In the last few years, I’ve done a lot of interviews for entry-level strategy consultant positions. I’ve seen a lot of millennial CVs and, honestly, some of them are downright impressive. If they’re not startup owners, they’re out there running marathons, and they’re barely in their twenties.
Some things are a given to get to the interview stage. College-degree or master-degree educated. Check. Strong grades. Check. A second language. Check.
But, I’ve learned to look out for other things as well, because they usually lead to interesting conversations with interesting people – and that’s one of the best things that can happen at a job interview. These are the candidates who, by the end of the interview, leave me hoping they will want to join my team.
Independence. Energy. Perseverance. Creativity. Curiosity. Self-motivation. What do they have in common? They’re traits that are not that easy to highlight in a CV, but that au pairs often have in spades.
- Independence. A young person who travels to a foreign country on their own, and chooses to work as an au pair, is someone who is not afraid of the new, someone who wants to stand on his/her own two feet and who no longer wants to rely on his/her parents’ support for everything.
- Energy. Successful au pairs have the energy to engage the children in their care, they come up with games to play and things to do, and then the next day they get up and do it again.
- Perseverance. Children can be difficult creatures. A new person coming into a child’s life does not necessarily have an easy time. Overcoming that initial reticence takes time, effort and perseverance, but the best au pairs simply don’t give up.
- Creativity. It takes a high degree of creativity and imagination to engage the minds of children, particularly when teaching them a foreign language through play.
- Curiosity. Travel implies curiosity, but we’re not talking about the I-traveled-somewhere-as-a-tourist-for-a-week-and-man-did-I-see-some-cool-things kind of travel here. We’re talking about someone really interested in people, and really engaged and determined to get to know a new culture.
- Self-motivation. Au pairs often look to learn or perfect a second language, not for the sake of a diploma, but because they really want to master said language. Sometimes, they also do other things with their spare time, they take a computer programming or photography course, they volunteer their time at a local animal shelter, they take the chance to learn a new sport… they’re self-motivated to work to the best of their abilities.
Tips to build the au pair experience into a CV or resume: Don’t just write that you were an au pair in Berlin or Singapore for X or Y months. Instead, think of what the experience really meant to you, and brainstorm also on the top personal traits that the job you’re applying for requires. Then, work to match the two together: write something in your CV to bring the experience to life, making sure your recognizable character traits (the same one your future employer will be looking for), make it into the story.
How many children did you care for? What were they like? What level did you get your language skills to? Did you use your time in the country to learn any additional skills? What was the most difficult/rewarding thing about the experience?
Then, sit back and get ready to engage on the topic during the interview.
Here in Spain my corner Starbucks has already brought out the Christmas tree and Christmas cups (very cool-looking this year, incidentally), but they forget there is still one important holiday to think about before Christmas, for those families with links to the Anglosaxon world: Thanksgiving, or Día de Acción de Gracias.
It’s not about making our children experts on Thanksgiving, or dressing them up as seventeenth century pilgrims, but this holiday, in my opinion, offers a multitude of opportunities for celebrating with children, and for bringing English into their life. Some history, a bit of geography, a lot of adventure, and a good narrative about friendship and the power of sharing.
American and Canadian au pairs, also, will be happy that their host family is choosing to celebrate something so personal (and probably dear to them) as Thanksgiving.
Since there are tons of possible activities, I’m calling out in this small guide (below in English and Spanish), those that have been most successful for us, aiming for variety, and keeping in mind that we’re not all big fans of pumpkin cake.
The best thing is, these ideas are quick to put into practice, so you can use them for November 23rd, just a couple weeks away!
Last week I took the time to ask a group of au pairs how they like Madrid. And then I actually listened to what they had to say. Without waxing poetic about the joys of listening, I actually found out some really interesting things. Let’s call these a Bottom 7, to balance last week’s Top 7:
- The world looks less bright when you don’t have your phone or wallet. Madrid (particularly the Puerta del Sol area) is notorious for this type of petty crime. It’s non-violent, thankfully, and most people don’t realize it’s gone till it’s gone, but it’s incredibly frustrating, scary (particularly for a young person), and can lead to an entire morning or afternoon spent at the police station making a statement. Not to mention the hassle of having to cancel all cards. The best strategy here is really to avoid becoming a target, but, if you do become a target, please ask for help from the family, the agency, etc.
- Not everyone lives in the city center. This can be disappointing for au pairs, but I’d also argue it’s part of DYODD (do your own due diligence) before you arrive. A lot of families live towards the North of the city, off the A1, or towards the West, off the A5. It might only be 10 or 15 km away, but this can be quite a trek on public transport, or even by car if you travel at peak time. Recommendation for new au pairs: if your family lives outside the city center, figure out how you’re going to get to and from the city at different times, including at night since you’ll probably want to enjoy Madrid’s nightlife at one point or another, and how much this is going to cost.
- Weather doesn’t fit all. Madrid in the summer can be quite warm. Where one person sees great weather, another person finds themselves sweating all night. And it doesn’t matter how many great summer activities there are in Madrid, if you’re not getting any sleep, you won’t remember any of them.
- Salt is not just for boiling pasta. There are some great pools in the Madrid area but, if you’re looking for salty water, it’s a 2 hr 10 min train ride to Alicante, the closest beach, and it’s quite packed on summer weekends (for obvious reasons).
- People still smoke. This was a funny one for me because I find it amazing how, in just a few short years, smoking has gone from totally mainstream to a rare hobby. Now that you can’t smoke in bars, restaurants or nightclubs, you can actually go out and come home not smelling like an ashtray. But, everything is relative, and if you’re someone who hasn’t been exposed to smoke a lot and/or hates the smell, you will find it disagreeable.
- Getting lost is no fun. This is one I’d never thought of before but, for au pairs coming from either smaller or more grid-like cities, Madrid can seen a mess. The claim is, two months later they’re still getting lost, and/or still need a map to get from Point A to Point B.
- You need Spanish to be able to work. This might seem like an obvious one, but it’s important for au pairs who think they might want to stay in Madrid after their time with the family is up. While speaking other languages (particularly English) is a real asset, most job opportunities in Madrid (as in the rest of Spain) require fluent Spanish. Ie. it’s not easy to get a job if you don’t speak Spanish yet.
At home we use a weekly calendar to map out the children’s activities, and ensure we have a good mix of plans. We update it together with the au pair every Sunday, to reflect times and priorities for the following week.
It may seem silly, but it helps us organize the week and define a common objective, and makes it easier to use foreshadowing to get the kids thinking about activities for the next few days.
We use an excel calendar template with drop-down menus for each hour, like this one:
- Gray for the au pair’s free time
- Different shades of blue for activities with the children:
- The lightest one for routine activities, breakfast, bath, dinner, etc.
- A different blue for free play, sports activities, those directly related to language learning, cultural activities, etc.
- Orange is for special activities (birthdays, shows, etc.)
The format is very simple, so we can all quickly make any updates.
- To update the activity list, make the update on Column N, then go to Data > Data Validation to update the range as necessary.
- To change the colors of the activities, go to Home > Conditional Formatting > Manage Rules, and manage conditional formatting rules or create new rules.
One of the reasons I’m glad I live in Madrid is because it makes it that much easier to attract great au pairs who are happy to share their culture and language with our family.
As a city, I think Madrid has pretty much everything(*) a young person could ask for, including the following Top 7:
- Great weather. An au pair spending six months in the city, at any time of year, will be hard-pressed not to catch some great weather. Even in winter, while the rest of Europe spends their money on Vitamin D tablets, Madrid enjoys sunny skies four days out of five.
- Big but not too big. Around 4 million people live in the city of Madrid (the Comunidad de Madrid must be close to 6 million by now), which in my opinion makes it the perfect size: it’s a place where things can happen (and by “things” I mean restaurants, theaters, exhibitions, shops, etc.) but not so big that it takes you all day to get around.
- You don’t need to be rich. Madrid is still a bit cheaper than other large European cities, which means an au pair’s pocket money stretches further. If you know where to go, and know to avoid bars near the Plaza Mayor, you can enjoy cañas & tapas on almost any budget.
- Friendly folk. This one is questionable, as Madrid is very much like any other city in the world, in that you can find friendly people, rude people, and the whole spectrum in between, but my impression is that Madrileños, on the whole, are friendly and open, and enjoy helping foreigners practice their Spanish.
- The Prado museum. Without getting into the Prado vs. Louvre conversation (Las Meninas or Mona Lisa?), the Prado is a great place to get lost in. Free access on certain days of the week means you don’t need to see it all in one go, either.
- Brunch is still popular. Madrid hasn’t quite caught up with today’s Brunch-is-so-passé culture, so you can still enjoy a good Brunch out with friends on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This is Spain, too, so expect Brunch to be available until 3 or 4 pm.
- Christmas lasts longer. Great Christmas traditions abound all over Europe but here you get to enjoy Christmas a little bit longer, until January 6th, to be exact (aka 3 Kings Day). There’s also a brilliant 3 Kings’ parade (cabalgata) on the evening of January 5th, wheb the three kings arrive and get handed the keys to the city by the mayor.
For the sake of transparency, I’ve asked a group of au pairs to share the things they personally dislike most about Madrid, I’ll be sharing those soon.
(*) I freely admit my bias here: I was born in Madrid and, though I’ve lived in quite a few other cities, I somehow always gravitated back.
Ingredients for a terrifying Halloween party:
Bats straws and lollipop spiders, inspired by Pinterest
Scary chocolate cupcakes (thanks, Erin Bakes, http://erinbakes.com/chocolate-eyeball-cupcake-tutorial/, it’s been some time since we had so much fun in the kitchen!)
Door decoration to make sure nobody walked into the neighbor’s place by mistake
The most important thing, 15 children in costumes, ready to have some fun.
Seeing so many children together reminded me, once again, of the importance of introducing the minority language into everyday life.
Although Halloween is a foreign word, our context here in Spain is what it is, and most things are translated into Spanish automatically (even trick of treat, a phrase that defies logical translation)
In this case, children in the party all had (to a greater or lesser degree), exposure to two languages, so it was interesting to see their reaction when somebody (mainly our au pair and the native parents) spoke to them in the minority language:
- Some looked bored, their expression one of “but I’m not in school now,,,”, before going on their way,
- Others made it clear they understood, but answered in Spanish (my eldest was firmly in this group),
- Others (the smallest number), answered their interlocutor in his or her language, able to change instantly between one and the other language.
It wasn’t the objective of the party but seeing so many children together was a good chance to see where they are in the development of the second language, and served as a reminder that each child has his/her own rhythm.
I can’t help it, I love Halloween. Particularly the opportunity it offers to get together with friends on a lazy Saturday afternoon and celebrate together (Spain is not big on trick-or-treating, unfortunately). Friends, costumes, black and orange balloons, a couple glasses of red wine… could there be anything better, now that it’s starting to get cold?
Usually, my family bears with me, but this year our au pair has become the perfect ally. I dare say she’s almost as excited as I am about the party. She and the kids have already begun preparing, although there’s still a few days left.
Here are our new friends, waiting for the big day (inspired directly by Pinterest):
And, in the production line, we find loads of toilet paper rolls (which I’d been saving, yay!) about to become toilet paper mummies (thanks papelisimo.es):
This year, thanks to our au pair’s culinary ambitions, we will also have cheese broomsticks, and it won’t matter if ours don’t look exactly like this (my apologies in advance, onelittleproject.com):
Best of all, the children and the au pair are planning the party together, and learning new words at the same time. How do you say mummy, mommy? Cómo se dice bruja en inglés? How do brooms fly?
Only one small shadow remains, and that’s the fact my daughter is determined to dress up as Elsa. Witchy Elsa? Vampire Elsa? Mummy Elsa? Spider Elsa? I ask, though I’m afraid I already know the answer…