Momma Bear’s Guide: Interviewing Caregivers
When I am working with new clients who are looking to hire a support worker, one of the questions I always ask is, “How comfortable are you with interviewing caregivers?” 9 times out of 10, I get the deer in the headlights look and a lot of ‘Ummmmms.”
As a natural-born introvert, I get it! It has taken me a lot of practice to get comfortable with the process. And did you get what I said there? Yes, I said practice! When we are interviewing caregivers, we need to put ourselves in a position of power, which means that we need to be comfortable asking strangers questions. We get comfortable with the process by practicing, with family members, friends, or anyone that will listen.
Most people are used to being the employee and not the employer and it can be hard to change that mindset. Even if someone has experience with interviewing potential employees as part of their job, they may not feel confident in interviewing caregivers. It is hard deciding what kind of questions they should ask.
Chances are, that is why you are reading this article. You are hoping that there will be questions in here that you can use in interviewing caregivers. I am here to provide you with information not only on interviewing caregivers but to also get you comfortable in your role as the Grand Inquisitor.
Be the Boss, baby!
Interviewing is not just all about creating and asking questions, we need to make sure that you are ready for the interview too. Not only does the support worker need to make a good first impression on their prospective boss, but you need to make sure that you are making the correct impression on them.
You have one chance to prove yourself as the one with the power in this employer/employee relationship, so please give the following serious consideration.
I am not saying that you have to dress in a 3 piece suit unless that is your preference but you need to be seen as a person of authority. Unconsciously, we judge people according to their dress and rarely change our minds. Go for something along the lines of business casual. Please refrain from pajama pants, stained clothes, and tight or sheer fabrics.
If you have never been a manager before, this may be hard for you. What do I mean by mindset? You need to exude the fact that you are the one in charge. Don’t be timid. Give plenty of eye contact and be that voice of authority. If all else fails, fake it until you make it. Anyone can pretend to be the Big Boss for 15-20 minutes!
You can be friendly, but try to keep your tone firm. Make sure that you are the one that is in control of the conversation. If the interviewee is going off on a tangent about nothing of consequence, rein them in and get back to the business at hand.
As best practice, I recommend interviewing caregivers outside your home. Try to interview in a public place, like a coffee shop or restaurant. Make sure you are sitting across from them, not next to them when sitting down. If you can be higher/taller than them, that will give you a psychological advantage because now they are looking up to you, literally.
Now that we have you somewhat prepared, let’s find some people to interview!
Pre-screening potential caregivers
On average, most interviews are 20-30 minutes long. Let’s say you posted your ad and had 30 people apply – yay you!! But do you really want to spend 900 minutes of your life interviewing caregivers?? No! Or at least, I don’t.
We need to narrow down the list. Depending upon where I placed my ad, I may have added a ‘test’ to it. What do I mean? For example, when I am placing an ad on Indeed.com, I like to ask 2-3 customized questions, such as ‘describe your relevant experience to this job.’ or ‘please include a personal statement.’
- I want to see if they can follow directions. This won’t rule them out if they don’t answer. However, I am going to interview them differently than if they had answered the question. Is not following instructions a habit with them?
- If they do respond, that will indicate that they are serious about applying for this position.
Weeding through caregiver resumes
Ideally, all 30 candidates would submit their resumes to us all at the same time. In reality, that never happens; they trickle in.
However it happens, it will be up to you to go through the resumes with a fine-tooth comb and decide whether you want to invest your time in interviewing them.
- Everyone’s needs are different but when I am looking for a new hire for my son, I REALLY need someone that has basic caregiving experience. That may not be the case for everyone. When I am going through resumes, I am looking for key things like they have been a caregiver, a CNA, an EMT, or a nurse.
- Look at their work history. How long ago was their last caregiving experience? Do they change jobs every 6 months? Have they always worked in automotive maintenance and now they want to be a support worker?
- Think about what skills you need in a worker. Is there evidence of those skills in their resume or their cover letter/personal statement?
Sorting through the resumes
When I am going through resumes, I sort them into 3 categories; hard no, maybe, and yes. Let’s say we have sorted through our 30 resumes and have 15 no’s, 8 maybe’s and 7 yes’s. Do you really want to interview 7-15 people? Nope, we need to whittle down the list more.
The next best way to reduce the list is to call the people on our yes list and pre-screen them. We need to do some work before we are ready for that so grab a pen and paper.
Creating pre-screening questions
When calling the applicants, we need to ask them 3-5 priority questions. Dealbreaker questions that will help us decide if we want to do a full-blown interview with them. For example:
- Do your support workers need to be COVID-19 vaccinated? If your loved one with disabilities is medically fragile or in a high-risk category, this might be important to you. If so, and the interviewee says they aren’t vaccinated, you can just cross them off the list; no need to ask them any other questions. If they are vaccinated, let them know that you will require proof if they are hired.
- We have our support workers on a very fixed schedule that rarely ever changes. The second question that I usually ask a potential new hire is, what is your current work availability? If they aren’t available for the shift I am trying to fill, I don’t need to go any further. If your schedule is going to be more flexible, this may not be such a concern.
- Do the caregivers need to have their CPR/1st aide certification or be willing to get certified? If so, that can be another great question.
- Do they need to provide transportation as part of their job? Is their vehicle reliable, can it carry a wheelchair? Can someone with mobility issues get in and out easily? Do they have a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance?
Once you have your 3-5 questions, the next step is to prepare to schedule an interview.
Virtual or In-person interviews?
Since we now live in a pandemic, decide if you want to do an in-person or a virtual interview. I have a hard time getting away from home to do an interview, so I interview caregivers virtually.
When doing virtual interviews, there are many options such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Google Meet, GoTo Meetings, or Microsoft Teams.
If you are more comfortable with an in-person meeting, try to do the interview outside the home if possible. The reasoning behind this is three-fold.
- It protects your home. The interviewee will not know where you live and will not be scoping out your home or stalking you.
- If the interview goes bad, you can get up and walk away if you are in public. Trying to force someone out of your home is not easily done.
- It protects your loved one.
Note on interviews and the person you are hiring caregivers for:
If your disabled loved one wants to be involved in the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring process, that is great! However, if they don’t want to participate in interviews, I would recommend acceding to their wishes. Potential caregivers don’t need to meet them right away and this is another way we can protect our loved ones. I personally don’t have potential workers meet my son until I have hired them.
Where to hold an interview
Pick a place that is convenient for you to begin interviewing caregivers. You are going to be more comfortable in a familiar environment so pick a place you know.
Now, grab a calendar or your phone and jot down 3-5 days and times that work for you. When interviewing caregivers, some people prefer to do them all on the same day and just get it done in one fell swoop. Others prefer to spread it out – it’s up to you on what is convenient.
Another important fact to keep in mind is that it is going to be up to the interviewee to accommodate your schedule, not you theirs. Once again, this will let you know how serious they are about this job.
First contact with a potential caregiver
Plan what you want to say if they don’t answer their phone. In the digital age that we all live in, it is very common for people to not answer their phones if they don’t recognize the number. If you are a multi-phone household, decide ahead of time which phone you want them to call back on. This is what my typical voicemail sounds like:
“Hi, my name is Zilla Q and you recently responded to my ad for an in-home caregiver on (whatever platform it was). I was hoping to have a quick conversation with you today to get a little more information. Please call me back at your earliest convenience at (your phone number). Have a good day.”
Another important thing to notice is that I didn’t tell them to text me. I know, texting is so much more convenient in our busy lives but once again, it can be sending the wrong message. Friends text, bosses don’t.
Practice your voicemail speech a couple of times or write it down if you prefer. Okay, ready for it? It’s time to make the call!
Deep breath, and dial those caregivers!
Okay, the phone is ringing…and ringing. OMG! Someone answered! Take a deep, calming breath, and remember you are a confident hiring manager.
I usually start by verifying that the person I am talking to is the applicant, introducing myself, and will ask if they have a few minutes to talk. If yes, I will start with my top priority question.
If the applicant isn’t available to talk, I will inquire if there is a more convenient time to call and schedule a time with them. I prefer to be the one that calls the applicant back because once again, it keeps me in the position of power.
Deal or no deal
If they don’t correctly answer one of your deal-breaker questions, and it is not something you are willing to be flexible on, just politely thank them for their time and say that that is all the questions you have for them today. You don’t need to alienate them in case their answer to that question changes in the future, and they apply again.
If the questions are answered to my satisfaction, I will offer 3 interview time slots. Don’t give them too many choices, it will confuse them, and I am not saying that to be mean. If you need to make a doctor’s appointment and they offer 5 different days and times, you are going to take forever to make up your mind. If the first 3 choices don’t work for them, offer them 3 more and try to vary the days and times.
Okay, suppose we have now successfully narrowed the field down to 4 people. 4 people times 20 minutes is a much more manageable amount of time. Congratulations! You made it through the first hurdle! Now let’s start preparing for the full-blown interview.
How to prepare for interviewing caregivers
Okay, the bad news is, now you have to create a list of additional questions you want to ask. Some people will ask all their applicants the same questions and some people will tailor them according to the applicants’ resume and information from their cover letter/personal statement.
Pull out your notes on what kind of skills you want in a support worker, grab the resumes and let’s start brainstorming.
Brainstorming interview questions
When brainstorming, write down all the pertinent questions that you can think of. Don’t worry about putting the questions in any kind of order; just do a brain dump. Once I have created a list of questions, I will loosely arrange them in some type of order. Maybe more generalized questions to start with and then more specific ones towards the end of the list.
When you are interviewing caregivers, you are looking for at least 3 things and need to tailor your interview questions towards that.
- What kind of personality do they have and will they be a good fit for your family?
- Do they have the skills, training, or certifications that you are looking for?
- Will they be able to provide continuity of care for your loved one, or are they going to be job-hopping in 3-6 months?
Protected class questions
As you may be aware, there are certain questions that we as employers can not ask during an interview. These are called protected class questions. We can’t ask about their national origin, age, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, if they are married or have a disability. If they have kids or plan to have kids.
My son is medically complex, so when I am interviewing caregivers, I am trying to decide if their personality will be a good fit for my son and his other staff. Will they be able to remain calm in the event of a medical emergency and can they think fast on their feet? Life happens quickly around here and I need to know if I can trust them to keep up. How do I figure out if they have potential? By asking lots of questions.
Be blunt. Ask them how their friends would describe their personality. Ask them what they and their family do for fun. I love this question as it serves 3 purposes. 1. how sociable are they (important info during a pandemic), 2. do they have any hobbies that might be of interest to my son, and 3. do they have a family. Remember, we can’t ask them about their marital status and if they have kids but, if knowing that is important to you, this is a question you CAN ask that should provide that information.
Skills and training
Ask about what experience they have in caregiving positions. Do they have any personal experience or is it all professional? Do they have any relevant volunteer work? Find out about any gaps or apparent job-hopping in their resume. Ask about their level of proficiency in ALL the skills and tasks you are looking for, even the easy ones.
Ok, I have a story that is just too funny to not tell that illustrates this point beautifully.
Once upon a time…
I had a friend that hired a support worker for her daughter. One of the identified supports was to help her daughter to be more independent in preparing her own food. She is 12 years old and is just learning how to make a sandwich.
Her daughter decided to make brownies one day and went on the internet to research recipes. My friend told her that she had an easier solution because she had a brownie mix in the cupboard.
She got out a trivet (she had new countertops), the 1/3 measuring cup, oil, eggs, and an 8 x 8 pan. She left them to make brownies while she went back to her home office.
A couple of hours later, she decided to check on the brownie project. When she went into the kitchen, she saw the hot pan had been placed directly on the new countertops. Two brownies had been cut and were sitting on the trivet to cool, but they “looked rather strange”.
My friend poked them a couple of times before picking one up. Oil was dripping off the brownies. She asked her daughter how much oil they had used. Her daughter said that they had followed the recipe on the box.
She then asked the support worker how much oil they used. As she asked this, she noticed that the 1/3 measuring cup she had set out was still clean. However, her 4 cup measuring cup had been used.
The caregiver said that she had used the amount of oil as stated on the box. However, she felt that 3 cups of oil was too much so had used 2 cups instead. For reference, the box said to use 2/3 cups of oil, not 2-3 cups of oil!
I use this story to illustrate why it’s important to ask about skills and experience on anything that they will be doing in the course of their job.
Continuity of care, aka, sticking with the job
Continuity of care is a tough one to ferret because if you ask outright, you are probably just going to get the answer they think you want to hear. Instead, ask what their short and long terms goals are. If they are in college, ask about their major/minor and how long before they graduate. The answer to these questions will give you a clue as to whether they are looking for a job or career; just a paycheck or to make a difference in the life of someone who experiences disabilities.
Here are some tips to help you when interviewing caregivers, whether in-person or virtually.
- Have someone with you. They can be your moral support, your note-taker, and your extra set of eyes.
- If in person, arrive 20-30 minutes ahead of time, order a coffee and find a quiet spot for the interview in the location of your choice, and relax.
- In-person, figure out where you want the support worker to sit, which should be across from you. If possible, make sure you both will be sitting so the sun won’t be in your eyes.
- If in a restaurant or coffeeshop, when the interviewee arrives, don’t offer to let them get something to eat or drink before the interview starts. You don’t want to be waiting for them! Remember, your time is precious. Besides, they are going to be too busy answering questions to eat or drink. Eating and drinking can be used as a stalling technique and you want to see how well they can think on their feet.
- Put deliberate pauses in the conversation. Get caught up on your notes. People being interviewed are nervous. If there is a prolonged silence, they will try to fill up that silence with something. Remember those protected class questions? The interviewee can volunteer that information as much as they want, especially if they are trying to fill an awkward silence!
- DO NOT offer them the position while you are in the interview! Give your gut a chance to consult with your head and then go with your gut. We can get caught up in the emotions of a great interview but once we come down from that high, our gut may start chiming in saying that everything wasn’t wine and roses. Wait at least 24 hours before offering someone the position.
- Don’t share too many details, especially about the nitty-gritty of your loved ones’ care. Save that for after they have accepted the position. We are still trying to entice them!
- It is human nature that the support worker will want to know a lot of details about the position they are interviewing for. That is fine but only share those details that you are comfortable with. DO NOT let them take control of the conversation though and start interviewing you. They are not doing this deliberately, usually, but if you do hire them, this could be setting a bad precedence in your future relationship.
- If they ask questions you don’t want to answer or don’t want to answer now, say so or feel free to ignore the question. If politicians can do it, so can we!
I know that they are not much fun to do but doing reference checks is highly recommended. When you are talking to a reference, they are limited on what they can say so be sure to pay attention to how they are saying things and the tone of their voice.
If the reference is a former employer, ask if they would hire the caregiver back. If they make a long pause and say something like, “Yes, with certain conditions” or “We would have to have a conversation to talk about that”, they are trying to tell you something without telling you something. Best to proceed with caution.
If you do any social media, check out your potential employee there. Sometimes it can be hard if they have a fairly common name but you can always search by city/state too. For example, ‘John Smith Salem, Oregon’ and you might be able to narrow it down.
I once had someone send me their resume and they looked phenomenal on paper!! I jumped on Facebook, found her fairly quickly, and discovered her account was wide open. Let’s just say that after I saw what she liked to post, I didn’t even bother calling her in for an interview. I was in the Navy, it takes a lot to offend me, but I was very offended!
Selecting the right candidate
If the people from your ‘yes’ list don’t pass muster, move on to your ‘maybes’ until you find the right person. I have worked with people who were able to find the right fit with the first person they interviewed. I have also supported employers who had to interview potential support workers for months.
Yes, it can get discouraging but keep plugging away. You don’t want to hire someone who is just not a good fit because you are desperate. If they aren’t a good fit and you go through the process of training them and you end up firing them after a month, you have just wasted your time and theirs.
After interviewing caregivers, when I am ready to offer someone a job, I try to make it semi-formal. Such as, “Hi so and so, I would like to thank you for meeting with me on (whatever day it was). Second, on behalf of my family, I would like to officially offer you a position on our team. I understand that you may want time to think about this but we would hope to have your answer by (give 1-2 days)”
Unless they turn you down right there, if you wanted, you could schedule a second meeting with them, either out in the community or in your home. This could be a more informal getting-to-know-you kind of meeting where you could share more details about the position. If wanted, you could introduce them to the rest of the family and the person they would be supporting.
You did it!
Caregivers have been a huge support for me and my family, especially in 2021. My oldest son, C-Bear, in the space of 4 months, had 2 emergency surgeries and 4 hospitalizations that totaled over 11 weeks. At that time, we had 2 caregivers but because of changes to his medical condition, we needed to hire more. I was virtually interviewing caregivers from my son’s hospital room in order to line up enough support for when he was finally discharged.
Those 4 months were the toughest and scariest months of C-Bear’s life and by the time we got home, we were both physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Being able to come home to 2 fully trusted support workers who have been with C-Bear for years and knowing they would be able to take care of everything, including all the new medical equipment (he now had a tracheostomy, was ventilator dependent and on oxygen), was a huge relief to me.
C-Bear was just happy to get back to familiar faces, his room, and his normal routine. He knows his support workers and trusts them and boy, was he happy to see them!
I have talked to families who have hired phenomenal caregivers but I have also been called in by the State to talk to families who weren’t so lucky.
No matter how bad you need to hire a caregiver, just remember, hiring the wrong person for the job is never the answer. At best, they will have no clue on how to support your loved one. At worst, you may have to make an abuse report, and no one wants that to happen! Be patient, and just keep interviewing caregivers until you find the one ‘that fits just right.’
Take a deep breath, you got this!
~ Zilla Q
You might also be interested in:
Momma Bear’s Guide: When Planning To Use Caregivers
Momma Bear’s Guide: Help Wanted Ads For Caregivers
Websites with more interview questions:
Very detailed guide. I’m planning on finding a sitter soon and I really like all the tips you gave. Will be using some of them.
I am glad you found this helpful!
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