Screening Questionnaire to Improve Your Luck In Matching with an Au Pair

by cv harquail on November 18, 2017

We can’t interview our way to a “perfect” Au Pair.

It’s the sad truth.  3344967282_9351fdfb4a_z

BUT…  we CAN interview well and screen out all the ‘known no’s”… which makes it a bit easier to find an Au Pair candidate with a lot of YES!

LongIslandHostMom challenged herself to summarize a lot of our community wisdom to turn it into a questionnaire to share with everyone.

Thank you!!

From LongIslandHostMom:

I wrote to you a number of months ago after my ex Au Pair left me suddenly and moved next door to live with her boyfriend. I am happy to report that we have since found a wonderful Au Pair in her extension year and this experience is what every Host Family can only dream of.

However, I feel like I only found a great AP by luck. I didn’t have a good method for the interview process. I conduct a lot of interviews in my professional life but it’s far easier in the IT world to gauge their skill set. Now that I am facing my AP’s upcoming departure in March, it’s time to get back on the search.

Though my Au Pair Agency provide a standard assessment, I feel like there isn’t enough depth to evaluate their personality and judgement.

I decided to go through all the subjects of your past posts and designed a screening questionnaire based on some real life situations. I created a second portion as a self assessment also to evaluate skills. I particularly enjoy the driving skill portion as I know many family struggles with their AP’s skill level. I think it will provide more insights than just asking them if they are good drivers.

I want to share a copy (downloadable, below) with your reader for feedback and suggestions. I think many of these questions will resonate with many host families. And the answer will paint a picture what the AP is like.

I can’t wait to see everyone’s comments!

Au Pair Questionaire from LongIslandHost Mom


Image: SnuggLePup on Flickr


TexasHM November 19, 2017 at 9:25 am

I like some of the behavioral interview questions but you might tweak to leave them more open ended, a couple I could tell what answer seemed more desirable. :). As someone that is infamous for having a crazy detailed interview process (see previous post about 12 step matching process) I’ve got about 20 questions just on driving and none are opinion driven because I’ve had “excellent” Brazilian drivers that could barely make it around our neighborhood and an “inexperienced” German that could pass a road test in her first 15 minutes here. I’ve found knowing how different their driving culture is helps me figure out how steep the learning curve is likely to be.

I’ve found over the years that most conflicts and misunderstandings are mismatched expectations so my entire first email is largely open ended questions to try and figure out their agenda and expectations of their future host family and program term. I always have to reset expectations around education (you won’t be going to Harvard or getting a full blown degree) and discuss vacation policies in detail. From a family perspective if they expect you to cook for them every night and have family dinners like they saw in a brochure and you expect them to cook healthy meals for the kids alone because you usually get off work past dinner then you’re likely to end up in a mediation conversation. Same goes if you want them around but they don’t want a relationship or vice versa.

PS – I might need to change my name to TexasHM/LCC as Dec 1st I will be taking over the local Cultural Care cluster! I’m probably insane but I want to try and help local families and APs find similar success in the AP program. Can’t wait to finally meet Julie Dye in person! ;)

CAmom22 November 19, 2017 at 4:59 pm

That’s fantastic TexasHM! You’re going to be awesome as an LCC!!

cv harquail November 19, 2017 at 5:52 pm

Well that’s GREAT NEWS for CC families and Au Pairs in Texas!

Chicago Host Mom November 19, 2017 at 11:02 am

Thanks for this list! We continue to morph our matching process continually. I’m less confident in finding the right set of questions to really find the right match. Our last two out-of-country candidates – carefully chosen after eight years experience with au pairs and a similarly detailed interview process crafted based on numerous au pair experiences – yielded two rematches. One mostly inspired by driving issues and the other personality (lacking independence). The girls we chose in rematch have been two superstars – truly two of the nicest, most loving, careful, safe-driving, awesome people on the planet. Not that interviewing isn’t a super important part of the process, but we are feeling increasingly like we find better success using questions not to find the answer but instead to see how the candidate tackles questions, speaks/writes in English,and as a means for gathering background about her own life and home family now, as well as to find out about their child care and driving experience, etc. we ask for an example of a time when an au pair has had a disagreement with someone and then later we ask how they worked through the problem – questions like that to gauge past behavior and self-reflection. We use fewer situational/what would you do/what do you think questions. It just seems difficult for a young, out-of-country candidate to be able to understand nuances about host family life, specific reactions to the newness of being an au pair, and the gaps between expectations and reality. Our only common formula for good matches has been reflecting on common characteristics that help us filter candidates and then find a good personality match based on chemistry, interests, and commitment. We have had most luck with au pairs who come from two-parent homes, have siblings, hail from a large metro area, have had non-child care work experience of some sort, drive daily, like to swim (we do), and in their profiles specifically state that they like to watch movies/TV (aka Chicago in January). We have rematched 3 times/11 matches in 10 years and have had 4 APs who we would describe as perfect matches for our family.

Should be working November 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm

This questionnaire is really ambitious and thorough. I wonder what info it would really yield and whether it is the right place to start. An over-confident candidate could give herself top grades and might not be accurate, and a more modest candidate might give herself less than top and then you might pass on her. Also it’s a lot of questions for the candidate to answer before you have even spoken to the candidate to get a sense of personality. I sense from this questionnaire that you want a sort of foolproof screening, and yet in my experience there isn’t one.

It looks to me like more of a document that you would want for later–so if things go wrong you would have documentation that the AP knew what she was getting into.

For me, the right place to start is with, as was mentioned above, a more open-ended email. How did you learn about the AP program, do you know anyone who did it, what did they say, tell me about you and your family. How they answer will give a lot of personality clues.

As everyone on this blog knows, I’m also a big fan of the DISC profile used by CCAP. It does predict, in my experience, some basic “how does this person deal with others” dynamics. It does not guarantee that an AP will be a good fit but does fairly well predict some qualities that are good to know.

Let me also say, from the post-AP trenches, that I really miss having an AP in some ways. I’m so sick of driving my kids around. I miss delegating stuff. I feel like my whole weekend is laundry. But with a 16-yr-old and a 12-yr-old we are instead limping along, making use of a kid-driving service sometimes (like Uber for kids).

Aspie Mom November 29, 2017 at 5:01 pm

What do you look for in the DISC profile? I’m finding I prefer someone who is not going to argue with me or feel slighted when I ask for a change in the way things are done, but I need the AP to also be able to calmly stand up for her self with my big personality kids. “Dominant” is not a quality that would be good, but confidence with the kids is important so they don’t run her over!

Should be working November 29, 2017 at 6:48 pm

I looked for high S, which means patience and willingness to do repetitive tasks and have solidarity with the group. High S also correlates to low ambition, which means these APs were not necessarily go-getters or great leaders.

Our high-D AP was great in some ways–a terrific leader, got the kids doing cool stuff, full of energy for whatever came up. But she was a little bossy and stubborn.

I could take a high-D AP if I felt s/he would go along with my wishes and be warm with kids. I could reject a high-S AP if I felt s/he was too lame and low-energy.

None of it was a recipe for the right match, but it was another piece in the matching processing, something to confirm my impressions and remind me of what I might be missing.

LongIslandHostMom November 20, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Thanks for the feedback. My intention for putting this together is to come up with some real life scenarios and see how the candidate would response. I will refine the leading questions to make them more neutral. The goals is to understand their values. There are no right or wrong answers. I think if someone rates themselves highly, I would refine my interview questions to understand if there is a overconfident issue. Like Chicago Host Mom, I am not necessarily look for the right answers but their thought process. Use the result of the questionnaire as a discussion tool for the interview, and later as a performance discussion piece.
I love the idea of using DISC. Some kind of personality profiling tool will definitely help. I am going to look into that. Thanks for the advises.

Susannah November 20, 2017 at 6:25 pm

I agree that if you make some of these questions more open ended it might be better, as I could tell, or thought I could tell what answers you wanted. That’s not necessarily terrible, but for a desperate person it could make their answers unrealistic.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 25, 2017 at 10:57 am

First, TexasHM– woo hoo!! That is fantastic news! I can guarantee the program overall will be even better with you “on the inside.” ?

As for the OP, I agree with the others who have said that these are good issues to tackle, although perhaps the questions should be more open ended. On that point, though, I have asked softball questions where i thought what I was looking for was clear, and have gotten some surprising answers. My favorite was in an email exchange, after explaining 6 ways to Sunday about the importance of not smoking on or off duty, at home or not, child with asthma, etc… I asked “do you smoke?” The response: yes, when I am with my friends, but I would not smoke while on duty. Pass!

I did think that some of the questions might be betree asked later in the process, after some of the basics have been covered. There seemed to be a lot of focus on avoiding potential issues that folks here on the blog have encountered, but don’t forget the basic, elemental is this someone I want to care for my children and share my home? I’m in the midst of a search as well, and I know how easily one can get caught up in the details of all that could go wrong before figuring out whether the thing is right to begin with!

I’m still struggling to find the right balance of when to email vs skype. Last time, I followed TexasHM’s method (tweaked for our family’s needs of course), and it worked out pretty well. This time, I have somehow over complicated the process, adding many more questions, and rounds of review. After several rounds of email , i skyped today with a favorite candidate and found that his English was abysmal. So disappointing, for us both. My son wandered in while we were talking and tried to hold a conversation with the au pair, but quickly lost interest because of the inability to communicate. Very disappointing. I actually like this candidate so much that I am trying to figure out if it is realistic to think he could improve his English enough before arriving (we’re also searching for March arrival). What do you guys think? Is that a complete fantasty?

Should be working November 25, 2017 at 12:37 pm

How would he improve it and can he pay for tutoring/classes? And how did he represent his English on his application–did he suggest it is better than it is, get help with his video? Can you imagine limping along the first few weeks and requiring him to work hard on English while at your home?

Seems risky to start with a handicap. But for our family language skills was never a criterion, so I don’t know. What if you skyped with him the week before arrival and discovered he hadn’t improved at all?

It’s safer to pass, but if you decide to take him I want to hear about outcome!

AlwaysHopeful HM November 25, 2017 at 6:37 pm

How would he improve it? Well, that’s a good question. I found myself researching Rosetta Stone last night, wondering if he could do a crash course (I would buy). I followed up our conversation with an email asking if he thought there was a way to improve his English before he got here. I figured the answer would also give me an additional clue re: initiative, so it couldn’t hurt. But, maybe I’m just getting desperate because the well is pretty shallow… Sigh. I hate this part of the program…

He didn’t really misrepresent his English. His video was clearly him reading a transcript, so it didn’t give me any cues one way or another. And we was described as “proficient.” I guess it was shocking to me because all of our au pairs have had super strong English, so poor language wasn’t even on my radar.

Dorsi November 26, 2017 at 1:31 am

On of our best Au Pairs (certainly our hardest working and with a stellar attitude) had terrible english on arrival. It was worse than I expected (I’m not much of a skyper, and she was able to limp through the standard questions). We spent the entire trip from the airport to our house (about 25 minutes) trying to establish if her home city was near the ocean….sea….beach…water…river . I don’t think we came to a definitive conclusion. I spoke her language passably, but think it does them no favors to use anything other than (very patient) English.

To be fair, I had little kids at the time, and the language was less important to them. However, the situation worked out beautifully. Her English improved rapidly – by one month we were having good conversations.

If written English is good (you should be able to tell from emails if he is using Google translate or not) the spoken will follow quickly. Another option would be to chat online via skype. That will assess how much English he knows without the pressure of actually speaking it.

TexasHM November 28, 2017 at 7:15 pm

How much time/patience/flexibility do you have AlwaysHopeful? I ask because I don’t realistically see him improving before arrival. They need to be immersed to really take it to the next level. Now, like Dorsi, we had a French AP that had proficient English and a strong accent when we got her from the rematch pool in her month 3 but within about four weeks like Dorsi said she was good to go and after 6 months she crushed the TOEFL test and is still fluent and sends me voicenotes in English now three years after departure. If he’s smart and you are involved/patient, English can be quickly learned. Attitude and aptitude however cannot. I will say though, for me personally this candidate would have to appear to the the “Holy Grail” as my recently departed AP said about my next AP. :) If he doesn’t look like potentially the best match you have ever seen then why go through all this trouble and risk? Yes, interviewing is frustrating but don’t settle. It always takes me a long time to match but we have a stellar track record so its worth it to me. I’d rather be frustrated and picky and have success and extensions than settle and get a burnout rematch and have to do it all again right after their arrival. If you aren’t feeling it, take a break! Go back to it when you are excited and have your mojo going.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 28, 2017 at 8:41 pm

Other than the language, I do feel really good about this candidate. I have thrown every possible question, challenge, scenario, etc. his way, and his responses have all been great. He has spoken with other families, so he knows we are not a last chance to get to the US. I’ve done a lot of expectation setting and evaluating personality and attiude, and really the only concern that remains is language. One of his major goals for the year is to become bilingual, and I am fairly confident he will gain quickly once he’s here. I just hoped he could improve even before then. He told me he has some English exercises he is using at home for training, as well as some online exercises from CCAP. He seems sincere when he says that this experience is his dream, and he plans to do what is necessary to get ready for it and make it a success.

I’m a pretty patient person, and would have no problem limping along for a bit while he improves, but my son was not bleseed with that same patience. He does not like to be misunderstood! :) So,my bighest concern is whether there would be a lot of relationship damage before communication became easier. And, yes, I am so very tired of interviewing. And the candidate pool in gentle is rather bleak. But more than that, I think he is just a great fit for our family…if only he spoke better English!

HMAdvice November 28, 2017 at 9:38 pm

Honestly I just went through this and chose a candidate that had awesome qualities over the english proficiency. We used a lot of translating software in the beginning and eventually the AP got better but it probably took us a good 6 months before we had to stop using the translation software. The frustration from kids is real. My kids were very frustrated at the beginning because the au pair “couldn’t understand me” so that is a big concern. Their relationship did improve over time though. The second issue I had was comprehension with directions. Even though I repeatedly expressed that it was a bigger issue for them to “Guess” on how to do something because they didn’t understand rather that to just ask me, this didn’t always happen and was a big frustration. The ability for them to handle an emergency situation was also a concern so leaving them alone with my kids at least for the first 6 months was out of the question for me. It is hard when you see a super sweet candidate and then you can’t communicate verbally with them. I get it but I would take the English proficiency seriously. Also be aware that just because they write nice emails doesn’t guarantee that they are writing those alone. I think it can work in some situations for a very patient and understanding family but in others it would be tough.

Aspie Mom November 29, 2017 at 5:07 pm

I feel that proficient is a pretty big range at CCAP! Advanced is the only category I can depend on, though we still look at APs with proficient ratings.

2 kids and a cat December 1, 2017 at 11:21 am

I’ve spent a few years doing professional ESL evaluations. The CCAP ones are entirely unreliable, both because of the testers and the fact that all of the topics are widely available for the candidates to prepare before the do the role-play. 2 APs admitted to me that they failed and had to repeat, and memorized answers in the interim. We have APs speak in their first language with our kids, do that’s not an issue. What is concerning for me (and so is my personal baseline) – can they navigate a 911 call; can they communicate basically with my kids’ schools; can they make a frozen pizza without setting my house on fire (or similarly follow directions on a package)

DC Click November 30, 2017 at 1:50 pm

So we are wrapping up our second year with an au pair who has been amazing. When she started, her English was horrible. Like when we asked her on Skype if she wanted to be our au pair, she didn’t understand the question – I had to write down the question and send it to her.

We took a chance on her because we needed to find someone on fairly short notice at a somewhat unusual time (April), and we could see her personality peek through. Although, there were very very few viable candidates.

Anyway, in advance of her arrival, we arranged for her to have English lessons twice a weeks on Skype. I found the tutor we used (who was great) through this website.

We were willing to pay for it, and among other things, it definitely greated goodwill before her arrival. Of course, if we had rematched after a few weeks, I would probably have felt pretty burned, but in our case it seemed like money well spent.

DCmom November 27, 2017 at 2:10 pm

I think some of the questions are meant to deduce personality, but I would never ask them. For example, the question about making extra money. My answer is simply, no, this is against program rules and is in our guidebook (if we got to that point in the interviewing process). Most APs would probably not be stupid enough to answer: sure, if my host family didn’t need me or if it doesn’t interfere. Therefore, this question isn’t really good for screening for me. Similar situation with the question about inviting friends/family. We state up front that we have a small home and do not have the space to accommodate any overnight visitors. From one of the previous blog posts here, I will add something specific about meaning in their room too.

However, with young kids, I might add a general question about “what does cleaning up after young kids mean to you?” Or “what do you expect to do in your free time?”

Callie November 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm

I agree that many of the questions seemed to beg for the ‘proper’ response, so it won’t weed out the AP that just wants to get to the US but doesn’t really care about the HF. Also, I have found that with APs who’s English is not really good, the longer questions and more hypothetical questions are not understood.

For our questionaire, I’ve divided it into many different important topics with an explanation of what my purpose is in that section. I don’t ask every question in 1 interview, I do a little bit in 1 interview, some more in the next and so forth throughout the interview process. I tried to keep the question short and the vocabulary 8th grade level or lower.

MoreCoffee November 29, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Thanks for sharing, I will be adding to my questionnaire collection!

I will add, though: while I’m definitely guilty of creating long lists of questions too, the ones that seem to tell me the most about whether a candidate is a good fit for us are actually the “silly” softball ones from the very first email. I can probably decide 90% of the time whether to pursue a candidate further just based on:

– What are you reading right now?
– What’s your favorite movie?
– What is your favorite age of child to care for and why? (We have 4 kids, so there’s no “wrong” answer here.)

It’s weird, but it works. I can still remember what all my APs said in response to each of these. Maybe next year I do an experiment and ONLY use these three questions…ha!

TexasHM/CCAP LCC November 29, 2017 at 1:20 pm

One I have really grown to love over the years is “what is the craziest thing you have ever done?”. You’d be AMAZED at the answers I get to this! Also, I will say that I ask the APs I interview every round what they think about my process and I make adjustments but I want to caution you because I started hot and heavy with a long list of questions and it wasn’t well received so I made changes.

Now I make sure to tell them why I am interested in them (specifics showing I have read their profile because most HFs don’t actually read the profiles), why I think we might be a good match and explaining I would like to better understand them and their motivations/expectations before we Skype. This has gone really really well for us. My first round of questions (on multiple posts here) are all about their travel plans, dream host family, expectations etc. Most APs do not make it through this first email. When I find out they have a BF in Orlando they want to visit on all their free weekends or that they hope to vacation to Hawaii on their host family’s dime or that their dream host family is one where they have one school aged kid so they can get a full degree from a local university (hint hint will you sponsor a student visa after AP term) or that they have plans already for their parents and 6 friends from back home to visit and stay with the host family before even finding a host family I can eliminate quickly. Starting with anything other than this (I know because I did it) tends to get negative feedback. The APs (rightfully so) see this as a two way street (they are also trying to find the best fit) so if you start with a questionnaire they are going to get the impression that you are more of an employer type host mom even if you are not. They judge every interaction just like we do so think about how you want to portray yourself and your family as well. Don’t let one AP or experience completely change you and your lens. I see that plenty in rematch. Last AP was bubbly so they pick the most serious AP they can find in rematch. Last AP was a vegetarian so they look for an AP that hates veggies. I get it, it’s hard not to let an experience color your next round but you really have to try. Host families are always looking for the “dream country” or “countries to avoid” or “traits of X country” and its all philosophical. My ex LCC told me to avoid France but our rockstar rematch AP was French and AMAZING. A German AP told me I would never find a warm German with a sense of humor that would come to an evangelical family and yet that’s exactly what I have right now. These are people not cattle. It’s not that simple. Some of the longest matches I have seen were new families that had no clue what they were doing in interviewing so they just had lengthy Skype conversations about fluffy stuff getting to know the AP and trusted their gut. Now lucky for them those APs liked kids and could drive (two things we more experienced HFs know not to take for granted) but ultimately they found a rock solid personality fit and through that bond formed a long lasting relationship.

And agreed on the smoking question. HM friends always ask why I have that in there since the agencies say no smoking and then I show them dozens of responses where when I ask how often the AP smokes they say everyday but will quit before coming, just on the weekends and wont do it in your house, when I drink every night, you name it! At first I doubted asking the question because I figured APs would just lie but I have been pleasantly surprised that when you ask most directly they just flat out tell you!

Should be working November 29, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Those “in the moment” questions are really great, like “So what were you just doing before I called?” You can learn SO much. Our rockstar AP answered, “I was just cleaning up my older brother’s room because he is coming home from university and I’m so excited to see him.” Yep, you’re hired.

AlwaysHopeful HM November 29, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Everyone has their favorites. My current go-to question: what have your experiences with children taught you about yourself? Responses to that one have run the gamut, and generally provide good info on the AP’s personality.

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