Your Au Pair Selection Process: What’s your “Information Style”? (poll)

by cv harquail on May 16, 2011

How do you “position” your family when you make your initial contacts with prospective Au Pairs?

Do you like to lay all the cards out on the table, tough expectations and all, in the hopes that only the strongest will pursue a match with you? (Dare ‘Ya)

Do you like to start sunny and light, highlighting what makes your family attractive, and then unfold the harder expectations as you talk with a candidate? (Disney)

Or, do you prefer to be plain-spoken, no frills, while sharing more information as you get to know each other? (WYSIWYG)


What is your "information strategy"?

View Results

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Why do you use the strategy you use? How has it been successful and/or tough to use? Has your strategy changed over time? Tell all…

(p.s., I’ll move over the comments from the Interviewing post as soon as I can).



PA AP mom May 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm

We have a crazy living situation because HD travels out of town during the work week and I have 2 very active boys.

We also live in a very rural area. I like to be upfront about what our town and family are like.

DarthaStewart May 17, 2011 at 8:06 am

I’m pretty upfront with the au-pair. I let them know that we do have 4 kids, and we are constantly on the go. Life here is crazy. And since I just started my MBA, it’s not getting any saner.

CO Host Mom May 17, 2011 at 9:07 am

My very first email contains the fact we have three kids and that the au pair works 30 to 45 hours a week including some evenings and weekends. That does screen out some candidates who clearly want a set daytime schedule or less kids.

Anonamomma May 17, 2011 at 9:41 am

I am a complete dare to match!

My first email is quite detailed and poses the first “batch” of questions. I have three “batches” sent in separate emails as we go along and they help me get a feel for each au pair and some of the questions are the same but worded differently just to make sure that I am getting a complete picture, i.e. (1st batch – do you smoke?, 2nd batch – how many cigerettes would you smoke if you were in a bar or club or out with friends 1-3, 3-6, or 6-10) (3rd batch – what is your least favourite brand of cigarettes?)

I also send out my complete handbook, and then literally quiz the au pairs about it during further emails… questions like what did you think of….. and the answers must show that they have read and understand the handbook.

During our first skype I ask them to have a parent present (depending on their age of course) because it also gives an indication as to whether or not the parents support the potential AP’s decision to enter the programme. I make it very clear I do not want an AP who is going against her family’s wishes – I don’t need the drama.

And the list goes on…

Because my interview process is intensive, it means that if an au pair’s English is not great, they have to put the work in to understand and answer my emails and interview with me although my partner speaks the language of the nationality we look at but I want to see the effort being made. My current AP said that she brought my handbook into her high school teacher to help her translate and – that’s why I picked her!

I find the “dare” technique works for me.

German Au-Pair May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Wow…while I get why you want to be *really* sure, actually I think I would feel like I’m being fooled with regarding the cigarettes. When I answered “no” to the question whether I smoked and someone kept asking not once but *twice* trick questions about how much and what I smoked, I’d feel either like they don’t listen what I say anyhow or like I’m fooled with and that would keep me from matching with you.
(And I do not smoke, it’s just the way my word would be questioned twice that would keep me from matching with you. And I guess the smoke issue is just *one* example out of your list, so I would get this feeling over and over again.)

Calif Mom May 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm

I agree with German Au-Pair here. That’s not an approach that sets up a lot of trust between the host parents and the au pair.

Of course, that said, our very first au pair– Pointy Boots — had lied about smoking. We discovered she was not a dog lover after all, she just wanted an excuse to get out of the house. And she didn’t need all those phone cards at first, either, she just needed to pick up more smokes at the 7-11.

(Caveat: I don’t have a great track record on picking au pairs from out of country! Either I have zero interview skills, or my family has gotten a lot harder to au pair ‘for’ as the kids get older and I have a much harder time being all sweetness and light due to looooooooooong recovery from a car accident. Having hired a couple terrific young women at work who have proven themselves over time, I don’t think it’s my approach to interviewing that’s the problem.)

OTOH, if you’re an authoritative-style host mom, this might be a totally fine approach and would weed out au pairs who aren’t going to mesh well with that style. God knows our last au pair really *needed* an authoritative and extremely directive host mom to be successful. I personally do better with a more independent au pair; friendly, part of our activities but not ALL our activities, who is honestly happy to help make dinner while chatting and clean up afterwards, also while chatting.

Should be working May 18, 2011 at 3:49 am

Our last au pair also lied about smoking, and even lied when I asked her why her clothes smelled like smoke. Ultimately, though, as long as she didn’t smoke around the kids or in the house, I decided she was pretty good and not worth rematching over this. I’m not as smoke-phobic; my main concern was that my husband not start bumming cigs off her and relapse into smoking!

The 3-tiered cigarette questions would, in my view, not catch out a liar but would at least communicate to the AP that if she’s lying about smoking, there will be trouble. I suppose that could just be in one of the emails instead, or during the interview one could just say, “We’ve had au pair candidates lie about smoking–so just in case, I tell all applicants that if you EVER smoke, you really really shouldn’t come to us because we’ll end up in rematch.”

Anonamomma May 18, 2011 at 5:56 am

This is one of the reasons behind the three tier question – it makes it very clear that smoking is a make or break issue for us – and while I appreciate the opinions offered – you would not believe how many au pairs have said “no” I don’t smoke in phase 1 and then on phase 2 continue with 3-6 cigarettes on a night out with friends!

If you don’t smoke then the answer is simple for you: “I don’t smoke” but if you are an occasional smoker then you have to think about it! The questions have caught au pairs out on many occasions and we really do not want a smoker in our home.

As for the rest of the technique – I have had a great success with it so far – I have never been through rematch and have three wonderful au pairs (expecting a fourth in September). I am still very much in touch with our past au pairs (one will soon be visiting us) so although my interviewing process may seem harsh – the results have meant that we only end up with people who are really interested in committing to our family and believe it or not – the interviewing is the hardest part for us – once the AP gets to the family they seem to blend right in – perhaps because they are so mentally prepared!

German Au-Pair May 18, 2011 at 7:05 am

Like I said, I do get the reason behind this but I’m with should be working: saying smoking would be a total dealbreaker right away seems to me as up front as your approach but less…I don’t know, I’d feel like you’d think I’m stupid and wouldn’t notice where those questions are aiming at.
(Sad though, that some girls don’t seem to notice. )
But if it has worked for you before, why not.

Should be working May 18, 2011 at 8:15 am

Interesting that candidates rat themselves out with the second- or third-batch smoking questions, I would not have guessed this! My assumption is that they believe, with the second-batch question about how many cigarettes they smoke when out with friends, that you might share the common (not in the USA) idea that a non-smoker might sometimes smoke when out with friends. I suppose you could just ask in the first batch that question about how many cigs get smoked when out with friends. But I see that if this is something you are emphatic about, it makes sense to interview emphatically for this.

hOstCDmom May 18, 2011 at 12:14 pm

We take essentially the same approach as annonamomma. We call it the “when did you stop beating your wife” approach to interviewing….

“Other than when you are out at a pub or club with friends, do you smoke?”

“No, I don’t smoke”

“You mean never, or only the odd cigarette here and then when you are drinking or at a party?”

For us the key is in the tone — when asking these questions we imply that it would be ok to say “yes, I have a cigarette now and then when I’m in the pub” –we try to set up the questioning to encourage honesty by leading the witness- but if they do say yes, we know it is a dealbreaker for us. And if they say no, we then follow with the statement like Should be Working mentions –

“Great, we’re glad you are a total non-smoker because that is a complete deal breaker for us. We’ve heard of some families where the AP said she was a non-smoker but then when she arrived they learned that she smoked when in the pub. If that situation happened to us we would be in immediate re-match so we always like to tell that up front to APs that we are interviewing”

German Au-Pair May 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I thought about this occasional smoking-think, too. In Germany it’s pretty common to smoke when you’re out in a pub even when you don’t smoke in general.
I think your approach is the better solution, hostCDmom, because also it’s tricky, but it doesn’t sound like you think your candidate is stupid.

What would interest me here is what you would do if she was honest and told you that she *had* done it once or twice a couple of years ago but doesn’t do it anymore? Would that also be a dealbreaker for you?

StephinBoston May 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I’m pretty much “Dare to match”, I’m up front about where we live “quiet town 35 miles away from Boston”, our kids, who we are and what we need. I don’t sugar coat it although our APs have it pretty easy now that both kids are going to school. I also share my whole handbook BEFORE we match and ask her questions about it to be sure she is OK with all my rules. Worked well so far.

Calif Mom May 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm

The polls asks about sharing the handbook; I think timing matters on that. It’s got a lot of fairly personal info, so I’m not going to share it with every person we talk to. I will share it with people we’re serious about, so we can talk about it on the phone or skype later.

It would be interesting to see if those who skype have a better match success rate than email/phone onlys.

Indi Au Pair to be May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm

As an Au Pair (to be), I agree with you. I think sharing it too early can form misconceptions of you and your family, not that is fair or a rule, but it could. I’d like to read the handbook of my HF before arriving to their home, maybe because I like to be prepared. I think if you’ve been matched with an AP, then she reads the handbook and backs up can save you of going to the always hard process of rematching.

Should be working May 18, 2011 at 3:54 am

I share the handbook only with candidates who I think are serious contenders, and I’m pretty much a one-at-a-time interviewer, so any serious contender is just a step away from matching with us. So the handbook comes later in the interview process (which in my case lasts over a couple weeks and upwards of 3-4 hrs of interviewing).

What I have also done in this last round of interviewing is to mention, once I start to like a candidate, that I have a REALLY LONG handbook with all kinds of details and our rules, and that I don’t want to overwhelm her but maybe at some point if she wants she could read it. Then I wait and see if she asks for the handbook, which she should, and with the right reasons–i.e. she wants to know more about us and understand what matching with us would be like and if there are any rules or things she could not live with.

The candidate we matched with (arriving August) asked in a curious and cheerful way for the handbook, I sent it, and she soon after wrote an email to me with comments and thanking me, and with a few questions. I thought that was great, it brought me a few steps closer to being ready to match.

Should be working May 18, 2011 at 3:56 am

On the skype question: our future AP seemed more reticent on skype than on the phone or in email. This is the only thing that made me nervous about her. But I think she was just nervous and not sure what to say (and I have been told that I am a little intimidating). What I loved about our skype sessions was that once or twice a sibling (she has several) came in the room and she welcomed them into our skype talk, introducing them, happy to include them, and the siblings (older and younger) were curious about me, they all ended up huddled in front of the computer and they seemed to genuinely like each other and be such a friendly group, I felt like this was a family I could feel good about overall.

anonmom May 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm

While I don’t share the handbook until they arrive, each AP knows exactly what is expected up front. I tell them, yes there is a curfew, that we will assess their driving abilities here before deciding whether they will have access to a car for personal use (neither of these have been a problem for us).

However, the one approach that was NOT listed in the informal survey is the one that has served me well. The first time I speak with the AP, it is merely a conversation. I talk to them and ask them non-work related questions first, as I can get to know the kind of person they are. I try not to make it inquisitional. I give them intro about us, but then tell them that I would like to speak with them again the next day or two. Then, I email a quick message, with some more information, and a few questions that I don’t feel need to be answered on the phone. Once I get to know the type of personb they are, I can usually decide whether I want to call them again. If I don’t feel they are worth another conversation, then I won’t call them, but I will email them.
I try not to be ‘business-like’ with the Q & A. I also appreciate that they are young adults- half my age, and that they have a much different perspective than a parent. But, I am very realistic of what is expected, so much so, that one AP stared in amazement at my home, and then a week later finally mentioned, “I know you said your house was chaotic and messy, but I didn’t think you really meant that!” Which I found hysterical! I am not one of those women who say, “oh, the house is a mess”, when it looks picture perfect! I am one of those people who is too busy living life to care about the state of mess/ clutter in the home!

WestMom May 19, 2011 at 8:21 am

Our approach is to advertise our profile on various 3rd party Web sites and let candidates reach us. Our profile includes our Dear Au Pair letter w/ photos, core requirements, and an overview of the job description (I don’t detail out any benefits). I then screen the candidates who contact us and start the interview process from there.

We also set up a Facebook page and encourage potential candidates to ‘like’ our page as they find us throughout the year, and I am planning to dig in that pool first for my next search. When I find a girl I like on third-party Web sites, I send her a brief message that I like her profile and encouraging her to view our Facebook page and contact us if she is interested.

This process has lead us to 2 out-of-agency matches (out of 3), and they were both amiable to transferring their application to our agency (in one case, our agency transferred for free and applied the pre-match discount).

So I would say my approach is more ‘let them fall in love with us first’, and then we do our weeding and due diligence process (detailed email screening, 2+ hrs Skype, calling all references, etc.).

excitedaupair September 30, 2011 at 9:17 am


I am a new au pair and I recently found a family through an agency. The agency sent me their application which was a very detailed one and gave me a lot of info about the family and the kids. I was surprised to have received a match so soon! Before I spoke with the family for the first time, I looked through your website to get some advice about the interviewing process, like what questions to ask and what parents ask, simply because this was my first time ever being an au pair and I wanted to get an idea of what to expect for the first “phone call” with the HM. However, when we got to the phone conversation, the mom seemed like she had already said yes to our match. For example she didn’t really ask me any questions or give me any kind of interview. She simply asked me when I wanted to arrive and when I wanted to leave and a few other things. This worried me because I had seen in your website that I should ask many questions to the family that way there’s no surprise from both parts. I also felt a bit uncomfortable later because since she hadn’t really asked me questions I didn’t want to bombard her with the long list of questions I had prepared. But I still did it anyway, I asked her the main questions that weren’t really covered on the application. After I asked her these questions I felt more at ease because we conversed a little more, talked about the kids, and I got the chance to talk to the kids. Overall they seemed like a really nice family. After the conversation I got really happy and excited and thought that I had a good family.
However, now I am really worried. I feel that maybe I should have asked more questions? I worry that maybe there’s something I didn’t cover on our conversation that I should have? Or simply the fact that she didn’t really give me an interview means something….I know I should follow my instincts, but I dunno if I’m being paranoid or not. I don’t want any surprises (as Im sure she doesn’t) when it comes to their expectations. But I also don’t know how to go about in asking more questions, without bombarding her or scaring her away. This is also her first time having an au pair, so maybe that’s why she didn’t know she was supposed to ask me more questions or give me more information? I also figured that maybe the reason why the HM right away asked me about when I wanted to leave (these gave me the impression that she thought I had agreed to the match already) is because of not only her 1st time being an HM but also because of their culture (she’s from europe?)
I was also wondering that maybe the reason why HPs from your website insist so much on interviewing several families and asking more questions regarding the responsibilities, the kids, the schedule etc, is because they’re not using an agency? Since most of the questions mentioned in the website are already covered on the application of the family ( I know that it doesn’t hurt going over them again just to make sure, which I did go over things like confirming the schedule, the taking the kids to school situation, the cooking, after school activities)

I am really looking forward to being an au pair, but I am also getting a bit worried because of the situation I just described to you above. What are your thoughts? Suggestions?


Taking a Computer Lunch September 30, 2011 at 8:50 pm

You don’t mention which continent on which you would like to be an au pair. It makes a difference. This web site, while open to everyone, necessarily has a focus on the United States.

au pair from saturn October 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm

well about smoking, I was not used to smoke, I was absolutely NOT allowed to smoke by my parents in my country. I once did it on their backs at college with some friends because I felt curiosity but honestly I did not like it at all. I arrive here and my host parents were not concerned about that, instead they asked about cooking, cleaning, working some evenings, driving and well I actually fulfill their requirement and expectations I am still with them and about to finish my second year!! they are SUPER COOL and wonderful …They smoke a lot even in the house but when the kids are gone or sleeping, I sometimes share some beer and cigarettes with them when I am off (I smoke now) … everything depends of the family and that’s what it is amazing about america, DIVERSITY!!

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