How to hire the best early childhood educators blog header

How to hire the best early childhood educators: from interview to their first day

The following is an excerpt from The Complete Guide to Hiring & Retaining Early Childhood Educators. Click here to download the full eBook.

Once you have a pool of applicants that you’re happy with, it’s time to move them to the next stage.

Phone interview

A well-conducted phone interview can help you screen candidates to make sure they’re truly qualified enough for a lengthy in-person interview.

women on the phone

During the phone interview, keep the discussion high-level. Find out why they are interested in the role and why they are looking for a new position. You can also ask them to clarify concerns about their resume, such as long gaps in their employment.

Keep the call to 15 minutes maximum. As their first test, you can arrange for them to call you. If they don’t follow through, that can help you eliminate those who can’t stick to a schedule or are not truly interested in the role.

After the phone interview, allow yourself some time for reflection before moving them forward in the process. This will allow you to have a better perspective on the conversation as a whole and make sure you are not overlooking any red flags.

Sample list of phone interview questions

  • What first interested you about this position?
  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • Please explain any gaps in employment on your resume.
  • Do you have any questions for me about the position?
  • What are your salary expectations?

Formal interview

More than any other stage of the hiring process, the formal interview is where you will learn the most about each candidate. To make a sound decision, you need to make great use of this time so you get a complete understanding of what this person will be like in their role.

Before you start interviewing, create a standard list of questions for you to ask all candidates. If every conversation is different, you will not have a fair way to compare each applicant.

If possible, don’t conduct the interview alone. Involve a trusted staff member so you can get their perspective as well — after all, they will need to be working with this person on a daily basis. If possible, you can include a parent representative to ensure that your customers will be happy with your selection as well.

Women in a job interview

You may have a particular answer in mind, but be careful to not ask leading questions. You want to get their honest answer, especially if it’s not the right one.

Vague questions will get vague answers, so be specific. “Are you good at conflict resolution” is very different from “give an example of a time when
a parent complained and how you resolved the situation.”

Ask questions that challenge candidates to think on their feet, so you can observe how they problem-solve and would react in a real situation. For good measure, use a situation that actually happened at your center.

Although you will want to see if you will get along with this person, be sensitive to avoid illegal interview questions about their personal life. This isn’t the time to find out if they go to church, if they’re married or when they’re planning on having kids.

Sample list of formal interview questions

  • What do you enjoy most about working in childcare?
  • Why are you interested in working in early childhood education?
  • What are the 2-3 accomplishments that you are most proud of?
  • Provide a few examples of fun educational activities.
  • How do you get the children to settle down for nap time?
  • How would your previous manager describe you?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What did you like most about your previous job?
  • What did you like least about your previous job?
  • How would you handle a confrontation with a parent? (Provide a specific example in your question for the candidate.)

Checking references

You may not know what this person will actually be like until they start, but others do. If you are happy with a candidate, always check with at least three of their references.

Reference checks can be challenging because the candidate will have only referred you to individuals that they trust will say nice things about them. This is why you should pay close attention to not just what they say, but how they are saying it. Listen closely to their tone and see if you can tell the difference between them saying what they “should” say vs. genuinely believing what they’re saying.

Like the candidate’s formal interview, have a set list of questions ready for your phone interview. Although a reference check is usually high-level, ask for a few specific examples as well. This will also help with determining whether the person is really speaking from experience or just trying to help their friend.

You can also try to align questions from the reference checks and formal interviews to see if they match up. For example, if you asked the candidate how their previous manager would describe them, you can now ask their actual former manager to do so.

Criminal background check

Perhaps more than any other profession, a criminal background check is extremely important for early childhood educators. When being trusted with this most vulnerable demographic, only the most trusted individuals should be chosen.

Most of the time the background check can seem like a formality, but one bad hire can cost you your entire business, not to mention do serious harm to a child.

Trial day

Since this is such a hands-on job that is much easier said than done, many centers have finalists work for one day to make sure it’s the right fit. This provides an opportunity not just for you to observe a candidate’s abilities, but for the candidate to decide whether this is truly the right role for them.

Be sure to give the candidate clear instructions and expectations so they have everything they need to be successful on this trial day. Don’t forget to also brief your other staff so they can provide any required assistance and know to pay attention to the candidate so they can provide you with feedback afterward.

making a job offer for preschool teacher

Making your offer

After a successful round of interviews, reference checks, and trial day, it’s now time to make an offer! It’s never easy to lose a great candidate at this stage, but it does happen. This is why it’s so important to be thoughtful when drafting up your offer and how you present it.

It is important to acknowledge the realities of the market when coming up with the salary. You can run the best center in the world, but if your teacher salaries are only 60% of what they would make elsewhere, you will have a very hard time convincing educators to work there — especially the really good ones. To avoid surprises, many employers will ask about the candidate’s salary expectations at the beginning of the process.

Be thoughtful about how you present your offer. Instead of a one-sentence email with a PDF attachment, write a thoughtful email about how excited you are for them to join the team. For an extra personal touch, you can call first to share the news verbally before sending your contract via email.

At this point, you may be looking forward, but don’t forget about all of the candidates along the way! Whenever someone has been removed from the running, please take a moment to let them know. That way they can move on without wondering what is going on, and you will leave a good impression. You never know when you will have to hire again, and you want your center to have a good reputation in the educator community.

first day of work for preschool teacher

Their first day

Your new employee is feeling excited, nervous, apprehensive, thrilled, and every other emotion before their first day. This is your opportunity to assure them that they made the right decision and set the tone for a happy and successful working relationship.

Before they start, get everyone excited to welcome your new team member with open arms. Tell your staff about their new coworker and why they are going to be such a great asset to your organization. Keep parents in the loop as well to avoid surprising them with a new face. This way, your parents will be expecting them and have been encouraged to say hello.

When they arrive, have a welcome gift ready for them. Even a small gift bag with a few snacks in it can be enough to show that you are thoughtful and excited for them to start.

Have a dedicated time at the beginning of the day to introduce the new team member to everyone, and have your current staff introduce themselves as well. To make this less formal, you can have everyone share one fun fact about themselves.

To help the employee get up to speed, it is extremely helpful to have an employee handbook. This way, your staff has a clear source for information and will be less likely to ask the same questions over and over again. That said, never make the employee feel like they are annoying others by asking questions as they settle into their role.

If your budget allows, this is a great time to treat the whole team to a meal. This will help increase the excitement about the new person starting, and also provide an opportunity for everyone to get to know each other.

Want to read the full eBook? Download your free copy below!

download the complete guide to hiring & retaining early childhood educators ebook

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Michael Keshen

Michael writes for HiMama's early childhood education blog and ECE Weekly newsletter. When not developing content for early childhood professionals, he can usually be found out and about with his wife and daughter exploring all that Toronto has to offer, or playing music with his karaoke band.