Bridging The Distance With An Au Pair Candidate During The Phone Interview

A face-to-face meeting between the new host family and the au pair candidates is usually not possible, because an au pair will come directly from his/ her home country on a J-1 visa to live with the host family. However, there is the possibility of interacting through a live Skype conversation including a webcam, via e-mail and most importantly by phone.

The phone interview is a key portion of the selection process for an au pair. In addition to some questions suggested in my earlier post “Interviewing An Au Pair Candidate“, I wanted to share advice from Elisa Elkin-Cleary, LICSW, a Cultural Care Au Pair Program Counselor on “THE INTERVIEW”:

Preparing for a phone interview with a potential au pair can be daunting. The objectives for the interview are to find a person to care for your children and to live in your home, as well as to build rapport, evaluate their personality. Choosing the time for the interview and considering the challenges of language and telephone communication can help you create a situation more conducive to learning the true nature of the young person. A carefully planned process can lead to a competent individual who is also a good match for your family. This process will set the stage for a positive beginning and relationship.

Begin the interview process by thinking about the characteristics of your ideal au pair, as well as defining your expectations for the role.

  • What personality type do your children typically respond to?
  • Does she need to be a competent driver?
  • Does she need to have the same interests as your family, such as skiing or hiking?
  • Can you live with a highly social au pair or would you prefer someone who enjoys to spend time with family?
  • Other characteristics you may want to explore in the interview would be the au pair’s critical-thinking skills, ability to self start, willingness to learn, self-confidence and professionalism, as evidenced by examples from their past work experiences.

Call or e-mail the potential au pair to schedule an official time to talk. The first call is an opportunity to connect and get a general feel for the au pair as you introduce yourself and state your purpose for calling. You can ask her about her schedule and possible times to interview each other. Designating a specific time allows both parties to prepare properly and will provide privacy, quiet, and time during the interview which will help you both get a sense of each other.

Once you have determined a general sense of your expectations for your au pair’s role and have designated a time to meet, finalize a list of questions to explore with the au pair. Traditionally, people have been taught to interview using open-ended questions, such as “Tell me about yourself.” This line of questioning provides minimal accountability at best. A better alternative is behavior interviewing which is objective, and provides you with a sense of a person’s character.

Begin questions with prompts, such as:

  • How would you handle _______?
    Example: “How would you handle difficulty with a parent or manager? How did you resolve the conflict?”
  • Tell me about a time _______.
    Example: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a medical emergency.”
  • Describe a situation_______.
    Example: “Sometimes it’s easy to get in ‘over your head.’ Describe a situation where you had to request help or assistance with a child in your care.”

Be sure to follow up with questions to explore the au pair’s coping and problem-solving abilities.

  • “What were you thinking at that point?”
  • “Tell me about your decision process in that situation.”

Expect that this process will require more than one phone call. Both parties should have an opportunity to ask questions and discuss key issues. It is important to keep in mind that au pairs are young adults whose skills are developing, and with some nurturing and training, these skills and traits will grow. By acknowledging our expectations, we can plan appropriate questions geared at learning the character and skill set of the au pair. This also provides a foundation for the first weeks of training the au pair through the identification of key areas pertaining to your child’s specific temperament, schedule, and needs.

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