Your Family’s Au Pair Selection Process: Checking references

by cv harquail on May 20, 2011

In a perfect world, we’d check the references supplied by each au pair candidate. It’s just too easy for someone who was untrustworthy to create references that make him or her look better than reality, especially when the reference givers do not speak English fluently.

But, I must admit, in all of the times that we selected au pairs, I only called references once. (I know, shame on me. I bet I’d have avoided my worst flame out au pair if I’d talked to someone who knew her personally, who could have confirmed this au pair’s lack of initiative and her immaturity.]

Checking the Applicant’s References

How important is it to you to talk with an au pair applicant's references?

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Offering References to an Au Pair Candidate

Do you offer references for your family to your au pair candidates?

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If you do offer references for your family, when in the process do you do this?

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If you offer candidates your own references, how often have they called your references? (convert to percentages if you can)

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Should be working May 20, 2011 at 9:34 am

I can speak the language of our au pairs’ native countries, which is very helpful. The references are usually very positive and not very specific–but they provide great opportunities for reading between the lines and picking up on small things. For instance, what looked like a regular babysitting job in the application might, in the employer-mom’s description, actually be more a supervised television session with kids. Or a little anecdote about the AP candidate’s cooking might show that she is more versatile, or less, than she describes herself. For me, checking references is a reality check for my good impression. An AP candidate who doesn’t make such a good impression won’t get her references checked, she will be rejected. An AP candidate who makes a good or great impression will get her refs checked, to see if I’m missing anything.

Calif Mom June 1, 2011 at 9:43 pm

This may be where my selection process commits an “epic fail”, in the words of my 5th grader. (I’ve just blown any Cool Mom points I may have ever accumulated, I know.)

Since my husband and I have excellent “restaurant French” and Restaurant Italian, and Restaurant Spanish, and probably other Restaurant Languages–are there any au pairs from Sous Vide?–but cannot speak “childcare” in any language other than English, we’re pretty much doomed when it comes to gleaning any subtleties from an interaction with a reference. I’m quite jealous of bilingual host parents who choose au pairs from their other-languaged country, in fact.

Add in the Time Zone Challenge, the knowledge that the references have been just as prepped and primed as the candidates themselves, and it just doesn’t seem worth the effort to check references.

This factor may account for my “0-fer” record when it comes to un-visa’d au pairs. And explains my success with rematch au pairs, whom I can meet in person and thus rely on my gut instinct.

WestMom May 20, 2011 at 1:22 pm

For the first time this year, I gave a family reference to the candidate we planned to match with, and I made it a required step that she get in touch before formally matching. Not only do I want to offer multiple opportunities for a candidate to get a full-rounded picture of our family (candidates also speak with our past au pairs), but I trust my references to give me feedback on our selection. In other words, it benefits everyone. I am planning to do this from now on as part of our selection process.

Taking a Computer Lunch May 21, 2011 at 7:34 am

I let my agency check references. The applications usually include both the original application form filled out by the referee as wells as my agency’s contacts notes in her follow-up interview. My current AP asked to see her application – she had never seen what her referees had written (the application went straight to the agency’s contact in her home country), so she was intrigued. What I miss is that the agency used to ask referees to rank the applicants ability to perform tasks using a 1-5 ranking system – I used to reject anyone who received a 3. As for giving references, my current AP is the reference I offer – when I first applied to be a HF years ago I gathered references from both my employer and friends, but after a decade all that contact info has changed. I suppose the AP gets to see that info though.

1st time HM May 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm

next time around I am definetly going to check reference myself. My current AP told me that all her friends “lied” about their childcare experience, hence 4 of 5 girls that she knows here already re-matched. I questioned her more on her experiences (I have a newborn +3 other children) she told me her infant qualificiation was from helping with her baby sister……. with a full-time nannny presen, so she never cleaned up after the infant. Luckily she is good with the infant, however, not so savy with my 6 y/o. She does not know how to reidirect a child who is focused on something they want (my 2 y/o), nor is she creative with ideas for things to do during downtime, other that watching TV. My children actually do not like TV, so she wonders why they act out when placed in front and told “watch TV”. I know I will definetly check references if we decide another AP. At the moment, I am thinking I do not want to go this route again due to all the “bumps” we have encountered so far…..only about 6 months in. I feel like the only support or “real” advice is here on this site.

HRHM June 1, 2011 at 10:56 am

I had a similar experience – AP2’s app said she spent a year caring for a one year old and 4 year old (same ages as my kids) so I figured I couldn’t go wrong. Turned out ALL her experience was fabricated, she had never taken care of any children independantly. Now I do need to speak to references directly (have access to lots of folks who speak different languages, so that’s not really a problem for me). The kicker is, I spoke in English to AP3’s previous HM who was British, she gave her a great recc, and she WAS STILL A TRAIN WRECK! LOL. Probably because in the UK all she had to do was drive the 13 yr old boy to his activities and make sure he did his homework – she never could adapt to actually taking care of younger kids. Not really sure what the answer is…

Calif Mom June 1, 2011 at 9:50 pm

This is a HUGE issue. Au pairs who can handle — or at least who have experience with — a certain age group are often ill-prepared to handle two different age groups at the same time.

And yet unless there is just one child, the au pair is going to have to be able to juggle varying needs. It’s hard. It’s why moms look haggard. It’s why moms love having help. It’s a skill best learned (IMHO) at a childcare center or other setting where you have to be responsible for the needs of a variety of children at the same time. Even if the kids are all of the same group, there is more likely to be a variety of personalities within that group, and a wide enough age spread that one size will not fit all, so the caregivers have to learn flexibility, prioritization, and a bunch of different tricks to pull out of their hat at any given time.

Of course, that said, our current rematch au pair (who is turning out to be wonderful, BTW) doesn’t have experience in a childcare setting. She does have a good head on her shoulders, and empathy in spades. I think empathy will cover a multitude of skill or experience gaps. And it is very hard to find the real thing in au pair candidates. This is one of things i can see in person but is very hard to interview for.

Should be working June 2, 2011 at 3:37 am

Calif Mom, I’m so glad your rematch AP is working out so well! Can you give us a summary of her profile–was there a problem with the previous family (always worrying when selecting rematches) that you had to determine would not be a problem for your family? Apart from being able to meet her, what else made her application appealing?

CA mom to twins May 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm

I sent emails to all of my au pair’s references (4 of them) and only 1 replied. I know the job of the agency is to check and interview, but I felt I should reach out anyways. With our next au pair, I will definitely ask the candidate to inform her references that I will be contacting them for a confirmation.

When I hire people at my work, I always check their references. Why wouldn’t I do the same for people who are watching my kids?!

German Au-Pair May 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Would it effect your decision to match with a person, if her references refused to speak to you? All of my references aren’t able to speak English, the reference for my kindergarten internship even refused to be my reference at first (even though she knew why I was doing this internship and that she would be a reference if she hired me). Would that be a red flag for you?

My 2 cents June 2, 2011 at 12:39 pm

You didn’t ask me, but I’ll answer anyway. Yes, it would affect my decision. the point of the reference is to for them to serve as a point of contact for the future employer to talk about you. If they cannot or will not do this, it kind of defeats the purpose.

On this note, it’s really due diligence on the au pair’s part to make sure her references are willing to speak, even if it means the host family must arrange for a translator. I can recall a reference being reluctant to talk with us because their English was not strong, but when I replied that it was okay, they could write in their native language or we could have our then current au pair translate, they were totally at ease with talking with me. Perhaps au pairs can make this clear to their references.

German Au-Pair June 2, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I do see your point but I guess then I’m just lucky that my future hostparents didn’t want to check my references.
The one who gave me my internship said she didn’t want to be held responsible if I messed up being an au pair (even though this woman knows me since I was 3!) and I had a hard time getting her writing my reference because she considered herself extremly busy (that’s why she left every day at 12…yeah well).
But thank you for your point of view. I do get where you are coming from but in my case it would just have been bad luck for me. I couldn’t forsee her being reluctant of giving me a reference as I came to her stating specificly “I want to do an internship so I can have a reference for being an au pair” and then she made me beg for 5 minutes time to fill it out.
If an au pair gave you this explanation, would it still affect your decision?

Dorsi June 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm

I am sure this was frustrating for you, since you had a long history with this woman, but she should not have served as a reference for you. Her unwillingness to write you letter may be because she is lazy/unorganized or because she does not think you should be a AP (for valid or invalid reasons). You really should have approached someone else to be your reference– her reluctance reflects poorly on you (even if you don’t deserve it).

German Au-Pair June 3, 2011 at 8:10 am

I agree Dorsi!
The thing is that since she knew beforehand that she was going to be my reference and agreed, I really thought there wouldn’t be a problem. And whe this attitude came up -after my internship was over- I was a little baffled about that.
But yes, from a hostfamily’s point of view that really *does* reflect poorly on a candidate, I get that.
So I guess I’m just lucky that my future hostparents didn’t want to talk to her.

Indi Au Pair to be May 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I’m from an Spanish speaking country and when I was going tru the process of filling up my application I made sure to have at least one reference (either personal or childcare) that’d be able to speak English, fortunatelly I have both but I’m not sure of how many families actually contact the references. Do you think an AP would have less chances if she/he has all non English speaking references?

MommyMia May 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm

In most cases, probably it wouldn’t be an issue, as in many areas of the US, it would not be difficult to ask a friend or acquaintance (or even an international student) who speaks the AuPair’s native language to converse with the references. I’m sure that many of the agencies would also be able to assist with this, if asked, although I’m sure they’ll insist that since they’ve already checked, there’s no need for the HF to speak with them. Many do encourage this in their process, however.

Calif Mom June 1, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Here the rare time that I totally disagree. Unless the reference is given in writing and I can use translation software, I don’t have access to anyone I feel comfortable handling this kind of an interview on my behalf. And I live in a seriously multicultural city, have friends who speak Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, German. I know a mom who runs a translation company. But handle a reference check *for* me? Nope; that’s either a subtle, nuanced conversation or else it’s just not worth the time spent doing it

hOstCDmom June 2, 2011 at 9:13 am

Agree with CalifMom re there not being a “substitute for me” in interviewing references, or APs. But one way to use a friend/colleague for a reference check is to simply contact and speak with referee to ensure that 1) they really “exist’ and are not fabricated 2) that referee says that AP did do the work noted in the reference (i.e. work in kindergarten, or babysit). Agree that a friend cannot gauge the nuance and really interview the referee, but it can still be useful to confirm some basic facts….since in my experience one cannot even rely on the agencies to do this 100%.

I speak half a dozen langauges fluently and am thus often able to check the references myself, but I can say that in a number of instances my fluency in X language wasn’t really necessary, because when I phoned the supposed reference said “Who?” “Oh, yes, I know her mother but she never worked here” or “yes, she babysat for us once, 3 years ago…”. There isn’t much nuance to such responses….and I bet a friend or colleague could stand in one’s shoes for at least this basic level of “review”…

Indi Au Pair to be June 2, 2011 at 11:42 am

Understandable, and I kind of agree most with this POV, another more “personal” option would be asking and AP from your cluster who speaks your potential AP candidate’s language to email or call the references, I think it’s more “personal” and not as umm intrusive? as to ask someone completely unrelated to the “au pairing” process.

CAmom22 May 31, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Call me naive but last time around (my first AP) it never occurred to me to check references. I assumed the references had been fully checked by the agency and my “job” was to match based on personality, etc…. This thread is making me think much more as I start looking for #2 (#1, BTW, has been fantastic). But still, if there really are APs out there who have lied about their experiences the agencies are not doing their job if they haven’t been weeded out. No? That’s worrisome. For those of you who have checked, how do you deal with the language barrier?

Indi Au Pair to be June 1, 2011 at 1:38 am

I asked the same question (i’m an au pair) and someone gave me a helpful answer, finding someone who speaks the language and whom you trust to talk with the references, I think email would also be a useful resource using google translate or the like.

an ap June 2, 2011 at 10:10 pm

I´m an ap (for almost 2 years now) in which I have met A LOT of aps from all over, some of them rematched, others had a great year. I know for a fact that MANY lied in their application (not only about their references btw). Because I care about my HF and especially my host kids I told my HM this and also the fact that my agency in my home country DID NOT CHECK MY REFERENCES. Now, I don´t know if that happends with every agency or with every country, all I know is that I wouldn´t trust the agencies on basically anything. Since my HF always gets APS from my country I offered to check references for them. We put together a list of questions to ask them. They are now beggining the process of looking for a new ap and I´m excited to be a part of it, I want my host kids to get a great ap. So, this might be a good idea for those of you who have a current ap you trust, or even a previous ap who you know you can trust with this task

Carlos June 3, 2011 at 3:15 am

I know riiight??!!

This is something that I’ve been posting here a lot but somehow it doesn’t seem that host families read it or take consideration about it… aps do LIE!

I have 2 friends living with their families already and both of them lied with their hours of experience… still they got perfect matches and their doing awesome…

In my case, I’m with cultural care and they actually made me do hours of experience.. At some point I even thought of lying but the agency actually checked on my references to see if I really did those hours…

Idk if it’s right or not but my rep treats me as If I was the worst au pair of all :/ she tells me I’m the one that has less experience of all and that it’ll take around a year or so for me to get even 1 SIMPLE MATCH… yet I just got my second one yesterday (didn’t work though) but still… I’m somehow grateful with my agency because if it weren’t for the fact that they’re pushing me this hard I don’t think it would be possible for me to accomplish 2 matches in 1 month…

Host families.. if you read this PLEASE, not that I want to talk good about my agency but my 2 friends are from au pair care and they already have their families but they lied about the hours.. with cultural care they don’t lie… that’s what I know from first hand…

Thank you :) (lol)

Anna June 2, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Can you please tell us which agency?

Steff June 2, 2011 at 11:54 pm

For what it’s worth, CC at least in my home country, DID check my references…ALL of them- (even the personal– even them were asked if they knew if I regularly looked after children) —I was actually at work the day the CC-staff-girl called the director of the kindergarten I was working at the time, and the two of them talked over the phone for some well 10mins if not even more. They asked her every kind of questions as to what I did with the kids I looked after, how I did it, why, where…and her personal opinion of me–
I guess that really comes down to the agency… :)

hOstCDmom June 3, 2011 at 7:57 am

It really comes down to the local agents, in countries where local agents are used (instead of satellite offices of the Mother Ship Agency). Some local agents have financial conflicts of interest the way the recruiting is set up. The local agents get paid a fee for producing AP candidates….so they have an incentive to let things slide to have a larger pool to present to the Mother Ship.

HRHM June 3, 2011 at 8:55 am

I think the other thing to keep in mind is that even if they check, there is no way for them to know if a friend is just lying for you or not. In my case, the neighbor filled out the reference paperwork and did the phone interview with the agency (I think) despite the fact that she had never used AP2 to care for her kids. So even if the agency vets appropriately, you can never be sure. It’s one reason that I would insist on speaking directly (or via my translator) with the references. The reality is, nothing is foolproof. It’s not like the US, where if someone gave a false reference and there was some tragic outcome due to it, you’d get sued. There are no consequences for these people and they obviously don’t care that they may be dooming some poor child to being “cared for” by someone unqualified to do so.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 3, 2011 at 10:27 am

Did she fill the paperwork out as an employer or as a character witness. APIA has two forms for APS and the character witness cannot be a family member. HP, too, have to fill out that paperwork for APIA, but only the first time they apply. My supervisor had to attest to my employment (DH was a stay-at-home Dad at the time) and then we had friends act as character witnesses. I don’t know if APS have access to this info when they match with us, but it certainly is old now! We’ve been HP for over 10 years.

MommyMia June 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm

When we were with APIA, I know that our family’s personal references were not checked, but my husband’s employer was contacted to verify employment. And with some of our rematch/extension APs, I can’t believe that their previous families’ references were checked, either, unless they lied. One family even moved after the LCC did the home visit, and she apparently never saw the double-wide trailer that the AP and 5 (yes, I typed that correctly1) children plus parents (one shared bathroom) had to share. Sure, she had her own room, but can you imagine?! Our LCC at the time said the family should not have been approved for the program, but the local LCC was new and inexperienced; that family was, thankfully, dropped from the program after their replacement AP requested a rematch as well.

HRHM June 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm

She was an employer reference, I don’t think the agency even realized that she was a friend or that she never used AP2 for childcare – although had they checked, I’m sure she would have lied for AP2 in a heartbeat.

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