When Matching with an Au Pair, Which Signals to Trust?

by cv harquail on August 28, 2012

Each matching cycle, au pair host families get more and more information about au pair candidates to use when we’re making decisions.

Where once we had blurry photocopies of handwritten applications sent through the mail (yes, really!), we now have digital files, translated reference letters, online photo collages, au pair application videos, facebook searches, instant messaging, nearly free long distance conversations, and perhaps best of all — real time, “face to face” video chats.

You’d think that all of these different media for communicating with au pairs would make our choices easier, right?

But sometimes we get what feels like ‘conflicting’ information, where the impressions that we’ve formed of an au pair thought one communication channel get upended by a new kind of information.

We’ve been surprised particularly by videos, where an applicant who seems level-headed and mature surprises us with a video filled with disco music and animated cat cartoons.baby using skype, talking to au pair

Which of our impressions, from which medium, should carry the most weight in our decisions?

This is an issue for Natalie, a host mom who wrote …

I have been a host mom for few years now in rematch and just interviewed a potential new candidate out of country.

We spoke via skype and via phone and at both times I couldn’t see her. I liked her and so did my husband, we think she is a good candidate – not perfect but pretty good and we were ready to match.

However when I saw her today on skype I didn’t have the same feeling and I know it’s because of her looks, just something about her smile that bothered me.

I am confused now: scared to match, scared not to match.

I never give weight to looks so I am not sure what to make of this? Anyone had similar experience?

While I believe that videos, photos, and letters all offer important avenues into the character of an au pair, what matters most to me are the conversations. If I can’t have a comfortable, relaxed conversation with a candidate after my first or second interaction with her/him, it makes me wonder whether I’ll ever be able to have the kind of conversations that I’ll need to — about safety, family priorities, family values, and children’s personalities — that are important to a successful relationship. And, if an aupair can’t talk comfortably with me and my spouse, s/he’ll have trouble sharing concerns, asking for help, and fitting comfortably into our family community.

Even though language fluency has a significant effect on the quality of conversation, I still think we can feel our ways around an language hurdle to know whether there is a possible friendly connection, or not. So, in most cases, I’d say — go with your feelings from the conversation.

At the same time, I’m worried about what might happen if Natalie matched with this candidate, even when Natalie felt bothered by ‘the optics’. Her feeling bothered may end up creating an awkwardness that really shouldn’t be there.

We believe that we can “know” what’s “true” about whether a candidate will work in our family, but too often what we “know” is significantly (and unconsiously) influenced by the vibes we send back out. So, if you have a candidate that seems right but doesn’t feel right, you may keep sending back to him or her the vibe that you don’t quite like them. They, in turn, might respond through insecurity rather than confidence.

And viola, you’re tirggering a negative reinforcing loop. Not good.

What questions, concerns and advice do you all have?

  • Would you respond to this negative, even if you think it might be superficial, and move on to another candidate?
  • Or, would you hope to reconnect with the parts of her you liked, maybe with one more phone call?
See also:

Image of baby on Skype Attribution Some rights reserved by chimothy27


Eastcoastmom August 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm

This must be a tough decision for you. I am a big believer in going with your gut, though. I was in a similar situation with a candidate and I felt like I was being unfair, so we matched with her. We ended up in rematch 3 months later, at our our doing. Maybe CV is right and we were putting bad vibes out, but whatever the reason for it I won’t go against my gut again. We were so happy to have that AP gone!

Newhostmom August 28, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Tough one! We’ve only had one au pair, so I don’t have a lot of experience on this, but I’m a big believer in going with your gut for all decisions. We had some requirements for an au pair – we only looked at au pairs that had had full-time jobs with children and not just a little babysitting here and there and we only looked at countries that were similar generally to ours (which is stereotypical, but I didn’t feel like for our first au pair that we could handle a whole bunch of cultural differences on top of all the other challenges). Beyond that, I went purely with gut. I cut out a lot of candidates based purely on not feeling their letter, then cut out a few more based on their emails, and then another 2 after Skyping. When I read our future au pair’s letter, I just knew she was the one. It was further confirmed when we Skyped (even though her English was awful!). We had a fantastic year.

Now obviously I can’t say that’s the norm since it only happened once, but there’s a lot to be said for it just feeling right (or not, as the case may be).

Anna August 28, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I agree with above posters. If it doesn’t feel right at some point, don’t match with her. It sounds to me like even before Skyping you had some reservations and felt you were settling… Don’t settle. There is someone who is right for you out there.

Don’t feel bad about making the decision based on looks. It is all in the eye of the beholder and she may look perfect to her right family. I have seen good matches where au pair even looked like part of the family.

Emerald City HM August 29, 2012 at 3:28 am

I agree with the above posters. Don’t settle and go with your gut.

AnonHM Europe August 29, 2012 at 3:30 am

I agree, go with your gut. I once was in the same situation. I thought it unfair to decide against her due to her looks but we ended in rematch pretty soon. I also learned to pay attention to the number and sorts of emoticons the girls used in written conversation. One girl was a perfect fit in writing and skype conversation. I only was bothered by the many “harharhar” comments and very strange emoticons in her mails. I figured it’s a cultural issue and I should not worry about. We matched but we ended in rematch as well. Emoticons replace gestures and these will tell you much about the character, I think.

OpinionatedHM August 29, 2012 at 8:56 am

Natalie, I suspect that you feel uncomfortable because “something about her smile” doesn’t seem like fair criteria to use when deciding to hire someone. I managed a team of people for a large corporation and I can assure you that the final hiring decision always comes down to those intangibles. We just say that someone wasn’t a “good fit”. I’m sure many of us have interviewed for jobs where we were perfect on paper and the interviews seemed to go great but someone else was hired. You are trying to find a good fit for your family unit. As we all know, family dynamics are a complex thing. You are trying to find someone who will be a good employee and a good roommate. Finding an Au Pair who is a good fit for your family will ultimately come down to a decision based on intangibles. Don’t worry about defining why. Tell the Au Pair candidate that you think she has great potential but she’s not a good fit for your family. She will learn a valuable life lesson about interviewing and will be free to find another family that’s perfect for her. Stop giving yourself a hard time and start looking for the au pair who is a “yes” for you and your family.

Should be working August 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Some posts ago I wondered whether HFs who send an AP into rematch would say that the precipitating problems were unexpected, or were in fact related to precisely the things they had hesitated over at the interviewing/matching stage. A retrospective poll is not scientific, because we probably project suspicions backwards and look for signals that we missed or ignored, but still. I guess it would need to be paired with a question about whether our successful au pairs turned out NOT to have any of the issues we worried about at matching, or whether those issues were present but able to be overcome.

The goal would be to discover whether our hunches and suspicions are ANY use when matching. Of course I think and hope they are, but sometimes I wonder.

cv harquail August 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm

SBW- I’ll make a note of that idea for a future post!

Should be working August 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm

And to the OP, I’d say, trust your gut. We have only our hunches to go on, even if they aren’t reliable (if only we knew if they were!).

anonmom August 29, 2012 at 8:57 pm

This is a tough situation, and something we all can possibly relate to. I am not a huge skype fan, myself, and have yet to use it for matching. However, I would have to agree with the other posters who say to ‘go with your gut.’ Funny thing is, 8 years ago I ‘went with my gut’ simply on a picture of our first AP. I prayed she would go with our family, as she was highly ‘courted’ by many families. If you think about it, the first thing we see is the photo, or head shot, when deciding to delve deeper into their personal information. It is something intangible we cannot put words to- rather something we feel either subsconsciously or consciously based on our own needs, expectations, and experiences. There is nothing wrong with you going with your gut instinct. Yes, it is hard for the potential au pair, but it would be just as hard for you in the event that it is not a good match. Good luck!

Floris August 30, 2012 at 2:24 am

We have had several Au Pairs now. The times we did not follow our ‘gut’ (as you say:) ) it went wrong. It appeared that our first feelings were right.
So, yes resumé, CV, references are important but if the feeling is not right, it will not work. Simply because you will never loose that doubt and maybe you are even looking for things to confirm your doubts. So, I advise you, let your mind AND heart speak when you choose.

Seattle Mom August 31, 2012 at 1:50 am

This reminds me of what Gavin deBecker writes about in Protecting the Gift- your gut, your intuition, is just a way for you to recognize that there is something not quite right with someone, it might be something quite legitimately wrong but hard for you to acknowledge concretely, for some reason. So instead of acknowledging that the person said something specific that didn’t ring true (gave conflicting information, appeared to be lying, seemed malicious), because we generally want to believe the best about people so we often subconciously don’t pay attention to the negative things we see, we just pick up some “bad vibes.” If we listen to our gut about people all the time, we will almost never go wrong- our gut is telling us what our “too nice” brains won’t let us think about.

Arg Au Pair to be September 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I assume this family has already decided, and I have a question regarding this. I am in the matching process and it hasn’t been a week yet since my profile is online and so far I have had 2 interviews. The first one appeared 2 hours after my application was approved, and the other one, 2 days after. The first family sent me an e-mail, we agreed on a date and time to skype, I waited for them like 4 hours and they never appeared. Then they sent me an e-mail that they couldn’t be there. The family seemed GREAT, the job also seemed great as I didn’t have to do much… but I didn’t *feel* anything. For 2 days I was wondering whether to tell them or not, whether to trust this signal or not. So I thought it would be easier once I talked to them. When the second family appeared I was VERY excited. I could feel they were like me in a lot of ways. Simple, family oriented and they seemed happy :) So I emailed them and we had a skype interview the same day. They were *perfect*. I felt very comfortable around them and the children were adorable. In terms of work, this family had 2 toddlers and a newborn = a lot of work. But still I thought they were perfect. They sent me an e-mail saying they felt the same way about me but they were also interviewing another candidate. Fair enough, but my heart felt that they were for me, and during the 1 hour skype interview I also noticed that they really liked my answers and they were also surprised that our thoughts were so similar.

Yesterday they told me they are going to match the other girl because she wanted to match with them.

My first thought: So, just because she asked you to do it? Are you comfortable enough around her? Are you giving it as much thought as it is needed?
My second thought: If I had asked you to match with me, would that have changed your decision? But I am not that kind of candidate to beg. I thought it was *the family’s* decision.
But I answered the e-mail and wished them luck with the au pair and they also wished me luck and told me they did feel very comfortable with me and if it hadn’t worked with the first candidate they would have matched with me.
So now the first family asked for my contact information again, and they may call me or contact me.
My question is, should I trust this “not feeling anything” with this family when I look at their profile signal or should I give them a chance? If they turn to be “good enough” or “pretty good”, should I match with them, knowing that I can have a feeling of “perfection”? What if I don’t match with them thinking that the right family for me will appear and then it just does not?
I am scared, I want to be in the US before Christmas… what should I do?
I didn’t write this to CV because she is too busy and this is not something that she would post. So maybe writing it here you host parents and other au pairs can give me a clue. Thanks for reading!!

DCAuPair September 26, 2012 at 12:47 pm

Hi Arg Ap to be – I recently went through the matching process so I understand how stressful and confusing it can be. It’s full op ups and downs. I would say talk to the family, you have nothing to lose and it will help you to determine if your initial feeling was right or not.

I also had a huge disappointment with a family who ended up matching with someone else. However, when I did find my family I matched with, I was so grateful that had happened as I know now that *this* family is perfect for me. The fact that you got two families interested so soon is a good sign and you will probably get a few more. So don’t settle for this family if it doesn’t feel right, just because you are scared there won’t be anyone else, but do give them a chance :) good luck!

Should be working September 26, 2012 at 5:33 pm

I would like to caution all prospective APs against this idea of your “perfect family”–even including “perfect for me”. NO family is perfect, and no family is your perfect family. With each family, there will be compromises and small irritations. Do you have a perfect parent? A perfect friend? A perfect teacher? No, each one brings certain wonderful elements and certain challenges.

I don’t know where the idea of APs finding “my perfect family” came from, but I think it’s totally misleading. If you get the feeling “they are perfect!” then you should be more suspicious or more worldly. They are not perfect, but they might be a great match for you. You don’t yet know how they will rub you the wrong way sometimes, but you can try for a family that works out conflicts and difficulties in a way you can live with.

:: stepping off soapbox::

DCAuPair September 26, 2012 at 5:48 pm

I guess “perfect” is not the right word I should be using. I don’t mean it as in “flawless” – with the best job description, location or anything like that. That’s not at all the situation I have (4 kids, long hours etc.) I mean the family that you feel a connection with and can relate to, the one where you feel that you will be comfortable living with them for a year. I corresponded with a number of families and ended up not matching with the one with the best deal on paper, but the family that feels like the best fit for me as a person. But I agree with you, Should be Working, it’s naive to think that *any* person/situation in life will be perfect.

kat October 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

i think the word ‘perfect’ is not ment as in ‘absolutely perfect in every possible aspect’. probably more in ‘ feels very good, we get on really well, looking forward to meeting each other in person’ kind of way.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 26, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I will give you the same advice our LCC gave us once when a favored candidate matched with another family, “It was not meant to be.” If you don’t have a good “gut feeling” with family 1, then it’s okay to say No. After all, they blew you off without apologizing. I will say that the majority of HF take APs that start in the summer. You may match before Christmas, but don’t rush it just to be here. You may settle for a bad match.

And, my 2 cents, don’t arrive in the U.S. just before Christmas unless it’s not your holiday – you’ll find it incredibly lonely and isolating. If you celebrate Christmas then it is better to have your holidays with your family then come to the U.S. so that your Christmas with your HF is at the end of your year when you know each other well. As a HM, I have found it difficult to make a lovely Christmas for au pairs I don’t know well, whereas I love purchasing the perfect gift for au pairs I have come to know.

CA Host Mom September 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Hi All,
I am new here, but recently posted about my repeated attempts to get our 19 y/o AP to stop surfing the web, Facebook and texting while she is supposed to be supervising my 2 y/o and 6 mo old boys.
I thought we might have been making progress, but I kept a tight handle on things just to be sure.
Tonight AP came to me and said that, while we are a perfect host family, she doesn’t think it is going to work out because she just doesn’t feel like herself here (!!!). Though the news wasn’t expected, I am incredibly relieved. We are headed for rematch and I am going to comb thru all of the wisdom on this site to try and get prepared.
Just thought I would post here as well and see if anyone has any words of encouragement or warning for me as HD and I kick off this process.

Should be working October 1, 2012 at 11:22 am

Sorry to hear you have been dumped, but if you are relieved, that is great. Things would only have gotten worse.

First decide if you want an AP out of rematch, and do not want to wait for an out-of-country AP. If you can afford to wait, and prefer out-of-country, then it’s just like matching the first time, except you are wiser.

If you want an in-country match, who could start right away (or nearly), then things are obviously different. CCAP is not a perfect agency, but one reason I stick with them is that when interviewing candidates out of rematch you can contact the previous HPs. This to me is crucial.

In any case, when reviewing a candidate, talk to everyone you can, including the LCC for the candidate’s area. Rematch usually means that things haven’t gone well. Sometimes that is because the family isn’t a good HF. Oftentimes the AP had problems that might not be relevant for your family–e.g. poor driving. And sometimes the AP would not be a good AP for your family either, and you have to try and figure it out.

Again, if you can talk to the previous HPs you can get their story. Usually they will be bitter and say bad things about the AP. You are like a detective, figuring out what the story might really have been. If you are lucky, the LCC will say the AP is great, the AP will come across great, and the HPs will come across to you as unreasonable.

I took an AP out of rematch who had terrible reviews from her previous HPs. But the LCC, with whom she had been living, said she was lovely and helpful. And the HPs seemed to me unreasonable, like a 10pm curfew weeknights and 11pm weekends, whether or not work was happening the next day.

Keep us posted! Your anecdote is another person’s wisdom.

CA Host Mom October 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Thank you for this feedback! I spent the weekend reading thru the posts and found some great information on this site! I especially appreciated the ‘Classic Case’ posts that helped me see that the problem that we have been having with this AP is a typical one. Made me feel a bit better about our situation. I am going to put some of the tips to use that I read about interviewing a new AP, as well as take the suggestion of sending our (now much more detailed) Family Handbook to the potential new APs. I will let you know how our search ends up … for now, we are going to focus on making it thru the 2 weeks of awkwardness and hope that it works out for both involved. I’ll be back with an update … thanks again!!

CA Host Mom October 8, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Back with another update …
We’re expecting our new AP to join us this week! A few awkward days of overlap due to the inconvenient reality of the rematch process … but I think we will weather it well.
She was also in rematch and happened to live about 40 minutes away so I could meet her for lunch. She was in rematch due to a very difficult host child who hit and fought with her (had anger issues about a new baby brother and having to spend more time away from Mom while she was with the baby). Family loved her, but they both agreed that she couldn’t be effective if she couldn’t control the boy.
We are really excited for her to join us, and are once again hopeful!! Fingers crossed that we made the right choice!
Thanks for the support and encouragement!

Should be working October 9, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Great news! I know Calif Mom on here swears by rematch APs that one has had the chance to meet in person. The one time we did that, it didn’t work out well but we were newbies and didn’t trust our guts as to the chemistry.

Update soon again, ok?

former_aupair_sv October 4, 2012 at 6:27 pm

I was an au pair a decade ago and would consider having one of my own in the future. It’s incredible how different things are today. My host family and I got a paragraph and a photo of each other, and decided to match, we never even talked on the phone! Looking back, I’m amazed we didn’t have any real issues. Both parties were polite and wanted to please, I think… The parents were only about 7 and 10 years older than me, I used to call them my “host siblings”. Their baby was adorable. A few times I may have felt put-upon, but nothing I can even remember specifically. I overslept once (on an important day, which was mortifying) and shrunk a sweater. We still exchange Christmas cards. So simple! In any case I enjoy this blog. Thanks.

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