Bringing in a new staff member to your childcare center is an exciting time. You have the chance to add a positive addition to your staff, but finding the right person can be a challenge. One of the best ways to identify the best employees for your childcare center is to ask great questions during the interview process. Asking strategic interview questions that elicit thoughtful answers will allow you to determine who is the best candidate for your program and will raise your chances of hiring childcare staff who are a great fit for your program.
Prepare for the childcare interview
The hiring process is costly – both in time and money. Hiring the wrong person can be detrimental financially while also impacting staff and families’ morale. Before scheduling the first in-person interview, here are a few ways to ensure that you are making the most of your time and resources:
- Use an app to find the best time to meet. Finding a mutually convenient time to meet can be challenging, especially when your candidate is employed. Use apps like Calendly to efficiently set up times through email or text with a link.
- Set up a brief phone screening interview. Ask simple questions to determine if this candidate will be a good fit. Provide the opportunity to the candidate to ask any questions they may have.
- Request references. Obtain a list of references, both phone numbers and emails, prior to the interview.
- Create a welcoming environment. Let your staff know that you will be touring with a prospective teacher so they can greet them warmly. For promising candidates, set up a brief chat with a current teacher for them to learn more about your center from a peer.
- Be prepared to make an offer. Scheduling an in-person interview often requires a candidate to take time away from their current job. Have an offer and relevant paperwork ready to expedite the hiring process.
Check out our free toolkit for templates, checklists, and tips to hire an amazing team of early educators with confidence and ease.
Essential childcare interview questions
Sitting across from someone and hearing them speak about themselves and their professional experience gives you a rounded view of a candidate and how they will fit in with your childcare or daycare center. To make the most of your time, be methodical about which childcare interview questions you ask. This will help you evaluate each candidate fairly and make sure you get to know each applicant.
Ask these eleven interview questions to find people that you trust to work in your childcare center.
Daycare interview questions about personal experience
A good way to begin a childcare interview is to ask a few professional "getting to know you" questions about the applicant. Not only does this question give the interviewer a sense of who a candidate is, what they value, and why they want to work in early childhood education, but it also helps people feel comfortable at the beginning of your chat. It can be easier to talk about ourselves than our workplace philosophies, and opening childcare interviews with personal questions can put candidates at ease.
Here are some examples of personal questions you can ask in a childcare interview:
- 1. "When did you know you wanted to work in early childhood education? What drew you to childcare?"
The answers to these types of job interview questions will reveal a candidate's motivations. Working in a childcare center is a demanding job, and understanding someone's reasons for entering ECE will help you identify people who genuinely enjoy the profession.
- 2. "I see your background is [x]; why did you decide to [attend that teaching program, switch career paths, etc.]?"
Everyone takes a different path through their career. Asking about a candidate's background and career choices doesn't just tell you how they got into early ed — it tells you how they approach problems. Did they decide early on that they wanted to be a childcare professional and plan out their career from day one? Or were they self-motivated to switch careers, and how did they navigate learning about a new field?
- 3. "What would you like to be doing in five years?"
Even though every candidate will be interested in early ed, that doesn't mean they will be the right fit for your business. For example, if someone sees themselves transitioning into preschool administration, does that match with the size and scope of your childcare business? If someone wants to start their own daycare business in the next five years, are you OK with a shorter-term hire? What professional childcare skills are they interested in developing and does your center have a need for staff with those skills?
Daycare interview questions about professional experience
After learning about a candidate's personal background and motivation, ask questions about their professional experience to determine whether they will fit in with your program. Interview questions that get an applicant to talk about their challenges, strengths, and weaknesses in an early ed setting reveal how they work. Do they take responsibility? Or do they blame others for problems and shrink in difficult situations?Pro Tip: Always give candidates plenty of time to answer. Let them think and respond in their own words — even if they must pause to gather their thoughts. Resist the urge to prompt them, as it will affect how they reply.
Here are some questions you can ask about a candidate’s professional experience:
- 4. "What is the biggest challenge you've faced while working in childcare? How did you handle it?"
The answer to this behavioral interview question will tell you both what a candidate views as challenging and how they approach high-pressure childcare scenarios. This is not an easy profession, and knowing what a particular candidate finds challenging and how they respond to adversity will help you determine whether they will be a good fit for your childcare center. Do they defer to authority? Do they test unconventional solutions?
- 5. "Describe a situation where you had to have a tough conversation with the parent of a child in your care."
One of the keys to running a successful childcare business is having good relationships with parents. Unfortunately, things can't be perfect all the time, and you and your staff will occasionally need to have a difficult conversation with a parent. You need to know you can trust your staff to handle parent communications with professionalism and respect.
- 6. "What is one thing you wish you had been more prepared for going into your last position, and how did you handle getting up to speed?"
Nobody's perfect, and one of the best employee qualities is a willingness to learn, to build on areas of growth. This childcare interview question will help you understand how self-aware a candidate is because it requires them to evaluate their performance. It also tells you how motivated they are to learn and grow as a person and an employee.
Daycare interview questions about childcare philosophy
There are several different types of early childhood curriculum, and asking about an applicant's early education philosophy ensures that your approaches are compatible. Employees who understand and embrace the mission statement of your childcare center will be a positive force in your workplace and will require less training to get up to speed. You can ask outright about a candidate's childcare philosophy, but learning about their day-to-day experiences working in early ed will illustrate how they embody their convictions.
Here are some questions you can ask about teaching philosophy in your next interview:
- 7. "What is the most important thing a classroom needs to run smoothly?"
The answer to this question speaks to the heart of a person's behavior in the workplace — the standard they expect from themselves and others. It shows they understand the challenges (or don't) of working in childcare and reveals what they prioritize in their day-to-day work.
- 8. "What are the most important qualities of childcare staff and why?"
This question requires candidates to frame their thinking about how a childcare center should run in concrete terms. You'll learn how they approach working with children and parents as well as what they deem gold standards in early ed professionals.
- 9. A childcare scenario question, such as, "How would you handle a child who frequently resists following instructions?" or "If you were concerned a child was being left out, what would do?"
A candidate's response to a common childcare scenario shows their early ed philosophy in action. Try using a scenario that you have encountered at your center before, as it will be easy to see if a candidate's instincts match yours.
Ask customized infant, toddler, and preschool interview questions
Once you have asked questions to better understand the candidate’s professional experience and philosophy when working with children, it’s essential to ask a couple of questions to determine their skill set or potential skill set in working with a certain age group. Consider asking the following questions and insert “infants,” “toddlers,” or “preschoolers” respective to the age group you anticipate with they will teach.
- 10. Given the importance of building a trusting relationship with a child, how do you build trust with a/an [insert age group] upon meeting them?
How a teacher approaches an infant, a toddler, and a preschooler to build a trusting relationship looks very different based on their age group and stage of development. A candidate’s answer to this question illuminates the teacher’s skill set in working with children in that age group and their understanding of what’s developmentally appropriate.
11. What are some important concepts and skills you believe a/an [insert age group] should learn before leaving your classroom?
The answer allows you to learn more about what the candidate understands about stages of development for this age group and their approach to curriculum. You may consider asking a couple of follow-up questions to determine their skill set in introducing new concepts to children and building relevant curriculum.
Childcare interview questions are an opportunity
Childcare job interviews are a great opportunity to raise the quality of your childcare program. Finding great teachers and assistants to staff your childcare or daycare center makes your program a better place for the children in your care as well as your current employees. Taking a fresh eye to all of your childcare forms, including your hiring paperwork, can only improve your operations.