How Do I Select an Au Pair?

min read
Shadi Rezvan
August 30, 2021

In the first part of this blog series, I talked about how we finally decided to bring on an au pair, and in this part, I share the decision points and steps we took to search for and select a new au pair.

Before getting started, just a reminder that every family is different with their own style and preferences; I am sharing our family's point of view so take these factors with a grain of salt.

Let's start with an initial checklist of preparation items:

  • Having a relatively private room with its own full bathroom is tremendously helpful for successfully onboarding an au pair. We have a built-in room in our garage with its own entrance and full bathroom. Having a separate entrance is not a must, but it is nice to have.

  • An open and flexible mindset to have somebody from a different culture living in your house. For example, one of the purposes of the au pair program is the cultural exchange between the au pair and the host family. This setup is different from having a nanny or employee because the au pair is part of your family, living in the same space, so you all should be prepared to be flexible and compromising for a happy and successful onboarding and settlement. It's important to be curious about the new culture - inviting your au pair to share about her country and culture.

  • Have a genuine and kind intention to keep your au pair happy. To me, it's simple: your au pair takes care of your most valuable little livings in your life, so if you treat her with kindness and keep her happy, the chances are good that she will take better care of your kids. For example: if you notice she likes a specific thing not on your shopping list, get that for her once in a while. Little gestures go a long way in building a lasting relationship and are also a good role model for your kids.

  • Define priorities for your selection process:
  • Are you looking for first-year, second-year, or rematch au pairs?
  • Do you require a minimum age? 
  • Do you require an educational background like a university degree?
  • Is their family life or number of siblings a factor?
  • Do they pass your reference checks?

Be prepared to have a good amount of stamina to complete the following steps and thorough due diligence. Once you have settled on the above, here are more decisions and steps to consider:

Which agency should I go with?

There are only a handful of big au pair agencies (3-5) to pick from. At the time, we started looking into the top three: Au Pair Care, Cultural Care, and Au Pair America. You can begin searching for au pairs for a minimal fee that will usually get waived. All of the top agencies, more or less, provide similar services with comparable fees.

Some families end up just picking the one with the most candidates based on the criteria they have, i.e., if they prefer candidates from Latin America and in their search they see good candidates from one agency, they end up following through with that agency.

We decided to go with Au Pair Care mainly because their user-friendly interface provided the information we were looking for more easily. Au Pair Care also includes a personality test profile for the au pairs that we used when looking at profiles. You can also decide to create family profiles in more than one agency if you have the time and energy.

After you decide what agency/s to go with, it's time to create an appealing family profile. As I mentioned in my previous post, it's important to develop a high-quality family profile because, similar to dating sites, au pairs also review and rate families. They get attracted to the higher quality ones with nice pictures from all family members.

It's even more critical to create an authentic profile that is a true reflection of your family and life. Setting the wrong expectations about your family for your au pair is a real recipe for disaster. The agency also conducts background checks on you and any adult living in your household in this step. They come for a site visit of your house to gauge your family's overall physical and mental health and ensure your home has the proper setup to bring on an au pair. If all is good, your profile gets approved, and you can start the official search.

We set few filters when we started our search based on our initial criteria:

  • For our first au pair, I decided to look for second-year au pairs that had already been in the US, preferably for one year, with another family. The reason was that it was the first time we were trying an au pair (remember all those concerns I listed in my first post?), and I wanted to mitigate some of those risks by talking to another family in the US who had already worked with the au pair. You can reference check the first year au pairs coming from their countries, but their references could be just their friends and families.

  • We also decided to search in Latin America with a preference for Spanish-speaking candidates. Another reason is that we generally find the Latin American culture a better fit for our diverse family with Iranian, Canadian, and Afghan backgrounds.

  • Another filter for us was age; we set a minimum age of 24 years old. Note that the age range can be 19-26. I just preferred somebody more senior with the questionable assumption that older ones should be more mature.

  • We also required a college or university degree.

  • Lastly, we preferred the au pair coming from a family with at least one sibling who could show healthy relationships with their parents and siblings.

Note: all of these filters can reduce the number of candidates in your pool and might result in longer search times. I think we only found 4-5 candidates each week that met our criteria. 

If you don't know your criteria and filters, don't worry! Sometimes it can take a little bit of searching before narrowing down your filters. Once you are comfortable with your filters, the fun part starts, and you can look through au pair profiles in more detail. This is where you need to spend a lot of time reading the profiles, looking at the pictures and videos, and deciding which candidates you want to interview. 

Each time we have been looking for new au pairs, we interviewed 3-4 candidates before we found one that liked enough to follow up with more interviews and to finally confirm the match. 

Some interview practices that helped us: 

  • Don't bring the kids for the first interview; they can distract you from adequately assessing a candidate.
  • Prepare your questions in advance; most of the agencies have sample interview questions on their websites.
  • Drawing from your priorities and expectations, ask specific questions, i.e., if organizing the kid's toys is super important, set the expectation and ask if she is ok with that. If driving is important, ask specifically how often she drives and if she has a car.
  • Ask indirect and situational questions about the candidates' relationship with her family. Like, if you have an argument with your mom or dad, how do you resolve it? 
  • Try to understand the true underlying reason why the candidate wants to be an au pair and move to a new country (especially the first-year candidates). The most common reasons are traveling to new places while living with a family, improving English, earning money in USD, getting married, and some just looking for better opportunities, especially if they come from a modest family in a developing country. We would try to understand the reasons and avoid some that could cause trouble. I think it's reasonable for au pairs to have other motives, but you need to make sure there is also a genuine love to care for kids and discipline to do the work expected.
  • Set follow-up interviews with your shortlisted candidates and get deeper into areas you have concerns or could not cover the first time. Again, remember these conversations are also opportunities to set the expectations for when they get here.
  • Bring the kids in the follow-up interviews and see how the au pair interacts with them. 
  • Lastly, once you have done the due diligence in the process, check in with your gut to see if it all feels good, and you can imagine the au pair living happily with your family. If all is good, set up a final call to let her know that you want to finalize the match with her! 

In my next post, I will share some tips on preparing for your au pair's arrival and what you can do to increase the chances of successful onboarding and settlement.