Interview questions for potential mother’s helpers

We, of course, lost the questions we used 5-odd years ago and had to recreate a list.  (I should probably finish the unfinished post in drafts about how we came around to having mother’s helpers rather than a nanny or daycare and how that worked out for us.)

Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Why are you interested in this position?
  2. What is your previous child-care experience?
  3. What do you like most about childcare?  What do you like least?
  4. How do you handle a crying baby?
  5. Can you spoil an infant?
  6. What are your beliefs on discipline for infants?
  7. How do you entertain a baby?
  8. What are your thoughts about feeding on demand?
  9. How do you feel about holding the baby a lot?
  10. We don’t believe in rigid schedules for babies (though we are fine with routines).  Are you ok with that?
  11. Do you have infant CPR training?  Would you be willing to take a class to get certification?
  12. What do you want to know about our baby?
  13. Do you have reliable transportation?  (The bus line does not come to our neighborhood.)
  14. If you start this job, would you be able to commit to it for the entire semester?
  15. Would you be interested in continuing second semester?  Over the summer?
  16. Are you allergic to cats?
  17. Do you smoke?
  18. Do you feel comfortable doing light housework while the baby is nursing (cleaning the kitchen, folding baby laundry, baby-proofing the house etc.)?
  19. A few days out of the year our 5 year old will be home from school because of school vacation days.  Is that ok?  Your responsibility will still be for the baby, not the elementary schooler.
  20. Do you have any questions for us?

And then if they haven’t scared us off, they hold the baby.  Last time we discovered some applicants said they had experience but had obviously never held a baby before.

What questions do you think are important for hiring childcare?

26 Responses to “Interview questions for potential mother’s helpers”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I remember asking a friend this question and she also had a bunch of stuff around showing up on time and vacation/time off requirements. The person can be the best babysitter in the world, but if they don’t show up when you need them and/or in a predictable way, it won’t work out.

    Where do you post your ad?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      On the college jobs website. The time stuff is in the pre-screening part.

      I’ve also found that whether or not a person is on time for the interview is a huge signal about what kind of worker they’re going to be (even for RA positions).

  2. rented life Says:

    What’s the difference between a mother’s helper and other forms of child care–babysitting, nanny,etc? Sorry, just completely ignorant here.

  3. chacha1 Says:

    Another thing I’ve never really thought about (as a non-parent), but very thorough and interesting! Holding the baby: an excellent test. I’ve managed to achieve my advanced age without ever holding a baby, much less changing a diaper. I would undoubtedly flunk that test. Although I would also undoubtedly have scared you off long before reaching that point. :-)

  4. hush Says:

    BTDT with babysitter (postpartum doula, daytime helper, non-live-in ‘nanny’) interviews. Open-ended questions about “what do you like the least?” / mistakes you’ve seen?/ types of child or parent behavior you can’t abide? are by far the most revealing.

    “What mistakes have you seen other parents you’ve worked for make with their children?” “In your experience taking care of children, what’s been the greatest challenge for you personally?” “How would you handle it if …. someone knocked at the door? …. you noticed one of our children was playing with their own genitals? …. our child told you to go eff yourself? … our child asked you to call us at work?” And really drill down on their answers. “Under what circumstances would you call for medical attention for our child?” Even when we just had one newborn baby, we still asked these kinds of questions to get at character.

    The two times we’ve hired the wrong people it was because we didn’t ask the hard-hitting questions and set expectations properly on the front end. We assumed they would do some light housework instead of just hold the baby all day long. We assumed they would not make our kid sit at the table until he ate all the food on his plate. We assumed they would not try to sleep train our 18-month-old. Now we over-communicate our expectations both orally and in writing where they can refer back to it. And check the hell out of their references with specific questions about past behavior.

  5. Molly (Mike and Molly's House) Says:

    My kids learned to comfortably hold babies, entertain, and feed them through being a mother’s helper. I’d be looking for the traits behind your questions- Do they jump in and help without being asked? Will they try something over and over until they can get it right? Do they possess some basic common sense?
    Having a mother’s helper with a great attitude is priceless. You can train a kid almost anything if they walk in with that!
    All that said, my expectation is that a mother’s helper always has supervision from the parent of the child.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Great attitude is important for any job!

      We’re hiring college students, and have been fortunate enough in the past to have pediatric nursing students and elementary ed students applying. So far our applicants haven’t looked so good this time around– either they’re qualified and have no time availability or they have the time availability but aren’t qualified. But the ad hasn’t been up for very long.

      Another thing we do is require them to send resume, their schedule, and a statement of interest. If they can’t follow directions then we don’t interview them.

  6. bogart Says:

    Have not negotiated this; we’ve relied on daycare arrangements (i.e. outside our home). Out of curiosity, what do you pay a mother’s helper?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well… because we’re doing college students and want to pay efficiency wages (that is, above-market wages in order to get high-quality people), we’re paying $1/hr above the going market wage for childcare. So 5 years ago that was $8/hr and we were astounded with the quality of candidates we were getting. Now that’s $9/hr and we’re worried that we may have to up the wage because we’re not that impressed with what people have been sending in, or it may just be too early for us to have posted the ad and we’ll get better people closer to school starting.

      A common thing to do is to hire a high schooler to do mother’s helper stuff for an hour or two after school. That’s generally closer to minimum wage, sometimes below it, but we need someone high quality to entertain DC2 for long periods of time rather than traditional mother’s helper stuff.

      • bogart Says:

        Interesting. I’d guess the rate around us would be higher, though I honestly don’t know (obviously a function of the market; I’m in an MCOLA). I know that u’grads at school start at $9/hour to do admin. work (sorting, filing). Hope you can find a person who’s a good fit! Do you run into having to file for SS, etc., or is that a non-issue for the hours you need / student work?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We got close with our summer person last time and actually put some of her salary away each time, but at the end of the summer she didn’t quite make the limit so we gave it back in a lump sum.

  7. Debbie M Says:

    “What are your thoughts about feeding on demand?” Depends who’s doing the demanding.

    (The baby? Pro. Anybody else demanding that the baby be fed? Not so pro, though there might be good reasons, especially from those who know the baby well.)

  8. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Do you think babies taste better braised in Guinness or roasted with a cherry glaze?

  9. jlp Says:

    Are you vaccinated against Pertussis [and/or your particular state’s current outbreak/epidemic]? Are you willing to get vaccinated?

  10. pvcccourses Says:

    If they’re of an age to have adult kids: Where are your children now and what are they doing?

    Nuclear physicists: good. Trustees at Leavenworth: not so good.

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  12. Thisbe Says:

    I did this kind of work for quite some time, but I must have been in a different market. Five years ago I was making $15/hour for infant care, +/- a young child, and whether or not a parent was present. Then again I was college educated. Your list of questions, though, reminds me why I wouldn’t work for anyone who wasn’t personally referred to me (and also why when hiring in-home child care in the future I intend to only hire people based on personal reference). When being interviewed by strangers, they would often have long lists of questions they needed me and some large number of other applicants to answer in order to try to determine whether I would be Good Enough for their baby. That process is irritating and inefficient, and also error-prone. On referral, parents knew because their acquaintances had told them so that I was awesome; rather than ask me how I felt about crying babies, scheduling, routines, and spoiling, parents could just tell me what they wanted me to do (wear the baby; let the baby play on a play mat; read to the baby; feed every two hours; use babysign to learn if baby was hungry and feed then; etc) and make sure I was comfortable with that.

    Related, when I was in college and doing this kind of stuff (making $10/hour if I recall right, a decade ago) I never got interviewed. My college had a babysitting list; people would call the student union desk and get some names and numbers off it and call around. Some people only called once, but most people would find a babysitter/mother’s helper or several that they liked and call repeatedly. I guess in that sense the first time would have been an interview.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It varies quite a bit by geography– in DC and LA it’s at least $20/hr from what I’ve been told by colleagues.

      I’m leery of referrals around here because people’s parenting philosophies are so very different than ours. We had someone recommended and at our trial run she kept asking if she could give our two week old breastfed baby water. NO! I feel much more comfortable with say, the pediatric nursing student we had.

      Additionally, we find the spoiling question and the crying baby question to do an excellent job of separating people we would not want going near our kids (like the woman who bragged about how an infant’s cries don’t bother her and she can totally ignore a crying baby– no infant could manipulate her) from those who actually know something about child development. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived in a red state, but people don’t argue about time-outs around here, they argue about whether or not kids are spoiled if they’re never hit.

      Incidentally, the pediatric nursing student did say it was “ya’lls baby, you just tell me what you want” and we did not hold it against her. And she was awesome. But so were the other 3 we hired with DC1.

      We did pick a daycare via word-of-mouth.

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