What to ask a potential maid during an interview and how to make the best decision for your family
Maybe it’s your first foray into securing help of the domestic kind in Singapore. Or perhaps last time it didn’t work out and you want to be better prepared for round two. Whatever the reason, it’s worth keeping a handy checklist in mind when starting your search for a potential helper:
1. Childcare Experience
We’ve all seen the classic helper on the phone and not watching the kids at the park scenario. Finding someone that you trust with the care of your children is quite delicate. Decide what role you want a helper to fulfill in your child’s life first. If you want to be more hands-on with the kids then perhaps someone that knows how to cook child-friendly meals is enough. If you have a newborn and need to catch up on extra z’s then selecting someone who has had on-the-job training in caring for a newborn (read: sleep and feed schedules), is probably paramount. Just remember to keep your expectations realistic – most helpers don’t have formal childcare qualifications. Finding a helper that will take direction and look after your precious offspring the way you want is the goal
2. Cooking Skills
Don’t go getting all Beyonce on us and expecting your own personal chef. If preparing daily meals is going to form one of your prospective helper’s duties then best check out the kinda grub she can dish up. Even if she isn’t adept at spa cuisine, perhaps more important might be whether or not she can follow a recipe successfully. If your helper is new to learning the style of food you like, then keep in mind she may take a little longer to shop for and prepare meals than usual. Allowing your helper to cook from her existing repertoire might be a good opportunity for your family to be introduced to a new style of food too. Finally, with so many cooking school options in Singapore you can always send them on a course. Or maybe just switch on Masterchef.
3. First Aid Awareness
At one time or another every kid thinks they’re Superman and ends up with the coffee table wedged into their forehead while you plan a trip to A&E. It may well happen on your helper’s watch so it’s good to know if she can handle it or not. Make sure your prospective helper knows the basics – you’d be surprised by the remedies that different cultures believe, such as applying heat to knocks and bruises instead of ice! Beyond that, it’s crucial that your helper knows exactly what your emergency plan is and has a list of emergency contacts to hand. And if you want an increased level of reassurance you might want to send your helper on a certified First Aid course that teaches CPR.
4. Local Knowledge
Got a newbie on your hands? If your prospective helper has just landed on the little red dot, you will need to do a bit of hand holding to familiarize her with life on our island and your well-trodden paths across it. The upside is they may not have preconceived ideas and expectations care of previous employers. But if you are new to Singapore yourself or you want your helper to be able to haggle with the best of ‘em at the local wet market, you may want someone that’s been here a while.
5. Time Management
Type A types may worship at the altar of the Excel spreadsheet when it comes to running their household while loosey goosey types just take it as it comes and don’t mind the dust if the kids are alright. Decide how prescriptive and involved you want to be in your helper’s prioritizing and scheduling of tasks. Be clear on what you expect on a daily and weekly basis and if things need to slide, which jobs can drop to the bottom of the list. If you’d like your helper to plan the weekly menu, create the shopping list and do the groceries, make sure you allow time for her to execute this planning.
6. Common Language
Like any good relationship, communication is key. So it makes it much easier for you and your helper to be on the same wavelength if you speak the same language. If your prospective helper ticks boxes on your other criteria but conversation is rusty, consider signing her up for a language course at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) or the Foreign Domestic Worker Association For Skills Training (FAST). Remember that an ability to speak your language does not necessarily mean understanding your culture. If ‘offing’ the light is not something you want your kids to say you’ll need to word up your helper.
7. Home Situation
Everyone’s got baggage so check how heavy your helper’s suitcase is. Is she married, does she have children, and what are her financial commitments? Understanding a prospective helper’s personal circumstances will leave you better prepared as to how you might be impacted if urgent matters arise. They are entitled to a trip home for each 2 year contract.
8. Faith and Social Circle
Dig for dirt – in a nice way. It may seem like prying but this person is going to live in your home and you are going to be responsible for them. Therefore, it’s prudent to get to know if they practice a certain religion, who they hang out with and what they get up to in their time off.
9. Expected Salary
Everybody has a price. On average, helpers earn from $400-$700 per month. Filipino maids usually command a higher wage as the Philippine embassy requires minimum salaries. Additional costs to bear are a monthly maid levy that is paid to the Government, and check with the agency you’re dealing with in regards to payment of an immigration bond.
Before setting the price you want to pay, run through your list of tasks that the helper needs to perform and gauge if your offer might be commensurate with expectations of the role. You might want to add a little more if they exceed the skills base you require and if they are considering several offers. Leave room to reward at a future date too. If you go all out on salary there may be nothing left over for a bonus. It’s worth considering other incentives you can offer that are not strictly monetary too such as access to TV in their bedroom or additional days off when you’re travelling.
10. Current References
Pick up the phone and get the low down. Since a helper will be coming to you on a 2 year contract and living closely with you and your family, getting feedback from her previous employers is vital! A glowing report is great but rare. Like all of us, helpers want to move on from situations and start anew from time to time so balance any feedback realistically.
Image: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME)