To gain a better understanding of the domestic worker you want to hire, you should always plan an interview with the candidates! It is true for both hiring with an employment agency and direct hiring. The goals of the interview are: understanding the helper’s habits, religion, family background, job experiences, etc., but also accessing the helper’s language skills, informing the helper of her living and working environments and letting her ask you questions too.
Where to go?
If you are hiring with an agency, the agency might require you to conduct the interview in the agency. However, if you can choose, you should either ask to have the interview at a location that is convenient for both of you or in your house. The advantage of not having the interview in the agency, but somewhere convenient for both of you is that the helper would feel more at ease. If you conduct the interview in the agency, the helper might feel that she has to talk about what the agency instructs her to say. For example, the agency might have taught her to tell you that she has children in the Philippines so that the employer will think that she has less chance of breaking the contract. If you conduct the interview in the house, she might again feel pressurized because it is your place and therefore not perform best. However, the advantage of having the interview at your place is that she can examine her future working and living environment, and ask you more questions about the chores she has to do. You can even ask her for a try-out immediately if she comes to your place. Refer to the last section in this article for more information on try-out.
What to ask?
There are some generic must-ask questions. For examples, what is your schedule with your current/previous employer? What do you like or dislike about your current job? When do you plan to return to your home country? Other than understanding her preferences in work, you can also ask her more personal questions about her family back home. These personal questions might mean little to you as an employer, but it is always good to know her as a person because she is about to become part of your family. But note that she might not be comfortable with these questions, and you should not force her to answer them.
You can give her scenarios and ask her how she would deal with them. For examples, if someone says he/she is here to deliver a mail, but I did not tell you to expect a delivery, what will you do? If my son has an injury, will you call the ambulance or me? If my mother gets lost, will you call the police or me first? Although you should not expect a perfect answer from her, because she does not know the house rules and your family members yet, but as long as you can see that she has common sense and the ability to improvise, you should be happy with her.
Other than the general requirements, depending on your needs, you might have stricter requirements for your helper. For example, if she needs to take care of a young child, her values and attitudes are very important. See whether she is loving and patient, and whether her values align with yours. If you are an environmentalist, you might have your own ways of doing things and your helper might need to get used to recycling, reusing waste and making home-made detergent. In that case, you should check whether she is open to these ideas and whether she is willing to learn.
If you are religious or if you are an atheist, you should decide whether you can accept your helper’s religion, which will be especially important if she is taking care of your children. Some employers do not like the way how their Indonesian helpers pray and are scared that their children are going to copy them. Even if you can accept that your worker is Catholic or Muslim, ask what sect they belong to and what practices and rituals they have. Some sects are stricter than others. In any cases, discuss how she can practice her religion and how you can not be affected by it if you mind. For example, ask whether she can close the door while praying, and slightly adjust her praying schedule to fit the newborn’s schedule that she cares for.
Special dietary requirements
If you or other family members have dietary requirements, you should inform your helper and see whether she has experiences or whether she is willing to learn. Some families are vegetarian or even vegan, so the way she cooks in the house might be completely different from how she used to do it. In that case, ask whether she is ready to attend some cooking classes or learn from a cookbook. Some elderly have dietary requirements for high blood pressure, diabetes etc. The helper needs to learn what they can eat and what they cannot, and might even need to know a bit about Chinese and Western medicine so they can know what to give the elderly. Make sure the helper can adapt to this.
Invite her home for a try-out! During the try-out, check how good her skills are in ironing, folding clothes, washing dishes etc. Other than checking for her skills, check whether she pays attention to small details, such as some employers suggest giving her a shirt with a button missing for her to iron, and see whether she would notice that. If you have children or elderly at home, the most important thing is to check whether they get along with the helper, especially for elderly who might be more stubborn.