First things first, you’ll need to choose a site. Of the two sites I tried, I much preferred AuPairWorld because it allowed me to send personalized messages through the basic account without paying for an upgrade. There also seemed to be more traffic on this site than on the other one I tried.
Once you pick a site (or two), it’s time to set up your profile and start courting potential host families!
Here are my 10 tips for how to best proceed:
1. You want your profile to stand out and make a good impression. To seem more like a real person to whom one would entrust the safety of one’s children and less like a sketchy robot, take the time to really polish your profile. In addition to filling in all the blanks and drop-down menus, this means introducing yourself; describing why you want to be an au pair, what you hope to get out of the experience, and what kind of family you’re looking for; detailing previous childcare experience if you have it; and uploading some photos.
1.1 The same principle applies when browsing profiles—most often, serious families take the time to set up comprehensive and appealing profiles. Whenever I was browsing, I wouldn’t even look at profiles without a photo because to me that said the other party didn’t care enough to click that extra button.
2. If possible, fill out your profile in the language of your host country. While it’s true that many Europeans speak and understand English, if your French skills are strong enough, it definitely pays to use them! I found that filling out my profile in French allowed me to communicate my expectations and experience to families with greater nuance than would have been possible had I used English. If your French is a little shaky, a good option is to make a bilingual profile that’s more detailed in English but still expresses the basics in French. If your French is more at a beginner’s level, don’t be discouraged! This just means you may have to work a little harder to communicate clearly with your host family (and them with you!).
3. Don’t browse too many profiles in one sitting. When you do, they tend to all run together and you’ll forget who is who.
4. When you inevitably end up browsing too many profiles in one sitting, add the interesting ones to your “favorites” category. Then go back over them more slowly and with fresh eyes before sending out messages.
5. Take the time to personalize your messages to the families you’re interested in. Greet them by name, say you’re interested in potentially being their au pair and would like to talk more, and bring up something they mentioned in their profile that caught your attention and made you think you might be a good match. Here again you’re making a good first impression by proving you’ve read their profile carefully and that you’re not a sketchy robot.
6. Respond briefly and politely if you’re not interested. This is especially important if you become uninterested in a family after communicating with them for a bit. You don’t need to wax poetic; just tell them that you don’t think you’re the best fit for one another or that you’ve committed to another family, whatever. But do at least be courteous and respond.
7. Skype, Skype, Skype. With any family that interests you and vice-versa, multiple times. You can email and message to your heart’s content, but Skyping the surest way to figure out if there’s any chemistry. I Skyped with five different families. I usually talked with the whole family, kids included to get a sense of the family dynamic (about more general get-to-know-you topics), and also separately with the parents (about all the nit-picky contractual details). Skype as many times as you want to before and after making a decision—the more communication the better.
8. Take notes while (or right after) you chat. This is extremely important, especially if you end up talking to multiple families in the same week like I did. I created a list of questions/topics I wanted to discuss with each potential family to make sure I didn’t forget to cover any important details. It also helped later when I wanted to go back and compare families. Don’t hesitate to ask about anything important to you, even if it seems silly or weird. If it’s important to you, it’s important, period. For example, food is important to me, so I wanted to know what kinds of things the kids and families liked to eat.
9. Negotiate! Don’t settle for terms or a situation that doesn’t satisfy your wants and needs. Before even setting up your profile, it’s a good idea to research the general terms for your host country. Au pairing is very regimented in France, but there’s still some wiggle room. It’s also a good idea to look up a sample contract for an idea of the basic terms it outlines and covers. That said, the contract template doesn’t cover everything, so don’t be shy about discussing and adding other terms.
And last but certainly not least…
10. Go with your gut! Accepting an offer is kind of like choosing which college to attend—the family has to meet (or exceed) most if not all of your criteria, but in the end you also have to follow your gut. For me, it came down to two families offering me very similar terms. I went with the one that felt most right!
Next up: Language schools, la Direccte, and the visa process.
*Browsing host family profiles and choosing who to message, respond to, or reject online is at times frighteningly like using OkCupid. Many of these tips are thus applicable to online dating.