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8 Essential Qualities to Look for when Hiring a Nanny

Why it’s Important to Hire a Nanny with the Right Qualities 

Parenting is hard. Fortunately, there are alternatives to traditional childcare. If you are looking for the most essential qualities in a nanny, read on.

If you are lucky enough to be able to hire a nanny (or share one with another family), it will likely be the one time in your child’s life that you have as much control over the care being provided to them. No daycare, school, camp, or even friend or relative will be able to match the care you can screen for, hand-select for, and actively manage while your kids are young.

Remember that most nannies have chosen this work because they genuinely enjoy it. The impact of a focused, high-quality caregiver on the early developmental years cannot be underestimated.

8 Essential Qualities to Look for when Hiring a Nanny

  1. Dependability – Why Hiring Someone You Can Totally Rely on is Critical
  2. Experience – Decide what it Means to You
  3. Qualifications – From a Babysitter to a Career Nanny
  4. Trustworthiness and Integrity – Measuring the Immeasurable
  5. Background Checks – Doing your Due Diligence
  6. Patience and Compassion – Look for the Reasons behind the Work
  7. Communication Skills – Tools to Making it Work
  8. Adaptability and Flexibility – Each Family is Dynamic

1. Dependability Why Hiring Someone You Can Totally Rely on is Critical 

“When I must be in the OR at 6 AM to perform surgery on a patient, I need my childcare to go off without a hitch. The ripple effect of me not having reliable childcare would impact so many people, from doctor to patient, and everyone in between.”

As the saying goes – if only we had a nickel for each time we have heard a variation of this type of concern from our clients.

The reality is that all parents require a dependable source of childcare, regardless of their profession. Being the person parents can completely rely on is a top characteristic of a professional nanny and there are creative ways to unearth this information.

2. Experience – Decide what it Means to You

There is so much to consider when hiring a nanny who will be the best fit for your family.  Nanny work is unregulated, therefore it’s up to the hiring family or the placement agency recruiters to determine what baseline requirements are for their applicants.

For example, newborn infant experience is imperative, but each family has a different definition of what this means to them. Consider how you (as the employer) define experience level and where you fall on the spectrum of expectations.

We find that some families wish to hire a nanny who has the experience of being a parent themselves. Others define necessary experience as a threshold of professional work hours (for example, at Seattle Nanny Network there is a minimum requirement of 4000 hours of paid experience to even apply).

Other families measure a nanny candidate by their training, such as a Newborn Care Specialist (NCS) certification. One may also consider the level of responsibility with previous infant care jobs (managing multiple babies in a daycare infant room, for one example).

3. Qualifications – from a Babysitter to a Career Nanny

Again, with this industry being unregulated it is left for debate as to what uniquely qualifies a nanny.  There is general agreement in the industry that basic training such as Infant CPR and First Aid, as well as some early childhood education, is essential. Beyond this, the consumer will encounter inconsistencies with what qualifies a professional nanny, depending on the source. At the other end of the spectrum from baseline training, would be in-home educators. This is a nanny with teaching credentials or a college degree specific to early education.

As the role of a nanny becomes more popularized, there are more training resources than ever before. Some of the best nanny training on the market today can be found at Sproutables, where a course selection has been specifically designed for in-home caregivers. In lieu of certification, there are also continuing education courses online that your nanny can take. (Not just for nannies, parents can benefit from these courses too)!

There are also certifications from organizations such as the United States Nanny Association (USNA) which holds an annual conference with expert speakers.

Ultimately it is up to each family to decide what qualifications they want from their nanny, while assigning special merit for formal education and certifications specific to early childhood education.

4. Trustworthiness and Integrity – Measuring the Immeasurable

It is obvious that references will be a critical tool in creating a broader character profile for a nanny candidate. You have no way of knowing how trustworthy the candidate is, but their references will be able to share their perspectives with you.

You will want to know from a prior employer whether they left the children alone with the nanny or if (and for how long) they felt the need to monitor them before doing so.

Parents may share that they gave the nanny a key to their home and vehicles or allowed the nanny to house-sit or care for the children overnight. Some families even share a credit or debit card with the nanny without any concern! This is the type of information you will need to tease out when interviewing references from past employers.

Once you take the leap and hire your chosen nanny, be sure you have tools in place to assist with communication and tracking activities. Enhanced communication allows you to address concerns in real time.

5. Background Checks – Doing your Due Diligence

Conducting a background check is considered a standard part of the process, and the nanny to whom you are making an offer will expect it.

As a potential employer, it’s important to understand that not all background checks are created equal. A third-party investigation service (such as a professional recruiter) will be bound to follow federal laws regarding Fair Credit Reporting, stipulating specific rules around legally obtaining official private records information.

A “background check” that you can purchase online is not necessarily comparable as it is mainly a data sweep of online information for which there is no guarantee it is correct, or up to date.

6. Patience and Compassion – Look for the Reasons Behind the Work

Choosing to work as a nanny requires more patience than the average person has. Caring for or working with children in any capacity requires an elevated level of sensitivity and understanding. Working with kids is challenging – as any parent, teacher, or caregiver will confirm.

Unfortunately, childcare is not one of the more prestigious or high-paying job tracks. You want to be sure that the nanny applicant is doing this work for the right reasons and not as a default form of employment. People who choose to work with children as a profession should have a natural connection with, and genuinely enjoy working with kids. Ideally, they have chosen this work because they love it, not because they need “a job.”

One tool for measuring a candidate could be to require answers to questions in a written format. This allows the candidate to reflect on why they do this work and may give them the opportunity to provide a more thoughtful answer than one they would give while being put on the spot in an interview situation.

7. Communication Skills – Tools to Making it Work

Effective communication is imperative when working as a nanny (or employing one) because there is no HR department to turn to when encountering an issue.

The good news is there are tools that are specifically designed for a nanny to improve the flow of communication in even the most challenging of circumstances.

Replacing any employee is never fun, but a nanny who is bonded with your children will be a tall order to fill if they decide the job is no longer working out for them. In our experience, many issues could have been resolved with more communication. Allowing all parties to “get in front” of concerns before they become an issue contributes to employee retention.

Another tip is to be sure to “screen” for communication style and hire a nanny who matches yours. When you are conducting interviews, take a moent to imagine what would happen if there was a problem. Would this candidate be comfortable addressing it? Ask the candidate how they communicated with former employers, and what they learned from those interactions when they became challenging.

A new tech tool on the nanny market is designed specifically for in-home childcare providers and allows the nanny to log information daily in a non-confrontational manner. The electronic tool provides parents with a log of activity at the day’s end. The documentation makes parents aware of what their (often young, non-verbal) kids were up to in their absence and adds structure to the day. Daily log apps create a record for both the parent and nanny to track activity and development in real time. By remaining consistent, the information can be used as a foundation for dialogue.

In our experience, the more consistent the communication between family and nanny, the more likely the relationship is to stand the test of time.

8. Adaptability and Flexibility – Each Family is Dynamic

Life with children can be unpredictable. The ability to adapt to the daily changes that come along with the care of children is required. A nanny should be reasonably flexible when meeting the needs of the family because no two families are the same. The flip side of this is that in an unregulated industry, there is an inherent power dynamic that favors the employer, so proceed with awareness.

Communicating openly with a nanny during the interview phase will allow you to determine if they may be suitably flexible for your family. Asking the nanny to verbally outline what tasks they are comfortable with, as well as what they are not comfortable doing, will help you to understand if they are a match for your expectations.

Once you have hired a nanny, be sure to create a written employment agreement so there is a point of reference in the event misunderstandings arise.

In closing, remember that you are not alone in this search. There are numerous resources available to formalize your search and hire. Everyone benefits when a nanny hire is successful. The family who can rely on quality care, the nanny who can rely on a stable income from a career they love, and the children who benefit from their expertise.


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