How to find out the things you really need to know.
When faced with the challenge of hiring a new baby-sitter, most parents fantasize about Mary Poppins floating down on their doorstep. Unfortunately, finding a new sitter isn't so easy. What's the best way to choose the person responsible for preserving household harmony in your absence? Of course, you must request references and call them. But equally important is to ask open-ended interview questions that demand an explanation, suggests Martin Yate, an employment consultant and author of Hiring the Best (Bob Adams Inc., 1990).
- What would you do if the children refused to follow your instructions?
- What would you feed my children while I'm gone? Describe three meals you might prepare.
- What steps would you take if one of the children developed a fever?
Now that you've narrowed down your search by asking the right questions, you've asked a potential sitter for some references. How can you make sure former employers will offer up an honest assessment? Marsha Epstein, president of the American Nanny Company in Newton, MA, has this advice:
- Create a connection.
Introduce yourself to the reference, ask if it's a convenient time to speak and tell her briefly about yourself and your child-care needs. "Your first goal is to make her feel comfortable and to get her to open up," Epstein says.
- Seek specifics.
Ask her to name the characteristics she most liked about the sitter. Solicit specifics with questions such as, "Give me an example of a time she needed to discipline your kids and how she handled it."
- Uncover weaknesses.
Encourage openness by sharing shortcomings you can live with; say, for instance, "We had one baby-sitter who was very disorganized but so loving and caring that it didn't matter to us." Your objective is to learn if this person has any problems you won't be able to overlook.
- Go with your gut.
If there's anything about the reference that seems suspicious, "trust your instinct," says Epstein. Similarly, "if there's hesitation in the reference's tone, or she gives a reference without enthusiasm, pay attention to those cues."
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