Many expats moving to Hong Kong are initially taken aback by the ready availability of domestic help. As they slowly warm up to the idea of letting someone be a part of their family, it is often with a bit of trepidation, as it’s quite new and unfamiliar territory.
Living away from home and family, settling into life in a fast-paced environment like Hong Kong and establishing a smooth routine can be challenging, yet it is possible, particularly if you find the right domestic helper.
This is where a reliable and experienced agency can help. Good agencies do the groundwork for you. They pre-screen candidates to provide you with a streamlined list of people to interview.
Of course, this isn’t your average job interview. The person you employ will be working and living within the family home. They will an integral part of your daily life, so it’s important that you find someone who will fit well with your family setup.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of each interview…
Establish your requirements
Speak to your agency about the key skills you would like them to focus on. This will help them to refine your search. It could be that cooking healthy, fresh meals is one of your key requirements. Or perhaps childcare, playing with the kids and helping them with their learning is more important to you. Perhaps it’s assisting with the logistics of taking the children to classes after school, or it could be that you need them to focus on general household management. Whatever it is, figure it out upfront so that your agency can filter prospective helpers for your family.
Break the Ice
Start your interview with a casual conversation and enquire about the candidate’s family, work experience, children and preferences so that she will relax, feel comfortable and answer your questions honestly.
Domestic helpers with experience are usually more competent and efficient than those who are starting fresh, but on the other hand, someone newer may have more flexibility and adapt well to your routines, so if you are new to this it’s important to interview a variety of candidates and keep an open mind, then decide what best suits your family.
Every household is different, so we recommend that you take the time to list and prioritise your expectations in advance of the interview. Determine where you are flexible and what your deal breakers are before you meet the candidates. These points can then be discussed during the interview. This will help to provide a solid foundation from which to move forward.
A great way to gauge a candidate’s personality and suitability for the role is to ask situational questions, such as what would you do if… or please describe how you would do…
An example question might be: Hygiene is very important to us. Please can you explain how you would prepare a chicken for dinner? Another way to ask this could be: What does hygiene mean to you?
For many families, childcare is an important part of the domestic helper role. Try to determine early on what level of childcare you need. Is it important to you that your helper has children of her own, or is a career child carer better suited to your home? Think about your personal parenting ethos so that you can assess whether the candidate is a suitable match. When interviewing, observe how the candidate interacts with your children and also try to establish whether the she would be capable of managing an emergency situation.
If it’s cooking skills you’re looking for, bear in mind that the candidate may not be an expert on your home cuisine. Look for a person who is curious and can learn – someone who is open to training. You can share your recipes with her and she can learn to cook your family’s favourite meals over time. Things you might want to ask are:
• How many meals a day did you cook for your previous employer?
• Did you plan what to cook and do the shopping?
• What did you make your employer for breakfast/ dinner?
• Have you ever cooked for someone with special dietary requirements?
The responses to these questions will help to reveal the candidate’s level of cooking skills and whether she can handle meal planning.
Consider providing a task list that the candidate can peruse or a household manual that can be easily referenced and check that she is able to understand it. Establishing reliable communication and setting expectations will go a long way towards better understanding in the long run. Organisation and time management is a good indicator of an experienced and efficient domestic helper. You can understand how efficient or organised she is from her responses to your questions, such as:
• How will you organize your day? Do you need direction or you can adapt yourself and plan according to the family?
• Would you allocate a task for each day? Or try to do all tasks every day?
• Are you flexible with duties? Can you move between ironing and cooking a meal if guests arrive for dinner?
Building a strong relationship
Domestic help is one of the perks of living in Asia. While this can be a blessing it also requires careful selection and ongoing management – like any good relationship. Finding the right person to join your family requires careful consideration, a sense of empathy and reasonable expectations.
If you work with your agency on getting the groundwork right, you are putting yourself in the best possible position to build a mutually beneficial and respectful relationship and a harmonious home for all to enjoy.