On the hunt for sitters? Make sure you’re checking and asking these 5 things

by Avni Patel Thompson 

As parents, we know that hiring sitters and finding childcare is a fact of life, but how do you know that they are trustworthy? That they’re qualified? That they’re right for your family?


I started Poppy to answer these very questions. To find the very best caregivers in every community and accurately assess their experience, qualifications and style so that they could be connected to the right families when they were needed.

Less than 10% of all applicants end up becoming a Poppy caregiver and after assessing thousands of applicants, we have learned exactly what to look for, what red flags to dig into, and what predicts successful candidates. Most importantly, there are different qualities to assess at each stage, and different flags to dig into based on what information you’re collecting.

We’ve distilled the process we use at Poppy into the 5 core steps that every parent can use to vet and create their own “super roster” of sitters.

1) Ask candidates to send you a resume and/or summary of all of their previous work and volunteer experience with dates and details, with an emphasis on their childcare experience.

Assessing: Type and depth of experience

⚑ Red flags: No experience, short durations at positions, intermittent/occasional frequency of care.

  • Most important here is relevant childcare experience – the type, duration and the circumstances. Was the candidate a full-time nanny for 2 years for kids the same age as yours? Were they an after-school program assistant for older kids? Or was it just watching a niece a couple times in the past.
  • Ideally you’re able to find a caregiver that has worked previously in a similar situation to what you need them for, for kids a similar age. Not surprisingly, relevant experience for the job at hand is one of the biggest predictors of a successful candidate.
  • Other things to look for is if they have other valuable experience such as being a lifeguard, a camp counselor, a tutor etc. and overall a clear progression to their experiences.

2) In-person interview.
Find a time to meet in person, usually for an hour or less (if longer, then consider treating it as a short booking and compensating for time). You may want to do a phone screen first, to make sure they’re a promising candidate worth setting up the in-person time for.

Assessing: Fit, engagement, skills and philosophies

⚑ Red flags: Tentative, poor eye contact, lack of energy/ enthusiasm, little interest in the kids, short answers with little depth, childrearing philosophy that doesn’t align with yours (listen to your gut!)

  • Overall look for confidence, connection to you and the kids, depth of knowledge in their responses and easy conversation.
  • Give the caregiver a heads up on how you’d like the meeting to go – while parents love proactive caregivers, often sitters will be looking to the parent lead for the first meeting. A basic process is having them first meet you and the kids, then sitting down to chat and lastly, if a longer paid session, perhaps doing a quick trial while you run out to the coffee shop.
  • Focus questions on 1) experience 2) passion/interest for childcare and 3) skills / situational answers 4) child rearing/ discipline philosophy:
    • For experience, dig into if their experience matches what you’ll be needing. For a sitter you’ll likely be okay with a Biology student with occasional babysitting experience while you will likely want someone with professional nanny experience for a full-time nanny role.
    • For Skill/Situational questions, focus on hypothetical situations and see how they would handle. Some examples are if an 18 month old child is crying for a half hour after parents leave, or if a 3 year old doesn’t want to wash their hands after going potty or if a 7 year old won’t listen to screen time rules.
    • For discipline philosophy, ask open ended questions about what they believe and how they’d approach certain situations like a biting child or a tantrum at the park.
    • Overall, go with your gut when it comes to fit but don’t be quick to discount someone that doesn’t fit your traditional idea of a caregiver. The in-person interview is the perfect time to get to know a person and uncover their talents for childcare.

3) References.
We have found this to be one of the most important steps in the vetting process. References (especially from the last position) can provide vital information to confirm experience and identify red flags.

Assessing: experience, judgement, reliability, problem solving

⚑ Red flags: safety, reliability, communication, lack of references for certain positions

  • Aim to reach out to at least 2-3 references, ideally all for childcare experience but consider a character reference for more junior sitters.
  • Have a consistent list of questions that dig into experience, responsibilities, performance and reliability but tailor it to what really matters to you like punctuality, routine, play etc.
    • Some example questions can be: What were the candidate’s main roles and responsibilities while working with/for you? Is the applicant calm and can they handle unexpected situations with composure and good judgement? How does this applicant handle receiving constructive feedback?
  • Ask around potential red flags – specific areas to focus on would be reliability/punctuality, proactivity and engagement with kids and communication style. While most people are hesitant to bring up negative qualities, try to frame it as “areas they could improve.”
  • Lastly ask if if there were any situations where the caregiver went above and beyond or conversely, if there have ever been any times they have questioned the judgment of the caregiver.

4) Background check.
We recommend that you do a background check on all caregivers. We treat them as a table stakes check – just because someone has a clear background check doesn’t mean they’re qualified to be a caregiver but making sure you’re aware of any relevant past information will help you make the most informed decision.

Assessing: ID verification and criminal records check

⚑ Red flags: Violations of local, state and federal laws

  • Most important here is to make sure county and state level records are being checked. Most cheap background checks only return quick federal level results and they miss the majority of relevant records.
  • We recommend background checks like the ones we run at Poppy through Checkr that are the level of thoroughness you’d want.
  • If you’ll be having the caregiver drive your kids, be sure to add the relevant DMV checks.
  • We’ve found that even caregivers that come as referrals from other families have had things on their records that I’d want to know as a parent before choosing to have them care for my kids.

5) CPR/ First Aid.
Lastly, making sure caregivers have completed a CPR/First Aid course gives assurance that they’ve been trained on the basics of health and safety.

  • Confirm they did an in-person course (there are lots on online “certifications” but aren’t nearly as effective) If you have an infant, check for Infant CPR.
  • Certifications are valid for 2 years so check for when they last did a course.

Interviewing and vetting potential caregivers for your family can feel like a full-time job – it is for us! But understanding what to look for at each stage of vetting is critical to effectively assessing that a caregiver is trustworthy, qualified and ultimately the right person for the job.

We believe it’s so important for every family to build a robust team of caregivers as a trusted safety net to access when they need. With these steps you too can vet candidates like Poppy, to find those very best that will be your village.

About the Author

Avni Patel Thompson is the founder and CEO of Seattle-based Poppy (meetpoppy.com). Poppy is a Y Combinator and investor backed startup that makes lives easier for modern families by connecting them to trusted and qualified childcare providers. Her mission is to rebuild the safety net of villages for every family, using technology and data. Prior to taking the entrepreneurial leap, Avni led a successful career building consumer brands at P&G, BCG, adidas and Starbucks. Avni holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of British Columbia and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School. In her spare time, you’ll find Avni having a dance party with her 2 little girls and husband.

  One thought on “On the hunt for sitters? Make sure you’re checking and asking these 5 things

  1. Kati
    April 13, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    As a caregiver who respects the privacy of my families, I never give names of previous employers until further into the process when I feel that the candidate family is trustworthy (someone I would work for) and have received permission . A good caregiver backed by experience and education/current scientific knowledge know their value and is interviewing every bit as much as the families are for “fit”.

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