Tips for a Successful Au Pair Hire

Tips for a Successful Au Pair Hire

By Vanessa Douglas

Ok, so you’ve thought about it and you feel you may be at the point where you want to start the process of looking for an Au Pair. This is the crucial bit–don’t be too desperate to find someone, make sure you wait for the right person.

In my mind there are no rules in hiring Au Pairs, just be thorough in your questions, be clear in what you are looking for and use a huge serve of gut feeling!  If there are any hesitations– ABORT MISSION– and do not offer the job. Those hesitations will turn into real problems down the track.

I say there are no rules in hiring Au Pairs because I truly believe it is a case-by-case basis. One of my best Au Pairs, (however all have been fantastic), was our wonderful Canadian Au Pair, named Tara, who assisted me during the majority of the time when my mother was dying.

She was 18-years-old and looked like a 14-year-old, weighing only 45kg and standing only 155cm tall. She had on her application only 2 things. That she had a very high Grade Point Average and that she had worked in a cleaning business…not glowing childcare qualifications, but I really liked her Grade Point Average, so we talked.  

When I asked for a reference, she said to me honestly, “I can get you a reference but just so you know the cleaning business is owned by my parents”, this made me laugh! After we spoke a bit further, I found out she was an identical twin and that her twin sister had a baby, James, when she was 15 years old. Tara had intrinsically helped care for her nephew in their family home. It was clear she adored her nephew–it radiated so strongly when communicating with her.

She was hired.

Tara became devoted to my 5-month-old baby and she was a delight with the other children. She worked so unbelievably hard and was able to take direction and multi-task like a mother of 12 children! Tara navigated this, all through such a difficult work environment, watching me care for and watch my own mother die.

It is not lost on me that this would have been an enormous emotional toll on such a young person and her maturity was unbelievable. We will be “family” for life.

So, here are my tips

Choose well –so much effort goes into the hire, that once an Au Pair has started, you have a vested interest to make sure it works out.  

Tip # 1 – Crystalise what it is you after?

It is very important before you start your search, that you and your partner know what it is you are looking for, what that looks like to you both and what the deal breakers are.

It is crucial that you can paint a verbal picture to a potential Au Pair so that they are able to envisage what it will be like to work for your family, so they can make a genuinely informed decision as to whether your position is for them. 

Be very specific in the duties and tasks you require from the outset and set out your expectations, in terms of disciplining the children and household help.

Tip # 2 – Once you have worked out what help you are after, commence your search

It is becoming very normal these days for Host Families to hire their Au Pairs outside of Au Pair Agencies, from places such as Gumtree and from Facebook, such as “Au Pairs in Australia and New Zealand” and “Au Pair Community and Brisbane and Queensland” (there would be equivalent groups for other cities).  

I found Au Pairs by posting Ads on these websites, but also by keeping an eye on these sites and getting in contact with Au Pairs seeking work.

In terms of timings, I have secured Au Pairs within six days, but it has also taken a month-or-so other times.  

Tip # 3 – Social Media, in this instance, is your friend!

Before I get too involved with an interview process, I do significant searches on Instagram and Facebook to try and see the potential Au Pairs profiles. Using their names and city of origin works a trick and has helped me dodge what would have been some real problem situations.  

One potential Au Pair from a city in Wales, was in-mind a real find. I spoke with her previous employer–a Kindergarten–for over an hour and I was excited about this potential Au Pair.

However, after finding her Facebook page, I immediately knew she would not be for us. Photo after photo was images of partying, tequila shots and drunken nudity…this is not what I needed in my home. Too risky.

Tip # 4 – Questions, information and more questions and more information

Once you have started communicating with a potential Au Pair it is so important to ask a lot of questions and provide him/her with a lot of detail. Below is by no means an exhaustive list, but remember you will be living with them, so it is so important that they know the role requirements with as much detail as you can give them, help them visualise the dynamics of your home and give them an insight into your personality.  

If an Au Pair comes into your home with a very realistic idea of what it will be like, you will minimise the chance of things not working out. Paint a very positive picture and highlight to them what a fabulous family you are–remember you are competing against other Host Families, especially for the good ones! And vice versa, if you know what makes a happy work environment for your Au Pair, then once again it will minimise the risk of the hire not working out.

Give them an idea of how your home works and how the children operate, and seek information from them too:

  • How many hours a week will he/she be working?
  • What will his/her pay look like? Will you buy toiletries and favourite food?
  • Be careful to consider things like what time they will start and finish. I always asked Au Pairs–if they were working for me in the morning–to have their breakfast before they started work and if we were all sitting down for a meal, this would not be included as work time. This is fair and reasonable but needs to be communicated.
  • Describe the personalities of you and your children.
  • Describe what your children like to play. Perhaps ask how he/she would play with your children?
  • Have an understanding of his/her experience with children at different ages. I once had an Au Pair come to my home for an interview. She said she had a lot of experience with babies, but then was unable to change my son’s nappy!
  • If you live rurally make sure the remoteness of your home is understood.
  • Ensure he/she understands the living space within your home.  
  • Are your family early risers? Does he/she need to wake up early for the position?
  • Does your family love being in the outdoors or indoors?
  • Do you have a pet?
  • In terms of food, does he/she have any allergies or intolerances? Are there specific foods that they like, or are they happy to eat what the family eats?
  • Ask them to give you an idea about what he/she eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Does this fit in with how you eat and your budget for their meals? On a personal note, I always liked it when Au Pairs wanted to cook for themselves, otherwise sometimes you can feel like a chef. If they don’t want to cook for themselves, be realistic, most homes do not have three-course meals every night, sometimes it is just eggs on toast!  
  • Does he/she need to cook for your family? If so, what level of cooking skills are you after?
  • Does he/she need to drive in their position? Are they comfortable driving on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Is he/she happy and confident to swim with the kids? Would this be part of the role?
  • Is he/she confident in being active with your children?
  • What sort of pace does he/she work at? This was important to me as I worked at a frenetic pace!!! I know that, so it was important for me that the Au Pairs working for me knew that too.
  • Get them to give you an idea of how they would "discipline" your kids and similarly let them know how you discipline in your home.
  • Do they like to have a clean room or are they untidy?
  • Will they be happy to help out with domestic duties in the house? Remember they are not your cleaning lady so should not be doing deep cleaning, but definitely light house-hold duties and cleaning up after meals and children, is part of the job!
  • Are there any dates in the forthcoming future where they would need any time off?
  • Are they happy to work weekends?
  • Will there be any language barriers? A lot of Au Pairs come to Australia to improve their English. If their English is not very good, you may have to write down their tasks…. in some instances, I found where their English was less than ideal, there were a lot of details just clearly lost in translation, and writing things out solved this problem.

Try and work out whether their personality would work well under your roof. 

  • Does he/she sleep in?
  • Is he/she a morning person?
  • Does he/she like to exercise?
  • Does he/she like to be social? Does he/she want to be included in family outings outside of work time, or are they travelling with a friend and keen to have their own adventures.
  • Does he/she know anyone in Brisbane? You may not want your Au Pair to be at home all the time. If this is important to you, work out if they are travelling with friends and if not, do they hope to meet new friends whilst staying with you.
  • What does he/she like to do in their spare time?
  • What support do they have from their own family? Having an idea about the family dynamic is important. How close are they to their mum? etc

More specific the happier everyone is. No grey areas!

Tip # 5 – Ask your potential Au Pair to have some questions for you

Make sure that you give the Au Pair time to think about the role and to come back to you with any questions they have. Encourage them to really think about this, and to make sure they ask any questions about what would make a happy home for them.   

Often Au Pairs may not be ready for this, so ask them to think about it and come back to you with some questions. This will also give you an insight into their personality and what is important to them in a living/work arrangement.

Tip # 6 – House Rules

If there are any house rules that you have it is very important to communicate that with them.

For me, it was always difficult getting a stranger into my home…albeit that I have had wonderful experiences. That being said, I was not comfortable with Au Pairs giving out our home address to their new-found travel friends nor would I be agreeable to them having friends they had met on their travels to our home. I did not know them, and I would not risk having my children exposed to potential threats.

There were times where family members and close friends visited our Au Pairs and these were obviously times where this rule was relaxed.

Similarly, I had a second car which I was happy for our Au Pairs to use to have adventures in and around where we lived, however as it was on the Au Pair’s downtime, if they had an accident then I required them to cover the vehicle’s accident cover excess and also to re-fuel the car for their usage.

I always made it abundantly clear, that on our other side that they would always be respected. That when they were enjoying their off time, I would make it very clear to the children, that they were not to be disturbed nor would the children or ourselves enter their private space, without permission by them. This was always appreciated by them.

Tip # 7 – Reference, reference, reference

If this is available to you, a phone reference is always best.


Ask all the right questions, what were their responsibilities, did the children respond well to them, did they show love etc. But the one question I like to end on is…“Would you happily recommend your Au Pair work for your sister or other loved ones?”... If there is any pause at all…I would investigate it!

Tip # 8 – Act Fast!

If you find an Au Pair and he/she is the one, act FAST and make sure they know any information which may make you stand out from another Host Family who might be wanting to secure them.

Good Au Pairs, especially on Facebook Au Pair websites, tend to be snapped up very quickly.

Perhaps you live close to the city and he/she likes the city lifestyle, perhaps you are happy for them to get a second-job so they can earn extra travelling money, maybe his/her living space is wonderful, they might love animals and you have a dog or a horse, you might have a car which you would lend on weekends. All of these things are possible incentives for the Au Pairs to pick your family to work for, so don’t forget to mention them!

This piece is blog 2 of a 3 part series. In the next blog, Vanessa will take us through 'How to Foster a Successful Working Au Pair Relationship'. 

Vanessa Douglas

Vanessa Douglas is a stay at home mum with three beautiful children.  She and her family live in Brisbane.  Before children, Vanessa worked as a lawyer at a top-tier Family Law firm in Brisbane. When she and her husband relocated to London, Vanessa changed career paths and began working in Legal recruitment, specialising in the Corporate and Banking & Finance sector of Private Practice. She was one of the top billing recruiters in the UK during her time with her recruitment firm. She has placed many many successful clients, overseen hundreds of resumes and has a knack for picking the right person for the right job. Her professional experience combined with her practical experience of navigating the world of ‘au pairs’ makes her article a 'must’ read.

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