Hiring a helper to do your housework can be difficult enough let alone hiring someone to entrust your baby to all day when you are at work. Interview candidates tend to all sound the same, giving standard monosyllabic responses to questions (‘yes’ or ‘no’) without giving you much more information.
My advice is ALWAYS do a trial day (or two) before you hire a helper. At the trial ask her to do 5 things that really matter to you (e.g. cleaning, cooking from a recipe, separating the laundry, doing a supermarket shop, walking your dog etc) whilst under your watchful eye. It does mean you giving up your Sunday (as they can usually only do the trial on their day off) but it's a lot less painful than having to fire the wrong helper a few months down the line! Of course as part of your trial you need to see how they look after and interact with your child; are they supporting the head of new born, do they understand about wiping from front to back and not the other way around when changing a nappy, do they know that you sleep a baby at the foot of the bed for cot death safety....??
I’ve put together some interview questions that force actual sentence out of the candidate. It’s up to you to decide which ones you think are important enough for you to ask and which ones are not.
(I have put what were ideal answers for me in brackets next to the questions - where I haven't done that, it was because I didn't have a preference)
GENERAL ABOUT HELPER
1. How long have you lived in HK? (Ideally they have been here for more than 4yrs)
2. How well do you know Midlevels/Central/Stanley etc?
3. How old are you? (Over 30)
4. Are you married? (yes)
5. Do you have Children of your own? (yes)
6. Did you raise your own children? (yes)
7. How do you spend your Sundays?
8. Do you smoke? (NO)
9. Are you prepared to work occasional Sundays if I need you to? (yes)
10. Do you have other family in HK?
11. How many employers have you had and for how long each (Contracts are 2yrs long - Ideally you want someone you worked for a family that renewed their contract after the first 2yrs – i.e. they were good enough to keep on)
12. Can you provide written references from your last employer? (yes)
13. Can you provide a phone number for your last employer? (Helpers always know the home number of where they live and work so they will have it unless the family moved; even then they always have a mobile number for their employer unless they relocated out of HK. This shouldn't be a big ask for a good helper who left amicably)
14. Why did you leave your last employer? (You want reasons like ‘family relocated’ or specific stuff that indicates it was the family situation that changed not that the helper was bad)
15. Have you worked with babies and children? (Ask for details)
16. How old were they and for how many years did you look after them?
17. Do you have experience with pets? Which ones and how long? (I asked lots of questions about understanding of dogs, dog behaviour & safety with leads in HK etc as I have 2 dogs – the trial day will tell you a lot about this, how they act around a dog. Most helpers will say they had dogs back home if they haven’t actually worked with pets in HK, this does NOT mean their understanding of pet care is the same as ours).
18. Have you taken CPR course? When and where? Have you got the certificate? (Yes at YMCA or Matilda - even if they have done this a refresher course is advised)
19. Can you cook? Asian or Western (Yes isn’t sufficient ask them details of what dishes they can cook)
SPECIFIC TO CHILD CARE
20. Tell me how you sterilize baby bottles? (They should either know how to use a steam sterilizer or how long to leave bottles in boiled water to sterilize it the traditional way).
21. Can you re-boil water more than once in a kettle? (No you can not re boil the same water again)
22. Do you know what COT death is ? (they should have heard of this or ‘SIDS’ and have a basic understanding of what it is; they may not be familiar with the terminology so perhaps prompt them).
23. What are the most important things to know to avoid COT death? (Some understanding of room temperature guidelines (18-22C) some understanding of sleeping a baby at the foot of the bed not the head of the bed. Most helpers don't even know what SIDS is but if you feel she is a fast learner this is easy and covered by the CPR and child care courses)
24. Ask questions about changing nappies and feeding (frequent changing and use of cream as powder is no longer recommended. Some understanding of colic).
25. Ask questions about hygiene (food hygiene in the fridge / hygiene for a new born etc)
So where do you look for helpers?
You can either use word of mouth / a recommendation, or you can tackle some websites that have postings of helpers looking for work (Asia Expat has listings and for a small fee around $200 for the month you can access it)
Another alternative is to use an agency. They can be more expensive but take most of the leg work out it for you. You still need to do a thorough interview and I still suggest a trial.
Shop 2012, 2/f United Centre, 95 Queensway, Admiralty
Aura Employment Agency
Tung Fong Building, 9/F, Block B, 151-155 Johnston Road, Wanchai
World Champ International Employment Agency
Room 1101, 11/F Chung Sheung Building, 9-10 Queen Victoria Street Central