Finding a nanny in Palo Alto

tl;dr In the Bay Area, care.com works. Start your search 3 months before you need the hire, many great candidates are hired right away.

Update

Our nanny score for the last year: 5! That is 5 nannies in a bit more than a year. 1 part-time student left after summer was over. StanfordPark nannies candidate did not work out, fired after 3 months. Hired someone from Craigslist, fired after 3 months. Hired our old part time nanny, she left us for Montana after 3 months. Tried to use Stanford Park again, would not take us on as a client. Hired current nanny from care.com, and we love her. She has restored our faith that great nannies are out there. Unfortunately, she leaves next July, and we’ll have to look again. Already dreading the thought.

The nanny search took six months. Our nanny had to be a great fit. We are stay-at-home mom, and work-from-home dad. Anything less than a great fit, little faults become big problems: kids want our company, not her, and we’ll hear about it every hour. And then we’ll get grumpy.

We’ve used Craigslist, Care.com, and two agencies: Town & Country, and Stanford Park Nannies. This is how it worked out for us:

Nanny market is funny. Being a great nanny is tough: you have to love kids, be creative, have lots of energy, and tolerate low pay. I find parenting tough, emotionally exhausting, and am in awe of anyone who can give even half of that to other people’s children.

Great nannies should be earning a lot more than they do. But they do not, the pricing is irrational. I’ve never seen parents in a bidding war over a great nanny, the salary range is narrow: $20 to $30/hr.

What this means that money won’t buy you love, no one will ever ask for $100/hr. Instead, you have to find the right candidate, at the right moment. Candidates we liked were always deciding among multiple offers.

Our search took 6 months. During this time, we had some part-time help, gave an offer, rescinded an offer, hired and fired a full-time nanny, interviewed about 40 candidates on the phone, had 10 trial days, and read an insane number of craigslist ads.

There was no clear right way to do the search. Craigslist is very labor-intensive, and our best and worst candidates came from there. Care.com was somewhat labor intensive, and yielded no candidates in the end. The agencies were the easiest, and fastest, but we did not find the right candidate (and had to pay finders fee for our one bad hire). We saw one of our favorite candidates in all 3 places.

Craigslist

I scanned all the posts every day, and posted my ad every week. Both scanning and ad posting yielded great candidates. Scanning was a slog, 50+ posts daily.

Well-written ads was the key to getting the most out of Craigslist. Most of the ads tell you nothing about the person writing it. “Trustline, CPR, love kids”, all these words eventually had no meaning. When I scanned the ads, I looked for a story, for someone I could relate to. This would yield 1-2 candidates a week.

My own ad also had to be well-written. My initial simple “Nice PA family with 2 boys looking for 40 hours” drew a zillion form responses. My well written ad drew a few really interesting candidates.

Most of our hires, or attempted hires, came from Craigslist. We loved our first serious candidate: amazing interview, kids in the palm of her hand, funky, educated, saving up for grad school. We even got in a bidding war with an Atherton couple. Then it all fell apart horribly 2 days before she was supposed to start.

We found our current nanny on Craigslist. She wrote to us, and we are a really good fit so far. She is almost everything we’ve been looking for. It has only been 2 weeks, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

The agencies

After our first Craigslist hire fell through, we were desperate. Months and months have passed with very little help. End of September is a bad month to hire, most career nannies roll with the school year. I was in the “cost is no object, just get this fixed” mood. So we called Stanford Nannies and Town & Country both.

My problem with the agencies is that you do not get writing samples from the candidates. Writing samples were such an effective filter on Craigslist. It is a lot harder to get a sense of what someone is like by reading resumes prepared by an agency.

T&C is the big name in the Bay Area, we’ve hired part-time help from them before. They were very professional, interview was over the phone, and we immediately got 10 resumes. We interviewed a few, had a few workdays with them, but did not find anyone we really liked.

Stanford Park Nannies is smaller than T&C. The approach is more intimate, initial interview happens at home. I feel this might give them a slight edge in providing just the right candidate. Our 2nd Craigslist favorite (the one that got away, sweet Waldorf teacher) also got placed by them just a few weeks before :( They sent us around 10 resumes, a bit better matches than T&C, and after interviews/workday we hired someone.

She did not work out. My wife disliked her after a few weeks, and it was all downhill from there. It was just a bad personality fit. She stayed with us until we found happiness on Craigslist.

Agencies might do a great job given enough lead time. One month was just not enough.

Care.com

Care.com is a .com nanny market. You get better search tools, and more candidates than Craigslist. And a crappy web ui. Posting an ad was not productive: zillion responses, most of them form responses, and just cleaning out the inbox using their horrible web UI was a pain.

Narrowing down the search was painful. I could not use their UI to express the exact query I needed, so I ended up with 500+ candidates. Advice: use “Hide” function immediately on every candidate you have no interest in. This will really help in subsequent searches. The search did yield a few interesting candidates, but no cigar.

It looks like the candidates we liked were getting snapped up quickly, I kept running into stale profiles of people I wanted. Again, the right strategy would be to start your search early, and contact candidates as soon as they sign up. They’ll email you new signups daily.

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2 Responses to Finding a nanny in Palo Alto

  1. malena amato says:

    Thanks for your interesting article. How do you suggest informing those in the market for a nanny about a recent “bad hire”: who you hope won’t do the same to another innocent family?
    Our “supernanny” who we all adored and trusted took the cash we gave her to buy a car for the purpose of her job and walked out one day without notice. For 2 working surgeons, it really hurt our patients that week as well as traumatized our children. Nannies who subject innocent children to this type of trauma should never care for children again. She has worked for Palo Alto families before. I appreciate your input with your experiences so far.

  2. atotic says:

    Ugh. The usual internet way is to post your story somewhere with her full name, so that future employees can Google her name.

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