How to find a nanny

Nanny playing with children

For families where both parents work, one childcare solution is to hire a nanny. But finding the right one for you is a big deal. This is the person who is essentially going to step into your shoes, be in your home most of the day – perhaps even live with you – and be the person to kiss scraped knees, put paintings up on the fridge and break up your child’s soft play altercations. Those are big shoes to fill. And we’ve heard Jo Frost is pretty booked up, irritatingly…

There are many ways to go about finding a nanny: you can try an agency, advertise privately… or you can opt for the woman who flies in on a talking umbrella.

Where should I start looking for a nanny?

It’s a good idea to ask around locally first. Other parents may know of a family about to ‘outgrow’ their nanny, or they may be able to recommend a local website that carries adverts from nannies looking for work.

If you know someone who uses a nanny, get them to ask if she knows anyone. She may have a social group of other nannies she meets up with regularly so you may be able to get an ‘in’ there.

There are many agencies that provide nannies, too. The advantage of using an agency is that they do the legwork for you and should be able to provide you with a handful of suitable nannies to interview. They will also often provide references and will ensure they have all the relevant qualifications and have had background checks done. However, agencies will charge a fee and these vary enormously, from £100 to well over £1,000. Some charge you the nanny’s monthly salary as a finding fee. It’s well worth shopping around and asking for recommendations.

You can of course advertise privately, too, which would avoid the fee.

What do you want in a nanny?

Before placing any adverts, have a long think about the sort of person you’re looking for. Ideally what you want is someone who can be a partner in caring for your child. How much of a friend they become depends on you, them and what you feel comfortable with – there may be times when you have to deal with tricky issues, such as performance, so you need to have the sort of working relationship whereby you can be honest and discuss difficult issues.

Consider what your nanny’s duties will be. Childcare is a given but do you also want them to tackle the laundry, tidying, cooking and school run?

  • What hours will they work? Do you want a part-time or full-time nanny?
  • Will the nanny live in or live out?
  • Do you mind if they have their own children with them while they work?
  • How will you pay her? What are the terms and conditions of her employment?

Will your nanny be:

  • A non-smoker?
  • Able to cook/prepare meals?
  • Multilingual?
  • An animal lover?
  • Experienced with twins?
  • Experienced with children/families with special needs?
  • Able to drive?

How do you advertise privately for a nanny?

If you want to avoid agency fees you can place ads in local newspapers, magazines, noticeboards and online. Some publications such as The Lady magazine, are known for their nanny ads so you can be fairly sure you’re reaching your target audience. Additionally, some websites will allow you to place your ad with them. Your Mumsnet local site is a good place to start.

The advertisement should include:

  • The hours the nanny will work
  • The number and ages of your children
  • The area where you live
  • Whether the position is live-in or live-out
  • Any must-haves, eg driving licence

For privacy and safety, avoid personal details such as your address, but do include your telephone number and email address and state how you wish for them to apply – a CV and covering letter is standard.
I ask for a CV to be emailed to me in my advertisement. If I like them, I send them a questionnaire which is fairly detailed. Then I select five or so that I want to talk to more, and I email them. Then we might chat a bit on the computer. Then, I call them on the phone and speak to their referees.
Most advertisements will state net wages, but most contracts state gross wages. For everything to be above board, a contract is crucial. Although it can be tempting to just pay cash-in-hand, it’s illegal, and there are considerable financial and legal ramifications for you both if you get caught.

Nannies can, very rarely, be self-employed. Although there are certain conditions where short-term nannying may be on a self-employed basis, generally a nanny will be considered an employee so you’ll need to gen up on what your responsibilities are as an employer. These include:

  • Taxing pay
  • Paying NICs
  • Providing a pension
  • Paying holiday and other entitlements such as maternity leave
  • Ensuring he or she is legally able to work in the UK

What should I look for on a nanny’s CV?

This very much depends on what your family needs, but it helps to break it down and think of it in terms of experience, qualifications and personal qualities.

What experience should I expect a nanny to have?

It’s worth starting your search with an idea of what your minimum requirements are in terms of experience. You might not mind someone fresh out of nanny school and appreciate their enthusiasm (and the fact that they’re possibly more likely to stay with you longer if it’s their first job). Or you might want a very experienced nanny – though bear in mind they may charge accordingly.

It’s also worth thinking about how their experience is relevant to the role you’re offering. If you have twins or triplets, you might be swayed by someone with that kind of experience – or perhaps you have a child with special needs and particularly want someone who’s worked with children with similar special needs in the past.

What qualifications do nannies need?

Nannies don’t legally need to be qualified at all. Some may simply come with recommendations from previous employers.

There are a couple of nanny ‘academies’, such as the renowned Norland Academy (buttoned-up coat and Silver Cross pram the size of a bus no longer a necessity). Then there are other qualifications such as NVQ, BTEC and CACHE (used to be known as NNEB). Montessori also offers its own nanny training, which you may like if you’re generally a fan of the holisitc Montessori approach. There are also degrees available in childcare now.

Whichever the nanny you are speaking to has, be sure to call the college and confirm they studied there and completed the course successfully.

Many nannies will also hold infant first aid certificates, which should be updated every few years as advice changes.

What background checks should a nanny have?

Fortunately, it’s increasingly easy to check that a candidate is not a convicted felon – Ofsted-registered nannies will have enhanced DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks or you can get one done through a nanny agency. (DBS used to be known as CRB. Other UK Agencies that do the same checks are Disclosure Scotland and Access NI in Northern Ireland.)

What should you ask for in a nanny’s reference?

Always request references and be thorough when speaking to their referees by cross-checking dates and details. Take references up in person or by phone, rather than in writing.
Ask key questions like: would they employ them again? What was their best trait? What was their worst? And remember that a parent will often be gushing about a really great nanny, so beware of hesitant and lukewarm responses.

How long does it take to find a nanny?

You should start looking for a nanny around six weeks before your planned start date, although there’s no harm in starting earlier.

What should I ask in an interview for a nanny?

It's important to find out where they stand on matters such as discipline, nutrition and anything else that's important to you. And an interested nanny should be expected to ask questions about the position and your family (unless you have covered absolutely everything in your two-hour PowerPoint presentation…)

Choosing the right nanny is largely about instinct but consider asking your top one, two or three nanny candidates to do a paid trial day.

“The gut-feel factor is absolutely crucial,” agrees one nanny-employer. “Can you live with her? Will she be 'right' for the children? Can she live with you?”

Here’s a starter-for-ten set of questions:

  • What are their beliefs on the basics: food, discipline, routine?
  • What is their favourite job and why?
  • What was their favourite aspect of their most recent job?
  • What activities do they like to do with the children? How do they plan their days?
  • Are they happy to fill in a daily diary?

For a full-time nanny, clearing up after the children, looking after the bedrooms and laundry are par for the course – but still be as clear as possible about what housework you expect them to do.

Be sure to discuss overtime and what the deal would be if you happen to get stuck at work, how frequently that could occur and what payment they would receive. Also, would he or she be happy to do occasional evening babysitting, or perhaps you want a regular babysitting slot written into the contract?

Discuss petty cash. What are they responsible for buying? What would you expect them to spend on outings, snacks etc?

Be very clear about the following:

  • Notice from either side
  • Sickness absence and pay
  • Holiday entitlement
  • What happens if there are conduct or performance issues
  • What they should do if they have concerns/grievances

How does a nanny-share work?

Some families choose to nanny-share, which means either:

  • More than one family employs the nanny to look after the children of two families
    Or
  • One nanny works for two (or more) families, but part-time for each family

Obviously, the first arrangement is a little more complicated in terms of who is the primary employer and how you divide their hours for the purpose of paying their salary.

But the main benefits are that it can reduce costs for each family, and it can be a good arrangement if you only need a part-time nanny. But be warned, nanny-sharing can cause conflict over parenting styles so you need to be certain the other family have the same views on important issues (or one family or the other is incredibly laid back and doesn’t much mind).

There are agencies that specialise in nanny-shares and you can also advertise through specialist websites.

Helping your nanny settle in

Making expectations clear from the outset will help the first days and weeks go smoothly. Some employers will write a sample daily and weekly list of chores for the nanny, so they can see exactly what they need to do.

Diary-planning is also a good habit to get into – it’s good to know that playdates and activities are properly organised and everyone knows who is responsible for booking and arranging things.

And remember, like any relationship, it may take a while for you get to know one another – but once you’ve found the right nanny, everyone’s lives should be a bit easier.