Choosing an au pair agency

If you are searching for a new au pair, there are many things to consider when deciding which au pair agency to choose.

This is a short guide for those who are searching for an au pair for the very first time or a reminder for those who have done it before

How a good agency can help you find the right au pair

This web page will cover:

  1. Deciding to use an agency or not
  2. Choosing an au pair agency
  3. Consideration of au pair agency fees
  4. Make an initial enquiry
  5. Preparing a job description
  6. Pay any up front fees
  7. Creating your 'family profile'
  8. Receive candidate information
  9. Consider pros and cons of each candidate
  10. Requesting a phone interview
  11. Conducting phone interviews
  12. Review & Feedback post-call feelings
  13. Repeat with other candidates
  14. Offer the job
  15. Finalise all references & checks
  16. Prepare invitation letter
  17. Liaise and/or organise travel
  18. Pay remaining agency fee

Deciding to use an agency or not

Finding the right person to look after your children is a tremendously important decision. When that person will be also living with you, it makes it even more critical to use the safest and best methods possible in order to identify the right candidates to choose from and eliminate as much risk as possible. You can do it yourself, but it can be extremly time consuming and prove a risky process. If the arrangements fall through before she arrives, or the person moves on quickly then the knock on hassle and costs can be much more expensive than if you had started out by using a good agency.

Using a professional au pair agency provides experience, expert knowledge and protects your family from exposing sensitive information about them, your home and your movements on a public web site. It also gives you immediate access to pre-screened candidates who are ready to travel.

A good au pair agency will:

  • Listen to your requirements and advise you if an au pair can offer the right solution
  • Assess the specifics of the role to produce a job description
  • Provide access to a good choice of pre-checked candidates
  • Help you prepare an au pair home handbook
  • Negotiate salary and benefits in a fair manner
  • Provide an ongoing point of referral to answer questions and solve issues
  • Provide a replacement au pair if things don't go according to plan
  • Help to repatriate any au pair who is not suitable
  • Help your au pair with home sickness and introduce them to a network of friends
  • Facilitate the whole process of finding, matching, inviting and supporting from start to finish
  • Keeps record of agreed job role and helps to arbitrate if there are any disagreements
  • Provide advice and guidance at all times

If you don't wish to use an agency and prefer to do it yourself then you need to consider where to find your candidates, why are they looking to be an au pair now, how to interview them, how to check their references, verifying they are who they say they are etc.

Choosing an au pair agency

What makes a good agency? Being able to provide timely service and support for the list detailed above is a good start

A good agency will be able to add value to the process of finding the right au pair. A family will be looking for the following from their agency: -

  • detailed background information for each au pair
  • Evidence that any risk is nothing or minimal
  • Evidence of suitability - derived from references and checks
  • Awareness that the person will be able to communicate at a sufficient level
  • Proof of qualifications
  • Considered opinions based on experience and knowledge of the candidate

Consideration of au pair agency fees

Agency fees do vary. Some have an up front registration fee that is charged before any work is done. Some agencies work at risk and will only charge families when an au pair has been found and an invitationhas been extended. There are also some agencies who charge a monthly fee for assisting the family over an extended period of time. Scale of fees differ based on a number of factors:

  1. Location of agency - Agencies in the north and Scotland tend to be cheaper
  2. Turn over of agency - Agencies with a higher turnover will charge VAT on top of their fees
  3. Amount of candidates available
  4. Amont of value adding services they perform

When choosing an au pair agency, each must display their fees on their web site and/or send them to you by email/post. Most will require families to agree to their terms up front so the family commits to pay any fees as they fall due when working with the agency.

Choosing an au pair agency should be based on more than just who charges the cheapest fees, you should consider:

  1. Testimonials from satisfied families
  2. Membership of any associations and legal bodies
  3. Evidence of solid working practices
  4. Adherance to all data protection standards
  5. Evidence of sensitivity to personal information through safe web site practices i.e. SSL
  6. Au Pair agency coverage
  7. How knowledgeable and helpful they are when contacted
  8. How quickly they respond to their phone calls and email messages

Make an initial enquiry

Au Pair agencies usually offer a no-obligation discussion so you can ask questions of the agency to determine if an au pair is the right choice for you. Most agencies will obviously want you to leave your details with them, and don't be scared to leave an email address as they are not one of the industries that is reknowned for spamming you with viagra!! Use this phone call to assess how available the agency is, how helpful their staff are and how knowledgeable they are about their subject.

Preparing a job description

The next stage will be to describe the job you wish the au pair to do. In order to do this you will need to consider the following aspects:-

  • Times and days that the children require help from the au pair
  • Range of duties the au pair will need to perform
  • For domestic duties, the size and scope of the tasks i.e. number of rooms
  • Evening baby-sitting details
  • Details of others who share in domestic chores
  • Information relating to any driving duties
  • Information relating to pet care
  • Details of any meals she will be expected to prepare
  • The salary (pocket money) and any other benefits that you provide

Pay any up front fees

If the au pair agency does charge a registration deposit, this is usually payable at this stage before the agency spends further time in collecting and compiling more detailed knowledge of your family. It may also be a pre-curser to a home visit, so this would cover coming out to see you in time and fuel cost.

Creating your family profile

In order to attract a number of candidates then the agency will need to put together more personal information that will appeal to the right people

It makes sense that you paint a realistic picture of your family and what things you enjoy doing. If you mislead a horse-loving au pair into thinking you are all equestrian fanatics, for her to find out you don't know your forelock from your stirrup would not be a good way to begin a trusting relationship. Equally though if you are looking for a particular type of person then it is possible to bias your profile information so that it would appeal to a particular type of person.

In order to put together more personal information about your family, an au pair agency will need to find out about your sports and pastimes, your weekend activities, your likes and dislikes. Very thorough agencies will come to visit a family and to gain a better understanding of them.

Finally, au pairs are no different to families in wanting to see lots of photos and even videos of their prospective matches. It gives them a chance to feel they know more about you by being let in to your lives.

Receive candidate information

The normal and expected amount of information that agencies will pass on to the family for a candidate is: -

  1. Candidate information sheet - sometimes their registration form
  2. Two written references
  3. Medical Certificate to demonstrate good health
  4. Police check
  5. Copies of identity card, passport and driving licence
  6. Copies of secondary education certificate and university degrees
  7. Other certificates and awards
  8. Dear Family Letter

The best agencies are also able to provide the following

  1. Psychometric test results
  2. Motivational test results
  3. Assessment of their English competence
  4. Recording or transcript of the original interview
  5. Video introduction of the candidate

Consider pros and cons of each candidate

In order to assess the most suitable candidates for the job it is necessary to return to the person description that was created initially. Depending on the aspects that were considered base requirements, a first filtering can take place. This is the point that possibly all the non-drivers will be set aside, all the candidates who smoke every day and so on. Then the secondary characteristics need to be examined. A good agency will be able to provide more detailed information on these more subtle secondary considerations in areas like hobbies, other language skills, eating habits, social habits, morals and values, view of discipline among children, view of encouragement and learning etc.

At this stage it is advisable to only pass through those candidates that meet these crietria. It is easy once talking to candidates by telephone to forget all about these considerations because you chatted away comfortably and now you feel good about her.. It doesn't change that one of your secondary considerations wasn't met.

Requesting a phone interview

When you have chosen a short-list of candidates that you want to speak with, the agency will liaise with them and arrange times for you to call them. For the au pair it is usually best to call them in the evening - generally when they can be at home and able to sit quietly to answer your questions. If you call them on their mobile phones when they are out, then you may catch them in the middle of a shopping mall, or out with their friends.

Remember that when you agree to call a candidate, they are eagerly awaiting your call so try to call them at the agreed hour. The agency will almost always lock out other families from speaking with them at this stage, allowing you time to make a decision following the call, so it is expected you will make the call in the time allotted to you.

Conducting phone interviews

Good agencies will provide details of questions you may want to ask on your phone interview. Even better agencies may help with the interview by providing language assistance on the call.

Review & Feedback post-call feelings

After the call, most families will want to discuss their feelings between one another and get back to the agency to give their feedback. It is important that the au pair candidate also comes back with an enthusiastic attitude, and often families wait for this confirmation before deciding if she is the one for them.

Repeat with other candidates

If a family has doubts, or if they simply want to speak with a selection of candidates for comparison, then the phone interview process is repeated as necessary.

Offer the job

When a family is sure and has it confirmed the au pair is also keen, then a job offer can be made from the family to the au pair. This can be made verbally at first, and sometimes may be conditional upon a final reference being obtained.

Finalise all references & checks

If the candidate is still working they may have provided their existing employer but not wanted to decare their intentions until this stage. All final reference checks should be done and the results passed on to the family.

Prepare invitation letter

At this point a letter of invitation is written and sent to the au pair. This letter forms the basis of the whole agreement between family and au pair and needs to cover all of the following elements: -

  1. Name and address of the host family
  2. Date of agreement
  3. Summary information about the host family - parents, children's names, ages, schools etc
  4. Confirmation of hours to be worked and duties to be performed
  5. Rough outline of baby-sitting schedule
  6. Pocket money to be paid
  7. Other detailed benefits ie. provision of car, fuel allowance, mobile phone, bonus, flights home, gym membership etc
  8. Details of days off each week
  9. Details of notice period
  10. Details of paid holidays
  11. Confimation that the au pair will receive board and accommodation in her own bedroom
  12. Confirmation that the au pair will be facilitated to attend language classes

Liaise and/or organise travel

Once the au pair has received the written letter of invitation they will begin to book their flight tickets to come to the UK. At this point almost all au pair agencies charge the remaining fee that is due since there is no turning back at this point. If the family were to cancel then the au pair has committed to a lot of costs and these would generally fall to the au pair agency to cover out of the families fee. If the au pair has already arrived at the family home then the family can decide to cancel but has agreed at this stage to give and pay two weeks notice to the au pair that will cover the au pair's travel back to their home country.

We will try to support a family who are having second thoughts because it is a major decision for an au pair to make, and a significant cost for them to buy plane tickets, and a change in heart should be the last resort really.

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