How to Conduct Effective Interviews with Potential Household Staff, Part I

Household Staffing > Interviewing Domestic Staff Part 1

InterviewingThe best way to conduct an interview that helps you effectively evaluate a candidate is to go into the interview with a plan and then execute that plan. It is a mistake to just “wing it” and rely on gut feelings. Your interviewing goal is not simply for you and the applicant to get to know one another. Rather, your goal is to determine whether the candidate may be a good fit for your position.

The two primary interview objectives are:

1) to gain valuable information about each candidate’s personality, intelligence, background, skills, and abilities to determine whether they would be able to work effectively in the job, and

2) to communicate to applicants your expectations for the position at hand so that they can determine whether they believe the position would be a good fit for them.

To accomplish your goals, you’ll need to assess each applicant’s work history, skills and abilities, knowledge, and personality relative to the position at hand.

Psychologists generally agree that personality is among the best predictors of job success. According to an article entitled “Which traits predict job performance?” from the American Psychological Association (, while smarts are important, personality is key. Many of the most important drivers of job performance — including creativity, resourcefulness, leadership, integrity, attendance, and cooperation — are related to personality, not intelligence. Accordingly, you’ll want to try to get a sense for what type of person an applicant really is. Ask yourself how agreeable, responsible, resourceful, and emotionally stable each candidate is. It’s essential to determine if that person has the right personality for the job, not just the background, skills, abilities, and smarts to do the job.

You’ll also want to pay special attention to whether an applicant has a true service orientation, as opposed to just the desire to collect a paycheck. Providing superior service is, of course, at the heart of domestic work. When a person has a natural drive to be of service to others, this bodes well for that individual’s employer as well as for other staff members.

Empathy underlies a service orientation. As Adele Lynn, author of The EQ Interview: Finding Employees with Emotional Intelligence, points out, “When service orientation is born out of empathy rather than job duty, you have found the kind of employee who naturally wants to be helpful.” While it is relatively easy to teach someone how to be helpful, it is much harder to teach a person to actually want to be of service to others. In the list of behavioral interview questions detailed below, I’ve included questions that will help you determine whether a candidate is naturally

With the above points in mind, it’s also important to be aware of the reality of how applicants present themselves. A 2013 Harvard Business Review online article entitled the “Vast Majority of Applicants Lie in Job Interviews” noted that in one study, 81% of people lied about themselves during job interviews; moreover, more extroverted people were more apt to tell untruths. On average, participants in the study told 2.19 lies during each 15-minute interview. So, while it’s good to be positive and professional, it’s also important to be on the alert for less-than-accurate presentations of the truth.

Regarding the appropriate location for your interview, the venue you choose will depend on several factors, such as the source you used to find the applicant (e.g., referral or advertisement) and your personal level of comfort when meeting candidates. It often makes sense to schedule the initial interview(s) outside of your home, at, for example, a coffee shop, club, or domestic agency’s office (if you’re working with a staffing firm).

For the interview, each candidate should bring with them their current resume and color copies of two different forms of photo identification. By presenting to you a current U.S. passport or a driver’s license and green card, the applicant can prove to you that they can legally work in the United States. (Each applicant must be willing to sign an I-9 form, indicating that they can legally work in the U.S.)

At the start of the interview, put the candidate at ease by asking general questions such as or “How was your trip here?” Throughout the interview, you want the candidate to be the one doing most of the talking — perhaps 80% or more of the time — so that you can learn as much as possible about their fit for your open position. Listening carefully is critical to your developing an accurate picture of each candidate. I should also mention here that it is important to be cautious about your own first impression. One person’s first impression of an applicant — good or bad — is usually not a good predictor of whether the applicant will succeed on the job.

Broadly speaking, beyond background questions focusing on a candidate’s work experience and training, there are three main categories of interview questions: open-ended, behavioral, and situational. Effective interviewers generally rely on a combination of these different types of questions to most accurately assess applicants. Below is an overview of each question category.

Open-Ended Questions

Examples of open-ended questions that you might choose to ask include:

  • Tell me about a typical day at your last job.
  • What were the most challenging aspects of your last position, and how did you handle them?
  • What aspects of your last job did you like the least?
  • Tell me three things I should know about you.
  • What are your feelings about working on weekends?
  • What are your feelings about working long days during the summertime?
  • Tell me about why you think we should hire you.
  • What do you think sets you apart from other candidates applying for this position?

Behavioral Questions

Below are examples of behavioral questions. Note that the first three questions explicitly aim to determine the extent of an applicant’s service orientation.

  • Tell me about an instance when you helped another person without being asked to do so.
  • Tell me about a situation in which you helped someone even though the assistance you offered was not part of your job description.
  • Was there a time at work in one of your previous positions when it made you upset to have to help someone? Tell me about that situation.
  • How do you handle difficult situations? Give me an example from one of your previous positions.
  • Tell me about a time that you had too many things to get done during the day and how you handled that.
  • Were you ever unsuccessful at a task given by a past employer? How did you handle the situation?
  • Give me an example of how you prioritized your work in your last position.
  • Tell me about a goal that you set in one of your past roles and how you went about achieving it.
  • Describe a time when you worked with a difficult colleague. How did you deal with that individual?
  • Tell me about a particularly difficult day at a previous place of employment. How did you handle the day’s work?
  • Tell me about a time that you helped guide other people on staff to achieve the team’s goals.

Situational Questions

Examples of situational questions include the following:

  • What if you had to work some seven-day weeks during a busy period?
  • What if one of our other staff members was absent and you had to help fill in for them?
  • What if you needed to travel with the principal throughout the year?
  • How would you handle a situation in which you had to work together with a coworker who you found to be difficult?
  • How would you handle a day during which you found it difficult to complete everything on your to-do list?

Read Part II of our interview tips here: Interviewing Tips Part II

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