How Not To Interview A Nanny

I get asked a lot about interviewing childcare providers, probably because I’ve been through so many of the interviews myself. I’m normally able to give a few tips, but I think now I’m just going to point people to this post. Here’s how NOT to interview a nanny.

I came across this article on my Facebook news feed yesterday. The original survey and Craigslist post have now been deleted, but the article centres around a Queens, NY couple who want a two-day-a-week nanny to look after their young children. They posted on Craigslist, which is a perfectly normal thing to do (I’m not being sarcastic – lots of people post for childcare providers on Craigslist and find really good people!), and included a 65-question survey for potential candidates to answer. Good idea, right? I’m not adverse to surveys at all. If you want to weed out people before starting formal interviews, more power to you. I’ve answered many a quick survey when putting together a nanny application. It really does help determine who is going to be a good fit just on several important parameters.

The survey starts out okay. General information, have you ever done recreational drugs, criminal record-type stuff, including traffic tickets. Those are all questions I’d want to ask my nanny, especially if she’s going to be driving my children around. Plus, a general background check is important anyway – even if my potential nanny had answered no to these questions, I’d probably require her to submit a police check anyway. I’m not sure if drug tests are legal in every area, but if they were, I’d even want a drug test to screen for recreational drugs. I think these things are important – you want a responsible, clean person to be looking after your children.

But whoa. Number six and seven on the survey start asking you about your doctor. “Will you be able to provide a letter from your primary care doctor stating that you are in good health and able to perform the “rigorous job of caring for two small children?” Excuse me, what? I’ve talked before about the fatphobia that often plagues nanny job listings. “Active nanny” means a thin nanny in many cases. I also feel that chronic conditions, such as the several conditions I have, are none of anyone’s business. This is getting too personal, and the answer is no, I would not be willing to submit a doctor’s note detailing my health for a potential employer.

Now, I know why they’re asking. Someone who can’t run, bend, carry children and attend work on a regular basis is not a good candidate for a nanny position. But someone like me, who might be fat and might have chronic conditions, can still do all the job requirements that nannying entails. A doctor’s note saying “Well, she’s X lbs overweight and suffers from two conditions” is not only none of anyone’s business, it has no bearing on how I do my job. This might be a grey area for several parents, but you’re likely to scare away nannies rather than attract them with a question like this. Many conditions are invisible, and most have no relevance to how someone will do their job.

Question 7 says, “Will you provide a letter from your doctor listing all your current prescription drugs?” Again, this is not a question anyone is entitled to ask. A better question might be, “Are you on any drugs that are going to impair your ability to reason, stay awake, or otherwise be alert and ready to react to the daily demands of looking after children?” It’s none of anyone’s business what prescription drugs I’m on. This opens to the door to ableism, where people can deny mentally ill people undergoing treatment or people with chronic, medicated conditions a job. Not cool, and not your business.

Some of the questions ask about international travel and relocation. I think these questions are important, so I’m going to address them. A nanny who moves from a different country or city may indeed be homesick. I think that’s important to ask – can you handle the demands of two small children while dealing with your own homesickness? But asking how many countries someone has travelled to is again, not really any of your business, and it shouldn’t have any bearing on how someone can do their job. Sure, a well-travelled nanny might have interesting stories or recipes, but I don’t see why she can’t cook Coconut Curried Chicken from Thailand using a recipe she found online.

And now we’re at the weirdest part of the survey: cleanliness. One of the questions asks how many times you wash your hands in a day. I’m not sure people know how many exact times a day they wash their hands – I’m washing mine constantly, especially with children. I don’t want to get sick. Another question asks about daily showering. Seriously? Definitely no-nos to ask. Or fine, ask them, but expect to see your potential candidate running the other way. My employer does not need to know about my shower habits!

There are more questions – what’s your stance on breastfeeding? Will you take personal calls during the time you’re with the kids? (No, but if it’s an emergency, I might.) What’s your high school and college GPA? (Definitely a no-no. This is none of anyone’s business, and the best nannies I’ve known are ones that may have not finished school at all, but have tons of experience.) Are you married? Do you have children? (These are questions that are illegal anywhere to ask.)

The survey doesn’t paint a picture of a responsible parent trying to screen potential candidates. It paints a picture of an overbearing boss who is going to micromanage whoever works for her. It also paints an alarming picture of someone who is classist, potentially racist, and definitely ableist.

I’m on board with questions that are going to weed out troublemakers. You need stable people who have clean criminal records and lots of great experience to work with your children. But the rest are things that honestly don’t matter. Does it matter if your nanny showers once every other day or three times in a day? Does it matter if she thinks you should wean your child at 6 months or 6 years? Either way, she’s following your instructions and is there to protect your children and help them grow. To foster that relationship, you first need to see your nanny as a human being, not as a potential robot who is going to hit all your strident requirements.

Interviewing your nanny should be an enlightening experience, and by all means, use a survey to weed out people if you feel comfortable doing so. Just remember that you want to attract the people you want to hire, not scare them away. And you need to stay legal – asking illegal questions makes you out to be someone that nannies are going to avoid.

With that, it’s probably time for me to wash my hands again – because I do wash my hands after almost every instance they list there! And if you’re looking for a parental point of view, check out my friend D at Tales of an Unlikely Mother for her take on this!

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