How to search for a nanny in 8 steps

Baby Esther busted for eating her daily report from day care.
Baby Esther busted for eating her daily report from day care.

When it comes to child care, there are more options than I care to think about. After having Esther, I knew we were headed to a structured day care about a 10 minute drive from home. We felt really comfortable with the day care and it made the most sense for us. When researching day cares, I asked questions like how they structure feeding and sleeping schedules, how they handle breast milk, how they discipline, and how they determine a child is ready to move up into the next room.

When I discovered I was pregnant with twins, we crunched the numbers and quickly realized enrolling all three kids in full-time to day care would be financially impossible. What to do?

My husband and I started to explore in-home care in the form of a nanny. I know there are many in-home child care providers (from what I hear it’s usually really sweet retired grandmotherly type ladies who have a great love for small children), but the idea of packing up our babies on a daily basis and providing breast milk, clothes, diapers, etc. to another location was daunting to just think about. If we were not doing the regular day care route, we were going to look for a full-time nanny to come to our home.

I originally thought nannies were only for the rich and famous. When I heard someone just say the word I would think, “Wow, moneybags. Good for you.” Little did I know, a nanny is a whole lot more affordable than two infants and a toddler in day care. Go figure!

The nanny search – where do you begin? I started with word of mouth. I asked the day care workers if they knew anyone looking for a nanny job. This was not in an attempt to poach a day care worker – they are just well connected in the child caregiver community. One day care worker told me about a great young lady graduating from the local university with a degree in early childhood development (BINGO!). She actually worked at Esther’s day care for a while, so she was already familiar with our daughter and how we would set up our home for full-time childcare. Unfortunately, timing wasn’t going to work out, so we started to search online through

Before I even set up a phone call to talk to a candidate, I emailed them my “application.” I searched a lot of nanny websites to understand what I should ask, put these questions together and then I obviously tailored them to my twin/toddler specifics. You can totally take this and edit it to your needs. It’s just nice to have an understanding of what the applicant’s background is and if it’s worth talking to them on the phone, and then having an in-person interview. If an applicant could not get through answering my questions, they were out of the running right off the bat. I am looking for someone to watch my children, slackers need not apply.

Ilana and Miriam are instant playmates learning to share.
Ilana and Miriam are instant playmates learning to share.

The 8 step nanny search process I put in place

  1. Send application to nanny candidate (see below for the application I created.  Please feel free to steal it and use it for your purposes)
  1. Review application and set up phone and/or in-person interview (if we like how they filled out the application)
  1. In-person interview is 1-2 hrs where you can discuss questions in the application, show them around the house and see how they interact with the kid(s)
  1. If you still like applicant, call references and do background check (any history of criminal activity is a non-negotiable)
  1. If there are no red flags, set up a trial day (which could be a night out where they baby-sit)
  1. All goes well, make an offer
  1. Develop and sign a 1-year nanny contract
  1. Breathe a sigh of relief to be done with this!

At the end of this process, I put together a nanny contract which addresses things like weekly hours, when and how she will get paid, meal preparation, discipline, light housekeeping etc. Nanny contracts are easy to find online and I tailored it to my needs, all 11 pages! (I like to be thorough.) We also addressed things like getting vaccinated (it’s a hot button topic, but we wanted the nanny to get the flu vaccine and Tdap) and certified in CPR too.

We had met with two nanny candidates and I just wasn’t getting the warm “please come watch my children” kind of feeling I was hoping for from them.

A quick tutorial on things you do not want to say during a nanny interview.

Question to candidate: “Why do you want to work in someone’s home?”

Nanny candidate: “I’m really tired of getting dressed to go to work. I would like to wear sweats or yoga pants.”

RED FLAG – Really?! Wearing comfy clothes does not make you a desirable nanny

Question to candidate: “It seems like you’re not happy with your current work situation. Have you tried to talk to your employers about this?” This candidate worked really long hours, her employers seemed to take advantage of her.

Nanny candidate: “No, they always have an excuse or reason as to why they come home late.”

RED FLAG – I want a nanny who is able to communicate, even if it’s about a difficult subject.

As it turned out, the woman we were first told about became available! Our nanny answered all our questions with amazing responses and when asked why she wanted to move away from a regular day care job to in-home care, her answer could not have been more perfect: “Well, right now my classroom ratio is 16:1 and I really cannot give the kids the individual attention I would like to give them. I’m really passionate about kids and helping them develop into the people they are going to become.” DING DING DING! We have found our nanny!

Truth be told, it comes down to a gut feeling too. From my first phone conversation with our nanny I had a really great feeling about her. When you welcome someone into your home, I feel like you essentially ask them to join your family in a lot of ways. Aside from me and Josh, she spends the most time with our kids. She nurtures them and cares for them in ways I would not be able to. I joke our nanny is more qualified to raise our children than me because she has more certifications and early childhood development knowledge than I could ever hope to have! She makes lesson plans for my toddler and thinks of things to foster the babies’ growth too. In return, we try to show her the same amount of respect she gives us. Timeliness is important. We respect boundaries (she always asks instead of assuming something is OK to do), and she is upfront with us about anything which may come up.   As in any relationship, communication is important, so keeping the lines of communication open is top of mind. We are incredibly lucky to have found our nanny and blessed to welcome her into our lives. We know we have a gem.

My husband and I are legitimate employers now. We have a company, albeit with just one employee. We have a tax ID number, workman’s compensation insurance, the whole nine yards because we want to do this correctly. We pay and/or withhold taxes for our nanny. Plenty of people do not claim their in-home childcare provider on their taxes and it’s their choice. I want to set a good example for my girls. We’re not trying to cheat anyone or get away with anything shady. Also, I personally believe in karma and I am not taking chances.

Feeding double time, a typical scene in our home.
Feeding double time, a typical scene in our home.

My nanny application

Please feel free to use this and modify it to your needs. It was a really good start to kick-off our nanny search.

Information about the Family:

  • Mother: Michelle
  • Father: Joshua
  • Children:
    • Girl, Esther, 2 yrs
    • Twins, 2 identical infant girls
  • Address:
  • Phone:
  • No pets and do not plan to have any pets in the future
  • Expected start date for Nanny – mid-to-late summer 2014
    • Michelle may take extra time off to bond with twins and/or flex work schedule to ease into working full-time again
    • Michelle plans to restructure her work schedule to work 4 days/week
    • Josh gets every other Friday off from work, i.e. nanny will be off every other Friday too
  • Anticipated hours needed – 40 hrs/week
  • Jewish home, therefore, we do not celebrate Christmas, Easter or other Christian holidays. We do not have shellfish or pork products in the house, but we are not strictly kosher.
  • Holidays:
    • We would be home for:
      • Important Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur & Passover
      • Federal holidays: New Year’s, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day
      • Most likely have more time off at the end of the year (around Christmas and New Year’s)

Nanny Information

General Background Questions:

  • First name, last name:
    • Phone:
    • Address:
  • Do you smoke?
  • How is your driving record? Have you had any accidents and if so, please describe.
  • What is your education level?
  • Do you have a well-functioning car, with appropriate safety belts and room for car seats?
  • Salary requirements, i.e. What salary/hourly range are you looking for?
  • What holidays would you want off?
  • When do you expect to take a vacation of your own?
  • Contact information for references

Work History

  1. Have you been a nanny before? If so, how old were the other children you cared for?
  2. What were some of the best things about your previous/current job?
  3. What were the worst things about your previous/current job?
  4. How have you responded when a former boss has brought up unexpected issues with you? Can you give me some examples of unexpected issues that have come up in your previous jobs and how you and your former employer worked things out?
  5. What are you most proud of when it comes to your work?
  6. Please tell me about the most difficult child/family/ parent situation you worked with.
  7. Are you looking to stay long-term with a family (minimum of 3 years), or are you planning on finding another career or job in the next year?

On Employment:

  1. Are you authorized to work in the United States?
  2. Will you agree to a background check?
  3. Do you have any health problems which would impede your ability to care for the children? For example, asthma attacks, debilitating migraines, seizures or anything else which could impair your vision or hearing?
  4. Do you have any personal responsibilities which could interfere with a regular work schedule?
  5. Describe your ideal family/employer.
  6. What do you think are your greatest strengths? What sorts of things would you like to improve about yourself?
  7. We plan on having a written nanny contract. Would you be willing to sign one?
  8. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  9. Do you have any questions you would like me to answer?
  10. Is there anything else you would like to share?

Child Care Experience:

  1. What’s your history of working with children?
  2. What is your training in childhood development and/or professional development in childcare?
  3. Do you have other work or life experiences you can bring which will help you do this job well?
  4. Do you have CPR certification or first aid training?

On Being a Nanny:

  1. What appeals to you about taking care of children in their own home (vs. a day care center or your home)?
  2. What do you consider to be your most important responsibility when you’re taking care of children?
  3. What do you think children like best about you?
  4. What do you like least about being a nanny, child care giver?
  5. What qualities do you think are important in a nanny?
  6. How do you see a nanny’s role changing as the children get older?
  7. What would you do if my child was sick or had an accident?
  8. Have you ever had to handle an emergency on the job? If so, please tell me what happened and how you dealt with it.
  9. During the hours the children are napping, what do you consider your role and responsibilities to be?
  10. What are some of the rules you’ve followed in other households that you think worked well?
  11. Which rules haven’t worked for you?
  12. Would you be willing to follow my rules and disciplining/comforting strategies even if they’re different from yours?
  13. How do you like to communicate with your employer about the child’s day? Do you use a log? Talk about the day in person? Email or call throughout the day?
  14. What additional household responsibilities are you comfortable taking on as a nanny? For example: meal prep for kids, laundry, and light cleaning (like picking up toys) or running/unloading the dishwasher?
  15. How do you feel about preparing bottles of breast milk?
  16. Are there any activities or responsibilities you won’t do?
  17. Do you view your personality as flexible and easy to roll with change, or do you need more structure and the ability to plan ahead?
  18. How do you feel about not having outside visitors (like friends/boyfriends) when watching the children?  (We can discuss visits as necessary.)

Childcare Philosophies

  1. What is your view on nutrition for children?
  2. What is your basic philosophy on disciplining a child and what should be the nanny’s role?
    1. Please provide an example of a previous discipline problem and how you handled it.
  3. What would you do if my child hit or hurt another child? What would you do if my child hit or hurt you?
  4. What would you do if my child threw a tantrum (at home or in public)?

On Caring for Infants:

  1. Have you ever worked with twins before? Please tell me about your experience working with 2 babies at once.
  2. Do you prefer more or less structure in your day? What do you think works best for children?
  3. How do you handle a crying baby? What would you do if the baby won’t stop crying?
  4. How long do you think a baby should be left to cry?
  5. What methods do you like to use to help a baby learn to sleep?

On Caring for Toddlers (2-3 yrs old):

  1. What do you think is your primary responsibility to a child 2-3yrs old?
  2. What activities would you engage in with a child this age?
  3. We do not have cable TV, just basic channels (like NBC, ABC, and CBS). Nevertheless, we do not allow Esther to watch much television (less than 1 hour per week) because it is not necessary for her growth and development. How do you feel about this?
  4. What is your general philosophy on discipline at this age?
  5. If our child wanted your attention to play/read/etc while you were cleaning up or taking of the twins, what would you do?
  6. What is your philosophy on letting children explore their surroundings?
  7. What would you do to encourage the child to bond with you?
  8. What role do you think outdoor play has in a child’s day?


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