So You Want to Be My Babysitter… 5 Interview Tips You Should Know Without Me Telling You

You are SO not hired!

Hello!  Thank you for your interest in babysitting my kids.  It’s a fun job – and educational, too.  If you come work for us, you’ll learn the names of all the Thomas trains and how to distinguish them by their creepy mushed-up faces.  You’ll get to know the lyrics of every One Direction deep album cut, especially “Tell Me a Lie” and “I Wish”, which are my son’s and daughter’s “jams”, respectively.  Most of all, you’ll learn the one and only proper way to make a peanut butter sandwich to avoid making a little boy cry.

The job has its perks, too.  Once you’re on our payroll, your kisses are granted the power to heal minor injuries, you’re free to lounge in one of our two backyard (plastic princess) pools, and you can help yourself to all the Penguins of Madagascar fruit snacks you want.  (We’re trying to get rid of those.  They’re “too sticky”.)

I’ve interviewed a lot of people for this position, so before we go any further, allow me to offer you a few tips – just suggestions, really – to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of our applicants and help you get on my good side.

1.  Show up on time.

What I’m looking for most in a babysitter is reliability, so if we schedule our interview for 4pm, try to arrive by, oh, say 3:59:59 at the latest.  Maybe you’re used to your econ class starting a few minutes past the hour or going to movies that have 15 minutes of previews before Kristen Stewart shows up on screen.  Here in the world of legitimate employment, we start on time, and if you’re not here when you said you would be, you’re likely to see my minivan backing out of the driveway and peeling off on its way to a playdate.

In that case, don’t bother rescheduling.

2.  Don’t look like a slut in your Care.com headshot.

I know your Facebook friends love that picture of you with a beer in one hand, your back arched to accentuate your barely-covered boobs, with that “I’m a naughty girl” expression on your face.  I have no doubt it’s gotten you tons of responses in the Craigslist personals, but you’re going for a different audience here, and they may not appreciate you mimicking the Lolita one-sheet… or the way their husband shouts out, “Whoa!  Hire her!” when he sees your picture.  We gay dads are unlikely to be impressed either.

When I see anything resembling a “Girls Gone Wild” audition still, I picture my daughter in a few years, and I start to weep.  If you insist on the trashy headshot, please include your parents’ phone number in your ad, because I’m going to want to give them a call and express my sympathies.

Surely there’s a photo somewhere of you playing minigolf with your special needs cousin.  Use that instead.

3.  Show the most conservative side of yourself.

I’m aware that I’m from a different generation than most of the young women who apply for babysitting jobs.  They have more liberal attitudes about what body parts they’ll pierce or what colors they might dye their hair.

I would never suggest anyone not be themselves, because I respect your individuality, and besides, I’m going to discover your freaky side eventually anyway.  Still, if you’re the lead singer of a death metal band, maybe you could tone it down a bit for our first meeting.  You must have something other than skull earrings.  Wear those.  Go with a tasteful tongue stud rather than that spike-tipped rod that I have to duck to avoid every time you open your mouth.  Swap the black lipstick out for a pale gray.

I gave big bonus points to the young woman who, during her interview, pointed out and explained each of her visible tattoos.  I would never disqualify someone for their body art — well, maybe Amy Winehouse wouldn’t have made the cut — but the fact that this applicant raised the topic showed a) self-confidence and b) a sensitivity to the squareness of parents like me.

4.  Know your kiddie lit.

This is our Great Gatsby.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.  I have a “gotcha” question.  It’s really tricky, too.  Ready?  Here it is…

“What are your favorite children’s books?”

Gets ’em every time.  First, I’ll ask my interviewee what she likes doing with kids, just to see if “reading” makes the list.  It should.

If not, I’ll ask directly, “Do you like reading to kids?”

“Oh, yes.  I love it.  On my last job, I used to read to the kids all the time.  It was our favorite thing to do.”

“Really?  What were some of the books you read?”

Shrug.  “Nothing in particular.”

I’m stunned how often that question leaves babysitter applicants speechless.

Seriously, is it so hard just to say Dr. Seuss?  The Very Hungry CaterpillarGo Dog Go?  Even people who hate kids can name a couple of children’s books.  I’d trust someone who loathes Dr. Seuss more than someone who can’t quite remember his name.

Originally, I intended to screen out anyone who didn’t know Mo Willems, author of the Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie books.  He was my favorite children’s author before I even had kids, when I used to buy books for my nieces and my friends’ kids.  Yes, I had a favorite children’s author… is that too much to ask of a childcare provider?

I have yet to interview a babysitter candidate who’s even heard of Mo Willems.

What’s up?  Are the other kids you sit for just that lame?  Have you never been to the children’s section of Barnes & Noble?

Now I look at it differently.  You may not know Mo Willems – or Sandra Boynton, Bob Shea or any of our other favorites, but if I hire you, you’ll learn.  We’ll enrich your life with fine literature like Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Time to Pee.  When your next potential employer asks about your favorite children’s books, you’ll hesitate to answer because you have too many to choose from.

Still, when you first meet me, at least try to prove you’re literate.

5.  Don’t completely ignore my children. 

You may have noticed a couple of other people sitting in on our interview.  They’re small and active, and they didn’t have a lot of questions for you, but you know what?  They were kind of important to the process.  The fact that you didn’t say hello to them when you came in, goodbye when you left or pretty much anything else in between, reflected a bit badly on your children-handling skills.

This is one interview where it might actually have been good to walk away from the boss and brush a Rapunzel doll’s hair for a few minutes.  Once you show up on time, you can drop the professional demeanor.  Silliness is a plus.

See, my kids may not be the ones who’ll pay you or drive you home, but they get a vote, too.  If, after you leave, my daughter confesses, “She was scary”, you’re probably not going to get the job.

So there you have it.  Five easy steps to winning that job babysitting for my kids.  Good luck!  Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to tell me how cute they are.

40 comments on “So You Want to Be My Babysitter… 5 Interview Tips You Should Know Without Me Telling You

  1. I’ll just move back to NJ and Their big cousin can babysit them for you!!! p.s. I liked the Berenstain Bears books when I was a kid. I liked the illustrations and the fact that they lived in a tree….

  2. I was kind of shocked when you said they didn’t know children’s books! Whhaat?! I’m only 21 and I still remember the ones I read. I loved Robert Munsch with a passion, Stephanie’s Ponytail totally spoke to me… And I wore crazy ponytails all the time from then on… *Shakes head*

  3. Some great points you are making – and a somewhat sad picture of today’s youth you are painting. Some of them will fall so deep when they finally enter the work force and discover that punctuality is not a discretionary rule.

    However, the last item on the list I found particularly important. How can anyone apply for a babysitter job and not engage with the little ones (if they are present). Shouldn’t you love children if you intend on earning money by taking care of them? I realise that interviews can be a scary situation for the interviewee but kids in the room are just perfect to relax the atmosphere. And if they decide they don’t like you interacting with them, well, in this case you wouldn’t get the job anyway.

    Lovely post, Jerry, as always. Funny and enlightening.

    • Thanks, Sandra. I’m stunned how often the interviewees come in and ignore the kids, don’t say hi to them, don’t ask for an introduction, don’t get down to their level. One young woman I brought in for a trial (where I stay and observe them with the kids), and when I told her she could go home, she said, “OK, see you next time!” and left without even saying goodbye to the kids. After that, there was no next time.

  4. Hilarious, and like all things hilarious, true true true. I learned by the fourth braindead babysitter interview to trust my instincts. The fifth was a professional firefighter who had a niece Mbot’s age and owned her own double stroller. Not only could she pronounce “Maurice Sendak” correctly, she could also whip out the epinephrine if necessary. I never did find out what the tattoo on the small of her back stands for, but I will next time I see her. We’re on two years and going strong. And no, I won’t give you her number. :>

  5. As always, priceless. My daughter once was turned down for a babysitting job because the mom said she didn’t pay enough attention to the interview questions (my dd was on the floor playing with the kids at the time….) and she brought books to read to them, along with some of her legos, Groovy Girls and a few other choice toys. The mom said that she didn’t want someone who brought her own activities because the mom wanted to pre-approve all activities. And peanut butter – oh no, said that mom. Too unhealthy for her children. I think you and my daughter would have gotten along famously.

    • Seriously, send her over! How they interact with the kids is so much more important than how they deal with me. I mean, I want to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of discipline, nutrition, etc., but other than that, I really want to see them bond with the kids.

  6. I really appreciated all of this.

    I just hired my second nanny. Our first left us recently to pursue a graduate degree from Brown. I tried really hard to get her to stop chasing her lifelong dreams and just stay on as my babysitter, but she was kinda stuck on pursuing that Ivy-League education. Go figure.

    I was shocked (both times) by how poorly young women (and men) interviewed (both in person and over the phone). One of the lowest moments was when I asked a young lady, “So what interests you in working with us?” She replied, “Oh, well, I got a degree in Business and can’t find a job, so, you know.”

    Candidates need to understand that it is an enormous thing for us to turn over the most precious things in our lives to someone else, often for large amounts of time at a clip. I want someone who is going to do a better job at being a mom than I would have had I stayed home with my kids. Because, had I stayed home, I would have been doing laundry, cleaning toilets and running the vacuum. I expect the sitter to play, read, laugh, walk, sing, dance, run, create and entertain — all of the things I try to do when I am around, but often get pushed aside or done half-assed because I am preoccupied by running a household.

    • I can only imagine how much stricter my requirements would be (and how much more frustrated I’d get) if I were hiring a full-time nanny. I only use babysitters for a few hours a week, and even still, it’s so hard to find someone good enough to trust them with. If I had to pick one of these candidates to watch my kids all day, I don’t know what I’d do. My condolences to you!

  7. Oh my gosh, I love this post and I wish I was in your geographic area to apply! For people who haven’t had children yet, my partner and I have a ridiculous number of children’s books. Seriously, though, I admire your determination to find the right sitter and not just anyone. If you live near a college or university you might try calling their Child Development department (if they have one) and see if they have a list of students who are looking for sitter/nanny jobs. Personally, I am listed on Care.com and got one of my favorite babysitting jobs that way a few years ago, but I understand the frustration on the other end. My partner and I were trying to find someone to look after her grandmother and run some errands and there just wasn’t anyone that we felt we could trust to care for her properly. Good luck on the search!

  8. I am fortunate to be overloaded with grandparents and aunts and psuedo-aunts so I have yet to look beyond friends and family for a sitter for my 2 year old. I imagine one day we will have to deal with this though, our luck won’t hold out forever! I will say that while i definitely have my personal favorites, and always read to the kids I babysat for, my favorite books were not often on the bookshelves of the kids i watched. A childless young adult who quite possibly hasn’t contemplated personal kiddie faves in a while, may find herself quite easily stumped by the book question, not because she isn’t literate, but just because she hasn’t thought about it in awhile.
    Just a different perspective 🙂

  9. ‘I want my hat back’ is my current favourite book…not my current favourite kids book…my all time favourite book.. i force it on any child who is unwittingly near me for long enough for me to find the youtube video of it (where i then mute the sound and read it myself)…I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure children fully appreciate how great this book is…

  10. I loved reading your post – it all rung very true. I don’t have kids of my own, but do spend a LOT of time with children (especially my nieces and nephew). I used to babysit a lot growing up as well – can’t imagine not doing these simple steps!

  11. I’m going to grad school this Fall, and never considered going back to babysitting to make some cash, but this post is making me consider it. I’m 35 with no kids, but I have 9 nieces and nephews, who when asked by grandparents what to get for their birthday/Christmas respond “No books, Aunt Critty will get them for me.”

    I don’t know that I could name authors off the top of my head, but all of my kids get a copy of “Guess How Much I Love You” when they are born and I’ve progressed them through Eric Carlisle, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Everybody Poops, Junie B. Jones, Owl Moon, Pokemon, The Hundred Dresses, and now the I have several reading young adult novels and one that was just introduced to Stephen King. I love reading and want to give the kids the opportunity to love it too.

  12. We haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve overused our family as default free babysitters yet. I imagine we’ll be reaching our limit in November (when we have our second child). Then we’ll need to start paying people to watch our kids. This list will be helpful.

  13. If you love Mo, you must (and I mean MUST) watch Knuffle Bunny. It gives me about 3 minutes to do Adult Things (read: dishes), and it gives the kids a story from a voice other than mine for a change!

  14. I’m in love with this post! We’re incredibly lucky at the moment to have babysitting completely covered, but I know it won’t last forever. Not one to miss a good opportunity to over-think something, I’m dreading that future recruitment process already.
    On a separate note, we were just introduced to Mo Willem’s ‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus’ and have become instant fans. Not only does Lily love it, but I love READING it- the pigeon is the best dramatic role I’ve had in years!

  15. Pingback: So You Want to Be My Babysitter… 5 Things You Should Know Without Me Telling You — The Good Men Project

  16. As a nanny who has been doing this for a decade, I couldn’t agree with you more. If Fancy Nancy doesn’t make your heart into mush, go home. You’ll make the kids feel miserable because you don’t want to be there. It seems like it’s super tough to find good childcare and that referrals are the best way to go. Sadly, I don’t trust Care.com at all. Mostly because a computer can’t do as good a job screening someone as I can, but also because I don’t want to spend the time poring over profiles in the hopes of finding the perfect fit for a family. A bit disheartening, but there are still those of us out there that will help teach your kids manners, read to them in voices and tell your children we love them.

  17. I LOVE elephant and piggie books! My by far favorite. They have a dry sense of humor that can be shown when dramatically read out loud.

  18. Wow, you know Mary Poppins is a fictional character right!? This “industry” is filled with the most narcissistic parents. I have nannied and babysat for over 10 years. I adore children. I’m a valuable role model with an additional array of skills unrelated to childcare. I have formed incredible lasting bonds with kids I’ve sitted. I’ve been asked “what’s your favorite childhood book?” in interviews many times and guess what, I hate the question. Maybe it’s the interview nerves, or maybe I’m just too busy just finishing War and Peace to have complied a list of children’s author names to satisfy you! Maybe I’m distracted by how your question is irrelevant. If you want a career nanny, find one, and pay her a livable wage. Sure I’ve read The Hungry Caterpillar, is it my favorite? No. Does that mean I don’t enjoy reading with kids, no. Am I literate, yea thanks!! Don’t need you to condescend me into oblivion because your feel your particularities are superior to the poor unsuspecting interviewees who are probably meeting you at your house, at a time that is convenient for YOU because you’re oh so busy, can they come by at 8pm when your home from work and the kids are at their most miserable to meet everyone. Geez.

  19. Gosh, if only I had read this article BEFORE I hired the babysitter who spent her afternoons with my children applying various coats of toenail polish! Guess who? LOVE you and your awesome tips! XOXO

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