One of the questions my husband and I get asked most often by other parents is whether it is better to look for an au pair yourself or trust an agency to help us. In reality, it is possible to find a great au pair both ways, it depends more on your personal situation than anything else. Here’s a few questions to help you figure out which way is right for you at this moment in time.
1- How busy are you?
a) One (or both of us) has time to dedicate to a specific project, particularly if it is only for a short amount of time
b) We are both extremely busy, all the time.
2- Do you know exactly what you are looking for?
a) We have had multiple au pairs stay with us, and know exactly what our family needs and how this fits with the current market.
b) Not really, we are new to this au pair business, we know we want to try it out but don’t yet have a good feel for the market, know how much we need to pay, or have any of the appropriate templates
3- Where do you live?
a) In the center of a large city, in a recognizably cool location.
b) In the outskirts of a large city, or in a smaller town.
4- How comfortable are you communicating in English (and/or other target languages your au pair candidates might speak)
a) Language is not a problem for us, we communicate easily in English and/or other languages
b) I don’t feel that comfortable communicating in English, particularly if I have to write and do a lot of Skype calls.
5- What language are you trying to foster at home?
b) Some other language that is not English.
6- How do you feel about conflict resolution?
a) I know how this works. In case of any problems we’ll speak to the au pair, worst case scenario we’ll let her go and start the process again to find a new one.
b) I would like some support during the on-going relationship, including the certainty that somebody will work with me to find me a new au pair in the shortest possible time-frame in case of problems.
7- When do you need the au pair?
a) We are very flexible, not set on any specific dates. When the right person comes along, we’ll work around her availability.
b) We’d like her to start yesterday, if possible, and stay with us during the most coveted months of the year (e.g. summer months, when kids are out of school).
If you’ve answered a) to many or most of those, looks like you’ve got this covered and you’re probably best off looking for the au pair yourself. Remember to let people around you know you’re looking (word of mouth is still one of the best ways to find an au pair), but take advantage also of some of the great platforms out there. I’m partial to www.aupairworld.com because I’ve had some very good experiences with that site, but there are multiple others as well.
If you’ve answered b) to many or most of those questions, working with a trustworthy agency might be the best bet for you this time around. Ask around to find a good agency, and always trust your instinct when you first speak to them. Do they seem knowledgeable? Is it easy to speak to them? Do they respond quickly? If somebody is not responsive in those first conversations, chances are you don’t want to be working with them on something this important.
Remember that some agencies also offer support as part of a DIY pack, a sort of in-between solution that might be worth considering if you’d like some help but want to manage the search yourself.
Good luck for those families still looking for a summer au pair, now’s the time to get to it (I’m actually running late myself this year, that’s my project for this coming weekend)!