I think it is not as high. Some agencies will give up to $1200 or more for switching,but repeat family gets between 300-500 depending on agency. Am I right? I think the good discount really only counts if au pair extends with you

AlwaysHopeful HM April 15, 2015 at 9:49 am

You guys are so great– I knew I could count on you! I reached out to my old AD to ask about their pool. Hopefully, someone will click soon!

TexasHM April 15, 2015 at 10:24 am

At the end of the day – you have to do what is best for your family and any good agency/LC will totally understand that and be grateful for whatever business you give them for whatever time period. When we looked for a temp situation I looked at rematch APs from our previous agency as well and we too would have gone back to preferred agency afterwards.

Add to my wishlist: I wish that rematch APs and families could be managed by a single organization to give everyone a better shot at getting a great rematch match. So take the agency out of the equation and put the APs (not being sent home) and HFs (finding care) first. As it stands its a significant advantage for larger agencies (larger agency larger rematch pool).

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