Fact or Fiction? Young people abroad are lured to the au pair program with promises of parties, boys and lots of travel.

August 15, 2012

There’s a myth out there that au pair agencies promise their applicants a fairytale world full of parties on the beach, boys galore and travel to all the American hotspots as soon as they arrive to the U.S. This belief, in fact, could not be further from the truth.

First of all, in many of our au pair recruitment countries, the idea of becoming an au pair is very well-known and young people have most likely heard about the experience from friends who have done it before. In Sweden and Germany, for example, au pairing has been going on for decades, so those who apply will at least have an idea of what to expect. Ida Hargsjö, Country Manager for Cultural Care Au Pair in Sweden says, “In Sweden it’s pretty straightforward that it’s a serious job caring for children.”

Even so, these countries still hammer home the message that being an au pair is a tough job. Shares Marc Jaschinski, our Country Manager in Germany, “Our whole recruitment strategy here in Germany is based upon the message ‘Your new life is waiting’ and focuses very much on the ‘taking care of children’ and ‘new family abroad’ parts of the program.” He adds, “I can only tell you from our side that we are very distinct about the fact that our candidates apply for a childcare job throughout the whole application process.”

For countries in which becoming an au pair is a bit more novel, educating applicants about the au pair program starts as early as the first phone call. “In the Mexican office, we tell [applicants] that this is a hard job for the first time by phone when they are just asking for information. Sometimes it seems to them that we are trying to deter them but it is part of the strategy since we don’t want our au pairs returning home early,” says Perla Payán Luján, Country Manager for Mexico.

Winnie He, Country Manager for Cultural Care Au Pair in China adds, “Since the au pair program is quite a new concept for most Chinese, applicants just have vague understanding of it. [To help with that] we have online matching and pre-departure workshops and also have many SNS platforms to showcase the real life of an au pair including their job responsibilities. Many former au pairs post their stories and emphasize very clearly the tough part of the program.”

Regardless of how much a candidate knows about the program before she applies or where she is from Cultural Care Au Pair has a rigorous and standardized au pair screening process. This process includes multiple steps along the way that give overseas staff an opportunity to share with au pair candidates what to expect during a year with an American host family.

And to ensure the highest level of communication and standardization, Cultural Care Au Pair’s recruitment process is the only agency designated by the U.S. Department of State to recruit all of our au pairs through staff in our own established offices worldwide instead of outsourcing recruitment to third-party agents. This means we have full control and complete transparency into the screening and preparation process in every recruitment country.

In every country, an au pair applicant attends a Screening & Orientation (S&O) meeting and undergoes a one-on-one interview and English evaluation. During most of the S&O meetings, former au pairs speak about their own personal experiences. “Our former au pairs point out that it can be tough having kids around you the whole day and being the one responsible and this is a major part of the year!” writes Kajta Richter, Country Manager in Austria. “[During personal interviews] I think it is something that also passes through in our general speech. We use the terms ‘job’ and ‘responsibility’ a lot for instance,” says Elise Fin, Country Manager in France.

Our print material is also tightly controlled and structured—we know exactly what our literature is saying (with words and pictures) to our audiences in every part of the world. Cultural Care recruitment brochures all contain feedback from former au pairs, a section on working with children, a sample au pair schedule and loads of photos with au pairs and their host children and families. Winnie He says, “We explain on the first page it’s a full-time job taking care of children.

Part of Cultural Care Au Pair’s recruitment brochure which is also translated into each recruitment country’s native language.

Pamela Carty, Country Manager for Cultural Care in Ireland and the U.K., routinely asks candidates why they don’t move forward with the process to become au pairs. She says that, “A lot of the time it is because of the length of time, missing family and friends—or that it looked like too much work.” Helping applicants self-select out of the au pair program is an important part of the process.

Even though it’s easy to tell au pair hopefuls about all the responsibilities they face, “[Helping them] realize how tough it is [in reality] is another thing, of course,” admits Elise Fin. “We rely mostly on their experience with children for them to understand what it really means. We tell them they NEED to have great experience to be sure they feel comfortable and enjoy caring for children full time as they are committing for a full year. During the interview, we present different situations (three children jumping around the living room past bedtime; two siblings fighting with no reason; and a child repeating he hates them during the first weeks, etc.) and ask them how they would react so they realize it is not only drawing and playing with dolls.”

Giving au pairs a clear picture of what to expect is the only way to ultimately provide a quality experience for both them and the host families they are living with.


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