Find a Childcare Job
Many different kinds of people think they would like to work in childcare, but not everyone has the same potential to be, or be hired as, a childcare professional.
The most likely candidate for a well-paid childcare job is someone who has recently cared for children in another person’s home for two years or more and whose previous employers are available to provide valid references. For that candidate, the best way to find a childcare job is through a good agency. Agencies in childcare set standards and are always eager to place a strong applicant.
But if you have never been paid for a childcare job in a private home, or if no references are available, or it was a long time ago, well-established agencies in childcare may not accept your application. Pay and reference issues intertwine because helping out a friend is generally not seen by childcare agencies as equivalent to a paid position in childcare.
Another thought: when people ask about getting a childcare job, they are sometimes hoping to get one of those celebrity positions — childcare in the home of a movie star or socialite, with a presumed life of glamour and earning $1000+/week as part of a luxurious lifestyle including travel, servants, and all kinds of perks. Well-paid jobs are certainly out there but celebrity jobs can be extremely demanding even for the experienced childcare pro — the better the pay, the harder the job. And normally, such jobs go to childcare professionals with five or more years experience, preferably experience with other high profile employers.
From Mom to Childcare Pro?
But let’s say you have been an at-home mom raising your own children, all now successful adults, and you are looking for work that you feel qualified for. The plus is your experience in childcare over many years. Some of the remaining questions to consider are:
When did you last work with small children? Most jobs in childcare are with babies and toddlers.
Equally or even more critical, what is your experience in childcare for children other than your own? The last thing an employer needs is someone who understands her own children but no one else’s.
How many children did you raise? If several, then you probably have experience in childcare for various age groups and with juggling the needs of more than one child, and more than one age group, simultaneously. That’s a real plus.
If, while your children were growing you also took in other children, or were even a family day care provider, you were only one step away from professional childcare. But remember that you were still “running your own show,” and it will be different working in someone else’s home.
Finally, for a live-in childcare position, few employers will consider hiring a married applicant. They look instead for someone with “no ties.” If you are not a single person, plan on a live-out job. You may also want to limit the hours that you are available to work.
From Business World to Childcare Pro?
Elsewhere on the spectrum, perhaps you’re a single woman who’s always worked but who has also spent much time helping friends with their children. Perhaps you’ve invited them to stay overnight and weekends or even longer while their parents traveled. You may or may not have some college under your belt, but you want a change from office work, and you think you’d enjoy childcare work in another person’s home.
Your best bet may be to seek a local, live-out childcare job, either full or part time. Your local experience and availability will serve you well; you may even find a childcare job with a family that knows the friends you’ve been helping and will value their reference reports. If this turns into your first real experience in childcare, it will contribute to your resume for full time employment in childcare, letting you reach out beyond the immediate horizon. Meanwhile your experience will help you define a specialty of your own, whether live-out or live-in, full time or part time or as a temporary childcare professional or governess or even a baby nurse. You may want also to take college courses to hone your skills and professionalize your approach to childcare with learning about child development, as education is a close second to experience in the list of most desired attributes.
Similar advice applies equally to younger applicants. The high school or college student who wants to aim for a career in childcare should take every opportunity to work with children. She should volunteer in the local lower school or at a hospital. She should learn how to organize birthday and Halloween parties, how to make something from nothing (simple crafts), and how to tell a story without having to look in a book. She should learn to read expressively, how to listen, and how to get children to talk to her. She should learn how to organize activities for every age child, for boys and for girls, for babies and for younger teens.
Even for a certified teacher, the road to a good childcare job includes work on a less formal, non-classroom basis. Just as raising someone else’s children is not the same as raising one’s own — different household, different rules, different expectations — teaching children within the walls of the private home is very different from teaching the same children within the structure of an established school system. There’s no union, the classroom is not your own, and if you are a live-in chilcare pro, neither you nor the children get to “go home” at night.
For the college student seeking a summer childcare job or a break from school to pay for tuition, your commitment to education will attract families who value education, and any family that is willing to pay a chilcare worker a good salary is apt to be interested in education. Parents expect students to be open to their ideas and aspirations for their children, which can make a student an ideal candidate for a summer childcare job. But just being in college does not make a childcare professional. You still need documented experience with children and their families to get the job you want.
Someone awhile ago published an article entitled “The Myth of the Male Nanny.” There’s some truth in this. The occasional parent inquiring about the availability of male childcare professionals can sound wistful, curious, or gutsy, looking for a challenge. This beast is not entirely mythical, but close to it, just as men who teach nursery school are a rarity, but a reality.
If you are a male seeking a childcare job, you won’t have much male competition. On the other hand, it is mostly mothers who’ll interview, a rare few of whom will identify with you. Worse yet, husbands seem to present obstacles, both direct and indirect. Ask agencies up front to tell you the odds of their placing you. And disregard advice not to register with more than one.
It’s a Career
Being a childcare professional isn’t just a job, it’s potentially a career, a job for a lifetime of teaching and caring for children and their families. It should not be taken lightly, as a glamour trip or just a way to make money or kill time. If you take it seriously, if you plan and you use common sense in interviewing, you can build yourself a lifetime of giving — and receiving.
Once you have the requisite experience, finding a good childcare job is still a challenge. It used to be that anyone who was willing could be hired to provide childcare — as baby-sitting — and that’s still probably true in some locations. But it’s not the same as a professional childcare position.
In order to get the best job, you need to make it clear that you are the best childcare pro for the job. That means preparing a portfolio.
Components of a Childcare Portfolio
A portfolio in childcare is concrete evidence of your readiness for the job. Unlike with telephone references and the recommendations of friends, a prospective employer can hold your childcare portfolio in her hands during an interview, getting to know you firsthand.
The most convincing childcare portfolio has a look of permanence to it, with materials assembled over a period of years. If you are new to childcare, it could start with photos of your own family — including, e.g., little cousins that you’ve cared for — and neighbor children you’ve spent time with, whether paid or not. No matter what you include, though, your materials should be personal, projecting your personality and interest in both children and families.
The style of your childcare portfolio is up to you. It can be a loose-leaf binder with plastic sleeves that allow you to update materials as needed. Or it can be a scrapbooking project, lovingly assembled and decorated to show your skill in crafts. However it does need to include a few basic components.
Component #1: Written Childcare Resume.
A resume is a written chronology of your skills, education and experience in childcare. Before assuming that you know what this amounts to, consider checking the Web for guidance. A Google search on “to write a resume” produces sites with guidelines, pointers, and written examples.
Every item on your childcare resume needs to be true — exaggerating your skills or education can get you into hot water. Since families (and agencies) are increasingly careful about hiring a nanny, a lie found on an application can lose the job of a lifetime, even after you have been hired.
If you already have a resume, be sure it is targeted to childcare. If not, edit it. For instance, your stated job objective should be specific to the childcare interviews you plan to do rather than to some other kind of employment. A different job objective suggests that you might prefer not to be a childcare professional, or that childcare is only a second choice. If you are, in fact, considering other opportunities, make up separate resumes for your separate job objectives.
The educational credentials listed on your childcare resume should include First Aid and (infant and child) CPR as the minimum. List additional training as, e.g., a lifeguard, a dance teacher, and any courses your may have taken in childcare or child development.
Component #2: Childcare References
Contact information for previous childcare employers, including name, address, telephone numbers and best time to call, and the duties of the job. Be sure to ask your references for permission to include them. Request written references from various people who know and like you: former teachers, teachers of the children you’ve worked with, or your neighbors, in addition to actual employers in childcare. Warm and friendly notes on personal stationery can be a big addition to your childcare portfolio.
Component # 3: Your Philosophy as a Childcare Professional
Professional childcare providers generally agree that you should include a personal statement about your approach to your duties as a childcare pro. For instance,
As a childcare professional you may be called on to fill many roles, including chauffeur, cook, nurse, teacher, friend, role model, coach, and so much more. What do you think your role includes?
Your philosophy of childcare discipline: do you believe in rewards, punishments, guidance, timeouts…? How exactly do you implement them?
Many families expect a childcare provider to cook and clean for parents as well as for their children. On the other hand, professional nannies say that the only housekeeping for which they should be responsible — indeed, for which there is time in the day if one is doing one’s job in childcare — is child-related: children’s meals, children’s rooms, and children’s personal belongings. This may leave you responsible for sewing on lost buttons, shopping for children’s clothes and birthday parties, and spring cleaning of their closets. But it’s not the same as being a housekeeper.
Component #4: Ongoing Education in Childcare
Since raising happy, responsible and capable children requires growing with them, look into continuing childcare education workshops. Include completion certificates for these courses in your childcare portfolio, and add to them over the years.
Consider attending college part time, especially if you are working with school-age children. Every class you take in curriculum development, language arts, dramatic play, child psychology, or special education will help you with children and help you develop as a childcare professional, either directly or indirectly. You will be their role model in seeking to understand and know more about what you have chosen as a profession. And a degree may be the ultimate plus in your portfolio.
The best place to look for a childcare job is at a reputable agency. To find the agency you want, give serious thought to the criteria listed in our article. Then,
Make up your own list of questions that you plan to use in talking to agencies. Basic questions are listed below, under Clientele and Duties.
Plan to be friendly but thorough. While there are lots of agencies, and not all are equally good, expect the best. With diligence, you will surely find it.
After talking to each agency rep, write down your impressions as well making note of the agency’s answers to your questions.
Don’t register with one agency until you have talked to enough to know your options.
And don’t expect to register with every agency because you only complicate their lives and yours. Pick one or two that pass your tests, and be open with them about your needs.
While the local newspaper used to be the only resource for nanny employment, the following are all useful:
Word-of-mouth ranks high. Keep your ears and eyes open.
Any local nanny support group — local resources are the best place to start because you can interview face-to-face.
Your local telephone book, which may have a “Nanny” listing (otherwise check Child Care” or call local preschools for their recommendations).
The International Nanny Association, which sells a National Directory of agencies and nanny schools.
The National Association of Nannies, a well-established professional organization open to new nannies as well as the established, with wisdom and experience to share.
The Alliance of Professional Nanny Agencies, like the INA, has a Web site and a directory and publishes standards for its members.
The Web. While a Google search on “nanny” turns up several agencies among the clutter, consider narrower searches, such as “nanny support groups” or including your city, state or target region in your search terms.
Clientele As you consider each agency, review the following questions:
What kinds of clients does each agency serve — working parents, moms-at-home, single parents, career professionals?
What geographic area does it serve — local, statewide, regional, national, international?
What kinds of jobs does it place — full time, part time, temporary, live-in, live-out?
What duties are expected of a nanny once she’s hired? Cleaning (see Duties, Etc.), travel (a plus for the single applicant, probably not for the married), overnights and weekend work (ditto), and general requirements of availability.
Once an agency begins to discuss specific job openings with you, try to get a handle on the following before accepting interviews — the agency should have at least some of these details, but some may have to come in your initial, telephone interview with each employer. Issues are listed in order, starting with the most critical.
Work schedule: How clear is the schedule, and how does it mesh with your lifestyle? Beware of vague work schedules, as variable hours can ruin an otherwise good job.
Duties: In many cases, housekeeping for the family expands with the willingness of the nanny. In the best planned job, a family will hire a cleaning person, so that basic housekeeping is not the nanny’s responsibility.
Driving is a plus to some nannies (breaks up the day, gets everybody outdoors), a curse to others (too much running around, no time to simply do the job). Look for families who provide a nanny car, or at least will cover auto insurance on the job. (When transporting others is part of your paid job, your personal auto insurance will not cover any injury to them.)
Medications, divorce, absence or presence of (extra) family members, custody battles, multiple households, other staff.
Support and communications: will you have support when you need it? Who will provide it and how?
Pay & Benefits
Once they know your qualifications, agencies should be able to tell you what you are worth in terms of compensation. Beware of efforts to pull you in on the basis of offers of exceptionally high pay. Some agencies do, indeed, specialize in high end nanny employers. Some high end jobs are good jobs, but once again, beware.
In talking with families, be careful not to put money first; if the job is not for you, it doesn’t matter how much it pays, and no matter how important pay is, employers (and working parents in particular) do not like to think that money is all you care about.